A Labour Party bill which reinforces the role of Government's environmental protection agency has passed its first stage after a surprise move by United Future to support it.
Labour MP Meka Whaitiri's private member's bill passed its first reading by one vote this afternoon, with backing from Labour, Greens, New Zealand First, the Maori Party and United Future.
The bill made sure that protecting, maintaining and enhancing the environment was explicitly stated as one of the Environmental Protection Authority's goals.
Ms Whaitiri said that when the agency was created, its legislation had a major oversight.
"The Act ... did not actually require the protection of the environment as part of the authority's role. The bill aims to correct that defect."
"What this bill does is place protection of New Zealand's natural environment right at the heart of the law governing the Environment Protection Authority."
She said it was an important change in light of reports that EPA staff were struggling to determine what the mission of the organisation was and who they were accountable to.
"We ... do not want a situation in the future where short-term economic thinking is allowed to impinge on the Environmental Protection Authority's function because the agency's mission is legally unclear."
National and Act opposed the bill.
Environmental Minister Nick Smith said it was a "bad joke" which showed how shallow Labour's policies were.
"Labour seems to think that by repeating the words 'environment' and 'protection' in the law we will somehow magically save the kiwi, address our water quality challenges and eliminate greenhouse gases," he said.
Parliament is now debating a New Zealand First bill which would repeal the legislation which allowed SkyCity to build a convention centre in exchange for gambling concessions.
New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin's bill was expected to fail because it was opposed by National, Act and United Future.
Two other member's bills were also expected to fail at their first hurdle this evening.
Labour MP Phil Goff's bill aimed to limit the sale of rural land to foreign buyers.
New Zealand First MP Fletcher Tabuteau's bill would ban New Zealand from signing international agreements which included provisions for investor-state dispute settlements - such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).