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MIL OSI – Source: Green Party – Press Release/Statement

Headline: Eugenie Sage on the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill – Committee Stage

on Thursday, April 6, 2017 – 12:36

EUGENIE SAGE (Green): Tēnā koe, Mr Chair. Thank you very much. Government members are not falling over themselves to take calls on this bill. They seem to be leaving it to the Minister for the Environment, Nick Smith, to defend this shambles of a piece of legislation.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: They’re too scared.

EUGENIE SAGE: They are too scared, the Rt Hon Winston Peters says. I agree. We have in this bill—it has been a shambolic process. It has been pushed through the Local Government and Environment Committee. Negotiations have occurred with the Māori Party completely outside the select committee process. There has not been substantive debate within the select committee. We are not going to see a bill that is agreed to across the Parliament, the way the Resource Management Bill was when it was first introduced and passed in 1991. It has got a slew of Supplementary Order Papers on the Table. It shows that this Minister has failed to get agreement around major changes to our primary environmental law.

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There has been a lot of hot air from the Minister in defending the bill. He says that we need it to keep stock out of streams. Well, it has taken 9 years, almost, to do that, when there are national environmental standards in a mechanism in the Resource Management Act (RMA) when, if he had been serious and the Government had been serious about protecting rivers from stock incursion, the Government could have put out a national environmental standard and ensured some consistency across the country in the rules that regional councils have developed. This is going to be too little, too late because a lot of councils have already developed their rules around stock exclusion.

The Minister is saying that the bill is needed to reduce bureaucracy, but what it is doing is reducing democracy and the ability of the public to participate in plan making. The Minister extolled the plan-making processes in Christchurch and Auckland. He obviously has not talked to residents in Christchurch because that district plan review process—which, yes, did happen in a very truncated way—has meant that only those who have had access to lawyers and experts, like planners, have really been able to participate. Laypeople have been shut out. That is what provisions in this bill are all about, in terms of reducing the ability for laypeople to participate, having a bespoke planning process, and the streamlined planning process that the bill introduces—reducing the ability of all of the community to engage in the plans that their councils develop and instead limiting that to development interests and those who have got access to money.

The Minister claims that we need the bill because there is duplication between the hazardous substances provisions under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act and the RMA. Yet he acknowledges that there is a case before the courts that will clarify this relationship. So why does the Government not trust the courts to make that clear?

The Resource Management Act was commented on earlier this week by a Hawke’s Bay barrister, Martin Williams, who said that the Act has been amended so many times by successive Governments that it has become incoherent. The Act was initially 383 pages; it is now nearly 700 pages long. This is a 248 page bill. It is going to make the Act even more complex and even more difficult to administer. It is going to reduce the ability of residents and communities to understand what the Act is all about and how councils apply it. It means that only those who have got the ability to pay lawyers to interpret it for them are going to be able to participate.

The bill is also unnecessary, because with the Productivity Commission, with its recent report on urban planning, and with the Government having commissioned the Ministry for the Environment to indicate undertake blue-sky thinking on the RMA, potentially, all this becomes redundant in a couple of years. So why has the Minister put the public and all of the 700-odd submitters, who made quite detailed critiques of a lot of the legislation, to all of this trouble, to make it more complicated, when blue-sky thinking is underway about whether the RMA needs to be dismissed entirely and replaced with new legislation?

What we had from the Minister in his first speech was quite a lot of hot air around this bill. He claimed that the issue around natural hazards was important, and he is right there, in terms of section 6 of the Act—in my calls on the bill I am going to go through the bill. So, starting at the start, clause 5 amends Part 2 of the Act to insert “the management of significant risks from natural hazards” as a new matter of national importance. The Green Party agrees with that, but this is yet another example of the Government being all show and no substance, because the majority of submitters agreed with that becoming a matter of national importance. Certainly, in Christchurch, there were large areas that were prone to liquefaction during the earthquakes, when they had been zoned for subdivision despite the fact that the regional council had identified these areas as being prone to liquefaction. That was not a matter that was taken into account.

So it is obvious that we need this as a matter of national importance, but it is not enough just to put it in the “Matters of national importance” in Part 2 of the principal Act, because the bill goes and creates very permissive provisions around subdivision. GNS Science—our Crown research institute—which has all of this expertise on natural hazards, made it quite clear in its submission that there also need to be changes to sections 106 and 220 of the principal Act, and that is because it is those sections that specify the circumstances in which a consent authority can refuse a subdivision consent, and the conditions around which a subdivision consent may be granted. At the moment, section 106 allows a consent authority to refuse or conditionally approve a subdivision consent in only quite limited circumstances around specific hazards. They are: whether there is going to be material damage to the land or structures from erosion, from falling debris, from subsidence, from slippage, or from inundation. It does not talk about seismic hazards. It does not talk about rising water tables. It does not talk about sea level rise.

So if the Government was genuinely serious about recognising natural hazards in planning instruments, then it would have done what the regulatory impact statement suggested and gone ahead with the amendments that were originally proposed to those two sections, to allow councils to actually put conditions on subdivisions and those consents. But, no, this bill is going to make subdivisions permitted once the land has been zoned residential. So, once again, it is an example of all show—”We put something in section 6.”—but no substance. And I guess the only thing we have to be thankful for in this bill is the fact that it was widespread public opposition from environmental organisations, other community organisations, and others that stopped the Minister from taking an axe to sections 6 and 7, to completely undermine all the bottom lines in Part 2, as his predecessor, the Hon Amy Adams, had proposed. It was that opposition that had the Government running scared on doing that.

Nevertheless, there has been a fundamental broken promise on this bill, because the Prime Minister at the last election promised that there would be an exposure draft. He gave people the impression that there might be some genuine consultation on the bill before it was introduced. That did not happen, and it has been a shambolic process through select committee to get to the stage that we are at at the moment.

The other issue with the natural hazards is that there is no definition of “significant”—what constitutes a “significant risk” from natural hazards. The Minister has promised a national policy statement. There is still no national policy statement on indigenous biodiversity despite the fact that that has been a matter of national importance under section 6(c) from the time the Act was passed in 1991. It has been promised by successive Governments and has not been developed and implemented. So I have no confidence that a national policy statement on natural hazards will be developed any time soon.

Our major concern is, again, around these streamlined planning provisions—the bespoke planning process—that that will cut the community out. And when you are dealing with natural hazards, when you are dealing with how communities assess risk and what action should be taken as a result of that assessment of risk, you need everybody involved. But the planning processes that the Minister is going through with the national planning templates, which have now become national planning standards, and the streamlined process will mean that there is much less likelihood that people will be genuinely involved. I will take a number of other calls to highlight the Green Party’s opposition to many other clauses in this bill.