Iwi Leaders Forum climate change spokesman Mike Smith says the Resource Management Act (RMA) needs to be strengthened and Māori must stand as kaitiaki of the land.
Political parties are pushing for a major revamp of the 1991 act, which works to promote sustainable management of physical and natural resources.
National wants to replace it with two new acts - an environmental standards act and an urban planning and development act - which National leader Judith Collins says will be implemented in the first 100 days if National makes it into government.
Smith says the announcement by National is probably an attempt to take a focus off their leadership problems.
“I have no doubt that, if the reforms being discussed by National come through, they’ll be in the interests of developers ahead of the environment, ahead of public input and scrutiny and that’s a real problem.”
Smith says the environment is under more stress now than ever before.
“Our waterways, our lands, our ngahere are in more stress and in more trouble than at any time in our history and of course everything is based on the health and wellbeing of Papatuānuku," Smith says.
“We can’t have healthy economies without a healthy environment. We can’t have healthy people without a healthy environment. So it’s important legislation and we’ve just got to ensure that those controls over development are not weakened but also strengthened.”
New Zealand First's Northland candidate, Shane Jones, says for 30 years the RMA has stalled progress and done nothing to improve the environment. He says Ngāpuhi needs jobs right now and the RMA stops businesses from investing in the region.
Smith agrees the RMA does cause delays.
“It’s costing too much and it’s not protecting the environment, so I’m not suggesting that we need to keep it. It does need reforming. It certainly doesn’t need weakening. If anything it needs strengthening. That’s where the focus has got to be.”
Recognition of tikanga Māori and application of Treaty of Waitangi principles are necessary under the RMA.
“I’m sure those who have a commercial interest in development will be lobbying for lower environmental standards and protections and we as a people have got to take our kaitiakitanga, our responsibility seriously and we’ve got to stand up and speak for Te Ao Tūroa because it can’t speak for itself, he says.
“When you look at what’s happening in Te Tai Tokerau at the moment, we’ve had the droughts over summer and now we’ve had torrential rain, we’re in the grips of a climate emergency, a climate crisis and so, taking care of our taiao, our natural environment, has become more important than ever.”