9 Nov 2016

Māori Party gives green light for RMA changes

5:20 pm on 9 November 2016

The government has reached an agreement with the Māori party, which gave it the numbers to pass the Resource Management Act (RMA) through its final stages in Parliament.

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Photo: 123RF

The Māori Party is satisfied iwi will be thoroughly consulted and economic benefits have not trumped environmental protection.

Earlier this year the Māori Party warned it would withdraw its support if iwi was not given more say over how resources were managed.

Its co-leader, Marama Fox, said along with more consultation, the government now agreed to diminishing ministerial powers, and increasing the rights to appeal decisions.

"That shows that actually Māori party are not just protecting the rights and interests of iwi, but the whole of Aotearoa."

Ms Fox refuted any suggestion the changes amounted to "brown privilege".

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox. Photo: RNZ / Mei Heron

"There is an irrational fear in this country that if you give Māori a little bit of extra power in any decision making process that that might somehow be detrimental to the rest of New Zealand.

"That is an irrational fear, it is non-existent, and what we're saying is that through a Mana Whakahono ā Rohe arrangement, then we're up front, at the front, being able to agree on the areas that need to be protected," she said.

The Māori Party said that arrangement, which enabled iwi and councils to enter into agreements, went beyond anything that currently existed for Māori outside the Treaty Settlement and allowed iwi to engage in a way it had not been able to before.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said many councils already consulted with Māori through treaty settlements or good practice.

"[However] there's a lot of frustration that that doesn't work. So the big benefit in my view for both councils and iwi is having a formal statuary process by which they can reach these agreements and make these processes work better," he said.

Nick Smith at Tahunanui Beach on 28 July 2016

Environment Minister Nick Smith. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill aims to speed planning and consenting processes, in part to enable more houses to be built.

It would also give iwi the opportunity to be involved in project planning by local councils at an early stage, and allow for Māori corporations to draw water for stock without consent.

The bill is the government's third attempt to get its second lot of changes to the RMA across the line.

The government's allies United Future have said the changes go too far, while ACT Party said they do not go far enough.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei does not agree with the deal, saying the Māori Party had given away the rights of New Zealanders, including Māori, in having a say over what happens with the environment.

"This legislation is being called a constitutional outrage by some of our most significant constitutional experts, because it gives Ministers so much more power over decision making," Mrs Turei said.

"It's not clear as to whether the Māori Party actually got any more gains for Māori through this process.

"It does beg the question of why they have done this deal and certainly why they're announcing it today."

The government denied deliberately announcing the RMA agreement with the Māori Party on the same day as the US elections, saying any suggestion otherwise was a "conspiracy".