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Rma 10th Birthday Commemoration Speech - Hobbs

Hon Marian Hobbs
October 1, 2001 Speech Notes

RMA 10TH BIRTHDAY COMMEMORATION, CITY GALLERY, CIVIC SQUARE, OCT 1, 6.30PM


This is indeed an auspicious occasion. Ten years ago today the Resource Management Act became law. In October 1991, the Resource Management Act established a new framework for promoting sustainability in New Zealand. Ten years later it is timely to reflect and celebrate on our progress with what was and is still ground-breaking legislation.

By bringing together laws that governed land, air and water resources, the Act introduced a radical new approach to environmental management. For the first time, we were able to look at the environment as a whole, both at a planning and decision making level. More than that, it set a driving principle for environmental management in New Zealand ¡V sustainable management. It's part of sustainable development which, is about meeting the needs of the present generation without comprising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Plenty of people, probably most of you, have made comments on how the Act is performing. The comments are often critical. But like any powerful and effective legislation, there will be critics?

I believe the Resource Management Act provides a sound basis for dealing with development proposals and ensuring that people's interests and concerns are taken into account. Some streamlining and improved practices would help its implementation ¡V but I know I am with the majority of New Zealanders in believing that the fundamentals of the Act are sound.

So how are we going? Is the Act living up to its expectations? I want to re-visit some of the goals for the Act when it was introduced. These goals included:

„h Better integration
„h Better public involvement
„h More efficient processes
„h Greater Maori involvement
„h Better outcomes for the environment

The RMA replaced a number of statutes for water and soil conservation, town and country planning, coastal and geothermal management, air quality and noise control. 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.

The Act empowers local communities to make decisions about local environmental issues. The emphasis on consultation under the Act is a positive achievement. There are many examples of where good consultation and getting neighbours on board has led to a smooth process with good outcomes for both consent applicants and others.

But all too often I receive complaints from people who feel they have not had an opportunity to have their say on the major issues facing their district or region. The best policies in the world will never work without involving the community.

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of involving the community in the Act's processes.

The criticism fired at the Act from various sectors does ring true on certain matters. Commentators have identified problems with its implementation. They attribute this to a lack of central resourcing, support, and guidance for local government when the Act was first introduced and a lack of education of the general public in the new ways of thinking that the Act required.

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

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

Local and central government has in recent years put an increasing amount of investment into making the RMA work. Most of the first generation of plans under the RMA have been written and some councils are leading the way with plan monitoring that will be used to improve the second generation of plans.

The costs of consents and the delays are perhaps some of the biggest criticisms. But local government processes about 48,000 consents every year. Hardly any of those strike problems. The biggest delays are at the Environment Court and we are addressing this with extra resourcing. The RMA was introduced at a time when user pays also gained a strong footing and resource users have had to face up to these costs.

Yes, there is still more work to do in implementing the Treaty/Maori provisions in the Act. We are all familiar with the stories of consultation overload for iwi, lack of time and resources, and damage to taonga and wahi tapu. We are also familiar with concerns about consulting with iwi ¡V who, when, where and how. But we are maturing and improving in this area. Practice by Councils, practice by applicants and practice by iwi is getting better.

The Act's 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. But there are more complex and diffuse problems for us to face up to and deal with, including: managing the effects of farm runoff on rivers and streams, and water allocation ¡V particularly in the dry east coast regions of the South Island.

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.

Ten years on with the RMA we are on the right track but haven't quite achieved its original goals.

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 ¡V and the environment protected.

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.

Protecting our environment is a strategic investment in New Zealand's future. The success of the Act will ultimately depend on whether we end up with a better environment. But we cannot rely on legislation alone to achieve a better environment.

ENDS

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