Both the Natural & Built Environment and the Spatial Planning Bills are set to become law in the coming weeks.
As we pointed out in previous articles, Labour’s new resource management regime is far worse than the current system. Worse in that it will diminish local voices, reduce democratic accountability, increase uncertainty, and embed inequitable rights based on race.
Debate during the second reading of these two bills shows this is no accident. Rather, it is an intentional act to push a racialized ideology, whereby the Government and Māori are separate groups in partnership with each other, and that Māori have specific rights not available to other citizens.
Centralised control = the loss of local voices and democratic accountability
The government’s reform package shifts all land use planning away from local government (city and district councils) to 16 new regional entities. Although local communities may have an elected representative on the Regional Planning Committee, the voice of local communities on local issues will be severely diluted under this centralised regional planning structure.
While ratepayers will provide the funding for these committees, they will act independently of local government. There is no requirement for members of the committees to seek prior authority for their decisions from their appointing bodies.
Decision-making at arms’ length from local communities means it will be near impossible for citizens to hold the members of these powerful committees to account via the ballot box. And yet, they will have the authority to set rules that govern many aspects of our lives.
To exacerbate this loss of democratic accountability, each committee will have a minimum of two Māori members appointed by iwi and hapū groups. Environment Minister David Parker disingenuously claims there will be no co governance in the RMA reforms saying "The Government is not proposing 50-50 co-governance. Regional planning committees will have a legal minimum of two Māori representatives. Local councils and Māori in a region can then agree on whether they want more [on each Committee]”. However, in making this statement, Mr Parker is not making allowance for the provision requiring anyone exercising powers, functions, or duties under the Act to give effect to the principles of te Tiriti. Partnership is often promoted as one of the principles of the Treaty, and the partnership concept is increasingly being manifested as 50:50 co-governance arrangements. Indeed, a recent Waitangi Tribunal report recommended, in relation to the Regional Planning Committees, that “all the claimants and interested parties agreed that the composition of the committees should be on a co-governance 50:50 basis”.
As Ray Deacon, New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, writes in ‘Replacing the Resource Management Act 1991’
“The potential for 50 per cent of committee members to be unelected, the ability for the Minister to make an appointment to each RPC, [Regional Planning Committee] and the directions that can be given through te Oranga o te Taiao statements and by the National Māori Entity will significantly undermine democratic accountability”.
‘Loose as a goose’ provisions are going to be a nightmare
The proposed legislation fails three key principles of the rule of law - certainty, equality, and clarity. This problem begins with the NBE bill’s overarching purpose statement, which introduces vague and puzzling concepts without any clear definition.
Dr Bryce Wilkinson of the NZ Initiative writes in his commentary ‘When a Bill’s objective is vague, its provisions are rudderless’.
“The recommended NBE Bill looks as unworkable and misguided as its earlier version.
The problems start with the NBE Bill’s purpose statement. It does not identify any problem in the community for which the Bill is the remedy. Its stated purpose, “to uphold te Oranga o te Taiao”, is unfathomable. We are not told who is not upholding it, why not, or why it matters.
The meanings it is given are as all-encompassing as motherhood and apple pie. Who decides what is the “health of the environment”, meaning everything inside and outside our homes and all our relationships with each other? And how does it help to say its meanings include “the interconnectedness of all parts of the environment”?
The courts will likely spend a decade fathoming the unfathomable”.
An additional complication is the obligation that the regional committees “must have particular regard to te Oranga o te Taiao statements, with the loose definition being: “any statement prepared by an iwi or hapū of a region to express their view on how te Oranga o te Taiao can be upheld at the regional and local levels”. This obligation is completely new to New Zealand law and is likely to cause significant confusion and potential legal disputes.
“[te Oranga o te Taiao] is defined to include the relationship between iwi and individual hapu and the environment. It places untested, undefined and unpredictable race-based considerations at the centre of the planning process”
– Roger Partridge, The New Zealand Initiative
A further provision likely to lead to litigation
Another area fraught with uncertainty is the provision that "All persons exercising powers and performing functions and duties under this Act must give effect to the principles of te Tiriti." When select committee members considering submissions on the bills asked officials to define the principles, they were told that there is no formal definition of the principles and that the principles of the Treaty are evolving. As National M.P. Scott Simpson pointed out during the select committee stage - this provides very little confidence or certainty to anybody wishing to rely on this piece of legislation.
Informing the public about this very important issue
The government’s proposed replacement to the Resource Management Act has largely flown under the radar - there has been very little coverage in the mainstream media, and certainly no in-depth analysis by the media. Mindful of this, the NZ Taxpayers’ Union has been vigorously campaigning against these bills, conducting a tour throughout the country to alert as many people as possible to what the Government is planning for resource management. You can listen to a recording of the Invercargill presentation HERE.
To further spread the word, the TU Deputy Campaigns Manager, Connor Molloy, recently released a video outlining the problems with the proposed reforms and why they are destined to be a costly failure.
Please take a moment to view, then share the link with your friends and family:
To help further raise public awareness:
- Talk to your friends, family, and workmates,
- Live on a busy road? Please put up a banner,
- Or if you have street facing windows, put up a core flute sign.
We have covered this issue in previous newsletters. See:
Also see ‘Sweeping changes in resource management law underway’ published in the elocal online magazine