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Jim Peters' - Resource Management Speech

17 December 2004

Resource Management And Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill - Jim Peters' Speech In The House 16th December 2004

“When I picked up my copy of the bill, took it home, and thought back over the past 5 years, I, like Dr Nick Smith, found a significant similarity to the work done in 1999 by the Upton committee. In fact, if I had time, I could go through examples where, suspiciously, in a not-too-subtle way, the same concepts are embodied in the bill before us. That is very surprising.

When I came to the House I, like Dr Nick Smith, picked up in the select committee the almost abandoned work that the earlier committee had done and that the incoming Labour Government had slashed with a very large red pen. New Zealand First claimed that the time was appropriate, in the almost redundant 2002 bill, to thoroughly review the Resource Management Act. In the view of New Zealand First, after a decade it was the right time to see whether the Act, and Part II in particular, was still valid; in other words, whether the pre-1990s thinking embodied in the Palmer concepts, which were part of the gestation of the Act and were finally brought to the House by the National Government, and virtually embodied first in its bill and then in the Act, still fitted New Zealand a decade later. For our part, we do not believe they do. We believe that Part II of the Act should have been looked at, and it was not.

The part we particularly believe should be looked at, and we will be encouraging submissions on this, is the part that defines Maori and the Treaty of Waitangi. We believe that the Treaty of Waitangi section has no place in Part II. In fact, we believe that clause 6 of Part II needs to be further defined. There is no place for the Treaty of Waitangi clause in legislation in 2004. There is a place to emphasise in detail in Part II exactly what is meant by the aspects of Maori culture that are mentioned, particularly in clause 6. We also believe absolutely that there is no place in this day and age for an ill-defined concept of spirituality.

New Zealand First’s concern is that Part II should have been addressed in the bill. The concept of spirituality that has become an indefinite part of Resource Management Act decisions, as recently as the Genesis decision with regard to the Whanganui River, is not a matter for legislation, but a matter for personal conscience. It ought to have had a place, and has no further place in resource consents.

In saying that, we believe that sacred sites and other tangible evidence of Maori culture should have an impact, but not to the degree that Part II allows and that jurisdictions have said should be there. We strongly support submitters coming to the select committee with their mind upon the relevance of Part II, and the broad concepts that guided Part II. Is the term ‘sustainability’ one that we need to embody, and if so, what does it mean in 2004, and so on. We were very conscious when we came to look at the bill that there is a backdrop.

That backdrop is the immense amount of work done by councils in formulating the present state of planning, the millions and millions of dollars of ratepayer expenditure and, to some degree, taxpayer expenditure in formulating plans. More important than the cost is the large number of local people who have had an input into plans over the last 11 years. Therefore, some of the suggestions that are in this bill, particularly the national statements and the potential impact caused directly by cutting across local and regional thinking, are cause for alarm.

I hope that submitters will come back to us and tell us exactly what that means. The other issue with regard to planning is the issue of the lengthy and abundant jurisdictional judgments and decisions about various aspects of planning and consents. There is a vast body out there that any change must have regard to, and therefore, in a pragmatic way, this bill ought to have addressed that. The most significant factor in the bill is that, against a decade or more of local, regional, and national planning with only one policy statement with regard to coastal policy before the country, we are about to have, should this bill finally be transposed into law, a whole body of national statements at this late stage.

That is in opposition, of course, to the work that has been done over the past decade. In other words, if this bill is admitted in its final form, we are about to move into a ‘command and control’ approach to environmental decision-making, whereby decision makers merely apply regulatory statements that are prepared by central government.

That is not in keeping with the whole history of participation, a democratic approach, and a pluralistic approach in public law, which have been the hallmarks of the Resource Management Act. Therefore, that is a matter that we would look at very closely and we hope that submitters will too. In other words, a light-handed approach in the past has been the mode. We are about to have, or could have, a heavy-handed approach to strongly influence, and have a marked impact on, local authorities. With that comes the very clear intention in some of the subtle, or not so subtle, language that is tantamount to telling local authorities how to go about their day-to-day tasks, how to perform, and that central Government bureaucracy can dictate to local authorities on matters that local authorities would have to fund.

That has been one of the hallmarks, in my short time here, of this Government. Through its legislation it has imposed vast costs upon local bodies. Unless it is watched very closely, and I have suspicions to indicate otherwise, this could be one of the very first results here. We have a heightened central Government interest. We have a modified call-in process that is very little used but is about to be used if this bill should become an Act in the future. No one quite knows what this call-in process is, how diverse it will be, or, more importantly, where the local council comes into it at the end of the process. There was an abridged call-in process in regard to the Resource Management (Waitaki Catchment) Amendment Bill. In the end, the Government turned aside and came to the House with more proper and, we hope, effective legislation. We have a call-in process that goes down to private plan changes and we saw that with regard to the Aquaculture Reform Bill, which has just gone through the House.

New Zealand First hopes that submitters will go through this bill with great care. We believe that the pre-hearing meetings should be speeded up. We believe that they have a real part to play and have not been used in the past. A clear definition of more than is in this bill with regard to ‘pre-hearing’ will certainly mean an efficient, on-going process. We also believe that the Environment Court could have a lesser role to perform than it has done so far.

If there was consistency between the pre-hearing process, as a major definitive process, and a shorter judicial hearing as a result, with only some cases going to the Environment Court on points of law, rather than having, as now, total rehearings, then that would be in the best interests of the country. If this bill removes blockages that are there now, with regard to the speed of being able to get a consent, it is sound, but I do not see that. Last of all, with regard to the bill, was there a necessity for change and has it been expressed? The answer is yes. It is clear. Has it been answered in this bill? That is very doubtful. Is there a constituency out there supporting the change, such as farmers, community groups, local authorities, industry, lawyers, and the community?

Yes there is, but this bill does not very clearly define what that could be. Is the magnitude of what this bill envisages such that we will have real change and reform? The answer is that it is doubtful. New Zealand First believes that this bill should be concerned in 2004 primarily with promoting the sustainable management of resources, which is about understanding people’s needs and understanding the capacity of our national and physical resources to meet the present and future needs of the country. New Zealand First will support the passage of this bill to the select committee, despite our many reservations, some of which I have just expressed, thereby affording the opportunity to those submitters to further define what New Zealanders believe should be the future scope of this bill for the common good.”

ENDS

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