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Resource Management Amendment Bill

Resource Management (Consultation With Landowners) Amendment Bill

Thursday 23rd Nov 2000 Owen Jennings Speech -- Environment

I move that the Resource Management Act (Consultation with Landowners) Amendment Bill be now read a first time.

Mr Speaker, I would like to see this Bill to go to the Local Government & Environment Select Committee as they are already working through amendments to the Resource Management Act.

The RMA remains a festering sore in many sectors, among many people and in many areas around New Zealand. The inevitable clash between users of resources, between public interest and private rights is never going to be an easy process to administer and resolve.

However there are areas where the RMA is failing the simple tests of operating on sound principles and providing equity and respect for participants and their rights. It is proving a major block to sensible, safe and urgently needed investment and development. It was designed to be enabling legislation. It was meant to be balanced and fair. It has not demonstrated those traits in practise.

This Bill is a small, but very important correction to the Act. It may even seem trivial to some who are not aware of the practical, day to day workings of the Act. I can assure the House that for landowners around the country it is of the utmost importance and will remove a source of frustration, costs, and inequity.

This Bill requires local authorities who have the power to establish protected areas for conservation to first consult with affected landowners. The current Act does not mandate consultation. It provides for it. It even suggests it. I want to make it a clear directive in the body of the Act, rather than it being referred to in the schedules only.

There has been a substantial positive response from all round the country to the announcement that this Bill had been drawn from the Ballot. For example landowners in the Hurunui, in North Canterbury, are now deeply involved in a somewhat acrimonious and debilitating debate with their own Council over a lack of consultation in their draft plan.

The Hurunui District Council unfortunately chose to use a 50 year old map to identify significant natural areas in its catchment. Worst still, it published the areas it had identified without direct consultation with any landowner affected.

Members could appreciate the consternation, even anger that some landowners felt finding out through their local newspaper that their family home and farm buildings had been included in a significant natural area – a decision that would involve expensive and impractical restrictions. Areas of open pasture, areas that were already covenanted with the QE2 National Trust and areas that clearly had no environmental value were also included. The issue quickly became bogged down in claim and counter claim with everyone becoming a looser.

The RMA has left such an inequitable situation for Hurunui landowners that they have formed a lobby group that suggests farmers lock their gates, preventing access to Council and Department of Conservation staff. Such is their frustration. They are fed up, are as many others around the country.

A not dissimilar situation occurred in the Far North which eventually brought that Council down at the first available election. Such nonsense’s are unhelpful to pursuing the objective of sound resource law and balanced environmental outcomes. Elsewhere in the country similar situations have arisen causing anxiety, division, uncertainty and additional cost.

Its not that these landowners are anti-conservation. To the contrary, they have already made considerable sacrifices to protect the best of their properties and are planning to do more. Many have covenants, are planting natives, creating wetlands, fencing off regenerating bush, keeping weeds and pests off their own and the state’s adjoining land.

The problems associated with a lack of consultation will not go away. Plans will be updated, proposed plans will become operative, existing plans will be renewed every ten years. Each occasion provides an opportunity for the disastrous situation to occur where councils identify and publicly announce areas of private land as protected zones with substantial restrictions without the civility and good sense of speaking to the affected landowner.

It ought to be a case of simple, good manners to consult with the landowner, directly, before publicly announcing that controls are being put on an affected property. Common courtesy demands that you involve the party most affected in such a decision or it ought to.

More importantly, the issue of property rights and their importance is at the core of this debate.

The ACT Party believes strongly in private property rights. To ACT it is of paramount importance that the community recognises the rights that New Zealanders have to own and manage their own property whether it is real property or intellectual property.

This is not some outdated, anti-social ideology. It is a matter of core principal. Private Property is the basis for all of our freedoms. Milton Friedman said there could be no freedom without private property rights. For example, he rightly claimed there could be no freedom of speech without the private ownership of the printing press.

Private property underpins our democracy and our commercial systems. We put investment at risk by introducing uncertainty over the erosion of property rights. It is, also, inextricably linked with and is part of who we are as individuals.

We often say a man’s home is his castle to denote the importance of having a place to stand, a place we call our own, a place of privacy where we can express our individuality free from the over bearing interference of others including the state.

History shows that when the socialists thieve property rights from individuals they actually take something of that individual. Each person becomes poorer economically, but also poorer in spirit. A look into the eyes of those in socialist countries who have lost the rights to their own piece of property ought to tell us that it is not just the economic loss that is at stake - it is the loss of identity and privacy.

There is ultimately little difference between taking property rights with tanks and guns and taking it with intrusive legislation. The RMA as it stands and, especially, the way it is interpreted by some councillors and their bureaucratic staff, is callously eroding private property rights in disregard of the medium and long term effects.

The underlying principles are the same. We are poorer for not recognising the damage we are doing by trampling over the rights of those who own property. Every action under the RMA that places the interests of the community above those of a landowner without that landowners knowledge and support is a form of theft. It might be subtle theft, it might be theft by slow degree but it is none the less theft.

We are demeaning the role of the ‘live-in’ custodian who has a vested interest in his or her own estate. Landowners are the most valuable resource the community has for obtaining the best environmental outcomes. Sustainability is more important for a farmer than it is for any onlooker because the business depends on sound environmental principles. Why marginalise the steward who is on the job? The tragedy of the commons is encroaching onto the privately held land interests of individual New Zealanders.

This Bill takes one small step in the right direction. It says clearly and simply “we respect you and the interest you have in your property”. Before councils rush in and take public control of what belongs to an individual proper consultation will take place. The community will have the common courtesy to go and discuss the public’s interest in private land before council bureaucrats rush and place restrictions on that land – restrictions affecting its value and the right individuals have to do what they want with it.

There is a proven responsibility that goes with consultation. The courts have defined it as a robust and sincere exercise. It will not be meaningless. It will have respect for the rights and views of landowners.

This bill does not seek much from the House tonight. We have recently sent a bill to a select committee involving the protection of land around the Summit road on Banks Peninsula that required the authority to consult fully with affected landowners before instituting any protection mechanisms. I noticed the Labour/Alliance government members supported that bill. I look forward to them acting consistently and fairly.

ENDS

For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.


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