Resource Management Act under attack

16 Aug 2012

By Conservation Advocate Claire Browning

A long-awaited government advisory group report issued earlier this month would spell disaster for the Resource Management Act if it were picked up by the government.

The group had been asked by the government to review sections 6 and 7 of the Act. Along with section 5, these are the Act’s most important sections, which set out its environmental “bottom line” - the sustainable management of natural and physical resources - and “matters of national importance” which are about environmental protection and preservation.

They are about our taonga. And they affect the interpretation of the whole of the rest of the Act, and all of the regulations and planning documents made under it. 

They set the foundations for making decisions about the management of all of our environmental resources.

The advisory group proposes completely redrafting sections 6 and 7, combining them into one section, omitting some parts, adding others, and removing references to preservation and protection.

The sections aren’t perfect, and have been amended before. But the current proposals would gut the Act and its environmental bottom line.

It would be a reversion to the Town and Country Planning Act approach, abandoned 20 years ago, where economic, environmental and other sometimes conflicting factors were balanced without any legislative guidance, and everyone recognised that the results were a mess.

Simon Upton was the minister in charge of the RMA when it was passed. He’s spoken since about the intellectual effort that went in to it, spearheaded by himself and Sir Geoffrey Palmer, and the philosophical shift that the legislation represented. 

The RMA led the world in writing a commitment to sustainability into environmental law, and recognising that this does require a bottom line.

The report’s authors have claimed that the Act is 20 years out of date and no longer refl ects New Zealanders’ priorities. New Zealanders told the government their priorities when they marched 40,000 strong down Queen Street to protest mining on our most precious natural areas, and in a pre-election survey in 2011 in which the environment was ranked as voters’ number one election issue.

The government has no mandate for this very fundamental change to the RMA, certainly not without extensive public consultation, which has not been the case. Environment Minister Amy Adams is not proposing to consult formally on the report, although comments on it can be sent to MFE.

Instead, the government has talked mainly about better providing for natural hazards in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake. Forest & Bird will be looking further at the natural hazards issue, which is an important one. 

We do not think it requires amendments to section 6 and 7, and the changes proposed by the advisory group go a great deal further than the minor tweaking implied by Mrs Adams.

Forest & Bird will be working with environmental NGO (ENGO) colleagues including EDS and Fish & Game to develop our response strategy, and giving this the highest priority. All ENGOs are united in their concern about these proposals