Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister for the Environment)
: I move,
That the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill be now read a first time. In due course I will move that this bill be referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee.
The bill amends the Resource Management Act of 1991 in improving quality of decisions and processes while not compromising environmental outcomes or sacrificing public participation. The key objectives are to increase certainty, reduce delays and costs, and ensure consistency of process. The bill also proposes two amendments to the Electricity Act of 1992.
This bill is the result of a process characterised by a close working relationship between central and local government. The development of the bill is also the
culmination of extensive consultation undertaken throughout the last 18 months. We have rejected the calls of a few extreme voices that wanted to see the Resource Management Act ripped apart for the sake of unfettered development. Quite frankly, that is not sensible, it is not necessary; and it is not even what various elements of the community asked us for.
As the chief executive officer of the Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Michael Barnett, noted after surveying 350 of its members: “The issue with the RMA is not so much the contents of the Act preventing development proceeding, but how it is administered by local authorities.” That is because the Act is, firstly, about protecting the environment for future generations—something that should remain as its overriding consideration. Development at any cost is no answer, at all.
We have identified a series of issues and have come up with timely, sensible, and well-thought-out solutions. Legislative changes are just one part of a package of measures, reflecting a stronger leadership role for central government, and implementing and supporting the Resource Management Act.
The bill addresses problems at all levels of decision making. The focus is on local democracy at the plan level, where the community sets the rules, while decisions at the consent level are made more robust and quasi-judicial. Local authorities and the Environment Court are to be given extra powers to run efficient inquiry-style hearings.
I am in no doubt that the bill will achieve its aim. Indeed, I was heartened by the words of the manager of regulatory services for Buller District Council, Terry Archer, when we announced the reform package. He simply exclaimed: “Where the hell were these things in 1991 when they introduced the Resource Management Act? It would have made it so much easier.”
Local authorities are increasingly being asked to consider projects that raise issues of national significance in a policy environment that provides little guidance on how competing national benefits and local costs should be weighed. For the first time, we will have a range of mechanisms for managing national and local interests. The bill strengthens the expression of national interest by reinforcing the role of national policy statements and national environmental standards. There will be a menu of flexible options for central government involvement, including funding of an independent coordinator, direction for joint council hearings, and changes to the call-in process.
District and regional plans are varied at present and in some cases are inexplicably inconsistent. This bill provides for national standards to be set, absolutely when necessary, throughout the country. That will reduce duplication and costs associated with producing similar standards, it will increase certainty for landowners and developers when dealing with local authorities, and it will reduce unnecessary compliance and regulatory costs. Jan Crawford, a planner of some 30 years’ experience and an academic with Waikato University’s International Global Change Institute that studies the Resource Management Act, noted that these changes were, in her view, long overdue. She described the greater use of national policy statements and environmental standards as “filling the hole in the doughnut—the vacuum at the centre of the RMA.”
This bill will improve local authority decision-making on resource consents. Consultation requirements will be clarified. The role of local authorities will be simply to notify affected persons and to encourage applicants to consult, rather than to consult themselves. Those improvements include training to support mandatory accreditation of members of hearing bodies, targeted one-on-one assistance to local authorities in need of support, and national guidance through the delivery and sharing of good practice between resource management practitioners. Pre-hearings will be encouraged, and the role of consent authorities as inquisitorial bodies will be clarified. Consent authorities will have enhanced powers to direct the hearing process.
The president of Local Government New Zealand, Basil Morrison, described these proposals as “a major step in the right direction”. I quote further: “As a country we need sustainable management of our physical and natural resources, but we also need to protect our economic growth and prosperity by investing in new development. This is the challenge constantly faced by local government, one which the Government has acknowledged with these changes.”
Of course, action has already been taken to reduce delays at the Environment Court. The number of delays in appeals to the court has been more than halved since 2001. An extra $1.2 million per year has seen an increase in the number of judges, commissioners, and administrative support people; yet the length and the cost of the appeal process continue to be a concern for some resource consent applicants. Current appeals to the Environment Court often duplicate processes at the consent authority hearing, and allow for new issues and evidence to be raised on appeal. The court will move away from a full hearing to a focused rehearing approach that concentrates on only the matters in contention.
The process for making plans has also been criticised as cumbersome. After 12 years, some district plans have not yet been approved and others remain overly complex. This bill improves local policy and plan making. Streamlined plan-making processes will enable plans to become operative quicker, and reduce compliance costs and lengthy protracted debates. District and regional plans will now have to give effect to regional policy statements, and regional councils will have a more strategic role.
The bill improves the quality of engagement with iwi authorities and is focused on plan and policy preparation processes. The Government will provide information to councils about the iwi authorities in each area or rohe. In terms of resource consents, iwi will have the same opportunities to participate as any other persons affected by an activity.
The bill also amends the Electricity Act of 1992. The amendments to sections 24 and 31 of that Act will clarify that the environmental effects of high-voltage works in the road corridor are best managed using processes under the Resource Management Act.
We in the Government are committed to protecting and preserving the unique aspects of New Zealand’s natural environment. That means striking the right balance between our desire for a clean and healthy environment and our expectations for growth and opportunity. This bill provides for changes to the Resource Management Act and two changes to the Electricity Act. The package of improvements is about providing practical solutions and improved processes to make the law work better. By our provision of leadership and partnership with the community, with business, and with local government we will all get better environmental results. I commend the bill to the House.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson)
: This bill is another sorry chapter in the Government’s book of failures in respect of resource management law. Anybody who believes that this bill will solve the serious and significant problems with the Resource Management Act either lives in fairyland or in David Benson-Pope’s office—or perhaps those are one and the same place. When we look at the history of shonky process, we see that it is no wonder this Government keeps messing up this important area of law.
National in 1999, with Simon Upton as Minister for the Environment, introduced a comprehensive and well-thought-through reform bill. Labour rejected that bill, yet 5 years later it is regurgitating those same ideas, and effectively pleading guilty and saying that it got it wrong. The select committee toiled away diligently for months on the bill, but it sat on the Order Paper for 22 months without the Government doing anything. Then in a mad rush the Government introduced another bill and passed it under urgency.
Again today we are sitting under urgency, and we have had to suspend the Standing Orders to allow this bill even to be introduced. It is a shonky bill that has been advanced under a shonky process.
Let us not underestimate how serious the problems are of the Resource Management Act. Back in 2001 the Government set up the business compliance cost panel, which came out and said that the No. 1 concern for business was the Resource Management Act. What did the Government do about that? Sweet nothing. It ignored the panel’s report until this year when Marian Hobbs was sacked and the polls changed. Earlier this year in April the results of an international competitiveness study on New Zealand came out. It was disgraceful that in terms of environmental law New Zealand ranked No. 60 out of 60 places. We were dunce of the class for the quality of our environmental regulation.
Everybody in this country knows that we need to engineer more roads—not engineer people as this Government wants to do—yet Transit New Zealand says it will take up to 7 years to get consent for a new road.
Larry Baldock: Oh!
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: That is what it said. I say that Mr Baldock should take responsibility and listen to what Transit is saying. Then, in only December of last year, Transpower stated in its annual report that there was no way New Zealand could address its substantial electricity supply issues unless there were changes to the Resource Management Act.
Darren Hughes: Is that accurate?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Members opposite are chipping in because they know they are guilty. They know they have failed desperately in respect of issues to do with the Resource Management Act.
Let me give some other examples just in case members opposite are unaware of them. The Auckland City Council has to deal with 3,000 consent applications a year—applications to just one council—for people to be able to trim a tree. That is right—3,000 consent applications a year from poor old homeowners in Auckland who simply want to trim a tree.
