Major overhaul of Resource Management Act underway

By Tema Hemi

Te Kāhui Wai Māori representative Dover Samuels has welcomed  the planned overhaul of the 1991 Resource Management Act (RMA), saying it will give iwi a greater voice.  A number of amendments doubled the act in length over the years.

The Ministry for the Environment describes the act as "New Zealand’s main piece of legislation that sets out how we should manage our environment.  The RMA is based on the principle of sustainable management which involves considering effects of activities on the environment now and in the future when making resource management decisions.

"As well as managing air, soil, freshwater, and coastal marine areas, the RMA regulates land use and the provision of infrastructure which are integral components of New Zealand’s planning system."

Samuels says the changes have been a long time coming. 

"I remember when I was on the Northern Council and our pleas were totally ignored and that was the attitude of certain councillors towards whānau and hapu concerns for the environment and the natural resources that were being abused in the local areas of Northland."

The reforms will be conducted in two stages by a panel of five that will be headed by Judge Anthony Penrose Randerson, who says Māori inclusion will be expected on the panel. 

"We're intending to cover as wide a range of interests as we can.  People with local government experience, people who are able to represent Māori interests and a broad range of interests."

Minister of the Environment David Parker says, "Māori rights and interests are an important issue, they do need to be worked through.  First and foremost, there's absolutely no doubt that everyone is on-board for recognising post-settlement entities.  There are many iwi who are quite satisfied with how those relationships are working out."

The organisation Papa Pounamu supports the strategic and planning initiatives undertaken by the New Zealand Planning Institute by providing technical guidance to ensure Maori and Pacific peoples perspectives co-exist in resource management. 

Jade Wikaira of Papa Pounamu says, "There are so many difficulties within this law that make the ability of those people charged with managing resources on behalf of iwi very difficult to deal with.  But this is a new start that will help us all to achieve prosperity and properly care for the environment.  For now, we will discuss at length the proposed changes."

Samuels reiterates the importance of close involvement for Māori within upcoming discussions. 

"One of our [Te Kāhui Wai Māori] challenges to the government is to embrace our Māori views and to talk to our families and sub-tribes.  Don't just talk to our Māori leaders but to those especially who are at ground level doing the work on behalf of their iwi."

 The review panel will report on its findings and recommendations to the government in May 2020.