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RMA reform an attack on Kiwi values

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Media release from Fish & Game NZ

RMA reform an attack on Kiwi values

Analysis of the Government’s RMA reforms by Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC points to an alarming attack on the nation’s recreational and environmental values.

“Few people better understand the RMA than Sir Geoffrey, one of the original architects of the Act,” says Fish & Game NZ chief executive Bryce Johnson.

“In his report for the New Zealand Fish and Game Council, Sir Geoffrey’s expert analysis clearly shows that the Government’s proposed changes ‘will significantly and seriously weaken the ability of the RMA to protect the natural environment and its recreational enjoyment by all New Zealanders’.

“From the outset Fish & Game has been concerned that the Government’s so-called moves to ‘simplify and streamline the RMA process’ was a Trojan Horse for major changes to the Act to enable greater exploitation of New Zealand’s remaining finite natural resources. Our fears have been confirmed.”

Mr Johnson points out that while the RMA is often demonised by the Government and corporate industry for “creating delays”, Part 2 of the Act is a critically important foundation principle of “sustainable management” – it protects New Zealand’s recreational values, the environment, and the economy by underpinning the ‘100% Pure, clean green’ brand.

“Like any party involved in RMA processes, Fish & Game supports moves to shorten timeframes, improve planning processes and simplify planning documents, which can be achieved through the Government’s proposed process-orientated reforms, however it is totally unacceptable that National is using this as an excuse to attack the core principles of the Act, effectively lowering environmental standards.

“As Sir Geoffrey points out, many of the ‘process issues’ identified by the Government can be rectified without tampering with the environmental protection provisions.

“The question has to be asked: What is the Government’s motivation for taking the wrecking-ball to the environmental safeguards in Part 2 of the Act? Where is the analysis to justify this attack on Part 2? And is the Government representing the best interests of all New Zealanders, or a select minority of resource hungry corporates?

“Sir Geoffrey couldn’t find any justification for the Government’s proposals in his thorough analysis. In fact, he notes that ‘changes to Part 2 of the Act… are largely unnecessary and will lead to greater uncertainty and cost’.”

Mr Johnson says the unnecessary meddling with this prominent piece of legislation, combined with a woefully inadequate public consultation and submission period, is an assault on our environment and economy.

“The Government’s proposed changes to Part 2 of the Act will wreck existing case law and introduce massive uncertainty, put at risk an economy progressively built on the foundation of a ‘100% Pure, clean green’ brand now worth $14 billion; and a major concern for environmental and recreational interests is that it will effectively allow small streams to be turned into farm drains.”

Summary of key points in Sir Geoffrey’s analysis:

• 3. b. – “The proposed changes to Part 2 will significantly and seriously undermine environmental protection under the RMA. These changes are largely unnecessary and will lead to greater uncertainty and cost in the application and interpretation of the RMA.”
• 8. a. – “A number of the changes will substantially limit the ability of submitters to put forward evidence as to the environmental impacts of proposals…”
• 8. b. – “Proposals for greater central government intervention [are] inconsistent with the central principles of the Act.”
• 12. – “Core environmental values that currently have status as ‘matters of national importance’ will be diminished to mere ‘matters’, including: the preservation of the natural character of the coastal natural environment; the protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes, and areas of indigenous vegetation and habitat; and the maintenance and enhancement of public access to beaches and waters. Other central environment factors, such as amenity values [recreation], the intrinsic value of ecosystems, and the maintenance and enhancement of the quality of the natural environment will no longer be considered at all.”
• 13. – “The environmental principles that remain will be significantly weakened… These changes might seem small but they have serious implications…”
• 14. – “The proposed new section 6(n)… has the potential to exclude the environmental impacts of activities on small streams and waterways – despite the critical roles these play in the ecological integrity of river systems as a whole…”
• 15. – “The changes themselves are largely unnecessary… No research findings are offered in support of the policy contention made…”
• 16. – “[Government] concerns… not supported by fact…”
• 16. b. – “Courts and other decision makers under the RMA already routinely take account of social and economic considerations… These considerations have specifically included the national benefits of infrastructure, provision of affordable housing, and the value of making land available to meet future housing needs.”
• 16. c. – “Only a tiny number of resource consent applications are declined… 90 per cent of significant infrastructure projects successfully progress through the RMA…”
• 18. – “… the changes are unlikely to deliver the Government’s central stated objective to ‘make the system easier to use, increase its certainty and predictability, and reduce unnecessary duplication and cost’… Much of that case law will now be redundant, leaving decision-makers without guidance, and thereby increasing cost and complexity…”

• 19. – “These risks are exacerbated by the proposed new section 7… and can be expected to be the basis for considerable future litigation.”


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