The RMA is about to get much worse

28 December 2016

All those involved in the New Zealand building industry, whether property developers, investors, or builders, know about the long delays often caused by the way local governments interpret the Resource Management Act.

If the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill – the Bill now before a Parliamentary select committee to amend the RMA – becomes law in its present form, the problems will get much worse.

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

Section 7 of the RMA currently requires that “in achieving the purpose of this Act, all persons exercising functions and powers under it… shall have particular regard to kaitiakitanga”, while Section 8 requires those persons to “take into account the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi)”.

Nowhere in the Act is “kaitiakitanga” defined, and nor are the so-called “principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”; nor are they defined in any other legislation, leaving ample scope for confusion and misunderstanding.

The Treaty of Waitangi was a very short and very simple document: it involved Maori chiefs ceding sovereignty to the British Crown, the Crown in return undertaking to respect the property owned by the chiefs and guaranteeing to all New Zealanders “the rights and privileges of British subjects”.  As each chief signed, Governor Hobson said, in Maori, “we are now one people”.

Despite this, the Treaty has been interpreted in recent years to imply that the government owes some special obligation to those who chance to have a Maori ancestor (always with other ancestors since there are no longer any New Zealanders who have only Maori ancestors).

This has often caused substantial delays in securing resource consents, and quite often the payment of “koha” to local tribes in order to persuade them not to object to some new property development.

The situation is about to get much worse because the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill will require local governments, within 30 days of their election, to invite all the tribes in their area into so-called “iwi participation agreements”, with the intention that those tribes be directly involved in local government planning decisions.

It is very hard to see how this will speed the process of getting resource consents: it is much more likely to lead to longer delays and larger amounts of “koha”.  In other countries, such payments are often called corruption.

Last year, the Hobson’s Pledge Trust was established to remind all New Zealanders of what the original intention of the Treaty of Waitangi was, as summarised so succinctly by Governor Hobson.  I am one of the two spokespeople for the Trust, the other being Casey Costello, a woman of Ngapuhi and Anglo-Irish heritage.

Our objective is that after the 2017 election a government is formed which is committed to treating all New Zealanders, no matter when they or their ancestors arrived in this land, as equal before the law.  That is the only way to a peaceful future.

To learn more about the Trust and to support its objective, visit our website at

Back to Top

Copyright © 2020 Don Brash.