Then we have the disgraceful position that has occurred in the Queenstown lakes district whereby if people want to rent out their homes for any period less than 3 months they have to get a resource consent from their council. Will this bill fix those problems? Not on one’s nelly. It does absolutely nothing to address those substantive issues.
We need look no further than the reactions to this bill. Let me read what the New Zealand Law Society said about the bill: “Far from being a set of proposals that will reduce costs and delays being incurred under the Resource Management Act, the net result, from our collective experience, we have no doubt will be worse for everyone—for councils, for industry, for community groups and ordinary members of the public.” How can the Government stand up today and say that this is the solution when the Law Society says those things about the bill?
Let us look at what the Government’s friends say about the bill. The newly elected Mayor of Auckland and bosom buddy of Helen Clark, Dick Hubbard, said that this bill goes nowhere near far enough in changing the Act in order for Auckland to be able to deal with its infrastructure issues. So I say to the Government that even its friends say this bill is a lemon.
Then we come to some of the detailed issues. Why is it that members opposite are going to amend the Resource Management Act to make Māori iwi authorities into public bodies? That is a revolutionary constitutional change. I am sure that Clayton Cosgrove has not been telling his constituents in Waimakariri that he is off in Parliament saying that Ngāi Tahu is no longer a private body but a public body that will
have regulatory powers normally restricted to publicly elected bodies—and that is a step backwards that takes us further down the road to having two standards of citizenship in this country.
Then there is the dopey idea that we will make all notification decisions by councils appealable to the Environment Court. If ever there were a stupid idea that would clog up the Environment Court and make it a nightmare for ordinary New Zealanders to try to get consents for doing very minor things, then that is it.
In no area has National been so detailed in its proposals for reform of the Act and in the sorts of ideas we think would make a material difference. In respect of direct Environment Court referrals, we have said let us send major projects straight to the Environment Court rather than go through all the process of a resource consent hearing. Is that in this bill? No, it is not, and the bill will not fix the substantial problem of major projects being subject to years of delay.
Nor do we see anything in this bill that will enable us to address the huge and growing problem of iwi holding communities to ransom and effectively asking for “brownmail” in order for projects to proceed. It is a tragedy that in a country that prides itself on a lack of corruption, the Resource Management Act, unreformed, will result in substantial problems, with people asking for payment or, alternatively, holding consents up for years.
There are a few ideas in this bill that National supports. In fact, three of them come straight out of our bill that Labour rejected back in 1999. But the idea that if we have accredited training for a few councillors then the huge problems with the Resource Management Act will somehow be solved, is simply foolish.
This bill is a big disappointment. It says that Labour does not understand the importance of wealth creation, or the importance of the clear systems that will both ensure high environmental standards and reduce the costs, delays, and uncertainties so prevalent within the resource management industry of this Government.
The last point I want to make is that it is a failure that this bill makes no changes to Part 2 of the Resource Management Act. The Government believes those provisions are somehow sacrosanct, yet the Government itself has amended them twice. It did so in making national heritage a matter of national importance, and in protecting customary values. Until we amend Part 2 of the Act, New Zealand will continue to have problems, our economy will be held back, and our environment will not live up to the standards New Zealanders expect.
DAVID PARKER (Labour—Otago)
: The inconsistency of the last speech with reality can be gauged from the fact that the member claims that the Resource Management Act is a substantial impediment to New Zealand’s growth, at a time when New Zealand has the second-highest growth rate in the OECD, under the very Act he criticises. That view is just not credible. There were major problems with the Resource Management Act when Labour came into office. People were gaming the rules and the system, and some close-to-blackmail tactics were going down as a consequence of the delays in hearing appeals. When we came into office, the average time it took to get a hearing in the Environment Court to appeal a council decision was about 18 months. We have reduced that to 6 months for ordinary cases and 3 months for urgent cases. A lot of the problems, unnecessary delays, and close-to-blackmail tactics that were becoming a bit prevalent at that time have been remedied through the better provisioning of the Environment Court, and then by getting over the backlog of plan references and decreasing delays as a consequence by two-thirds, so that they are now only a third as bad as they were and are getting very close to the expected ideal of less than 6 months for an ordinary appeal.
On the suggestion that we are conferring special rights on iwi, it is right that Māori groups have a right to participate in the writing of plans. This legislation makes it clear that that is where their right of access to process exists. It also clarifies that they have no special right of participation in Resource Management Act matters when it comes to consents. Māori will have the same rights any other person has to participate in consent hearings, but no greater right. This legislation clarifies the law in that regard. At the moment, the law is uncertain. There are cases where applicants think they have to liaise with Māori in respect of a particular consent application, when that might not be necessary on the facts. This bill will resolve that ambiguity.
On the issue of council support for this legislation, the Queenstown Lakes District Council—which is in my electorate—has the highest rate of consent applications per head of population in the country, because the area is experiencing the highest rate of population growth in Australasia. Some will say that the fact that so many applications have to be made points to failings in the Resource Management Act. I do not think it does; I think it just reflects the fact that this is a time of intense pressure and change that requires consent applications to be made and considered. I note that the council thinks these amendments are practical, and it does have day-to-day dealings with the Resource Management Act. I am not saying that the Queenstown Lakes District Council gets it perfectly right. I will say that the council is quite right in respect of the issue Dr Nick Smith raised of owners who rent out a house as commercial visitor accommodation. It would be quite unfair if one could rent out commercial quasi-hotel accommodation in residential housing in Queenstown.
Peter Brown: Come on—it happens all over the country.
DAVID PARKER: Mr Brown says: “Come on.” But the reality at present is that we have, at one end of the market in Queenstown, deliberate and prolonged use of quasi-residential accommodation as commercial visitor accommodation. I do not think the council is trying to get people who rent out their holiday homes for a short period once a year; it is trying to get, and to treat in the same way as all other hotel providers, people who are providing hotel accommodation through private residences. So popular is Queenstown as a tourist destination that that is a very profitable thing to do at the moment.
This legislation will make some sensible improvements to procedures under the Resource Management Act. I am one of those who think that it is the procedures that need to be looked at, rather than the principles of the Act. I think the principles of the Act were sound when it was passed, and they remain sound now. I agree with Michael Barnett of the chambers of commerce, who said that many of the problems relating to the Resource Management Act lie not in the law but in its implementation at council level. Again, prior to this Government being elected, the Ministry for the Environment had no systems in place to ensure that best practice was copied in the different councils around New Zealand. As a consequence, we had inadequate liaison with councils and we had bad practice not being fixed. In defence of councils, I note that the Resource Management Act was then relatively new. We were going through the first round of plans under that Act in the transition from the old Town and Country Planning Act, so they had a lot to learn.
I think this legislation is worthy. I am sure the tension between speed of process and not making the first hearing too difficult will be teased out in the Local Government and Environment Committee. It is an area that I am interested to look at, as I am sure other select committee members will be. We will look at whether the proposals—which, I have to say, seem sound on the face of it, making the Environment Court a court of appeal that focuses on whether the decision of the council was correct rather than on re-litigating the whole contest—represent the best approach. I am happy to see this bill
reported to the select committee. I am a member of that committee, and I am sure that we will give the bill the attention it deserves.
