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The trillion dollar reason Wednesday's RMA reform announcement saw David Parker puff his chest out, Winston Peters dismiss Maori rights, and Judith Collins talk up restoring property owners' rights 

The trillion dollar reason Wednesday's RMA reform announcement saw David Parker puff his chest out, Winston Peters dismiss Maori rights, and Judith Collins talk up restoring property owners' rights 

By Jenée Tibshraeny

The Resource Management Act has needed reforming from the day it was inked in 1991.

The law, designed to govern what we do with our land, water and air, has been tweaked so many times it’s become too much of a behemoth to be effective.  

Property developers, environmentalists and those across the political spectrum generally share this view.

Everyone wants reform. The problem is, they all want reform to better protect what they value.

The reality is that any law or policy requires trade-offs. Yet the thing that separates the RMA is that the trade-offs required are over New Zealand’s most valued assets - from both monetary and ideological perspectives.

The identity of Maori in particular is linked to the environment.

Our environment is our food source. Agriculture and tourism are essentially the country’s breadwinners.

New Zealand’s housing stock is worth a whopping $1.1 trillion - nearly four times the value of the entire economy, or our annual gross domestic product.

When the stakes are this high, it’s no wonder successive governments have failed to get consensus to meaningfully change the RMA.

Will this change now that the Coalition Government has tasked a working group with making recommendations by mid-2020 on ways to change the law?

One couldn’t be blamed for being cynical by concluding no.

Parker won’t bring National into the fold

Political parties, on Wednesday's release of the draft terms of reference for the reform, didn’t need to wade too far into the divisive nitty-gritty of how to fix the RMA.

They could’ve pawned this off to the yet-to-be-formed working group and celebrated the fact an attempt was being made to combat a common enemy - the RMA.

Instead, they put their stakes in the ground, defining the values they wanted better protected through a law change.

With the battle lines drawn - albeit lightly - one can only imagine how much more entrenched they'll become, come mid-2020 when politicians have meaty recommendations to debate and an election to campaign for.

Environment Minister David Parker said he would “accept help” from anyone who was “willing to cooperate”, but wouldn’t go so far as to working more closely with the National Party than would otherwise be required under the normal parliamentary process.

“They’re not the government. They had nine years to fix it. They didn’t, so we’re getting on and doing it,” he said.

“We are the government. It’s our duty to govern and we’re governing.

“In respect of what happens after the next election - first and foremost I expect that we’ll win.

“Secondly, if there is a change of government, as there was between the drafting of the RMA and its passage back in 1991, it would fall to the next incoming government to finish the job.”

NZ Firsts’ position on Maori rights puts it at odds with other parties  

Before we even consider the possibility of National putting its pride aside and finishing a job started by a Labour-led government, let's look at what the leader of Labour's coalition partner, New Zealand First said.

Winston Peters explicitly said he didn’t expect his party to be on the same page as Labour and the Greens when it came to RMA reform.

Having okayed the draft terms of reference for the RMA working group that Parker took to Cabinet, he then conceded to media he was willing to work with Parker.

Yet he stuck to a contentious position he took in 2016 that made him an unlikely bedfellow with National’s Don Brash.

Asked where Maori rights should sit in the RMA, Peters said: “We’re a country called New Zealand. We’ve got people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds, and we are gender and colour-blind when it comes to resource management legislation.”

Put to him that the rights of Joe Public weren’t the same as the rights secured under the Treaty of Waitangi, Peters said: “Yes they are…

“I’ve got a rough idea of what the Maori people expect, and they expect the world to be fair and balanced towards them. They have never asked, unlike some of the radicals, for exclusive race-based privileges.”

Asked whether there was any point reviewing the RMA if the governing parties weren’t even on the same page, Peters said, “There’s still the National Party isn’t there?”

But he then turned around and said: “They had nine years and did nothing, and then they blamed New Zealand First for not getting anything through.”

National can’t play ball, so plays on the kiwi love affair with property

National is now big on RMA reform. 

Attacking the Government for many of its solutions to addressing the housing crisis without coming up with other fixes, it's placing a lot of weight on the role the inept law has played in stifling housing development.

It’s drafting a new piece of resource management legislation itself, and while the party isn’t yet in a position to detail exactly what it would like reform to look like, its housing spokesperson Judith Collins is open about the values she believes need better protecting - those of property owners.

