About the RLA Bill

The long-awaited reform of the Resource Management Act gives the appearance that Environment Minister Nick Smith wants to slow down every resource consent by involving every tribe in every district in every decision.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill aims for “the sustainable management of natural and physical resources in an efficient and equitable way”.

The reform was to streamline the Resource Management Act 1991, a 314-page tome introduced by former Labour Environment Minister Geoffrey Palmer.

The Resource Management Act quickly turned into an ogre, heaping costs and delays on anything to do with resource consents. It needed substantial reform.

The RLA Bill is wide-reaching and also touches the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012, the Environmental Protection Authority Act 2011, the Conservation Act 1987, the Reserves Act 1977, and the Public Works Act 1981.

The current National-led Government started this project soon after election to power in 2008 but due to pet hates, infighting, and ministerial incompetence, progress has been difficult.

Lacking support to pass the bill, National Ministers, most notably the current Environment Minister Nick Smith, turned to their friends in the Maori Party who promised support in return for the addition of "iwi participation clauses".

Under these clauses, all local authorities within 30 days of election were required to invite iwi into so-called “iwi participation agreements”.

This drew heated opposition, most notably from Democracy Action in Auckland, which got a legal opinion from Franks Ogilvie to spell out the legal problems with the bill, which are:

1 The iwi clauses would virtually entrench co-governance and partnership obligations with some Maori into local government, creating an under-the-radar constitutional change.

2 These sections contravene basic principles of the rule of law, they conflict with our basic democratic principles, and they are inherently racist.

3 These sections create legal uncertainty, and precursors of such arrangements linked to the Auckland Maori Statutory Board have led to conflict and litigation.

4 The sections weaken individual property rights, as we have seen in Auckland with the requirement for “cultural impact assessments”, and reduce the rights of councils in dealing with council property.

5 With powerful and self-interested tribal bodies at the heart of resource management, as prescribed by the iwi participation arrangements, iwi would become one of the potentially venal interests that the system should guard against.

6 The proposed sections would give tribal bodies critical advantages of exclusive prior notice, as well as direct input and discussion, while nothing is proposed to protect non-iwi citizens against the abuse of these privileges.

Early in 2016, Winston Peters offered NZ First votes to get the legislation passed so long as the iwi clauses were dropped. There was no response.

The bill went to the Local Government and Environment select committee, attracting 764 submissions.

Businesses, infrastructure operators, environmental organisations and iwi had similar criticisms of new Ministerial regulation making powers and the loss of appeal rights.

Submissions by Hobson’s Pledge members focussed on the iwi participation clauses (See the submission by Don Brash below).

All talk about the bill died away until November 9, 2016, when, under the cover of the hoopla of Donald Trump’s election to the United States presidency, Smith announced that agreement with the Maori Party enabled the RLA Bill to proceed.

Smith had done a switcheroo of the iwi participation clauses, replacing them with Mana Whakahono a Rohe: Iwi participation arrangements.

These say that at any time other than in the period that is 90 days before the date of a triennial election under the Local Electoral Act 2001, one or more iwi authorities representing tangata whenua may invite one or more relevant local authorities in writing to enter into a Mana Whakahono a Rohe with the one or more iwi authorities.

The Mana Whakahono a Rohe: Iwi participation arrangements appear in Subpart 2, clauses 58 K to T of the bill.

Even so, support from the Maori Party remains unclear due to a disagreement over the Minister’s ability to override regional assertions that some areas are free of genetically modified produce.

One of the key drivers to the review of the Resource Management Act 1991 was to deliver a reduction in the bureaucracy and costs associated with development of land and effective use of resources.

At a time where housing is such a critical issue for all New Zealanders, these clauses will achieve exactly the opposite of what was intended in Resource Management Act reform by slowing the process, complicating the decision making and increasing cost.

See http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2015/0101/latest/DLM6669131.html

Courtesy Hobson’s Pledge