JIM PETERS (NZ First)
: When I picked up my copy of the bill and took it home and looked at it, and thought back over the past 5 years, I, like Dr Nick Smith, found a significant similarity to the work done in 1999 by the Upton committee. In fact, if I had time, I could go through five examples where, suspiciously, in a not-too-subtle way, the same concepts are embodied in the bill before us. That is very surprising. When I came to the House I, like Dr Nick Smith, picked up in the select committee the almost abandoned work that the earlier committee had done and that the incoming Labour Government had slashed with a very large red pen. New Zealand First claimed that the time was appropriate, in the almost redundant 2002 bill, to thoroughly review the Resource Management Act.
In the view of New Zealand First, it was, after a decade, the right time to see whether the Act, and Part II in particular, was still valid—in other words, whether the pre-1990s thinking embodied in the Palmer concepts, which were part of the gestation of the Act and were finally brought to the House by the National Government and virtually embodied first in its bill and then in the Act, still fitted New Zealand a decade later. For our part, we do not believe it does. We believe that Part II of the Act should have been looked at, and it was not. The part we particularly believe should be looked at—and we will be encouraging submissions on this—is the part that defines Māori and the Treaty of Waitangi. We believe that the Treaty of Waitangi clause has no place in Part II of the Act. In fact, we believe that section 6 of Part II needs to be further defined.
There is no place for the Treaty of Waitangi clause in legislation in 2004. There is a place to emphasise in detail in Part II of the Resource Management Act exactly what is meant by the aspects of Māori culture that are mentioned, particularly in section 6. We also believe absolutely that there is no place in this day and age for an ill-defined concept of spirituality. New Zealand First’s concern is that Part II of the Act should have been addressed in the bill. The concept of spirituality that has become an indefinite part of Resource Management Act decisions, as recently as the Genesis decision with regard to the Whanganui River, is not a matter for legislation; it is a matter for personal conscience. It ought not to have had a place, and has no further place in resource consents. In saying that, we believe that sacred sites and other tangible evidence of Māori culture should have impact, but not to the degree that Part II of the Act allows and that jurisdictions have said should be there. We strongly support submitters coming to the select committee with their mind on the relevance of Part II of the Act and on the broad concepts that guided that part. Is the term “sustainability” one that we still need to embody; if so, what does it mean in 2004, and so on?
We in New Zealand First were very conscious when we came to look at the bill that there is a backdrop. That backdrop is the immense amount of work done by councils in formulating the present state of planning—the millions and millions of dollars of ratepayer expenditure and, to some degree, taxpayer expenditure in formulating plans. More important than the cost is the large number of local people who have had an input into plans over the last 11 years. Therefore, some of the suggestions in this bill, particularly the national statements and the potential impact caused directly by cutting across local and regional thinking, are cause for alarm. I hope that submitters will come back to us and tell us exactly what that means. The other issue with regard to planning is the issue of the lengthy and abundant jurisdictional judgments and decisions about various aspects of planning and consents. There is a vast body out there that any change must have regard to. Therefore this bill ought to have addressed that in a pragmatic way.
The most significant factor in the bill is that, against a decade or more of local, regional, and national planning, with only one policy statement with regard to coastal
policy before the country, we are about to have, should this bill finally be transposed into law, a whole body of national statements at this late stage. That is in opposition, of course, to the work that has been done over the past decade. In other words, if this bill is admitted in its final form, we are about to move into a “command and control” approach to environmental decision-making, whereby decision makers merely apply regulatory statements that are prepared by central government. That is not in keeping with the whole history of participation, a democratic approach, and a pluralistic approach in public law, which have been the hallmarks of the Resource Management Act. Therefore, that is a matter we would look at very closely, and we hope submitters will too.
In other words, a light-handed approach in the past has been the mode. We are about to have, or could have, a heavy-handed approach to strongly influence, and to have a marked impact on, local authorities. With that comes the very clear intention in some of the subtle, or not so subtle, language that is tantamount to telling local authorities how to go about their day-to-day tasks, how to perform, and that central government bureaucracy can dictate to local authorities on matters that local authorities would have to fund. That, in my short time here, has been one of the hallmarks of this Government. Through its legislation it has imposed vast costs upon local bodies. Unless this is watched very closely, and I have suspicions indicating otherwise, this could be one of the very first results here.
So we have a heightened central government interest. We have a modified call-in process that is very little used but is about to be used if this bill should become an Act in the future. No one quite knows what this call-in process is, how diverse it will be, or, more important, where the local council comes into it at the end of the process. There was an abridged call-in process in regard to the Resource Management (Waitaki Catchment) Amendment Bill. In the end, the Government turned aside and came to the House with more proper and, we hope, effective legislation. We have a call-in process that goes down to private plan changes, and we saw that with regard to the Aquaculture Reform Bill that has just gone through the House.
New Zealand First hopes that submitters will go through this bill with great care. We believe that the pre-hearing meetings should be speeded up. We believe that they have a real part to play and have not been used in the past. A clear definition of “pre-hearing”—more than is in this bill—will certainly mean an efficient, ongoing process. We also believe that the Environment Court could have a lesser role to perform than it has had so far. If there were consistency between the pre-hearing process, as a major definitive process, and a shorter judicial hearing as a result, with only some cases going to the Environment Court on points of law, rather than having, as now, total rehearings, then that would be in the best interests of the country. If this bill removes blockages that are there now, with regard to the speed of being able to get a consent, it is sound. But I do not see that.
Last of all, with regard to the bill, was there a necessity for change, and has it been expressed? The answer is yes. It is clear. Has it been answered in this bill? That is very doubtful. Is there a constituency out there supporting the change, such as farmers, community groups, local authorities, industry, lawyers, and the community? Yes there is, but this bill does not very clearly define what that could be. Is the magnitude of what this bill envisages such that we will have real change and reform? The answer is that it is doubtful.
So New Zealand First believes that this bill should be concerned, in 2004, primarily with promoting the sustainable management of resources, which is about understanding people’s needs and understanding the capacity of our national and physical resources to meet the present and future needs of the country. New Zealand First will support the
passage of this bill to the select committee, despite our many reservations—some of which I have just expressed—thereby affording submitters the opportunity to define further what New Zealanders believe should be the future scope of this bill for the common good.
GERRARD ECKHOFF (ACT)
: I realise that with a few short days to go until Christmas one should be filled with joie de vivre and the joy of Christmas and be charitable to all men—
Ian Ewen-Street: And women.
GERRARD ECKHOFF: —and women, as the member points out. But to be charitable to David Benson-Pope over this bill is probably to go to the well too many times. I was stunned to hear the Minister in charge of the Resource Management Act tell members that the Act was designed to protect the environment for future generations. I ask the Minister to read the Resource Management Act. It is about the sustainable development and management of our natural and physical resources. We have a Labour Minister in charge of the bill who really knows nothing about the whole process.
The Resource Management Act has become known by virtually all resource users in this country as probably the most obnoxious Act that New Zealand has. Some of us held our breath in the vain hope that a review of the Resource Management Act would remove the nonsense from it. That has not happened. The vexatious objections will still occur on a constant basis. Nothing has been done about that, at all.
The Resource Management Act has ensured that no significant project has taken place in this country since it was passed back in 1991. I asked the Parliamentary Library to list for me the major projects of over half a billion dollars that have occurred since the Resource Management Act was passed. The answer was none. There has been not one project costing over half a billion dollars. I have to drag it out of my memory, but there were only about five projects costing between about $100 million and $450 million. That is outrageous. I draw attention to the member for Otago’s speech, in which he said it was remarkable that we have significant growth in this country. I think it is a huge credit to the productive sector that it has still managed to do a fantastic job of producing wealth for this country, despite the Resource Management Act.
