Speech: Adams - Bluegreens Forum
Hon Amy Adams
Minister for the Environment
9 March 2013 Speech
Keynote speech to Bluegreens Forum, Levin
Firstly can I add my welcome to you all to the Forum. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to kick-off the substantial part of the day with a discussion of the Government’s plans to reform the resource management system, including the way in which we manage our freshwater.
This morning I want to talk about three key areas – the Government’s rationale behind our Resource Management Act work programme, the importance of freshwater management in New Zealand, and announce the next stage of our freshwater reform programme.
I would like to begin by giving you some broader context to where resource management reform sits within the Government’s wider ambitions for New Zealand.
New Zealand needs a resource management system that is efficient and effective and provides the certainty and clarity needed to support job creation, that provides strong environmental outcomes and is capable of adapting to changing values, pressures and technology.
The Government is focused on delivering a system that provides both environmental protection and also meets our planning needs, recognising the dual functions of the Act. In delivering these objectives the system should operate in a way that is proportionate, timely and cost-effective.
In most cases the changes required are about having clearer rules up front about what can occur where, and where individual decisions are required, getting to those decisions faster, not necessarily changing what the final result may be.
Resource management decisions need to ensure that our natural and built resources are used and protected in a way that meet our needs now and for generations to come.
Despite the fact that the Act has been tweaked at the rate of about one amendment bill a year since its creation, the Government continues to hear concerns that resource management processes are cumbersome, costly and time-consuming, and that the system is uncertain, difficult to predict and highly litigious.
The system is difficult for many to understand and use, and in many cases, that lack of clarity is actively discouraging investment and innovation.
Frustration with RMA processes is rife and time and time again I hear that they are failing to meet New Zealanders’ expectations. The costs and time of drawn out processes has real consequences. It is money and opportunities that New Zealand families and businesses are missing out on.
The Government has already delivered significant improvements to the resource management system. Our first stage of reform involved 150 amendments to simplify and streamline the RMA and further reforms are currently before Parliament.
However, to address the core issues with the resource management system, a more systemic review and programme of reform is needed.
Last week, I released a discussion document that contains a comprehensive package of resource management reforms.
Fundamentally, the reforms are about providing greater confidence for businesses to grow and create jobs, greater certainty for communities to plan for their area’s needs, and strong environmental outcomes as our communities grow and change.
The reforms within
the package are divided into six core objectives:
• Greater national consistency and guidance
• Fewer, better resource management plans
• An effective and efficient consenting system
• Better natural hazard management
• Effective and meaningful Māori participation; and
• Working with councils to improve their RMA service performance
Taken as a package, these reforms are intended to deliver a clearer, better, faster and lower cost resource management system for New Zealanders that meets our needs environmentally, socially and economically, now and into the future.
I look forward to hearing the panel discussion on these proposals following my presentation and to further discussion during the Ministerial Panel later today to answer any questions you have.
Today, though, I want to turn the spotlight on reforming our freshwater management system.
It will come as no surprise to anyone here today that improving how New Zealand manages freshwater is an important part of the Government’s economic and environmental priorities.
While the debate over freshwater can be passionate at times, the fact that we have such a broad spectrum of views underlines the commitment all of us have to getting freshwater management right.
The importance of freshwater – both to our economy and the environment – cannot be overstated.
Australia has often been called the lucky country, largely in relation to its mineral wealth. But our freshwater resource makes New Zealand a far luckier country and managed wisely, that resource will be available for generations to come.
Water is crucial to growth in our economy, particularly in the agriculture, food and forestry sectors, which generate more than 70 per cent of New Zealand’s merchandise export earnings and about 12 per cent of gross domestic product.
It is also, of course, crucial to our $10 billion tourism sector, and as part of our renewable energy production.
Economically, we know that managing water more efficiently through irrigation has the potential to increase agricultural exports by as much as $4 billion per year by 2026.
The value of just allocating existing water takes more efficiently in water-scarce catchments has been estimated to be $12.7 million for each one per cent improvement.
For Kiwis, though, freshwater is so much more than just a commodity. It is also what makes our great Kiwi lifestyle - the fishing, swimming, kayaking and rafting.
Despite what we sometimes see in the media, New Zealanders know that our water quality is among the best in the world.
But we do not shy away from the fact that the quality has been declining in some of our lakes and rivers over many decades, and we must address this.
What this all shows is we have not had a sufficiently rigorous system as to how we manage our freshwater, both as to quantity and quality.
The legacy of water management has increasingly been one of contentious, divisive and litigious approaches where there must be a winner and a loser.
