The government has sought to ease concerns about Resource Management Act (RMA) reform compromises between National and the Maori Party ahead of changes to RMA legislation being debated again in Parliament this week.
Prime Minister Bill English and Environment Minister Nick Smith said reactions had been overblown, in response to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters saying the RMA Amendment Bill would lead the country into a “separatist abyss.”
The RMA Amendment Bill will be subject to the Committee of the Whole House in Parliament this week. This stage in the legislative process comes ahead of the Third (and final) Reading and Royal Assent.
National/Maori Party agreement was announced in November last year for the parties to move ahead on RMA reform, with the parties using the intervening months to come up with a compromise two weeks ago, giving Maori greater involvement in the RMA consenting process.
Speaking to media in Parliament Buildings Tuesday, Smith said changes that had been made to the Bill after it went to Select Committee were “minor” and “nothing substantial.”
“The key point is that councils’ decision-making powers are unchanged and they get to make a final call on all plans and on all resource consents,” Smith said.
What was changing was that the Amendment Bill would allow councils to consult Iwi on certain topics earlier than they currently do when it comes to approving resource consents, Smith said. “But the final decision-making rests very firmly with the council.”
Changes would allow Iwi to tell councils on which issues they desired to be consulted on regarding resource consents. Smith used an example of an Iwi wanting to be consulted on extra water extraction permits granted from a spring, while being able to tell a council that it was not concerned about being consulted on issues such as building height restrictions.
“In my own community, my Iwi are frustrated that they get hundreds and hundreds of resource consents sent to them, in which they have very little interest,” Smith said. “In my view, these provisions will make for more efficiently delivering on the existing obligations around Iwi consultation.”
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters earlier on Tuesday said he had written to all National Party MPs asking them to suspend the Amendment Bill’s passage.
“I am appealing to you, as fellow New Zealanders, to grasp this last opportunity to step back from a separatist abyss. This country’s very future is on the line and on this matter only you, as National Party Members of Parliament, have the power to do what is right by the entire country,” Peters said.
“I also restate New Zealand First’s commitment to support comprehensive RMA reform so long as that reform is done on the principle of one law for all,” he added.
Peters’ attempted intervention – passage of the Bill will be by way of a whipped vote so there’s no chance of National MPs defying party hierarchy and voting against it – follows on from ACT and United Future appeals to National two weeks ago not to turn to the Maori Party for support.
Speaking to media in the Parliamentary Buildings Tuesday, Prime Minister Bill English said a number of claims about the compromises between National and the Maori Party had been misleading. Changes had been flagged over the last four-to-five years, he said.
While certain wording might be changed in the legislation, the intent of the Bill remained streamlining the consenting process, he said. Any changes would not be significant and not along constitutional lines, he said.
Meanwhile, Labour Party leader Andrew Little said he was comfortable with the proposed changes being discussed at the Committee of the Whole House, rather than being sent back to a Select Committee.
“We’ve certainly supported a voice for Maori and consultation with Maori over decisions that councils have to make under that legislation. That must continue,” Little said.
“We have to make sure that when we’re making decisions about the environment, about land use, that we have a good, robust consultation process with all stake holders. And that must include Iwi,” he said.
The claims referenced by English and jumped on by Peters regard a campaign led by the Director of the New Zealand Centre for Political Research, Muriel Newman, claiming the National/Maori Party agreement was a major constitutional victory for Iwi leaders. Newman last week wrote to Prime Minister Bill English, requesting him to halt passage of the Bill.
You can read the full letter from Newman to English below:
Dear Prime Minister, We respectfully ask you to govern for all New Zealanders – not just the Maori tribal elite - by stopping the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill as currently drafted.
We are referring to the concessions you have given to the Maori Party to allow iwi chiefs to sit alongside elected council members and officials and co-govern the private property of others.
Various deals have been done but the most damaging are the sweeping new ‘Mana Whakahono a Rohe’ agreements that will permanently force councils to kowtow to iwi - and hapu.
Your Minister for the Environment Nick Smith says their new powers will include, “planmaking, consenting, appointment of committees, monitoring and enforcement, bylaws, regulations and other council statutory responsibilities”.
That also includes fresh water according to your Minister.
These agreements with Iwi Leaders were imposed on the country behind closed doors. The secret deals were shaped with no consultation, no publicity, no warning, and no published minutes or agendas. By giving iwi seats at the council table you will embed the Maori world view and spiritualism into the heart of local government. This is not what most New Zealanders want.
What is most galling is that you have not even asked the community what it thinks about the Mana Whakahono a Rohe agreements.
The reality is there is no community demand for Iwi Leaders to co-govern local authorities, but once the agreements are in place they will be there forever - nothing can change or remove them unless iwi agree. Councillors and the community will have no right to end them - even if 90 percent of voters decide they are not working. The fundamental protections of democracy and the rule of law will be forever lost.
The respected constitutional lawyer Stephen Franks says, “The Bill entrenches permanent race privilege and corruption… The provisions are a major constitutional change. They subordinate powers entrusted to elected local governments, in deliberately obscure words, to racially inherited power, beyond the reach of electoral recall.”
Prime Minister, where is your mandate for these radical changes? You did not campaign on them at the last election. For major constitutional change such as this, surely there should be a public referendum process. If you pass this Bill you will be betraying National Party founding principles - and letting down those who voted for you in 2014.
We understand that these agreements were planned before you became Prime Minister. We say it’s now time for you to step up and show that you intend to govern for all New Zealanders, not just the 1.3 percent that supported the Maori Party. They are holding you to ransom because you want to keep power.
But in serving Iwi Leaders, you are paying for their demands with our rights, our properties, and, no doubt our cost.
Please stop this Resource Legislation Amendment Bill now - for the sake of all New Zealanders