This bill is really about recognising the need for the Government to fast track projects that it approves of. I am sure that members recall the Meridian Energy project down in the Waitaki Valley that fell over recently due to the Resource Management Act. There was little doubt that there would be claim, counterclaim, Environment Court hearings, and appeals, and that the project would be stopped. I do not know whether Project Aqua was needed, but we most certainly do need power generation in this country. That proposal by Meridian Energy was stopped by the Resource Management Act, and I am told that during this coming winter, we can look forward to power cuts, regardless of the state of the lakes in this country. So when people all get up to vote in the spring after having a cold shower, they should remember who caused the problem—Helen Clark, her Government, and the Resource Management Act.
Why is this bill before the House? I said a moment ago that it is for Government projects that need special treatment. It is not projects designed by businessmen from Southland to Northland that will be assisted by this bill; it will be the projects the Minister considers necessary to provide infrastructural benefits to this country. I am not opposed to that. I think the Resource Management Act should be fast tracked. I think projects of significance should be fast tracked. But then I also think a dairy farmer in Southland or a sawmiller in Northland should have his or her project fast tracked or given the same treatment that we will be giving—whether or not we like it—to all Government-approved projects.
A pylon project in the North Island just came up recently. It is the big project that Transpower is undertaking through some of the best farmland in this country—and I say that as a South Islander, which is saying something. I went through that area just recently, and there is some magnificent country there. Frankly, the thought of those—how do we describe them—awful Eiffel Towers going up through that pristine, magnificent farmland fills me with abject horror.
Having said that, I recognise, and my party certainly recognises, that electricity is the lifeblood of this country. We have to do that project, but my concern is really whether this bill will protect the rights of those landowners. With the infrastructural changes to their land, will the aesthetic qualities and the natural environment of their land be enhanced, and will they receive adequate compensation? The answer to that, I am perfectly certain, will absolutely be no. There will be no enhancement of the environment and the compensation will be a few paltry dollars that will pass, but the towers will be there forever. The people will look out of their kitchen windows in the morning and see those towers that the Resource Management Act and the Labour Government have given them, because the Government is putting through special legislation to drive those sorts of projects. That is called “special consultation”. I think we will see, and have seen from the Resource Management Act, selective consultation. We have seen self-interest driving the Resource Management Act. We have seen, and will see, more centralised control, more ministerial discretion, and more ministerial direction as a result of the bill being debated at this time.
As a member of the farming community, I am well aware of the need to ensure that our natural environment is cared for and protected, and there needs to be some process to ensure that that does occur. But I want the same standard applied to the Government that the Government is demanding should be applied to Farmer Brown, the sawmiller, or any other person who is engaged in industry in this country.
I have very, very significant concerns, and I warn the Government over a particular aspect of this bill that the select committee will, no doubt, consider—the allocation of natural resources, especially around the allocation of water, especially in the South Island. Let me tell this Government that if it wants demonstrations of a size that make the recent Māori land march, the protest against the “fart tax”, and even the Destiny Church’s protest outside Parliament appear to be all rolled into one and doubled, it should start tinkering with water rights in the South Island and taking away the water rights of every farmer or landowner who has invested heavily in those rights. I warn this Government that it must be exceedingly careful of that aspect. I regret deeply that this bill is likely to go to a select committee.
JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green)
: This bill claims to be about improving the Resource Management Act, but it is actually a fundamental change to the original purpose of the Act. The Minister says that the bill will improve the Act without compromising environmental outcomes or public participation, but what we have is vastly increased ministerial powers to override the decisions of communities and local councils. The bill has six main objectives, but not one of them even pretends to be about improving environmental quality or slowing environmental destruction.
This is a bill that the National Party would be proud of. It has campaigned for years to make the Resource Management Act more developer-friendly, and if National had introduced this bill a few years ago, Labour would be expressing outrage alongside Green members. But there is now little difference between Labour and National on the question of public participation in planning or the protection of the natural environment. There have been numerous Resource Management Act amendments from both the larger parties in the House since the Act was passed in 1991, and none of them has been aimed at improving environmental outcomes. There have been numerous reviews of
how the Act is working, of compliance costs, of timeliness, and of how well it works for developers, but never has there been a review of whether it works for the environment. The fact is that, aided by numerous amendments and case law, it often does not work for the environment.
New Zealand’s primary piece of environmental legislation has increasingly become an Act for developers, and this bill takes it further in that direction. It is legislation that is driven by Government panic that democracy may actually work, and that communities may make decisions about how they want to live that do not accord with the Government’s plans. We know, from the Growth and Innovation Advisory Board survey, that most New Zealanders value their quality of life and the quality of their environment more highly than faster economic growth. But that is not the Government’s objective, so it has given itself draconian ministerial powers to override local decision-making and ram through unpopular projects.
All of this is supposed to be in the national interest, but there is no definition of “national interest” in the bill. It seems that the national interest is whatever the Minister says it is. We do, however, have a definition of “infrastructure”, which is appropriate because this is actually an infrastructure bill. The ministerial overrides are primarily to enable a smooth passage for infrastructure projects like motorways, large dams, hydro projects, transmission lines, and landfills. In each case where an unpopular giant project is proposed to be foisted on a local community, there will be alternatives. Instead of motorways, we could have better public transport and urban planning; instead of hydro projects, we could have wind or energy efficiency; instead of landfills, we could have better resource recovery; and instead of transmission lines, we could have more local generation and fuel switching. But only the large, expensive, unsustainable option is to receive a free ride under this legislation—further entrenching the dominance that it already has. Further evidence for that is the addition of “promoting timely and effective provision of infrastructure” to the functions of regional councils.
To disguise just how draconian this bill is, the Government has had to resort to doublespeak. The first objective of the bill is supposed to give clear guidance to decision makers “on how to take national interest matters into account”. This so-called guidance takes a number of forms. When we turn to clauses 20 and 21, we find that guidance may involve forcing all councils to abandon environmental standards that they have set with their communities for air and water, and replace them with lower standards set by Government. Environmental standards provided for since the Act was passed have been unused until recently, when standards for dioxins and for air quality were developed. The Greens have always supported having standards and have frequently called for this part of the Act to be used. But the Act provides for standards to be a minimum, below which councils may not go. Now they are to become a maximum level of environmental quality, which may not be exceeded.
We also find that environmental standards may be used to require a council to make a certain activity a permitted use, with no conditions and no requirements for a resource consent. Standards can now relate to infrastructure, rather than environmental quality. One can only wonder what unpopular activities this is designed for: food irradiation plants, coal mines, or transmission lines. Environmental standards are, by this bill, to become anti-environmental standards, which is another example of doublespeak. Further guidance is to be available in the form of national policy statements. As first conceived in the Act, these were robust statements of policy that would survive several changes of Government, and guide local decision-making. To achieve this broad level of support, they were developed by an independent board of inquiry, with a consultative public process. But this was too democratic for successive Governments to use, and they never did. So in 2003 it was streamlined to make it easier for Ministers.
But we still have no national policy statements, so now it is to become a creature of the Minister, who can use any process he likes, as long as there is an opportunity for public comment—not hearings—and as long as someone reports to him on the submissions. So the whole process could be undertaken by a junior staff member and the Minister. This will, of course, not have the robustness intended by the Act, and local authorities will be bound by national policy statements that change with every Government. Consent hearings and applications for plan changes can now be snaffled up by the Minister and given to an appointed board at the request of applicants who think they might not get what they want from the local community. There will be no appeal, except on points of law, from the decisions of these ministerially appointed boards.
