Govt's Resource Management Reforms face roadblock as Maori Party and United Future declare opposition

Govt's Resource Management Reforms face roadblock as Maori Party and United Future declare opposition

By Bernard Hickey

The Government is facing an embarrassing parliamentary block to one of the key planks of its economic growth agenda. 

Its usual coalition partners, the Maori Party and United Future, said on Wednesday they would not vote for the government's reforms to the Resource Management Act, arguing they could not support its plans to emphasise economic development rather than environmental protection. 

“The changes do far more than rebalance the Act to make consenting procedures more efficient. We say the changes to remove emphasis on the ‘maintenance and enhancement of the quality of the environment’ fundamentally rewrite the Act and put a spanner in the works of the legal system, that will take years of litigation to fix up,” said Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia and United Future Leader Peter Dunne in a rare joint statement. 

They said they had written to Environment Minister Amy Adams to detail their concerns, in particular around the combination of Parts 6 and 7 of the act, which downgrades environmental protection as the primary purpose of the act and makes it equivalent to economic development. 

National has only 59 members in the 121 member parliament, including the speaker, and needs the support of Maori, United Future, ACT and Independent MP Brendan Horan to overcome the opposition of Labour (34), the Green Party (14), New Zealand First (7) and Mana (1). If Maori and United Future vote against the RMA reforms then the Opposition would have 61 votes to a National-ACT-Horan combination of 60.

Environment Minister Amy Adams unveiled the planned reforms on August 10 in this speech.  

She is currently in San Francisco helping to promote New Zealand technology companies in events surrounding the America's Cup. The surprise announcement by United Future and Maori appeared to catch the government offguard. The government has yet to respond.  

Turia said proposed changes to Part 2 of the act undermined the whole purpose of the act.

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell said sections 6 and 7 reflected the Maori principle that people were stewards of the natural environment, rather than owners.

"The legislation should not be dealing with proprietorship, and we understand and support tangata whenua groups who believe merging these sections will undermine their role and responsibilities as kaitiaki to maintain and enhance the quality of the environment," he said.

Dunne said New Zealand's environment had worsened by almost every measure in the last 20 years and the proposed changes to make economic development easier would make it worse.

“I do not accept that commercial interests should override the environmental principles of the Resource Management Act," he said.

“While we both agree that there could be useful improvements made in tidying up the process issues within the legislation, the changes to Part Two will create a level of uncertainty which will be counter-productive.”

Political reaction

The decision by Maori and United Future appeared to give New Zealand First some leverage to ask for some concessions to garner its support in parliament, but NZ First Conservation spokesman Andrew Williams appeared to come out all guns blazing against the reforms.

“The Government’s changes give big business a blank cheque to mine and exploit National Parks without any thought for future generations," Williams said. He was reacting to a report by Geoffrey Palmer for Fish and Game on the RMA reforms and proposals for freshwater management.

“The emphasis on ‘minimum bottom lines’ for freshwater leave the situation wide open for business and other interests to turn our rivers and streams into drains and sewers. Lakes will become cess ponds and the coastline will be covered with oil slicks if these people are not controlled," he said.

“New Zealand is a place of great beauty, blessed with natural resources and the protection of the environment must be a national priority," he said.

“New Zealand First supports streamlining some process aspects of the RMA but not the legalised vandalism this Government stands for."

Winston Peters also took the opportunity to criticise Maori and United Future, saying they had "quite happy to let the Government wreck the environment with earlier changes to the RMA and their stand has come a bit late to help anyone."

But he said NZ First would not be making any comment just yeton the Government’s latest proposals to change the Resource Management Act.

“We have this old-fashioned policy that it’s best to actually read the legislation and discuss it at caucus before deciding a position,” he said.

Labour's Environment spokeswoman Maryan Street said the Government planned to change the fundamental purpose of the Resource Management Act under the guise of streamlining processes.

“Labour is not against speeding up the approval process when it doesn’t compromise environmental protections. But it’s a different story when it does, and we will repeal any legislation this Government passes that weakens current safeguards," Street said.

The Green Party's spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said National should drop the reforms.

“The National Government should ditch its proposals which attack the heart of the RMA and its sustainable management purpose and principles. National has not been honest about the intent of its changes and we congratulate the Maori and United Future Parties for recognising what these changes will do," Sage said.

(Updated with Parliamentary voting lineups, Labour, NZ First, Green comments)

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14 Comments

....then god for minor parties.

The god of minor parties is Winston Peters .

Has B Horan said anything about how he'll vote?  he seems more inclined to not vote for the changes from the little I can read.
regards

Updated with political reaction.
cheers
Bernard

Sadly, even the RMA as is, is unsustainable. The Brundtland definition is flawed. Not as badly flawed as the me/me/me ethos, but whenever anything is unsustainable, the only variable is T (time).
 
The fact that they're trying to unravel the safeguard on a finite base-line (albeit one which was already guaranteed to fail in its own time) on behalf of a need for the next 'doubling', shows you how desperate and out of options they are.
 
A sick joke, is the 'we can all get rich by raping the last of it' approach.

so here we have it, United Future, a party that promotes the family, equality etc, opposing reform that would help make housing more affordable and therefore help contribute towards achieving the party's own goals around family and equality

MIA - never judge people by what they say, but by what they do. This is hardly an unexpected announcement from Dunne or the Moari Party - past performance is always enlightening.
They want to maintain and enhance the current environment ;-)) people think environment  has something to do with air, water, soil and eco-systems. And then they conveniently forget that humans need food, water, shelter, an economy, social and cultural well-being in order to survive.
 