Sector groups, both industry and environmental, have often tended to take extreme positions in the hope that it will move the balance their way. This is perhaps out of concern that if they start in a moderate position and if their opponents do not then they will miss out.
This cannot continue as a way forward for New Zealand.
We must recognise both the economic potential of water use and the rare and valuable asset our abundant clean waterways are, and find solutions that protect both.
In the end, I think New Zealand is mature enough to have that debate and make informed and sensible choices, but we must ensure we do so with our eyes open to the impact of the decisions we make - now and into the future.
So, to tackle these challenges, the Government is today releasing a freshwater discussion document that contains proposals for the most comprehensive and positive reform of our freshwater management system for a generation.
As you all know, we asked the Land and Water Forum (LAWF) to bring together a diverse group of people and organisations with an interest in water use to build a wide consensus for a better way forward on water management.
Thanks to the collaborative approach taken by LAWF, we are now at the point of being able to advance reforms that have wide buy-in, that consider the long-term impacts of the way we manage our freshwater resource, and that provide greater certainty for those that need reliable access to water.
Before I detail the Government’s proposals, I would like to give some special recognition and thanks to those who have been at the forefront of this valuable work.
A special mention must go to Dr. Nick Smith and the Rt Hon David Carter who have all been such extraordinary champions of this endeavor.
But I want to pay particular tribute to Alistair Bisley for his leadership, patience, dedication and experience.
I would ask that everyone here today share in that appreciation with a round of applause to thank Alistair and the entire LAWF membership.
I also just want to mention that my colleague, the Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy, is jointly responsible with me for this work, but unfortunately can’t be here today and sends his apologies.
The Government’s plan of action for improving water quality and the way freshwater is managed is consistent with and based on LAWF’s recommended approach, and gives effect to their core recommendations.
The discussion document outlines a clear path of reform ahead that will be addressed through a comprehensive and measured approach, starting this year.
The proposals are based on a good understanding of the economic and environmental impacts the proposals will have on communities and businesses, as well as our national economy and our international reputation.
The immediate steps will provide a suite of changes to strengthen and enhance the foundations of the freshwater management system.
These include adding a collaborative planning option to the Resource Management Act as an alternative to the current process of submissions, hearings, and the possibility of appeals.
We have seen an excellent model in good collaboration developed in the Land and Water Forum.
It shows that getting different interest groups to the table early gives us a better chance of producing good quality information, and finding win-win solutions that reduce disputes. This allows planning to be done better and faster.
We will not be compelling councils to choose a collaborative approach, but we think there is a significant support for it, and we intend to create conditions that foster genuine collaboration and reduce conflict, litigation and costs.
We want to see a shift in decision-making to allow
communities to get early resolution of competing interests
through collaboration, not court action.
The emphasis will be on getting buy-in for the original planning decisions.
By limiting appeal rights as part of the
collaborative option, the Government is supporting those who
decide to invest their time and energy in the collaborative
Another critical element for community plan-making is the role of tangata whenua.
Iwi/Maori have spiritual connections and kaitiaki responsibilities for our freshwater resources, including rights and interests that are recognised in the Treaty of Waitangi.
We will be introducing a statutory requirement that iwi/Maori views be explicitly considered before decisions on freshwater are made. Importantly, iwi and councils will be able to shape the nature of their relationship to suit local needs. Where existing treaty settlements are in place that provide for such matters, those arrangements will remain unaffected.
Another key issue we propose to address immediately is to introduce a National Objectives Framework.
The rather technically-named National Objectives Framework is simply a standard list of values, attributes and bands for setting limits so that a water body can be suitable for those values or uses.
It provides a common currency for applying the science around water quality.
It will help provide a consistency of approach over the science and numbers, so local conversations around water use are supported by a recognised compilation of the best available water science.
Scientists and technical experts are working on populating the National Objectives Framework with numeric or other measures for water quality attributes now and this detail will be the subject of further consultation over the coming months, but at this stage we are seeking feedback on the concept and design of a national framework.
While I accept that LAWF members strongly supported such an approach and will be wanting to move ahead to the next stage of discussion, this document is an opportunity for the rest of New Zealand to express views on the recommendations put forward by LAWF in this regard.
The national framework is proposed to be supported by
two mandatory bottom lines for water quality which will
apply to all freshwater bodies.
The first of these bottom lines is based on the National Policy Statement’s requirement that councils set limits to support the water’s life-supporting capacity – which is the value of ecosystem health.
The second is about ensuring the water is suitable for human contact. This is based on a recommendation from LAWF.
And let me reassure you that this will not lead to a race to the lowest common denominator. The NPS requires overall water quality in a region to be maintained or improved.