There are also serious concerns about the changes to the way local decision-making will work. If an applicant fails to give relevant information about a project, a council can no longer require that that information be provided. A developer can refuse to provide it and effectively dare the council to turn down the application for that reason. Theoretically, the applicant will have to weigh up that risk—that his or her project might fail to get consent, because not enough information was provided. In practice, we know that will not happen.
Councils will, instead, make decisions in ignorance, not knowing what they do not know. The less information that is disclosed the less opportunity there is for objectors to contest it. It is a recipe for non-disclosure and for decisions based on poor quality information. The ministry tried it on in 1999, and it was thrown out by the select committee with the Minister’s agreement. Now it is trying it on again.
The first consent hearing by the council, or its appointees, is to be made much more formal. We strongly support the training to be provided, and required, for councillors on hearing committees. We also support encouragement for those on the hearing committees to test evidence, but that cannot replace cross-examination. The proposal is that, with a stronger first hearing, the Environment Court should not rehear any evidence that has been heard, and no new evidence should be able to be presented except with the leave of the court. The only outcome I can foresee is that every Environment Court appeal will begin with several days of legal wrangling about whether certain pieces of evidence have been properly tested. It will not be an easy decision for the court as there are no transcripts of council hearings. With sufficiently sharp and well-paid lawyers it will be possible to establish that all evidence that is disputed must be heard again and cross-examined. The hearing will be made longer and more complex, and tilted against community groups.
Council hearings are stacked against community groups in several ways. They must have all their evidence and witness briefs in at the start—easy for a corporate with paid staff, but an onerous task for unpaid community groups. They may not bring new evidence later. The council has new powers to strike out a submission if it finds it to be vexatious or frivolous, and refuse to hear evidence if it finds it not to be relevant. Lawyers will spend a lot of time arguing at the new compulsory pre-hearing meetings that their opponents should not be heard at all.
Finally, to complement the foreshore and seabed legislation, a local authority may, after satisfying many subsections, set up a joint management agreement with another body such as an iwi organisation, for joint decision-making. But it may then act alone without the agreement of its partner, and it may terminate the joint-management agreement unilaterally with 20 days’ notice. I personally cannot see iwi organisations flocking to take advantage of this generous provision to participate in managing natural resources in which they have a particular interest.
The Greens will not vote for this legislation. There are some clauses we support but they are vastly outweighed by the matters I have mentioned. We will, however, listen hard to submissions. We will get involved strongly in the select committee process and work to improve the bill at that stage.
LARRY BALDOCK (United Future)
: I am very, very happy to rise on behalf of United Future and happy to see this day, when we introduce this Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill, because it is another step forward in the process of reforming the Resource Management Act and of making it more business-friendly and also more environmentally sound in the management of our resources.
When the 47th Parliament convened more than 2 years ago, United Future made it clear to the Government that we considered reform of the Resource Management Act to be a priority. When the Government asked us for our support to pass the legislation known as the Resource Management Bill (No 2), which had been sitting on the Order Paper for more than 3 years, we gave it our support.
That legislation sat on the Order Paper throughout the entire parliamentary term before this one and, although it could have been passed if National had worked constructively with the Government, it sat here, stalled completely. The Green Party, of course, saw to the fact that it was stalled. It was stuck until United Future arrived into this Parliament and began to work constructively to improve the Resource Management Act. We had to accept some omissions from that bill to get it passed. We are not going to hold out for everything we want. We are prepared to work for some common-sense improvements, as long as they are heading in the right direction.
The Hon Nick Smith mentioned in his speech that some of the amendments dropped from the original bill introduced by National in 1999 are now appearing in this one. The member should be very happy, because that is the long-term approach that United Future takes. We do not get everything all the time, but if we keep working constructively with the Government, ultimately we achieve improvements that are of benefit to the country and to the business community. The Greens, National, and New Zealand First had 3 years to work on that bill, but they did not.
When we gave our support to the legislation, we received a great deal of criticism in the House. At the time there was much criticism until the references to spiritual beliefs, cultural landscapes, and ancestral landscapes had been dropped. Even then the National Party spokesperson on the environment was willing to admit that it was a pretty good bill. We passed it and we were ready to move on to more amendments. That was not the end of the matter and we have continuously hounded, reminded, urged, and pushed the Government to further reform the Resource Management Act process. However, reforming the Resource Management Act is a process that requires balance.
The speaker before me from the ACT party gave a very curious speech, really.
Gerrard Eckhoff: No, it was the Greens.
LARRY BALDOCK: Before the Green member spoke, the ACT member said that this bill would be all about fast tracking projects. Then he said that everything—every small project—should be fast tracked, and he spoke about the need to protect the environment. He then spoke about the need for people to have their rights recognised and to be compensated, and that is a very curious balance. That is what the Resource Management Act is trying to do. It is trying to find a balance between environmental protection, people’s rights, and the need to move our economy forward and do sustainable development—as the member has said.
Additional funding, which the Government has recently provided to improve the tracking systems, and additional judges, have led to a marked improvement in the operation of the Environment Court, reducing the waiting list down to as little as 3 to 6 months for decisions in most cases. We commend the Government for that. That move
alone has been hugely significant in reducing the number of vexatious and frivolous objections, yet there is still more that could be done.
Members will remember the passage of the Resource Management (Waitaki Catchment) Amendment Bill, which was a very interesting and informative process. It gave many insights into possible amendments that could be useful in the main Resource Management Act, and some of those experiences have been brought into this legislation. It certainly highlighted the need to address consent and resource allocation processes in the light of national-interest tests, which will occur reasonably frequently as we upgrade and add much-needed infrastructure across the country. The Transpower upgrade of the national grid is one example, and there is the construction of roads, rail networks, and power generation projects, to cite others. We had a lot of discussions with the Government and, in particular, with the Associate Minister for the Environment and officials from the Ministry for the Environment, and we concluded that the next reform needed to focus on the process rather than amendments to Part 2 of the bill—the major foundations of the Resource Management Act.
That brings me to this bill, the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill. The purpose of the bill is to further improve the working of the Resource Management Act and also to amend the Electricity Act. It is the culmination of a 4-month review of the Resource Management Act, which focused on improving the quality of decisions and processes—that is, reducing uncertainty, unnecessary delays, costs, and abuse of processes without sacrificing robust environmental outcomes or public participation.
Research on eight major projects has shown that it took approximately 6 to 8 months for the council process—and an average cost of $0.6 million to the applicant—for the hearing process. That period was in addition to an average period of 2 years, at an average cost of $1.3 million for the applicant, to develop a proposal and prepare applications. All projects were appealed to the Environment Court, adding an average period of 16 months at an average cost of $1.4 million. That is not acceptable for our economy and for our business community, and it is why this legislation is designed to help improve and speed up that process.
As I said earlier, recent improvements in the Environment Court have substantially reduced the time of delays on appeals and are likely to have flow-on effects for costs. Applicants have expressed concern about third parties who delay consultation processes, make ill-informed submissions, make vexatious or frivolous appeals, and are not accountable for the cost or delay they cause to the approval processes. Anecdotal evidence indicated inconsistencies between councils in their processes and decisions. There are perceptions that decision making can be biased and, in some cases, that decision makers themselves lack the relevant skills and knowledge.
