RMA reform - a lesson in how not to do it: Pattrick Smellie

Other initiatives have overtaken the RMA in lifting barriers to residential development.
TOM DILLANE/FAIRFAX NZ

Other initiatives have overtaken the RMA in lifting barriers to residential development.

OPINION: As United States president Donald Trump is discovering, getting things done in politics requires law-making as well as rhetoric.

Enacting legislation requires the ability to count and to build a majority. It's not clear the Trump administration is well-versed in the dark arts of passing law in the US, where they haven't even passed last year's budget legislation yet.

The haggling to turn Trump's "beautiful" new healthcare policy into a replacement for Obamacare will require epic tactical cunning.

Closer to home, the tortuous process of reforming the Resource Management Act limped on this week with the long-delayed report back to Parliament for second reading this week from the local government and environment select committee.

READ MORE: Government backs off fundamental changes to resource management law

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill amends six pieces of law, is the largest bill currently before Parliament and spent some 14 months stuck at the select committee stage, constantly missing deadlines for report back to Parliament.

The reforms at their worst increase ministerial powers, reduce appeal and public participation rights, and make the RMA ...
SUPPLIED

The reforms at their worst increase ministerial powers, reduce appeal and public participation rights, and make the RMA more complex, says Pattrick Smellie.

It has taken eight years to get to this point.

At the end of last year, the Opposition parties got so grumpy about the process they forced the return of the bill to Parliament without a report, a somewhat shameful outcome that highlighted the legislative disarray by forcing a special motion to return the bill to the committee for more work.

In a withering dissenting report included in this week's select committee report, Labour's David Parker says the reason for delay was the fact that "the Executive plainly could not make up its mind on what it wanted to do".

"Government committee members displayed an unwillingness to make whatever changes they thought were necessary, preferring to await direction from the Executive."

The Cabinet, in other words, was actively guiding the select committee. That is terrible parliamentary practice.

In part, the problem was that Cabinet ministers were "consumed by horse trading behind the scenes", says Parker.

After losing its one-seat majority in the Northland by-election won by Winston Peters, and with Act opposing reform as too timid while United Future opposed its reach, the government has been forced into the arms of the Maori Party to achieve a majority for its reforms.

Ad Feedback

The price, which the liberal-minded parts of the Cabinet don't mind, is a new iwi participation process, Mana Whakahane o Rohe, in local government plan-making.

Don Brash's "Hobson's Pledge" movement sees this as encouraging race-based separatism, as does New Zealand First. 

However, the issue has failed as yet to catch alight politically.

Meanwhile, the Green Party's dissenting view from MP Eugenie Sage focused also on the new regime's "permissive approach to subdivision and residential activities".

However, that is something the government both sought and has achieved in other ways through its myriad policy responses to the Auckland housing unaffordability and under-supply.

Environment Ministers Nick Smith and Amy Adams before him have shepherded into existence a very wide range of new centralised tools capable of prising open land supply, fast-tracking urban infrastructure, and unshackling cities from what Prime Minister Bill English calls "planner-ism".

A new National Policy Statement on Urban Planning exists, Urban Development Authorities are coming, the Auckland Unitary Plan has killed the urban-rural boundary, and those are just a few of the initiatives that have effectively overtaken the stalled RMA reform process.

Most significantly, cross-party support has grown for pulling apart the RMA combination of environmental and urban planning law.

In the meantime, the reforms at their worst increase ministerial powers, reduce appeal and public participation rights, and make the RMA more complex instead of simpler.

But the bill must proceed because it still includes many widely supported changes, fencing farm waterways and requiring seismic evaluations in resource consents being two of the most obvious.

But Smith is not quite out of the woods.

Still on the table, as far as the Maori Party is concerned, are ministerial over-ride powers that could overturn a region's desire to exclude genetically modified crops. 

A little more counting and wooing will be required before this leviathan gets over the line.

- BusinessDesk

Comments

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback