Wednesday 09 November 2016 02:27 PM
Govt bows to key submissions on RMA Bill, credits Maori Party
By Pattrick Smellie
Nov. 9 (BusinessDesk) - The government has agreed to a wide range of changes to its proposed reforms to the Resource Management Act, agreeing to back down in areas identified by business and environmental groups alike, while crediting the Maori Party for the changes.
By doing so, Environment Minister Nick Smith gains the one-vote majority the government needs to get the troubled legislation back on track after the local government and environment select committee returned the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill to Parliament this week without a committee reportback.
For a select committee not to attach a reportback on proposed legislation is extremely unusual and reflects frustration among Opposition parties, which banded together to oppose a third extension of time beyond the latest Nov. 7 deadline. The bill had already been before the select committee for 11 months and was initially expected back in the House by June.
The agreement announced today with the Maori Party gives the government the bare majority it needs to win a parliamentary motion tomorrow to return the bill to the select committee to complete its deliberations. Smith remains optimistic the reforms will be in place by February next year, if not before Christmas, as previously hoped.
Opposition parties accused the government of burying the announcement on the day of the US election, but the fact it is persisting with the bill, which contains amendments to six pieces of legislation, is testament to its determination to finish the process rather than allow the bill to languish on the parliamentary Order Paper indefinitely without a way forward.
Among key changes outlined, without detail, by Smith today are a scaling back of widely criticised ministerial override powers on regional plans, including the ability to override Water Conservation Orders, the restoration of several but not all of the appeal rights that had been removed in the proposals, and the mandatory appointment of an Environment Court judge to oversee the new 'collaborative planning' model that Smith has pioneered.
The agreement also strengthens the iwi participation processes contained in the original bill, to include the ability of iwi to initiate consultation processes with local government and lengthening the period for consultation with iwi from six to 18 months.
The iwi participation provisions have been hotly opposed by the New Zealand First party, which claims they codify a form of Maori separatism, but which have been a bottom line requirement for support for the bill from the Maori Party.
The party's co-leader, Te Ururoa Flavell, said there had been no extra concessions wrung from the government to get today's agreement, which was vital if the government was to refer the stalled bill back to the select committee. However, the negotiations with the government had finished before the select committee decided not to allow a time extension, he said.
The party's other co-leader, Marama Fox, acknowledged that the concessions the party was taking credit for reflected the widely held concerns of submitters, as well as the Maori Party.
"That shows we are protecting the rights and interests of all of Aotearoa," she said.
Asked whether the government was announcing changes to the RMA reforms in response to submissions or because of Maori Party pressure, Smith said: "It's a bit of both."