The key measure in the bill that will focus on those outcomes is the establishment of a requirement that the majority membership of hearing panels is accredited for hearing resource consents, private plan changes, designations, and heritage orders. We welcome this move, because there is an expectation that elected officials or others who sit on consents and hearing panels have the skills necessary to make decisions that are consistent across the country. As an elected council member myself in 2001, I know I had a huge amount to learn about the Resource Management Act, and I would have benefited tremendously from going through such an accreditation programme. I believe this move will be welcomed by local government bodies around the country.
The bill also focuses on empowering all hearing panels with more inquisitorial powers, thereby increasing the robustness of the first local authority hearing. Limiting appeals to the Environment Court to testing the merits of the first hearing is a very good move indeed, instead of simply repeating the hearing through the de novo process. The
bill will also provide new mechanisms for non-local decision making, which will build on existing ministerial call-in processes.
The bill addresses many other things, and I look forward to those things being submitted on in the select committee stage, where I am sure that we will make many, many amendments and improvements to this legislation in its draft form.
This bill, which is eagerly awaited by the business community, Resource Management Act practitioners, planners, and local government politicians and staff, will be welcome today as we pass it through its first reading. United Future is pleased to have played an important role in bringing this bill to the House, and we will wholeheartedly support its expeditious passage through Parliament. We look forward to receiving many submissions in the select committee and, despite the early report-back date, we do not believe that submitters need to be concerned this will limit their opportunity for input. It simply means that because of the importance of this reform to the New Zealand economy, committee members will devote extra time to ensure that it can be reported back and passed by this House as soon as possible.
United Future made a commitment at the beginning of this term of Parliament, and we intend to ensure that no action on our part will prevent the completion of that commitment before the expiry of this parliamentary term. I commend this bill to the House for referral to select committee.
JILL PETTIS (Labour—Whanganui)
: I have enjoyed listening to the debate this afternoon, because it has largely been a considered debate. However, I was rather surprised with some of the comments made by Mr Eckhoff about the Resource Management Act. I just remind Mr Eckhoff that the Act was largely supported by both sides of the House, and it was passed by National with the support of ACT. Mr Eckhoff should just keep eating bananas, because I understand that they are good for memory. I also remember that Mr Eckhoff has a penchant for farming kiwis to protect their future.
Nick Smith made an interesting contribution, but I do have to say that National talks an awful lot, in a very populist vein and a very superficial manner, about what it will do about the Resource Management Act. I suggest that National will do nothing of any substance about the Resource Management Act, other than a little bit of window dressing and a little bit of tinkering here and there that will do nothing to change the Act’s substance at all, because it knows only too well that most responsible New Zealanders would oppose its, so far, dramatic and draconian suggestions.
This bill is a good bill. A lot of consideration has gone into it. It is essential to provide leadership on issues of such importance to New Zealand. The changes to the Resource Management Act will focus on improving the quality of decisions and processes by increasing certainty, reducing costs and delays, and ensuring consistency. Of course, consistency is what the vast majority of New Zealanders who have to work within the Resource Management Act are seeking.
This Government is absolutely committed to protecting and preserving the unique aspects of New Zealand’s very, very special natural environment. That, of course, means that we have to strike the right balance between everyone’s desire for a clean, healthy environment and our country’s expectations for growth and opportunity. This is a good bill, and I am very pleased to support its passage through the House.
SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki-King Country)
: There is one comment made by the previous speaker that I agree with, and it is that this legislation needs leadership. So far, from this Government, through two Parliaments, we have seen absolutely none. The main part of the bill before us today was introduced as a discussion document in the mid-1990s. It evolved from that through a variety of committees, including a 1998-99 select committee, which brought to Parliament 12 recommendations of substantial change. I think this legislation touches on about four of
them. The recommendations that came out of that select committee were then taken up by the incoming Minister, Marian Hobbs, and a red pen was put through every single one of them. In other words, they were dumped. What do we have here today? We have a road to Damascus experience from this Government, which is saying: “Well, actually, some of those things may have been so. They may have been. We’re not going to stand in the House and say they are, or were; we are just saying they may have been so.” But we oppose this bill on the basis that it does not represent that kind of view for all.
What we have here today is proposed legislation that includes only those who have the ear of the Government. I say to the Government members who may take another call at some stage, as this bill progresses through the House, to explain to me why major State-owned enterprises will be given special treatment, as proposed here, but the average joe—the hard-worker, the average farmer, the average businessman, the average commercial entity that wants to go about its business and enter into some kind of development—is excluded. Why do they not get the same treatment? Somebody should explain that to me. In the Taranaki - King Country electorate, the seven territorial authorities and the three regional councils will still be able to inflict their view of what the Resource Management Act stands for on the average farmer or business, but if Meridian Energy, or similar, wants to come through that electorate with a development, it will be given a different set of rules to work with. Why is that?
Members opposite should listen to their new-found bosom buddy, the muesli man from Auckland, the Mayor of Auckland, when he says that the proposed Resource Management Act legislation will not go anywhere near far enough towards fixing the problems in major infrastructure in New Zealand, particularly roading in Auckland. I repeat the comments that have been made previously. What Auckland needs—as do other cities such as Wellington and Tauranga and other major areas where roading problems are clearly obvious—is engineering in the roads, not engineering in the people. The Government is totally ignoring those requests. As I said earlier, this legislation started in the 45th Parliament, went through the 46th Parliament, and now, in the 47th Parliament, it is still being tinkered with around the edges. I ask Government members why they cannot accept all the sensible work done earlier by a number of people who understand this issue inside out. Why can they not accept that, and why has that recommendation not been taken up in full? I say to United Future members, if they are to assist this Government in getting this legislation through—and it appears as though that is the case—why did they not, given that they hold all the bargaining chips, as it were, dig in and get the reform to the Resource Management Act that they know, and that everybody else in New Zealand knows, should take place? Why did they not do that? Why did they roll over? Why did they accept a piecemeal, incremental, bit-by-bit change to this legislation? Why could United Future not have stood its ground and come up with something that most New Zealanders would have accepted and on which it would have had substantial majority support in this House?
I think that this legislation has come about as a result of the fiasco we saw with Project Aqua. I cannot be sure that that is so, but I suspect that the Minister came under much pressure at that time. One hundred million dollars was spent investigating that project—a project he ultimately dropped. On top of that, of course, the small-business committee came back to the Government and recommended that the single biggest barrier to growth and business in this country was the Resource Management Act. So that, combined with the Project Aqua fiasco, brought the Minister, a relatively new Minister, to the conclusion that perhaps he would go back and look at the earlier work and see whether he could pick out some bits that would help us to move this thing forward. I ask that Minister why he did not do the job right the first time. Why could he not bring himself to accept that his predecessor, Marian Hobbs, had made a huge
mistake when she allowed herself to be hijacked by the very left of the political spectrum, by those who are here supposedly to protect the environment, the Green Party? Why could he not bring himself to the conclusion, particularly with the support of United Future, that he could have taken a substantial step forward with the Resource Management Act? Why did the Minister ignore the hundreds of thousands of submissions—and it is that many now—over a long period of time since the mid-1990s? Why did he ignore those submissions?
I know that the other Minister here in the House, Minister Swain, who sat through the submissions to the business development committee, could have told him in minute detail some of the concerns Business New Zealand has with the Resource Management Act and the impact it has on business development. Why did he not implement the leadership that the member for Whanganui spoke of earlier when he had the numbers? Of course, the Minister sits there completely oblivious to what those people have been talking about. He has no idea of business, like the rest of his Cabinet colleagues. He has no idea of what is needed to fix the Resource Management Act. So, at this eleventh hour, the Government has introduced this piecemeal, unacceptable amendment to the Resource Management Act, which will not go anywhere near far enough towards doing what is needed to fix it.
The bill also amends the Electricity Act, and we have to ask why we are putting in place a special, one-off, piece of legislation just because we have a major problem now with electricity generation and the transmission thereof. I again say to United Future that here was an opportunity to enhance all sorts of energy development. Thousands of projects are on hold, because the people involved have looked at the problem of getting them through the consent process under the Resource Management Act and said that it is all too tough—in fact, State-owned enterprises have. They have said they will go over to Australia and build generation capacity in Australia, because it is much easier to build it there. I do not know whether the Minister is going to pass another amendment to the Resource Management Act so we can build transmission lines across the ocean to bring some of that power back home. Maybe he is; I would not know. What I do know is that New Zealand investment in energy generation is going on in Australia when we desperately need it here in New Zealand. The reason for that, overwhelmingly, would be that it is too difficult to get through the consent process in New Zealand in order for it to happen here.
So I ask the Minister and the Government why they do not go back to the earlier work that was done. Why not have a look at where the real problems are? Why not adopt the whole revamp of the Resource Management Act, as proposed by Owen McShane? Why not go back to the original principles—prescribed by Geoffrey Palmer, one of Labour’s former Prime Ministers—and find out how those principles are being implemented by some of the district and regional councils that have completely distorted the original intent as drafted by Geoffrey Palmer and those who were involved in the first instance? I say to the Minister that he should take the opportunity now to fix it once and for all while he has the support of United Future and does not need the loony-left vote to get it through. He has United Future’s support. He has the numbers. He will have support from business, and he will probably pick up other political party support in this House. He should fix the Resource Management Act, and save New Zealanders from the endless grind that is holding this country back.
Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment)
: I found that last statement, which asked what role central government could play regarding local government, a bit rich, considering that the National Government for 9 years of this legislation did not fund the support of local government in that area. It did absolutely nothing. I rise to support the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation
Amendment Bill. The speech by Dr Nick Smith was sadly predictable. I had it reported to me. As usual, he focused on process, not substance. As usual, he advocated gutting the Resource Management Act to allow unfettered development. As usual, he talked about shutting people out of the process and taking decision making away from local government. Those are the solutions his Government put forward in 1999. We did not proceed with that bill, which would have been disastrous for our environment. Instead, we focused on solutions that would deliver for the environment, for the community, for business, and for Māori.
Since that time, the National Party has always got terribly embarrassed by that. We did something it never did. We properly resourced the Environment Court. At the first meeting of the Resource Management Law Association I attended, in Dunedin, people asked me whether I, as Minister, would listen, because National never listened. They needed that number of judges and those sorts of resources. And did we deliver them? We halved the backlog of cases. We ensured that new cases got to hearing within 6 months, not the 36 months it took when Nick Smith’s Government left office in 1999. Unlike National, we actually work with local councils to help them improve their practice. We have put an extraordinary amount of money in there. Obviously, that speaker does not know what he is talking about and never goes online to look at the best-practice website.
We have also produced the first national environment standards—those on air quality. Did the previous National Government do anything about that? That was in the bill and absolutely nothing was done. The solutions were all ones that were raised by the business compliance cost study. We have had results in that area. In 2004, there was a 39.2 percent decrease in environmental compliance costs, compared with 2003. Our solutions are improving the implementation of the Resource Management Act without compromising the environment. The bill carries on that process.
Environmental law always aims to strike a balance between protecting the environment and allowing development. We are not business unfriendly, I say to the previous speaker. We assess that balance and ensure that it is correct in an ongoing process. The bill makes some sensible changes that improve on process under the Resource Management Act. I am sure the previous speaker is very well aware of the issues around transmission and what that costs.
I have attended meetings up in his area with all those people and with transmission representatives, trying to work out a way in which we can allow people to have their say and to work forward to some solutions, but not to stop what is absolutely necessary for our power, which is power we have put into this bill in order to facilitate the process. As it was, under the previous legislation, it left it and abandoned it.
The most telling thing about Nick Smith’s earlier speech was his fascination with amending Part 2. He talks about providing work for lawyers, but for God’s sake, what would amending Part 2 do to case law? That part sets the environmental bar protecting our environment. The bill does not lower the bar. As I have already said, it focuses on practical changes to get improvement and implementation without compromising the environment.
Make no mistake, if this bill had been put forward by National, that environmental bar would be lowered. It is money and degradation at all costs. Development can take place anywhere, particularly on the Nelson coastline, at any time and without public involvement, and that is what separates Labour from National.
The bill ensures the public will have a say in decision making, although it provides a range of processes through which that can occur. It has a variety. It is on solution, mediation, and problem solving, and it is sensible, as different projects have different requirements, and local authorities should have different tools to lead them.
I also heard members on the other side of the Chamber quote the Law Society. Of course, they neglected to quote the Law Society’s latest statements, in which they recognised that many of their earlier concerns were overstated or could be dealt with. The Law Society has now joined the mainstream of resource management practitioners in seeing these changes as practical and workable. It is only Opposition members who remain isolated in their outdated views about outlawing public participation and fast tracking development at the cost of the environment. This is a good bill. It is a well argued and well-thought-out bill, and I commend it to the House.
PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First)
: Let me make New Zealand First’s position clear from the outset. We will support the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill going to a select committee, but that does not mean to say we agree with everything in it. In fact, we have some major reservations. The United Future member who is sitting there admitted that his fingerprints are all over the bill. He claimed credit for it, and then at the end of his speech he said there will have to be some significant amendments to it. I ask that member why we are debating a bill under urgency before Christmas, when he could have had 6 weeks to sort it out and we could have put it through the House—hopefully, 100 percent correct—very firmly and quickly in February. It is an absolute disgrace for a member to stand up and claim credit for legislation, then say that it needs some adjustment and will have to have major amendments, at the same time as we are debating it under urgency so that we can push it through before Christmas.
I believe that every party in the House wants to address some of the concerns of the Resource Management Act. That is why we are a little bit mystified by the National Party and, certainly, by ACT. I listened very carefully to Mr Eckhoff. In 10 minutes, he told us everything that was wrong with the Resource Management Act as it is, and he made a very good job of it. I say to Mr Eckhoff that here is an opportunity to sort it out. But before he sat down he said he would oppose the bill.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The bill is a lemon!
PETER BROWN: I know that the former Minister keeps close scrutiny on resource management problems. I say to him that this is an opportunity to address those concerns. He raised an interesting issue—an issue that I could not believe occurred. People in Queenstown have to get a resource consent for hiring out their houses. Did I hear the member correctly?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: And for less than 3 months.
PETER BROWN: That is even worse.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: And David Parker supports it!
PETER BROWN: That is outrageous. It is so outrageous that I found a clause in the bill that may or may not deal with it, and hopefully will. Clause 33 inserts new section 75, “Contents of district plans”, which states: “(1) A district plan must state—(a) the policies for the district;”. So the council will have to outline the fact that it charges people a fee to get a consent if they hire their houses out for less than 3 months. Then, as set out in subsection (2), it will have to supply “(b) the objectives that the plan seeks to achieve;”. That is quite simple. Queenstown obviously wants to get more money! That is the only reason. The council will have to state that.
Then the council will have to supply “(d) the principal reasons for adopting the policies and methods;”. That is quite clear. They want to rip off their local constituents. Then the council will have to supply “(e) the environmental results expected from the policies and the methods;”. They will have a hard time justifying that. Then it will have to supply “(f) the procedures for monitoring the efficiency and effectiveness of the policies and methods;”. The council will have to send the smoke-free inspectors down in their spare time to check whether the people who have hired the house are still there.
Subsection (3) states: “a district plan must give effect to—(a) any national policy statement;”. I say seriously to the House that if we cannot get a national policy statement that does not require people who hire their houses out for less than 3 months having to get a resource management understanding, then it is a disgrace. We are turning this country into a police State.
We must get the Resource Management Act correct. The delays and hold-ups due to resource management problems cause all sorts of concerns, not only to investors, developers, landowners, and property owners but to the average Joe Blow. People want certainty. They also want fairness and simplicity, so that they can understand what it is all about and the procedures they have to go through. Further to that, they want transparency and speed. They want the issues handled fairly, speedily, transparently, and in a manner that is easily understood. I ask Mr Baldock whether this bill will do that. I doubt it. He is nodding his head; he thinks it will. I will give the member a little bit of credit—the bill will go some way. But if he had taken a little longer and consulted a bit more widely in Parliament, he might have got it right. My colleague Jim Peters probably knows more about the Resource Management Act than anybody in Parliament. He will be on the select committee and will sort it out.
I ask the honourable member why he did not spend a bit more time on the bill. There is an old saying: “More haste, less speed.” If this bill had been presented to the House in a form that would deliver the whole thing, National members would have supported it, would they not?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It was promised in September.
PETER BROWN: It was promised in September. [Interruption] We have it in December and members are all admitting that it is not correct. United Future members are admitting that it has to be significantly amended.
Part 2, which has only three clauses, amends the Electricity Act. Basically, that will allow access for higher-powered structures on the roading corridor. I do not know whether that is desirable. I know the arguments for—some say it will deliver power more cheaply and effectively. But there are many arguments against it. New Zealand First welcomes this bill going to the select committee so that we can hear the arguments for and against. I remind this Government that the electricity industry in this country needs some attention. The Government has made two attempts to address the issues, and it does not yet have it right. We should be aiming to guarantee security of supply.
Will the Government say whether its recent legislation will do that? I do not hear any wild shouts of confidence. We also need greater investment in electricity in this country. Will that little part in the bill achieve that? Will the current legislation achieve that? I doubt it. People want electricity prices that are fair, reasonable, and sustainable. We have volatile prices. Is that likely to change? No, it is not.
As I said, New Zealand First supports this bill in its entirety going to the select committee. By reading through the bill quickly, I can see that my colleague will be working day and night to give the select committee the sound advice it needs to amend it. I concede that there are some points of merit in it, but many clauses need to be addressed positively in the interests of all New Zealanders. [Interruption] The honourable member said something that I did not quite catch, but I tell him that he has had his day in the sun with this bill. If this is the best he can come up with, he has a C.
Shane Ardern: A C-.
PETER BROWN: A C-. It will rest heavily on the shoulders of New Zealand First—principally my colleague Jim Peters—to sort this out. If he does not sort this out, or is prohibited from doing so at the select committee, then New Zealand First will not support the progress of this bill. But we will support it going to the select committee so
that people can come and have their say. Let us sincerely hope that between us we can make a better job than we have had thus far.
RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour—Napier)
: Some recesses of people’s minds should never be revealed publicly. We just heard the meanderings of the last speaker, Peter Brown—which came from the recesses of his mind—whereby he hoped for things and uttered things that he does not understand. The key is that in this bill he wants efficiency, effectiveness, and certainty. I remind him of the main objectives of the bill, which provide just those three things—efficiency, effectiveness, and certainty.
Peter Brown: How is that achieved?
RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER: That is achieved by enabling central government to better express the national interest, so that decision makers have clear guidance on how to take national interest matters into account. That is fundamental to the efficient operation of the Resource Management Act. How is it effective? It enables consent processes to be undertaken in a manner that is effective and efficient, and that provides certainty of process for applications. It is effective because it improves the effectiveness of planning documents to enable their timely development. It is certain because it provides certainty of consultation requirements for resource management matters. So when Peter Brown gets the Christmas fairy to read his last speech back to him, he will realise that deep down in his heart he supports this bill. New Zealand First members will flock after him and vote for it at its later readings.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill be now read a first time.
||New Zealand Labour 51; New Zealand First 13; United Future 8; Progressive 2.
||New Zealand National 26; ACT New Zealand 9; Green Party 9; Māori Party 1.
|Bill read a first time.
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister for the Environment)
: I move,
That the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill be
referred to the Local Government and Environment Committeereferred to Local Government and Environment Committee
SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House now finds itself in some difficulty. I refer you to Standing Order 284(3), which makes very clear that the member in charge of the bill may include in a motion nominating the committee to consider the bill any special instruction in respect of that committee’s consideration. Specifically, this Minister just referred to a report-back date of 2 May 2005, the presumption being that the select committee would otherwise have 6 months to report the bill back. However, Standing Order 284(3) further states that in respect of the committee’s consideration of the bill, the mover has to have indicated in his first reading speech that that matter is to be proposed. Although I was not in the House at the time of the Minister’s first reading speech, I am advised by my colleagues who were in the House that no such reference to a shortened report-back date was made by the member in charge of the bill at the point of the first reading. Therefore, the
motion put by the Minister in my submission is out of order, which means that the report-back date will then revert to the 6-month period otherwise presumed under the Standing Orders, and I seek your ruling accordingly.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Clem Simich): I thank the member for that, yes.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson)
: I wish to confirm that I listened very carefully to the contribution by Mr David Benson-Pope, the new Minister, because I would have made a contribution in the debate had I known of the motion the Minister is now attempting to put to the House contrary to the Standing Orders, with the Minister not notifying the House. As my colleague Simon Power has correctly put to members, the motion from the Minister is out of order, and the select committee cannot include any instruction, because the Minister did not include in his first reading speech any indication that he would do so.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Clem Simich): I thank the member for raising that. The issue is quite clear. Under Standing Order 282(1) the Minister must indicate in the first reading speech whether it is intended to impose a different reporting date or whether there are any other instructions. I am told that such instructions were not included in that speech, so to achieve that course it can only be done by the seeking of leave.
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Associate Minister for the Environment)
: I am pleased to seek leave for that instruction to be given effect.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Clem Simich): Leave has been sought for that course to be followed. Is there any objection? There is objection. Leave is denied. The only parts of the motion that can be accepted are those that relate to the referral to the Local Government and Environment Committee, and the motion will carry the normal report-back time of 6 months.
LARRY BALDOCK (United Future)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask your assistance in this matter with your knowledge of the Standing Orders, but I referred to the report-back time in my speech and I wonder whether I might be able to move the motion. Can you give me some clarification on that, Mr Speaker, because I clearly referred in my speech to the fact that there would be a shortened process. If it must be a Minister who moves the motion, I understand that, but I am seeking a clarification please.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson)
: Standing Order 284 is very explicit. It states that it is “… the member in charge …” of the bill. The member in charge of this bill, whose name is on the front of the bill, is Mr David Benson-Pope. I was concerned when I heard the contribution from Mr Larry Baldock indicating that there would be an earlier report-back time. I had listened very carefully to the Minister’s speech and he had not given any indication, so that is what alerted me to the fact that the Government was attempting to break the Standing Orders.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Clem Simich): It is clear, by the Standing Orders, that those instructions and all things relevant to that can be moved only by the Minister, so I thank Mr Baldock. The motion now is that the bill go to the Local Government and Environment Committee and have the normal report-back date.
- Bill referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee.