BusinessDesk report by Pattrick Smellie
The National-led government has lost its parliamentary majority to pass reforms to the Resource Management Act, with the United Future and Maori parties announcing in Wellington this morning that they will not vote for changes that undermine environmental protections.
While both parties support reforms to speed up the resource consenting processes, both believe that proposals to rewrite two fundamental sections dealing with environmental benchmark considerations go too far.
“The changes do far more than rebalance the Act to make consenting procedures more efficient,” said United Future’s sole MP and leader, Peter Dunne, and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia in a statement.
“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, which will take years of litigation to fix up,” they said.
Their stance removes the four votes the government, with just 57 seats in the 120-seat Parliament, needs to achieve a majority of one vote, potentially forcing it into the arms of the non-aligned New Zealand First party, which has five seats, to push forward with its RMA reforms.
The proposed reforms are in Part 2 of the Act and relate to Sections 6 and 7, which define and prioritise the order in which to consider environmental sustainability questions, based on the guiding principles of the Act in Section 5, which is unchanged and enshrines “sustainable development” as the RMA’s purpose.
A legal opinion by law firm DLA Phillips Fox for the Environmental Defence Society, released last week, reached similar conclusions, saying the changes to Sections 6 and 7 would add to rather than reduce uncertainty in planning and environmental management.
In today’s statement, Turia says changes to the “driving principles undermine the whole purpose of the Act.”
The Maori Party is also concerned it reduces the guardianship/kaitiakitanga principles of the Act, which co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says “reflect the Maori principle that people are recipients and therefore stewards of the natural environment, rather than owners.”
“The legislation should not be dealing with proprietorship,” he said, reflecting Environment Minister Amy Adams’s intention that the reforms should clarify the development rights of private property owners.
Dunne said the environment was “in a worse state by almost every measure” since the RMA was passed 20 years ago.
“The government’s proposed changes to facilitate development will make matters worse,” he said. “I do not accept that commercial interests should over-ride the environmental principles of the RMA.”
Statement from NZ First
New Zealand First says the Māori and United Future Parties are again showing their flexible principles and their fear of the 2014 election by announcing they will not support the latest changes to the Resource Management Act.
Winston Peters says the four MPs from the two minor parties were 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.
“So what’s changed the minds of these four MPs? Has some focus group or party polling reminded them that they are totally out of touch with New Zealanders?
“Why have they not stood up to the National Party on countless other occasions when the Government swung a wrecking ball through the rights of Kiwis?”
Mr Peters says New Zealand First will not be making any comment just yet on 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,” says Mr Peters.