Government's RMA reform compromise with Maori Party slammed by opposition
A deal between the Government and the Maori Party to move ahead with stalled Resource Management Act (RMA) has been panned by opposition parties, who say the "disgraceful decision" will harm environmental protections.
Environment Minister Nick Smith has announced that the Maori Party will support the controversial Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, intended to speed up planning and consent laws.
Speaking to media, Smith said an agreement had been reached around the details of "iwi participation agreements" - giving Maori greater involvement with local councils in the consenting process - along with other changes to get the numbers needed to pass the legislation.
"This is the most comprehensive package of reform to the Resource Management Act since its inception 25 years ago, and it is welcome news that we have the parliamentary support to put these 40 changes into law."
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Smith denied the bill had been overly watered down, saying it was still "a massive step forward" in terms of RMA reform.
"I wouldn't want to underestimate how critical and large the reform is that this bill will have us make...we have got the lion's share of what we want around systematic reform."
He said it was not fair to blame the Maori Party for the long delays in moving ahead with reform, saying they were in part due to "solving very complex issues between multiple government agencies".
While councils were already legally required to consult with Maori, Smith said the iwi participation agreement would set up a formal process to ease frustrations about the way the law currently worked.
The Government would pass a motion to refer the bill back to select committee on Thursday, where the changes would need to be considered.
It was possible the work would be completed this year, but "may flow" into early 2017, Smith said.
MAORI 'MUST HAVE CRUCIAL ROLE'
Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said the Maori Party had been very clear that it would not support any moves to prioritise economic concerns over environmental protections, and was happy with the "significant gains" it had won.
"They've been fruitful discussions, they've been hard discussions but we're pleased to say that we've got to a good place."
The iwi participation agreements "go beyond anything that currently exists for Maori outside of a Treaty settlement", Flavell said.
Co-leader Marama Fox said many of the changes had also been suggested by the public in submissions, which showed they were worthwhile.
"That shows that the Maori Party is protecting not just the rights of interests of iwi, but all of Aotearoa."
It was wrong to suggest that the changes would privilege Maori over other New Zealanders, Fox said.
"We have a moral obligation in this country to respect the indigenous rights of our people guaranteed under the Treaty of Waitangi - that's not brown privilege, that's actually just clawing back some of what's already been lost."
The Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group supported the "significant gains" won by the Maori Party, with deputy chairman Mark Solomon saying they would "create a new opportunity for iwi and hapu to engage with councils in a more equitable way".
'DISGRACEFUL DECISION' - GREENS
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei slammed the Maori Party for its "disgraceful decision", saying it did not seem to have won many changes while Kiwis would be shut out of decision-making.
"The end result is that we will have RMA law passed by the Maori Party that will undermine the democratic rights of New Zealanders to have a say over what happens to their environment."
Labour environment spokesman David Parker said the bill was "a terrible piece of legislation", and would not fix the housing crisis as the Government suggested.
Parker accused the Government of making the announcement "under the cover of the United States election" to avoid attention.
However, Smith denied that was the case, saying the timing was due to the need to send the bill back to select committee this week.
The Government's attempts to reform the RMA have hit a number of speed bumps in recent years.
In November last year, Smith announced it had backed off fundamental changes to the RMA but would press ahead with less contentious changes to speed up planning and consent laws.
At the time, the Maori Party agreed to back the legislation through to select committee hearings, after the Government lost its majority on the issue following the Northland by-election.
Concessions to win the party's support included giving iwi the right to be consulted "at the front end" of resource management and council planning through iwi participation agreements.
STALLED AT SELECT COMMITTEE
However, the legislation has stalled at the select committee stage, with several extensions on the date the local government and environment committee was due to report back to Parliament.
Labour environment spokesman David Parker last week slammed National members of the committee for blocking any report back to Parliament explaining the delay.
"The abuse of parliamentary process was to cover up the shambolic process, and prevent opposition parties explaining how flawed the bill is."
Parker released an unofficial minority report from Labour criticising the bill, saying it would make the RMA less effective and more expensive to use, rather than better.