Oral submission on Resource Legislation Amendment Bill

7 April 2016

A submission criticising the National Government's totally inadequate attempt to reform the Resource Management Act

Mr Chairman,

For many years, the National Party has stressed its commitment to reforming the RMA.  In the first term of this current Government, some modest reforms were introduced.  But it was always accepted that more fundamental reforms were needed.

In my written submission, I make reference to a speech by Dr. Nick Smith to the Nelson Rotary Club in January last year, and I’d urge members of the committee to read that speech in full.

He begins by noting that if the 80,000 pages of council resource management plans and rules were stacked on top of each other, the pile would be 10 metres high, and notes “there is not a single official anywhere who understands this huge pile of RMA plans and rules”.

He talks about the effect of RMA rules like the Auckland Metropolitan Urban Limit and notes that these rules are “the single greatest factor in driving house prices to all-time highs”.  He quotes the example of a 29 hectare block of unimproved land in Flat Bush just inside the Auckland Council’s urban limit which appreciated in value from $890,000 to $112 million in just over a decade to illustrate the effect which these rules are having.

He quotes an OECD study of the cost burden of environmental regulation, published in 2014, which found that New Zealand ranked as the worst of the 34 countries surveyed when it came to the administrative burden of the RMA.

He gives lots of specific examples where the RMA has caused enormous cost and huge delays for no obvious environmental benefit at all.

And he was absolutely right.  If I were asked what single measure the Government could take to raise living standards in New Zealand, I would without hesitation answer “reform the RMA”.

In his speech, the Minister went on to outline the very substantial reforms he planned to make to improve the situation.

What is depressing in the extreme is how pathetically limited the reforms incorporated in the current Bill actually are.  By common consent, the reforms barely scratch the surface of what is needed.  Indeed, the improvements are so trivial that my friend David Seymour, a strong supporter of RMA reform, felt obliged to vote against the Bill in the first reading.

Worse still, even those extremely modest improvements have been bought at the cost of greatly extending the rights of those with a Maori ancestor to have a preferential involvement in the decision-making process.

The RMA has long required local governments to consult with their community, and that is surely appropriate.  Unfortunately, the RMA has also required local governments to additionally consult with Maori, as if Maori were somehow not part of the community.

The Bill now under discussion would vastly extend that preferential involvement for Maori by requiring local governments to invite iwi into “iwi participation arrangements”.  This is surely a recipe for further delay, for corruption, and for anger on the part of the rest of the community at what is the most flagrant breach of the basic principle in every democratic society that all citizens should have the same legal rights.   Every Member of Parliament who understands Article III of the Treaty should be appalled by this Bill.

A few years ago, a Leader of the National Party gave a speech in which he said:

“The Treaty created one sovereignty and so one common citizenship.  Unless New Zealanders accept Te Tiriti o Waitangi at something much closer to its face value, we could destroy something unique….  Maori were sovereign in 1840.  But the Treaty of Waitangi fully conveyed that sovereignty.  Maori were prepared to cede their sovereignty because of the expected benefits of a common, non-segregated polity in New Zealand.”

And no, that former Leader of the National Party was not me – it was Bill English in 2002.  He was absolutely right.

It is incomprehensible to me how a National Party-led Government could propose a Bill which violates every principle of democratic governance – particularly when the Party’s own constitution lists among its values “equal citizenship”.

It is even more incomprehensible that a National-led Government would persist with a Bill in its current form when Mr Peters has offered the Government a vastly better alternative – meaningful reform of the RMA provided that all reference to racial preferences for those with a Maori ancestor are removed.

Mr Peters made that offer in a speech to the Orewa Rotary Club in January, and repeated his offer in another speech in Auckland the following month, in case the Government hadn’t noticed his first offer.

The question I pose to the committee is, why on earth would a National Party-led Government not take up Mr Peters’ offer?

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Copyright © 2020 Don Brash.