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Hobbs Speech: RMA (Waitaki Catchment) Bill

Marian Hobbs Speech: Resource Management (Waitaki Catchment) Amendment Bill 2003, second reading

Mr Speaker, I move that the Resource Management (Waitaki Catchment) Amendment Bill 2003 be now read a second time.

The Bill was referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee on the 10th December 2003. The Committee received over 100 submissions and undertook a very thorough consideration of the Bill.

The Select Committee reported back to the House on 22 March, recommending that the Bill be passed with the amendments shown. I thank the Select Committee for its timely work on these complex matters. The government accepts the committee's amendments, although I am looking at some technical issues that might result in SOPs at the committee stage.

Mr Speaker, it is essential that the legislation be passed as soon as possible so that the water allocation framework for the Waitaki River can be developed and the consents, currently on hold and awaiting determination, can be processed.

There are four parts and two Schedules to the Bill to amend the Resource Management Act 1991. The legislation aims to improve decision-making powers for allocating water in the catchment. There are a large number of competing applicants wanting to take water from the Waitaki but there is no regional plan to guide the allocation of that water. The Bill proposes to establish a Water Allocation Board to develop a water allocation framework for the catchment; followed by a Panel of Commissioners to decide the significant resource consent applications. The Bill enables the Board to compare and assess the merits of competing categories of water use and the Panel to do a similar job on competing applications for the use of water.

The Select Committee was concerned to underline the independence of the Water Allocation Board and Panel of Commissioners and has recommended the removal of the Minister’s power to issue procedural directions to these bodies. The Committee has recommended that the Board and Panel have between three and seven members each and that there be appointment criteria for both the Board and the Panel. They also recommend that specific grounds for dismissing members be included.

The Select Committee has recommended that the Panel of Commissioners comprise members appointed by the five local authorities of the Waitaki region.

Other proposed changes to the Bill include:

Increasing the time for the Board to draft the water allocation framework from eight months to nine months, with the Minister for the Environment able to grant a three-month extension. Clarification that competing activities are compared at the local, regional and national levels and removal of the term “national perspective”. Removal of clause 31 Removal of clause 27 Other technical changes were made to make clear that RMA principles and procedures generally apply to the development of the framework and consideration of the applications, and to clarify the relationship between the framework, which becomes a regional plan, and other RMA planning documents.

I want to comment briefly on key elements of the changes recommended by the Select Committee.

There was never any intention that either the Board or the Panel be subject to political interference. The power to issue procedural directions was intended to cover matters of administrative business. However, I consider that the Board and Panel can deal with these matters through their power to regulate their own procedures. I am therefore comfortable about the proposed deletion of clauses 9 and 37. I welcome the proposal that the legislation set out criteria for appointing Board and Panel members. These criteria would have been developed in the course of considering nominations and seeking Cabinet approval for members and I have no objection to these criteria being spelt out in the legislation. Similarly, I am happy for dismissal grounds to be set out in the Act. This simply codifies what is standard practice.

I also support the recommendation that the term “national perspective” be deleted. While it is important that the legislation explicitly require decision makers to consider costs and benefits at the national as well as the regional and local levels, the words “national perspective” are not already used in the Resource Management Act and carried some risk. I am satisfied that the new tests set out in clauses 20 and 42 will achieve the intended outcome.

I would like to comment on the effect of this legislation on existing consents and respond to concerns that have been expressed about this. Nothing in this Bill is intended to alter the rights of existing consent holders to operate their existing consents. The Water Allocation Framework once operative is simply a regional plan and as such is forward looking. In allocating water under the Framework the Board must consider any de facto allocation created by existing consents, but is not bound by that de facto allocation and may allocate water to whatever uses it considers most beneficial. However, as with the development of any other regional plan where the water may be currently allocated by consents, the allocation will not be able to override existing consents and so will not have effect until those consents expire, except through any review of consent conditions. Any such review is conducted under the existing provisions of the RMA and is a review of conditions for environmental matters only. If necessary I will consider introducing SOPs in the committee stage to clarify this.

The technical changes to the Bill simply clarify the intention that the RMA Principles and Procedures will apply.

Mr Speaker, I look forward to this Bill receiving wide-ranging support in the House this afternoon. While I think some of the parties who will support this legislation today do not agree with every aspect of the Bill, they know it offers a better solution for the applicants and the community. Like the Government, they are concerned to secure an improved process for deciding between the applications.

This is in stark contrast, Mr Speaker, to the National and Act parties, who would sooner put party politics ahead of any improved process. It’s their strategy to whip up discontent with anything associated with the Resource Management Act, even to the detriment of the people on the ground. Some weeks ago in this House, I spoke about the Government’s approach towards the environment, which is to engage with individuals, communities and businesses to work through problems together to find solutions. I contrasted this with National Party’s desire to create division between environmental and business interests – to pitch business against the environment. And the Waitaki Bill is a perfect example of these two approaches. The Government introduced this Bill to improve the process for decision-making down in the Waitaki, and as we shall see this afternoon, there are others in the House who agree with our approach. Right through the process, the National Party has screamed that we are fast-tracking Project Aqua as the Government’s pet project, while making other businesses use normal RMA procedures. The truth, and the National Party knows it, is that this process comes out of a special set of circumstances, and treats all applicants – publicly and privately owned – equally. Yet they insist on trying to stir-up this division for their own political ends. But, Mr Speaker, they are isolated and just look foolish. Other parties in the House would not vote for the Bill if it favoured Project Aqua or any other application.

Mr Speaker, this Bill is about solutions, and an improved decision-making process for the people in the Waitaki and those with applications to take water from the River. I am pleased that it will receive widespread support in the House, and I look forward to the Bill passing through remaining stages.

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