Parliament did something quite unusual on Wednesday evening. David Parker, Minister for the Environment, asked Parliament to send a bill to a Select Committee. No, that’s not unusual - what is unusual is that this bill isn’t fully written yet.
It’s a draft of the first of three bills designed to replace the Resource Management Act (RMA). And though it’s only a draft the public is already being asked for ideas for making consent processes faster, fairer, cheaper, easier, and better at protecting the environment.
“One of the requests of the select committee is that they try to harvest everyone's ideas as to how we can drive proportionate processes, how we can have a system that requires less consents. And where consents are required, ...how can we run processes that are more cost effective and proportionate to the issues that are being considered?” - David Parker
This draft of the Natural and Built Environments Bill is being called an exposure draft. That’s not typical. Although this Government has been asking for early input a bit recently. Also this week the Government asked the public to feed into the Ministry of Justice’s work in conceiving a ‘hate speech’ law.
Unlike that proposal, the idea of replacing the RMA is not controversial at Parliament.
“I think there's general agreement across the House that the RMA has passed its use-by date and hasn't really achieved the purpose, which was to protect the environment and enable development. In truth, processes take too long, they cost too much, and it hasn't been successful at protecting the environment against cumulative effects.” - David Parker
That sentiment was agreed by Scott Simpson who spoke for the National Party.
“I think that there is unanimity across the House that the existing Resource Management Act legislation has ceased to be effective. It has ceased to be fulfilling what was once a grand objective back in the early 1990s that would see it providing for our built environment and also for our natural environment.” - Scott Simpson
So did Debbie Ngarewa Packer for te Paati Maori. “We agree that the reform is needed. To be honest it's never really worked for tangata whenua.”
Scott Simpson outlined some of the issues with the current law.
“...a document that originally was made up of about 300 pages of black-letter law now runs to something like 900 pages and has, I think, been amended substantially 18 or 19 times. It's practically incoherent and unintelligible to laypeople.”
Green Party MP Eugenie Sage is a former Associate Minister for the Environment. She pointed out how difficult writing this kind of law is.
“The Resource Management Act gets blamed for a lot of things which are not its fault. Any legislation which is at the interface of human interaction with nature—how we use land, water, air, sea space; what human activities we undertake and how we do them—is always going to be a source of tension: conflicts between our responsibilities to Papatūānuku and what many assert as their rights over their land. And I don't think this bill will be any different. It is the fact that we are getting, really, the purpose and the heart of the bill at select committee to invite public submissions on. We will be wrestling with that same conflict.” - Eugenie Sage.
Eugenie Sage said that the Green Party hoped for a less adversarial process of conflict resolution and thinks a permanent, professional body of commissioners resolving conflicts might be preferable to the current system. “I would really welcome submissions from ...people who have got skills in alternative dispute resolution, because we need to find ways of getting to agreement without that adversarial process always of being in front of the courts.”
Speaking for the ACT Party Simon Court also had suggestions about what people might like to bring to the discussion.
“...we want to invite submitters who share ACT's belief that private property rights should underpin all laws that govern how you use your land.”
Simon Court promised to hold a blow torch to the draft Bill at select committee, though presumably that’s figurative because he also promised they would be constructive.
For National, Scott Simpson was less dramatic in his committee plans.
“thank you, Minister, for going through this process. It is a unique experience, and it will be a process that, hopefully, will bring out the best of our parliamentary legislature and the system that we have, but that doesn't mean that it gets a free ride. It means that it will be tested, probed, and analysed not only by the parliamentary Opposition but by outsiders: NGOs, stakeholders, developers, and environmentalists around the country.” - Scott Simpson