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Flavell - Financial Review Debate : PCE

Financial Review Debate : Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

Te Ururoa Flavell, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Tuesday 4 March 2014; 4pm

Tena koe, Mr Assistant Speaker. Ka nui te mihi ki a koe i tēnei rā.

I note that the Local Government and Environment Committee confirmed that there were no matters to bring to this House. Unfortunately, I disagree.

I think we should also use the financial review process to highlight the strengths, not just the weaknesses, of our current entities, and in that regard the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is one we should highlight.

As an independent officer of Parliament, the commissioner reports to Parliament as a whole, not to a Government Minister. This is very different, as I understand it, from other environmental agencies such as the Ministry for the Environment and the Environmental Protection Authority, which both report to, and have their budgets set by, a Government Minister. The commissioner therefore has a unique opportunity to provide Parliament with independent advice on any matters that may have any impact on the quality of our environment.

The mission of the commissioner is to maintain and improve the quality of the New Zealand environment by providing robust independent advice that influences decisions. As a party committed to the kaupapa of kaitiakitanga, we see investment in protecting our primary ecosystems as vitally connected to future economic prosperity and for the benefit of future generations. In our approach we promote renewable energy - efficient marae communities, towns, and cities as the basis for economic development, and the primary foundation must be to protect Papatūānuku as key to our future.

The commissioner pays particular attention to environmental problems that are irreversible, cumulative, and accelerating. Climate change ticks all of these three boxes and is the greatest environmental challenge the world faces. We appreciate the insights that the commissioner has shared with us. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has offered particular value in profiling the specific trade-offs that must be decided upon, such as the expansion of dairy farming versus the goal of maintaining and improving water quality. We submit that the inclusion of the submission by mana o te wai supports the construction of a decision-making framework in which there is, as there should be, a strong presumption in favour of water quality.

We are encouraged by the leadership the parliamentary commissioner offers in this regard. It is through our positive observations of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that we are promoting the concept of the parliamentary commissioner for the Treaty. The commissioner, from our perspective, has a lot of tie-overs. The Treaty commissioner would be required to report annually to Parliament on the status of whānau and to monitor State sector progress in improving outcomes for whānau.

A Treaty commissioner would also be required to proactively review and monitor progress of Treaty settlements, as well as the performance of the Office of Treaty Settlements and the Crown’s commitment to the Treaty. Similar to the Commissioner for the Environment, we would hope that they would look to result areas. So in our position the Treaty commissioner would have specific roles that would see them looking at things such as developing a result area for whānau that is measurable and for which we can hold chief executives, for example, to account. We would want services that are visible and responsive, organised around whānau, or policy provided to Cabinet, and all bills tabled in the House must be able to demonstrate the impact of the policy on whānau and that Treaty relationship. Only from this can be derived the model of justice that gives fair weight to the rights and needs of all people. That is really important.

So we would look, like the Commissioner for the Environment, to require an annual report to Parliament on the progress of things like the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to facilitate the right of Māori to preserve, evolve, and transform their ways of life, and we would introduce a requirement for Government departments and Crown entities to report annually on outcomes for Māori.

Maybe another key deliverable might be achieved in conducting a Treaty audit across Government departments. The audit would include the effectiveness of Māori-specific advice put forward by departments, including assessment of the various mechanisms for presenting such advice, whether it be to Māori focus units, wāhanga Māori, Deputy Security for Māori, etc. So the annual accounts of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment show the measures—

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