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Launch Of David Young’s Book On The RMA

12 September 2001 Hon Marian Hobbs Speech Notes

Launch Of David Young’s Book On The RMA “Values As Law: The History And Efficacy Of The Resource Management Act”

Rutherford House, 5.00pm Sept 12

Thank you for inviting me here today to launch this timely and readable book. Ten years after the enactment of the Resource Management Act it is very interesting to read what was the original intent of the key players involved in developing the Resource Management Bill and their views now on how the Act is performing.

I’d like to congratulate the Institute of Policy Studies for initiating this project. For all the vast volumes of paper generated by the RMA, (and I’m just talking about the stuff that comes across my desk!), very little has been written about how the Act evolved. Although plenty of people comment on how it is performing now, it is usually from one perspective and simply an article in a newspaper or paper at a conference, rather than the collection of views presented in this book.

I’d also like to congratulate David Young. The “oral history” approach used in the book makes for easy reading. David has a long pedigree in writing on environmental issues. He has interviewed many people in producing this book. Although I must say it does pale somewhat compared to his latest project, which I understand is a history of conservation in New Zealand.

One thing that struck me as I read it was the tremendous amount of effort put in by many people throughout the reform process. The names that kept standing out were Denise Church, Geoffrey Palmer, Simon Upton, Lindsay Gow, Craig Lawson, and Cath Wallace. I particularly liked the story about the extent of Denise’s dedication - to the point of keeping a sleeping bag under her desk! (page 22).

Nearly ten years on, it certainly is timely to be reflecting on the track record of the Act, on where we’ve got to as far as implementation and outcomes go, and whether these stack up against what the Act set out to achieve back in 1991.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer once described the 50 laws and statutes that existed before the RMA as “an uncoordinated, unintegrated hotch-potch.” There were significant barriers to integrated environmental management When the RMA became law, it replaced this “hotch-potch” with a single framework for environmental management and planning in New Zealand. It cemented in place the concept of “sustainable management’ and as David points out, it asked us ƒ{for the first time in our history ƒ{ to put the environment first when making resource management decisions.

Whether we’ve been very good at doing that over the last ten years is a moot point. The criticism fired at the RMA from various sectors does ring true on certain matters. David has picked up on some of the underlying reasons in his book.

The book talks about a lack of central resourcing, support, and guidance for local government when the Act was first introduced. It also mentions a lack of education of the general public in the new ways of thinking that the RMA required.

I agree. It was wrong to assume that people would be able to pick up the new concepts and philosophies of the RMA and work them into practice without needing guidance or support.

This Government is committed to supporting local government and others in understanding and implementing the Act and making sure its intent and purpose are upheld. We need to be pro-active if the RMA critics and sceptics are to be proved wrong - and the environment protected.

Local government has been working hard to improve its RMA implementation and the Ministry is busy helping with this in a number of ways. The Quality Planning website is a great example of this - it’s an Internet resource for planning practitioners. It includes guidance on RMA issues and processes, contact people throughout the country, a growing database of publications and live discussion forums.

To help people understand the RMA and how it might affect them, we have also recently published what’s affectionately known as the “Blokes Guide” (The RMA and You: Getting in on the Act). This little booklet has been a great success and already the Ministry has distributed over 15,000 copies to people all over the country.

We are in the process of developing guidance of a more formal nature too - with a national policy statement for indigenous biodiversity and a national environmental standard for dioxins both underway at the moment. I expect these tools will provide valuable central direction on these important issues.

I recently consulted New Zealanders through the Rio + 10 programme and the results were pretty conclusive ƒ{ very simply, people said they wanted clean beaches, clean air, and clean waterways.

Sometimes, I think people forget that rather than being “that legislation that holds up development,’ the RMA is the main piece of legislation that sets out how we manage our environment.

To be effective, it actively encourages communities and individuals to become involved in environmental management and to plan for the future.

Success stories include cleaning up sewage discharges, closing old rubbish tips, and getting businesses to take responsibility for their environment and how they affect it. Thanks to the work of the Ministry and local government, we now know more about the state of our environment, such as the data collected as part of the national study on organochlorines.

We are also facing up to the more complex and diffuse problems such as loss of biodiversity and the effects of farm runoff on rivers and streams.

My approach for the future is based on partnership and strong government leadership. We need to increase the checks on whether our environmental objectives are being met by introducing rigorous systems of indicators and auditing. It is timely to consider how the current legal and institutional framework is working and whether there are more effective approaches. We also need to get community ownership and action if we are to make real progress.

Another priority for the government is to create new approaches to encourage environmental innovation in business and help business that is willing to embrace sustainable development.

There is a future for the RMA, and the success of that future depends on us. As Denise Church says in David’s book, the future is “ceasing our fixation with compliance costs and talking about smart environmental investments to achieve our vision ƒ{ investing to get good environmental results, but not wasting time and money on unnecessary regulatory activities.’ Protecting our environment is a strategic investment in New Zealand's future.

While I am confident we are working hard to enact the RMA effectively and fairly it is pretty safe to say that we have some big challenges ahead of us if we are to pay real service to the intent and purpose of the RMA in the next 10 years.

As well as monitoring the Act, we need to promote environmental awareness and action in the community.

David’s book provides us with some thought-provoking messages so I urge you all to think seriously about the way forward from here ƒ{ about putting the environment first instead of last, and about learning to tread a little lighter on New Zealand.

To conclude, I’d like to reiterate my congratulations to the Institute of Policy Studies and David Young on the publication of this book. It’s a pleasure to launch this book ƒ{ an interesting and insightful look at the life of the Resource Management Act. Let's drink a toast to David Young and the Institute and their book “Values As Laws: The History and Efficacy of the Resource Management Act"!

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