Why the RMA replacements bills should also be added to the bonfire

Almost everyone who has had to deal with the RMA knows it is a terrible piece of legislation. For 20+ years politicians have tried to improve it, but failed to do more than modest improvements.

So I was excited that the Government was going to not just amend it, but replace it entirely with entirely new legislation. I thought nothing could be as bad as the RMA.

I was wrong.

What Labour is pushing through Parliament is so deeply flawed that it is unfixable. It would be not just worse than the RMA, but worse by an order of magnitude. Why?

Well the pithy one-liner is “co-governance for your deck”. But it goes well beyond that.

  • Despite what the Minister claims, it does introduce co-governance. Decisions on regional plans get transferred from elected local territorial officials to regional appointed groups – appointed by both TLAs and Iwi. Sounds similar to Three Waters? Yep – but this is for everything to do with what you can do on your land.
  • The only difference to Three Waters is rather than mandate 50/50 in legislation, they have said at least two members of each Regional Planning Committee must be appointed by Iwi. The Waitangi Tribunal has already stated that anything less than 50/50 will be a Treaty breach, and a failure to do so will inevitably see lawsuits from Iwi. And the law requires those deciding on the numbers to abide by the principles of the Treaty
  • Rural areas may lose control of their own plans. For example Masterton may want roading improvements, and the new Mayor of Wellington will get to partially decide what happens in Masteron – they’ll probably get cycleways instead. 
  • The Minister for the Environment will have huge powers, in collaboration with a National Māori Entity, to set rules for every region.
  • Rather than have two or three desirable outcomes, the new law would require the Minister and regional plans to not ‘compromise the well-being of future generations’, upholds ‘the intrinsic relationship between iwi and hapū and te Taiao’, promotes 18 different system outcomes that range from maintaining land in highly productive soil and also building houses and also restores the ecological integrity, mana, and mauri of air, water, soil, coasts, wetlands, estuaries, lakes, rivers and biodiversity.
  • This means that beyond doubt every aspect of every regional plan will result in ten years or more of litigation because no-one will be able to develop a plan that meets all these different outcomes.
  • For a decade or more, there will be a huge chilling effect on developments due to the uncertainity

Federated Farmers have done an example of what this new law would mean in terms of someone wanting to do some commercial fishing and someone wanting to milk a cow.

The commercial fishing boat has simple rules. They buy some quota and they can catch fish. Their petrol supplier buys some ETS units, and they can burn petrol on their boat. Fairly simple.

But if you are a farmer who wants to milk a cow you have to get a resource consent with decision makers considering water, cultural heritage, biodiversity, te mana o te wai, greenhouse gas emissions, natural features of landscapes, the need for highly productive soils to be maintained, te oranga o te taiao, the mauri of the land, plus the intrinsic relationships of local hapū.

If you are lucky you might get to have a resource consent within three years and for less than $100,000 after all the spending on RMA consultants and lawyers for the inevitable court battles.

The RMA replacements bills need to be scrapped. They won’t make things better – they will make things much worse.

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