“The Government needs to give property owners their rights back and stop people manipulating the RMA to their advantage,” she said, undoubtedly mindful of that $1.1 trillion New Zealanders have tied up in housing.

“The RMA is no longer fit for purpose and is too easily gamed. One problem is businesses being able to stymie nearby business developments because they are anti-competitive.

“Another is developers trying to stop someone else's housing development from going ahead because they want to get their houses sold first, to get maximum value.”

Collins said property owners’ “rights” could be protected by the RMA more clearly defining how they should be "compensated" should those rights be undermined.

Challenged on the fiscal risks this could pose to already indebted councils, Collins pointed to the "fiscal risks" developers were exposed to.

She said National was open to working with the Government “if it can present sensible solutions that will deliver New Zealand the infrastructure it needs”.

However nowhere in her media statement did she comment on the need for stronger protections for the environment.

Meanwhile the Greens hoped the RMA review would “ensure that we prioritise the environment and protect quality of life, create liveable cities and protect nature for present and future generations”.

Co-Leader James Shaw specifically supported the proposal for the law to promote climate change mitigation.

The joys of MMP

Collins also made the point: “My concern is that by waiting so long to undertake this piece of work, the Government has left it too late in the electoral cycle to act on it. This suggests they aren’t confident of getting NZ First and the Greens on the same page.”

As per all the politicking detailed above, Collins has a point.

The Government walked away with egg on its face after it couldn’t form a consensus on extending the taxation of capital gains, as recommended by the Tax Working Group.

How would Labour fare going in to the next election if NZ First was again seen to be wielding a disproportionate amount of power?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern can blame MMP all she likes, but the public doesn’t’ care.

If there’s an obvious problem that she fails to fix, then this falls back on her.  

The Government knows this as much as Collins does, which is why they’re both keen to be seen to be doing something without making promises or spending political capital.

Collins’ bold headline-grabbing rhetoric on property owners’ rights aside, the country’s two largest parties have the most moderate views on how to manage our land, water and air.

Depending on how much power NZ First and the Greens have after the election, National could be Labour’s best bet at making change, and vice-versa.

Yet if bi-partisanship doesn’t surface this far out from an election, it most certainly won’t closer to the time.

Thereafter, the risk of ending up back at square one is even higher.

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Many, many moons ago, I recall (dimly) Philip Burdon addressing us putative MBA's, and saying that MMP was a recipe for stasis. QED, methinks.....


What they should have done was to legislate an inclusive Parliamentary staged or phased process and timeline for repeal and replacement - and got multiparty agreement on that piece of legislation. EDS have already done a tremendous amount of work in considering various options for RM reform;

Parliament should have been able to at least pick from those broad options during this term under such a multiparty agreement/piece of legislation.


My very basic memory of the RMA is that it doesn't specifically include any objective towards affordable housing.

The problem though is that nothing is free - how can housing decisions be speed up without lessening the rights of environmentists and Maori.

More building climbing, paddock squatting protestors? Look at UK legal environment processes - nightmere for much progres


Meanwhile the Greens hoped the RMA review would “ensure that we prioritise the environment and protect quality of life, create liveable cities and protect nature for present and future generations”.

This statement makes me believe that NZ Greens has taken a race-neutral stance but only time will tell how they are placed on the Maori rights issue of this reform.


Nailed it.

I was laughing when I saw the ideology based dreaming of Parker.

The tradeoffs remind me of an old saying about car racing/modification on a budget.

Fast, reliable, cheap - pick 1 and it won't be the others.


Parker is basically saying, we're going to draft some rules to make super cheap, super fast, super reliable race cars - $$ flushed down the drain based on ideology without good understanding of fundamentals/science/natural laws will define this labour lead government


"Collins also made the point: “My concern is that by waiting so long to undertake this piece of work, the Government has left it too late in the electoral cycle to act on it.”"
Oof. That's rich coming from a party who hasn't done anything about it for 9 years.


Weren't national prevented from doing anything by labour themselves the entire time they were in?


In what way?


Sorry not labour, was nats coalition partners at the time, Maori, Act, Dunne that couldn't agree - really think greens and nz first will all come to a nice agreement with labour this time around?


Maori Party eventually did agree to the amendments and along with the National Party passed these in 2017;…

As I recall it, the big ticket item National had wanted to get over-the-line was amendment to RMA section 5 (the Act's purpose), in order to give specific recognition of property rights - and they needed two more votes - Act (Seymour) and United Future (Dunne). But Dunne refused.