Now back to the current environment, Oh that is higher house prices, no income taxes on foreign investors, large corporates ruling the roost and lets see - creating money out of thin air and makng people who actually created the money transaction via the mortgage they took out and now paying the interest on it.  So everyone go back to work and pay the interest on the money you actually created but have a debt on and will spend the next 30 years paying it off.  And that's the environment!
 

The Housing Accord and Special Housing Areas Act is a different piece of legislation - which passed thru Parliament;
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/9130948/Housing-bill-passes
 
That was touted as the solution to the affordability crisis - not these proposed RMA changes.
 
 

Indeed. The RMA changes are more ideologically driven than anything else. I would have thought that consent charges, time frames etc could just have limits placed on them and be done with it. 
This national government is opposed to the idea of democracy and that radical idea of local communities, the damn communists wanting a say in their local community.

Got to say Bernard, I find it sickening, Dunne looking to score political points and gain back some credibility within his own electorate.
 The worm that turned ....just after he got his party status back, his 100K extra, the very day after the GCSB vote.....can your cartoonist do a maggot with a bouffant...? have him say "I've been thinking..?"
 He's got an office in Johnsonville alright....he's a right Johnson for sure, the people of Ohariu should have some self respect or become the next Epsom.....mindless devotees. 

Parliament functioning as it should as a check on the executive. Good to see. Hope they stick to their opposition to the changes to S6 and S7 - the other administrative improvements actually are quite good .. cross party support across Parliament for those. Seems to me this is the way good/better lawmaking should come about under MMP.

All for it too Kate.dilligence I mean,...but why Dunne decides to be conscientious about now is my complaint....from the SOE's to the GCSB he has toadied his way through strong opposition in his own electorate.....starting to reak of vile political self preservation, just the kind of bureaucrat this Country can do without.
 So not much chance of holding a cabinet spot....decides to rattle the cage and report his show of committment to his electorate.
Geeeeesus...Mate.

It may be useful to drag this 'ere thread back to one of Amy's key points:
 
"When the RMA becomes the basis on which Councils look to
• Take their own stance on national laws they don’t agree with or
• make rules about how big the front windows can be in our homes, or
• the placement of lounges within houses or
• whether a kid can build a tree house...
…we have to ask whether that really is the enabling, effects-based regime that was to allow almost anything to occur as long as the effects on the environment could be properly mitigated, that the original architects of the Act promised back in 1991."
 
The RMA has been thoroughly subverted by a noxious combination of:

  • old spatial-style Town and Country Planning Act zonerators and map-squigglers.  Hence the MUL's, RUB's etc which have massive economic effects but which are sacrosanct under the present regime.
  • NIMBY's who, without needing to put up much in the way of actual arguments, were able until quite recent decisions re costs, to drag out the consenting process by years and years.  This has led, quite inevitably, to the EPA which end-runs this nonsense by taking some decisions up and out of the clueless hands of local authorities.  Not that a centralised Gubmint bureaucracy is likely to perform much better, but at least they have less spatial-planning deadweight.
  • A fundamental failure to implement anything resembling the effects-based tests which should have been applied from Day 1.  

The effects-based tests Amy refers to are actually much sterner than the zoning-and-rule-based processes which persist now.  But this failure has lead directly to the tyranny of zoning:  no mo' living over the place ya work at, no possibility of e.g. OAP's living over retail or indutsrial buildings (entertainment during the day, watching over the night), no possibility of building a high-rise apartment in Brighton because the zones didn't permit it, but ya can't see over the dunes at three storeys....it's a long and extremely sad list. 
 
It leads fairly directly to:

  • 'industrial' dead zones which are an extremely inefficient use of resources (commuting, buildings used 33% of the day, security and miantenance issues)
  • illegal actions (it's amazing how many suburban businesses flourish where owners have high fences, good relationships with neighbours, and quiet work habits) which does not do wonders for trust in officialdom
  • a complete inability to police truly noxious activities (tinny houses, P-labs) - after all, they are breaking no Zoning laws because there isn't a Tinny House Zone on some map...so best to turn Nelson's eye...
  • massive economic deadweight costs as SME's either struggle through protracted and expensive processes to achieve some minor tweak to some squiggle or zone, or just give up in disgust and reduce activity to suit the strait-jacket

 
YMMV, and other common taters may have different views on the reforms, but there is no doubt in my aged mind that the old RMA is a mare's nest, a fabulous feeding ground for Legal Eagles and other Birds of Prey, and needs a fundmental re-think.

Yes, and most in the planning academy also agree a new piece of legislation (or perhaps two pieces) was necessary. For goodness sake - 1991 is a long time ago now. The things that mattered in terms of environmental indicators - soil, freshwater, groundwater, species health and biodiversity, pest management, coastal and estuarine ecosystems - have all degraded since 1991. I think the only across-the-board gains may have been in terms of air quality 
 
We've only had two state-of-the-environment reports in those nearly twenty some years (1997 and 2007) and given the indicators between the two changed and given there is no standardisation in terms of data collection and reporting .. means we can't properly quantify the degree of that degradation. This suits central governments intent on further resource exploitation just fine.
 
The problem as I see it is we had expertise in urban planning at the time the RMA was introduced - but at that stage we didn't really manage the environment in an integrated way, so there was no expertise at the regional planning level.  Central government failed to provide the training and support necessary to re-focus thinking in the effects-based approach. No one had done planning that way overseas either - NZ was a world leader in thinking it up but failed miserably on implementation.
 
Time to accept the lessons learned and move on.
 
I thought this was what National intended with respect to reform - instead we got more tweeking to a piece of legislation that has passed its use by date.  And yes, it has become the purview of legal and technical experts.