Labour will repeal RMA changes which weaken Environmental Protections


Labour Party – Press Release/Statement:

Labour will repeal RMA changes which weaken Environmental Protections

Jo Crilly –

Maryan Street  | 
Monday, May 27, 2013 – 08:15

TDB Recommends

RMA Seminar

St Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington

Tena koutou katoa. Naumai, haeremai ki tënei hui e ki tënei kaupapa. E nga rangatira ma, tena koutou.  E nga iwi katoa, tënei te mihinui kia koutou. Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tätou katoa.

Greetings to you all and thank you for coming to this Labour-hosted seminar, the first in a series of three which I am hosting over the next few months. The second will be held in July in Christchurch and will focus on the vexed issue of water quality and management. The third will be in Auckland in August and will consider the built environment.

This seminar has focussed on the concerted agenda which the government has to make protection of the environment second to economic development. They talk about balancing the economy and the environment. In my view, that is now an anachronistic way of looking at the New Zealand situation.

We are told by the government in their recent proposals on the RMA that New Zealanders’ values have changed, without a shred of evidence provided that that is the case and what it might mean. If our values have changed, I would suggest there is in fact greater awareness of the fragility of our natural environment and the ecosystems it supports, and that people care more, not less, about the protection of our environment. This is especially true of young people.

The truth is, our environment is a large part of our economy. From dairying to tourism, our two biggest foreign exchange earners, from forestry to fishing, our dependence on the environment is fundamental. This is where the outmoded “balance” argument comes in – we take what we think we need from the environment or can make money from, and if it happens to be renewable, leave only as much as necessary for us to take it all again later.

This is an impoverished and limited view which will only lead to an impoverished and limited future. It lacks imagination, investment and ideas.

New Zealand’s future development depends on us looking at environmental protection differently from a see-saw model, where heavy weights are put on one end to counterbalance the weight on the other end.

This is why the changes to the Resource Management Act represent such a flashpoint for many people. To paraphrase the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment: the RMA is not a development Act and nor should it become one.

When 95% of RMA resource consents are granted within the requisite timeframe, you begin to wonder about the dominant narrative around resource consents. We are told repeatedly that the processes are cumbersome, expensive, lengthy and stand in the way of “progress”.

But the facts do not bear that out. Examples given by the Minister focus on things such as being prevented from building a deck on your house. Those are not the consents which are held up unduly, although we can find exceptions to that rule if we go looking.

The consents which take time and money are the ones which should take time. They are large proposals which have major impacts on the environment. They should take time and people should be consulted over them.

We are in favour of streamlining those processes which can be streamlined. We don’t want to stand in the way of making them more efficient where that is possible. We do not oppose the improvement of any processes.

But that cannot be done at the expense of environmental protection. We will guard very jealously the principles underpinning the original RMA.

If we see the issue differently, for example, as Guy Salmon says, we see the economy as “nested” within the environment and people sitting at the centre of the economy, we can begin to see different possibilities for development.

It also helps us to see that the way we treat the environment is as much about justice and equity as health and education are, or should be. If the environment is to be exploited for the benefit of a few, and many of those are offshore beneficiaries, and New Zealanders are left with low paid jobs such as those in the tourism industry, we are no further ahead than Britain was at the time of the Industrial Revolution.

It is past time that we took a more serious look at how our economy could be advanced through the development of green technologies. That has to be our way forward. Transition to a less fossil-fuel dependent economy is not going to be easy, but it won’t be achieved through making the RMA easier to manipulate for economic advantage.

There is a small company in Blenheim which takes waste from the forestry industry in the form of wood chips, puts it through a very high microwave and turns it into activated carbon. They can tune the activated carbon to almost any application you could want: compress it into fuel which could be used by NZ Steel in its steel manufacturing and reduce its carbon emissions by 40%; stretch one gram of it into a viscous substance which can cover the surface of several tables; apply it as a filtering system for water; use it in gold extraction to attract small particles of gold and change that industrial process for good.

They have won international awards and been asked to set up overseas, but they want to remain in New Zealand. If they had $2 million, they could employ 7 more people immediately to expand their research capability and begin to commercialise their alchemy. Because that is what it is: they take the natural, untreated waste from one industry and convert it into fuel and carbon-reduced processes for other industries. Magic. Clever magic. They call it science.

That is just one example of how we might begin to do things differently, if there were proper investment and research and development incentives available.

But let me return to the RMA. There are two critical points to the changes to the RMA which the government is progressing with the current bill before the select committee, and with its additional proposals put out for 5 weeks’ consultation and consideration.

The first is to do with the dismantling of the purposes and principles of the original Act as contained in the combination of Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Act. Any future RMA which deletes the word “protection” or adds undefined words such as “significant” to “habitat” should have everybody’s warning systems clanging.

The second is to do with community consultation. Proposed changes would take community consultation out of the processes IF the government thought that other people’s views would impede development, in their own terms.

Put these two points together and you have a recipe for the dismantling of environmental protections by stealth or by direct intervention.

I can tell you right now that if the government proceeds down the track foreshadowed by the proposals they have put out for discussion, a Labour-led government of the future will repeal that legislation.

This is not the most desirable position to take. A bipartisan and therefore more durable approach is more desirable. But there is a lot at stake here – no less than the future. It goes to the economic vision and future for New Zealand as well.

We will restore the RMA to its original purpose as the world-leading legislation it was. We can always improve processes, and we are prepared to do that to take unnecessary hitches out of consents, but we will not use the need for development as an excuse for diminishing environmental protections.

Our challenge is to encourage our economy to grow in ways which protect and enhance our environment so that we leave it in a better state for our children than we found it. I believe that is what most farmers and those who work closely with the land and our marine resources want as well.

We have much to do in the way of remediation to start with. Our rivers and lakes need to be restored to swimmable quality. There are jobs in that area alone. Clever jobs, smart jobs.

Everybody with an interest in the environment, from an interest in its intrinsic, amenity and recreational value, to those with an eye on its monetary value, needs certainty from the protections our law affords it.

The certainty I can give today is that we will repeal the changes the government is intending to deliver, where they reduce environmental protections, discard case law built up over two decades, and dilute the principles of the original Act.

That is my commitment to you today.



Presentation – Protecting the Heart of Our Environmental Law, Guy Salmon, Ecologic

Presentation – RMA Reform: What’s in it for the environment?, Neil Deans, Fish & Game New Zealand

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