Free Press understands a lobby group has woken up to Labour’s RMA reforms, and sent out an e-mail asking for money.
This week we dig into the reforms, which have been under way for over a year, laying out what they are and aren’t, and what needs to happen next.
Labour’s plan is to replace the Resource Management Act with three new pieces of legislation: a Natural and Built Environments Act, a Spatial Planning Act, and a Climate Change Adaptation Act. Despite all this, little will change. Too many people will have too many reasons to object to what you can do with your own property, just like now.To be fair to Labour, for just a minute, they were taking the RMA on. The John Key Government refused to do so, even with encouragement, and numbers, from ACT. They chose to vote for watered down reforms supported by the Māori Party.
To be really fair to them, it’s hardly a secret. They have gone out of their way to do the reforms openly. For example they produced a draft version early last year that was debated in Parliament in May 2022. They have also sent the actual Bill to Select Committee for consideration for slightly longer than the usual six months. The committee won’t report back until June 4.So, what’s the problem? The bill is a dog.David Seymour in 2021 described it as ‘the RMA by three other names,’ but by the time a draft bill was debated in May 2022, the main bill, the Natural and Built Environments (NBE) Bill, was worse.
That’s a big call, because the Resource Management Act is the single biggest handbrake on productivity, home building, farming, and general activity in New Zealand.As Simon Court said when the draft Bill was debated last May, “ACT opposes the direction set out in this draft bill… The proposed reforms advocated by the Minister will actually introduce less certainty, more cost, more delay at a time where we need to be agile and ready to adapt to our future.”In November and again in December,
Free Press explained why the new law will actually be worse than the Resource Management Act.
Where the overarching purpose of the RMA was ‘sustainable management,’ the overarching purpose of the Natural and Built Environments Act is sustainable management, but also to ‘recognise and uphold te oranga o te taio.’ It then continues with 18 vague and often contradictory ‘system outcomes.’
The new law has the same basic problem as the old one. What you can do with your land depends on whether the council decides it fits within the purpose and system outcomes of the new law. The only difference is that it will take 15 years for the courts to settle what the new terms mean in practice.
The new law also establishes fifteen new planning committees. The reason why is about as clear as the meaning of te oranga o te taio. These committees will each have a minimum of six members with a minimum of two nominated by local Māori. Of course, minimum means either number could be much higher, every council under a region has the right to at least one member.
ACT’s Simon Court warned about this in Parliament last year when he said “instead of replacing the RMA with a property rights-based system… Labour’s used their replacement as a Trojan horse for another round of co-governance.”He’s right about this bill, but also look at what we have now. If you ask anyone involved in serious development, they will tell you that local Māori already have many ways to hold up consents, such as by withholding cultural impact assessments.
Co-government embedded in resource management should be gone, along with the co-government embedded into three waters, health, education, and practically everything this Government has done.
Perhaps the more important issue, though, is this: The ability to actually get things built in New Zealand. Houses, roads, irrigation, electricity generators. It is all more expensive when you have to ask people permission to use your own property, when it really is none of their business. One reason life is so damn expensive is that it costs so much to build, for example, a distribution centre for a new chain of supermarkets.That’s why ACT has produced a detailed plan for fixing resource management reform properly. You have to go back to first principles. It’s not about sustainable development, as per the RMA. It’s not about te oranga o te taio, as per the NBE.
It is about property rights. The aim of resource management law should be to let people develop and enjoy their property. The only restriction is if you are harming someone else’s enjoyment of their property. The full document is here and explains how we’d deal with thorny things like neighbours disagreeing about intensification, and funding infrastructure, and farmers needing to do irrigation while preserving water quality.
Such a law would radically transform the economy and the culture of New Zealand. Instead of a nation that puts sticky beaks on a pedestal, we’d be a country that gives all power to the doers. The co-government aspect of the law is completely wrong but it is not the whole problem. Of course local Māori shouldn’t have a special right to tell you what you can do on your property, but the real point is that nobody should be sticking their beak in if developing your property does not affect theirs.
So yes, Labour is introducing another bad law containing co-government, this time to replace the RMA. But it’s hardly secret, and in truth the co-government aspect is not much worse than what people face now, or what Labour has done in other policy areas.
ACT has been doing the hard yards on this issue for over a year now, going as far as to prepare a viable alternative in Government. The thing we need most is to win the election.