Absence of majority continues to frustrate National’s reforms

Richard Harman reports

Over the past two weeks a series of under-reported events and one over-reported one have pointed to what is likely to dominate the next decade.

The focus of much of what has happened has been one of Parliament’s more prosaic committees, the Local Government and Environment Committee.

This Committee is currently dealing with two highly contentious pieces of legislation – .the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill and the Local Government Amendment Bill.

Both are major pieces of legislation, touted by the Government as evidence of its reforming zeal to make New Zealand a more efficient country.

Both have hit the wall because neither really addresses the big issues that confront the country as it works out how to manage resources and how to pay for that management.

At the same time lurking behind each one is the question raised by the Hobson’s Pledge campaign about what the role of Maori will be in a post-Treaty settlement society.

What links all this legislation and debate together is that it is all about the process of governance; who has what power and where does the ordinary punter fit into the decision-making equation.

For that reason, these are arguably the most important constitutional debates we have had since the introduction of MMP.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill is a complex piece of legislation — too complex, say some of its critics — which is starting to be dismissed as likely to be ineffectual and simply fiddling at the edges of much more difficult problems.

Its political origins, in part, were evident when Environment Minister Nick Smith introduced the Bill last November.

?The Bill simplifies the consenting process,? he said.

?It narrows the parties that must be consulted to those directly affected ? meaning a homeowner extending a deck only has to consult the affected neighbour.

?Councils will have discretion to not require resource consent for minor issues.?

At National Party conference after conference, delegates took turns to lambast the Resource Management Act, mostly complaining about minor consent issues like decks.

Labour, NZ First and the Greens have all objected to the simplification of the planning process and other moves designed to ?streamline? the Bill.

These objections centre on what the Opposition parties argue is a reduction of the rights of ordinary citizens to have their say over resource consents which affect them.

It is also tied itself up in legislative knots over a proposal within it to establish ?collaborative planning? which is simply a sort of ?off line? planning process where affected parties all agree among themselves about a district plan.

It was the process tried with the Land and Water Forum which though much praised failed to answer rth key question which was how should water be allocated.

To be fair to Nick Smith, he has acknowledged all along that this Bill was only a stop gap.

As I wrote last week, it’s time to mothball any RMA reform until the government has the power to introduce something meaningful. ?Right now, stop gap or not, we are likely to end up with a monster that helps nobody.

Some, like Harman are calling for Government to be brave and push on. ?They clearly aren’t able while Peter Dunne won’t give them broad support, and Labour and the Greens are applying a thousand cuts through conditions and bottom lines.

RMA reform was planned to be National’s crowning glory this term. ?Steve Joyce’s loss of Northland to Winston Peters and a contrary Peter Dunne have made this impossible.

Pragmatism is needed. ?Not another half baked piece of legislation.

If anything, the message “put us back a fourth time, with enough support” is what they need for the next election.


– Richard Harman, Politik