29 Jul 2020

Resource Management Act review urges more power for iwi

2:36 pm on 29 July 2020

After decades of successive Waitangi Tribunal reports highlighting the failings of the Resource Management Act, a review panel has put forward a raft of changes - including strengthening the Te Tiriti clause - to give iwi more power in environmental law.

Climate change iwi leaders group chair Mike Smith, Ngā Puhi and Ngāti Kuri.

Climate Change Iwi Leaders Group chair Mike Smith. Photo: NZ Herald / File

A report into the Resource Management Act, conducted by a review panel led by retired Court of Appeal judge Tony Randerson, has proposed scrapping the RMA.

The report highlighted that "despite the large number of provisions in the RMA designed to provide for Māori interests, these have not been implemented to enable mana whenua to engage meaningfully in the resource management system".

Among the failings of the RMA for Māori recognised in the report are a weak Te Tiriti clause which requires the principles of the Treaty to be "taken into account".

This was recognised over 20 years ago in the Ngawha Tribunal report in 1993, which found the clause did not require those in power to conform to the Treaty.

However, the review panel has recommended this be strengthened to "give effect" to the principles of the treaty.

Mechanisms in the RMA for mana whenua involvement such as iwi management plans were also found to be found to poorly used.

This includes iwi management plans, which mana whenua had described as an "excellent tool" to set out their issues and priorities without council interference.

The recommendation was for iwi management plans to be linked to proposed regional strategies through legislation.

Climate Change Iwi Leaders Group chair Mike Smith said the proposed recommendations were a welcome change from the status quo.

"The RMA amounted to nothing more than a paternalistic pat on the head to Māori but not real action, so the proposed changes to give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi are a profound step forward if done correctly and will be welcomed by Māori."

Another key recommendation was the establishment of a national Māori advisory board which would monitor Te Tiriti performance of new environmental legislation.

However, Smith said his preference would be for a more localised form of monitoring performance.

"I think we've got to move beyond that concept, I think that's something that's been tried by various government departments in recent times, but I think the legislation needs to be measured by its impact on the ground".

"So I'd be more in favour of some sort of process that measures progress on site-specific geographic areas, as opposed to panels of expert flown down ... to tick the consultation box for the government."

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