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Hon. Marian Hobbs - LGNZ Conference Speech

Hon. Marian Hobbs
11 July 2000 Speech Notes
Tuesday July 11, 2000

Local Government New Zealand Conference

Thanks for inviting me to speak today. Environmental issues are high on all our agendas and there are issues confronting us that need to be resolved.

Somehow responsibility for the environment seems to be being pushed from one to the other, without anyone really dealing with it; in the meantime our environment is deteriorating.

Today I plan to cover three main topics: the Resource Management Act, biodiversity management and waste management. Each represents a good example of the need for collaboration between central and local government.

We cannot deal with these issues just at central level, or just at local level: we need to work together.

The Resources Management Act
As the centrepiece of our environmental laws, we have to get the implementation of this Act right, be it notification, processing of consents, setting of standards etc.

The key to enhancing the credibility of resource management decision-making and processes is the way in which we implement the Act.

And to help us find out whether effective implementation is occurring, we need to monitor what has happened. The Ministry’s Annual Survey of Local Authorities provides us with an indicator of progress and today I’m happy to release the results of the fourth Annual Survey, covering the 1998/99 financial year.

Copies of this are available at the door when you leave – just look for the Ministry person!

Each year the questionnaire is sent out to councils and at roughly 125 questions this year, I imagine it was no simple task to complete!

So please, pass on my thanks to the people in your organisations responsible for completing the questionnaire. I was encouraged to learn that this year, for the first time, all 86 local authorities took part in the annual survey.

Does the measurement tell us much of value? The survey should provide a spur for councils to compare their performance with their peers and to pool information about good practice.

The Ministry can certainly employ the material contained in it! The data helps identify areas for developing guidance, and also where changes need to be made to the Act.
And I intend that the Ministry will play a stronger leadership role AND a stronger communicative role with local government.

There does seem to be a gap between ministry theory and local government practice in some areas. It is this gap that is increasingly concerning me. I am inundated with mail from people in communities throughout New Zealand frustrated with both processes and decisions.

I too get frustrated. I reply that as Minister I, for the most part, cannot intervene in a local decision and that they have the option to appeal unsatisfactory decisions to whichever court is appropriate. My hands are firmly tied behind my back…..a rather uncomfortable position for an inveterate problem-solver.

Don't misunderstand me. I barely have the capacity to keep up with the flood of mail, yet alone get involved in every decision. And I firmly believe in the principles enunciated in Agenda 21 that environmental decisions are best made closest to the community.

But something is missing in the environmental decision-making process– and it could be any one of the following:
 An avoidance by or an inability of local government to engage the community in local decision making – whether it be preparing and implementing the district plans or notifying resource consents.
 Or it could be a lack of direction and appropriate guidance from central government (one Mayor told me that he found MfE was irrelevant and that his council preferred to rely on case law for guidance).
 Or it could be a barrier to community groups being able to take cases further up the legal chain, with access to finance to gain the scientific/technical argument and research., needed to support their case.
I could go on – but until we get community understanding of the processes, community involvement in setting the parameters (what needs to be notified) then we are going to expend vital energy and money on litigious processes and we won't improve our environment – a goal we all share.

Councils with many tasks are left without enough support. To strike the right balance between central government bossiness and effective support is difficult, I admit. But for us to achieve a safe environment it is necessary that I struggle to achieve that balance.

A new feature of this year’s survey was the opportunity for local authorities to have key parts of their survey response audited by Audit New Zealand. Some 28 councils took up this opportunity and this year the audit focussed on questions on resource consent processes, time and costs.

Audit New Zealand paid a visit to each of these councils and spent time with planning staff to see whether the reported results were backed up by a paper trail and really did represent council practice.

Each council heard suggestions about how they could improve their RMA processes and recording of key information and data. The feedback we’ve received from the audited councils has been positive.

We will be offering this opportunity again in the next annual survey. I would strongly urge you to encourage your planning staff to make use of it.

Basic RMA statistics, like the percentage of resource consents publicly notified, and those declined or appealed have not changed much in the past three years.

Pre-hearing meetings are still being held for less than a third of all notified consent applications and we saw a drop in the proportion of publicly notified resource consents processed within statutory time frames.

However, instead of rattling off a list of statistics I would like to cover some of the issues highlighted in this year’s survey.

First, we found that of the appeals on resource consent decisions heard by the Environment Court, about 40 percent were upheld in their entirety, and 42% were upheld but with some conditions changed. This suggests that local authority decisions on resource consents are generally of a high standard, with the initial decisions being confirmed by the Court.

Second, councils are making steady progress towards implementing their RMA monitoring responsibilities. Here I mean monitoring the state of the environment, the effectiveness of plans and policy statements, and compliance with resource consent conditions – all important ways to measure the quality of implementation.

I am pleased to see that the range of responsibilities being undertaken by territorial authorities has grown. Monitoring is part of the democratic process. If ratepayers see that the schemes they pay for make actual environmental improvement, then you are on the way to acceptance – well nearly! I'm not that much of a Pollyanna!

Third, it is good to see so many local authorities now using the good practice processes outlined in the survey and that more are on the way. Regional councils are exploring best practice benchmarking and LGNZ is looking in more depth at best practice in consent processing.

Increasing numbers of councils are now using customer satisfaction surveys to find out what applicants think of their resource consent processes - another example of ensuring that RMA practice and implementation is of high quality.

Fourth, the survey found that at the beginning of June of this year, just over 40 percent all policy statements and plans are now fully operative. This figure has almost doubled in the 18 months since January 1999.

The remaining policy statements and plans are chugging through the system – and since we are nearly up to the second phase, perhaps the chugging has to pick up speed. But I do realise that this is an expensive process, which hits the smaller councils in particular.

But the picture is looking pretty good - we are on our way towards full implementation of the RMA. Together with these performance improvements, 63 per cent of local authorities made a formal budgetary commitment to Maori/iwi participation in RMA processes, an increase of five per cent from last year. Twice as many councils as last year had adopted criteria or policy to determine whether iwi/hapu are an affected party in a consent application. Local authorities were also able to identify a number of mechanisms and tools to facilitate Maori/iwi participation.

These results provide concrete evidence of strengthening relationships between local government and iwi.

Before I finish talking about RMA implementation, I would like to give a couple of quick plugs for a couple of Ministry publications to assist iwi and local government in building relationships. The first, 'Talking Constructively', is a practical guide for local authorities and iwi on building agreements and preparing for joint discussions and mediation.

The second, 'Iwi and Local Government Interaction under the Resource Management Act', helps iwi and local authorities to further develop working relationships that improve iwi participation in RMA processes.

Copies of both these documents are available on the Ministry’s display stand. But is this enough – good advice – or do you want stronger direction?

I imagine that this year’s survey report will provide a talking point for councils and will be closely followed by ratepayers and resource users.

I am encouraged by the results of this annual survey and hope councils will be spurred on to share information about further improving the quality of their RMA implementation so that I can post further performance improvements next year. But as I stated earlier, I am also looking for the Ministry to be more proactive in this area. And as Minister I have those issues to deal with, to achieve with you positive, community-owned environmental outcomes.

Biodiversity management is another area of resource management practice where central and local government are pulling together.

Our native animals, fungi and plants help make New Zealand distinctive but some 1000 species, especially birds, are threatened by pests and habitat loss. We cannot ‘turn the tide’ of this loss by investing only in the conservation estate. If we are to protect biodiversity on private as well as on Crown land, we need to find a balance between landowner rights and responsibilities.

The Government’s Biodiversity Strategy has now been released and so too has the document called ‘Bio-what?’ Both are important publications.

The latter is the report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee and deals with the effects of private land management on indigenous biodiversity.

This Committee has just completed a marathon consultation process – 50 something meetings I think was the final tally. They travelled throughout New Zealand, talking and listening to landowners, environmental groups, councils, industry, academics and others about biodiversity management on private land.

The results of this process, and the submissions on Bio-what? will help form the first part of a comprehensive and integrated strategy to deal with private land/biodiversity issues.

While I can’t predict what the MAC will recommend, I believe it will need to come up with concrete proposals to bring about genuine partnership between central and local government.

Biodiversity management is too monumental an issue for local government alone, as it is for central government. All levels of government will need to roll their sleeves up to make it happen and that action will need to be well co-ordinated, appropriately funded, and involve landowners and their communities.

Partnership is rapidly becoming something of a cliché, which if we’re not careful, could become hollow and meaningless policy-speak. However biodiversity management is shaping up to be an area that can provide a tangible working example of partnership in practice.

That requires common objectives, amicable and co-ordinated working relationships and contributions from all partners that take into account the ability to pay.

Biodiversity management presents us all with a challenge but also with a unique opportunity to show others how central and local government can work together for a cause that will greatly influence the quality of our children’s lives, and the lives of generations to come.

Finally, I would like to share with you a third example of central and local government joining forces to address yet another important environmental issue, waste management.

In talking about this issue, I want Louise Rosson to join me as this is a matter on which we have worked together and share a common view.

[Louise to join Minister]

LOUISE: At the last Local Government Conference concern was expressed about the increasing volumes of waste and the need for concerted action to minimise waste. The Conference passed a remit calling for a working party to advise the Government on ways to achieve waste minimisation in New Zealand.

MINISTER: The new government was quickly on the case and one of its early commitments was to a significant reduction in the volume of solid wastes. I would make it clear that the Government cannot make progress in reducing waste without the cooperation of local government and the communities it represents.

LOUISE: Local Government New Zealand and the Ministry for the Environment got together on this issue. They co-hosted a workshop in May that included local government representatives and other people with an involvement in waste management. The messages from this workshop were clear. There is a strong expectation of government leadership, for the development of a strategy that can give direction and set priorities and for practical actions from industry, local authorities and communities that reduce the volume of wastes.

MINISTER: Buried a bit in the Budget is some new money to fund a programme focusing on waste minimisation and Louise and I have agreed to the establishment of a multi-sector working group that will advise the Ministry for the Environment and Local Government New Zealand on the development and implementation of a waste minimisation strategy.

LOUISE: The terms of reference for this working party and its membership are contained in a joint press statement being released later this afternoon. You will note that we have set a clear timeline for the establishment of the proposed strategy. We also have a clear expectation of action that builds on the initiatives already taken in many areas.

MINISTER: In conclusion, my remarks today have been focussed on highlighting examples of joint work being undertaken by central and local government to address resource management and environmental issues.

The Government is committed to working in partnership with local and regional government to address pressing issues such as biodiversity and waste management, and to strive to improve our implementation of the RMA. And let's remind ourselves what the Resources Management Act is about – local decision-making about how we sustain our environment, while also growing our economy and providing for a more just society.

We all want to live healthy and safe lives, and we want for our children to enjoy similar standards. But mere hope is not enough. It does require energy, honesty and the participation of all in our communities to achieve this. We are not yet pulling in the same direction and it is my goal to achieve this while I am the Minister for the Environment.


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