If water is already above these bottom lines it cannot be allowed to deteriorate.
Where a water body currently falls
below a national bottom line, we expect councils and
communities to ensure that these bottom lines are met over
sensible and realistic timeframes.
Beyond these two bottom lines, all decisions about values and uses – and most importantly, timeframes for adjustment - will remain with communities.
Communities are best placed to make local level decisions about their local rivers, lakes and aquifers; and regional councils best understand the local water resource and the needs of the community.
The Government will help by providing clear guidance on national policy and a standardised framework that will enable limits to be set consistently no matter where you are around the country.
The third key area for reform is providing better and more standardised information and support to help councils and water users manage within limits.
We will start developing consistent systems and methods for measuring and accounting for takes and discharges so all councils are working within a nationally-consistent framework and to help councils and resource users make good management decisions.
There is no doubt that we need more accurate information about what is going into our waterways, and what is being taken out.
We will start work immediately on guidance for consistency in the way water entitlements are described in permits, and will continue working jointly with sectors on good practice toolkits for land and water managers like farmers and councils.
There is a lot more to be done in the next few years. In some cases, we need to do a lot more work to understand the local implications, such as for trading and transferability of permits, or incentives for more efficient use of our water such as pricing.
In other cases more work needs to be done about management measures that will require long adjustment times so as not to put people out of business or create undue hardship.
Everyone agrees that we need to be more efficient about how we use our water. What many people cannot agree on is the mechanisms or incentives that we need to use to create improvements in efficiency.
A lot more work needs to be done in this space and throughout these discussions the rights and interests of iwi will need to be recognised.
What is crucial right now is to bed in the foundation steps to improve the information we have available to make decisions, and to be transparent about how those decisions were arrived at.
We are going to provide greater central government leadership through guidance and support and, where necessary, regulation.
We are going to set clear expectations around values and methods for water management and ensure the national interest is articulated and provided for in local government decisions.
Reforms that will be tackled over the next few years
• Rules and tools to support the improved planning system and the National Objectives Framework
• A review of the Water Research Strategy across the whole of Government
• National direction and guidance on accounting for sources of contaminants and the use of models for nutrient budgeting
• National guidance on dealing with over-allocation, transition issues, and compliance and enforcement; and
• More work on allocation of water on expiry of permits, the transfer and trade of water, and incentives for efficient water use.
I want to stress at this point that the Government will ensure that economic development does not come at the expense of the long term sustainable management of our water resource.
This is why the Government is committed to introducing independent environmental reporting, based on high-quality, reliable data.
Credible state-of-the-environment monitoring and reporting is critical to good decision-making. We need a regular reporting system that is underpinned by high quality, consistent statistics that provide a reliable, accurate, and integrated picture of the economy and the environment.
Before we are in a position to do this, we need to address the current barriers to getting reliable, consistent data that provides an integrated picture of the economy and the environment.
In the Government’s 2011 discussion document on environmental reporting, we signaled that changes to the Resource Management Act were required to enable the government to make regulations requiring local authorities and councils to monitor the environment according to specified priorities and methodologies.
This work was completed last year and changes to the Act are included in the Resource Management Reform Bill 2012, which had its first reading in December.
It is essential that improvements to the quality and accessibility of data are made so that we can debate the issues rather than the integrity of the data.
Environmental reporting is an important focus for me, but before a Bill is progressed, substantial work is needed to determine how this will take place. The Ministry is currently in the midst of this work, with announcements likely to be later this year.
In the meantime, the Environment Ministry is continuing to provide reports on 22 core environmental initiatives which make-up state of the environment reporting, and we have elevated 10 environmental statistics to tier one status to ensure all the information is in the public arena on an up-to-date basis. This ensures the public have continued access to up-to-date, robust information.
Today, we have announced a comprehensive package of reform that reflects the advice we have received from many sources but in particular LAWF and discussions with the Iwi Leaders’ Group.
Through these reforms we will translate
LAWF’s recommendations into reform that makes a real
difference. We welcome feedback as we progress this
I would like to end by again thanking the LAWF members, the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group, and many of you here today. We would not have got where we are without the tireless effort, generous gift of time, and goodwill of so many people.
We do not yet have all the information we need and we do not yet understand all the mechanisms we will need to use to properly integrate land use and water management but what we do know is that we cannot afford to wait. It is my view that we must begin this work now based on the best information we have and accept that further refinements are to be expected over time.
My hope is that the constructive relationships and mutual understanding that have been built up over the past four years will continue as we start to roll out the most comprehensive and positive reform of our freshwater management system New Zealand has ever seen.