They then went to the Maori Party and in exchange for support on the balance of stuff in the amendment bill (but not on that main objective of amendment to section 5), and in exchange for support, the Maori Party got this as the sweetener;

[new] provisions for “iwi participation arrangements" – now referred to as “Mana Whakahono a Rohe" – by enabling iwi to initiate negotiations rather than waiting for an invitation from the relevant Council.…

See RMA Section 58L to 58U;…

In short, mandatory participation agreements for local iwi in decision-making under the RMA (mandatory should the iwi request such).

These new provisions I suspect will be hard to unwind in any revision. It's likely that Winston Peters views them as more separatist than the simpler/less onerous obligation to take into account the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (RMA section 8) in decision-making.


How many electoral cycles is it reasonable to wait until expecting the Government to do something they could have done on day one? How long is Labour going to keep reaching into the '9 long years' bag to excuse not having achieved any of the campaign promises it baited and switched on?


Parker's proposals are tinkering at the edges. Also its absurb to separate urban development from the RMA as if there are no environmental effects.

What is needed is:

1) Manage the immigration rate down to something sustainable that maximises gdp/capita growth, and takes the pressure on urban growth down to a manageable level

2) Amalgamate all regional and local government authorities into unitary authorities with the smallest being large enough to be financially viable

3) Sunset all existing rules under the RMA with a 10 year sunset, but keep the essence of the RMA (its world class legislation that has been butchered in its implmementation)

4) Sunset all existing land covenants with a 10 year sunset

5) Require the plans (water, regional, district(urban planning) etc) to exist only at the national level

6) Require the plans to be effects based only as was originally intended (no more zoning or density limitations except on an effects basis)

7) Central government to introduce National Policy Statements (backed by policy impact assessments) into the Plans as the initial framework

8) All other plan mechanisms to be at the national level and have to go through policy, rule, or regulatory impact assessment to be justified. Anyone can propose & submit on plan changes.


6) isn't required because density, height, bulk etc rules are already justified on an effects basis as plans are developed. These rules aren't arbitrary. They must be tested through an evidence-based assessment under s.32 of the RMA. If there is a height limit or density limit in place it is to manage an environmental effect. And as for zoning, I disagree.It is a helpful tool to identify where certain activities are likely to take place. It is an easy way for the public to make reasonable decisions about ho they are going to invest. A purely affects based regime taken to the extreme would allow all manner of activities to take place across a city. That might be fine in an area where mixed use is anticipated, but I think most kiwi's would like to know what they are buying into, rather than having to second guess about what might happen next door.


If the RMA was delivering good results it certainly is easy to find the bad ones
How could it be OK to allow multi storey apartments in little Sunnynook north shore ?
It’s farcical yet Chinese were told to invest in cheap Sunnynook housing that would allow multi unit development Such is the gross stupidity of SuperCity planning
How intensifying leafy little suburbs with already inadequate roading got approved for say the Longbay - Okura areas is another example of poor planning
I bet East Coast rd is still bumper to bumper for kilometres every work day like it was in 2015


Sunnynook is right by the Northern Motorway and the Northern Busway. I note no other part of the city current has a working busway, while the Shore has had one for ten years. Where else, in your opinion, would be a better place for apartments than immediately next to a rapid transit line?


Sorry, I disagree.

No plan rule/policy I've seen has ever gone through a individual full policy or regulatory impact assessment that weighed all costs and benefits.

For example - low density zoning - this has huge impacts on forcing car dependence.
By taking an effects basis I would be able to as of right (not have to go through an expensive approval process) amalgamate 2 titles and build higher density while still mitigating the adverse environmental impacts of e.g. sunlight on neighboring properties.

Geoffrey Palmer never intended the RMA to resort back to town & country planning style zoning. It was simply hijacked.

If we went effects based, these could be national level policies/rules. We don't need district plans stacked as high as the skytower to manage urban development for 5 million people.


Here is a simple solution - stop importing people. There, fixed.


The Resource Management Act Really has failed NZs waterways
Luckily few tourists know......yet


It's the worst of both worlds because it makes building affordable housing impossible, AND doesn't protect the environment.


You got money you got your resource consent, you don't got money you don't get into the game.