22 Jan 2015

Smith's RMA speech strident, says Dunne

10:46 am on 22 January 2015

One of the Government's support partners was caught off-guard last night by a "strident" speech on proposed changes to the Resource Management Act.

In a speech in Nelson, Environment Minister Nick Smith called for a substantial overhaul of the Act, attacking it as outdated, cumbersome and slow.

Auckland housing, pictured from Mt Eden.

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Local Government New Zealand, representing councils, and Auckland mayor Len Brown, back the legislation overhaul. The Government already has the numbers to make changes, but has said it wants to build broader support.

Peter Dunne

Peter Dunne Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

United Future's leader Peter Dunne said he was therefore very surprised by the tone of Dr Smith's speech.

"I thought the tone would've been more moderate. The language is incredibly strident. It looks as if it could have come out of the Act Party's press office in terms of wholesale attack on the RMA."

He said he had thought the Government was moving down a more pragmatic path, but he was not so sure.

"I just don't quite know what the intended strategy is here. This speech just leaves you wondering frankly."

Mr Dunne said the speech was short on detail, so he was still no closer to knowing whether he could support any changes.

United Future and the Maori Party stymied the Government's efforts to make changes to the RMA last term, by refusing to give their support.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said he still believed the Government was willing to compromise, even though it no longer needed their support.

"There's a lot of water to go under the bridge yet, these things are by negotiation and I detect certainly a desire to work with us."

The Labour Party is open to changing aspects of the RMA, but wants to see more details before deciding how it would vote.

And their housing spokesperson, Phil Twyford, was not filled with hope by last night's speech.

"The suspicion that I have is that Nick Smith and the National Government are using the housing affordability issue as a smokescreen for their desire to weaken the RMA's fundamental environmental protections," he said.

The Green Party's Julie Anne Genter said the Government has now put the lie to any suggestion that its changes to the RMA will be moderate.

"Nick Smith's speech is really a shot across the bow of New Zealand's environment.

Julie Anne Genter.

Julie Anne Genter. Photo: GREEN PARTY

"We have every reason to suspect that this Government is actually going to be going hell for leather in terms of reducing environmental protections [and] opening up virtually everything for development."

In his speech, Dr Smith made it plain that he would not be just "tinkering" with the Act, but rather that it had fundamental design flaws and required a substantial overhaul.

That included significant changes to sections six and seven, which set out the purpose and principles of the Act.

He admitted those would be the most contentious parts of the overhaul, as they were last Parliamentary term, when the Government could not get enough support for the changes.

Dr Smith said there was a lot of work to do yet with officials, support parties, cabinet committees and in Cabinet to develop a detailed bill.

The legislation has yet to be drafted, but the Government wants to have it passed by the end of the year.

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