11 Nov 2016

Did govt use US election as cover for RMA changes?

4:29 pm on 11 November 2016

Opponents of the government's overhaul of resource management law say New Zealanders are about to lose their right to have a say on environmental issues.

Nick Smith at a social housing announcement in Northcote

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The Māori Party has finally agreed to back National's controversial RMA changes - handing it the numbers it needs to pass the legislation.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said with Māori Party support, National now had enough to make its changes to the RMA.

Dr Smith told reporters the changes included nationally-consistent planning standards and shorter consent times for minor activities. He said they would also make it easier and faster for more homes to be built.

"It puts a firm legal requirement on councils to free up sufficient land for both housing and business development.

"It makes the provision of housing more straightforward, in that it does not allow appeals on resource consents in areas that are zoned residential - it will help us maintain the momentum of growth in the housing sector," Dr Smith said.

The Māori Party warned this year that it would withdraw its support for proposed changes if Māori were not given more say over how resources were managed.

Co-leader Marama Fox said its negotiations with National had led to more more iwi participation and the minister having less power to override local councils.

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox

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

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

But the timing of the announcement - in the middle of the United States' presidential election day, raised suspicions the government was trying to sneak changes past the public.

Labour Party environment spokesperson David Parker said the RMA changes were horrendous and the government had tried to hide them.

"This is another National government shambles being slipped through under the cover of the United States election," he said.

David Parker

Labour Party environment spokesperson David Parker. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

"Just about everyone is opposed to it - developers, environmental groups, the Law Society - Geoffrey Palmer's described it as a constitutional outrage because it confers so much power on Ministers to override the local will of councils and people," Mr Parker said.

Act Party leader David Seymour was similarly unimpressed with the timing of the announcement and said the Māori Party has just shot Māori in the foot.

"Oh look, I think if this RMA emperor had any clothes they would have announced it any other day, they couldn't have buried this RMA announcement better if they announced it on Christmas Eve."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei was also suspicious of the announcement's timing and said the Māori Party has taken away the rights of all New Zealanders.

"I think they have given away the rights of New Zealanders across the board, including Māori, to have a say over what happens with their environment.

Members of Parliaments, lobists and supports gathered outside Parliament with petition to legalise cannabis, 17,000 people signed the petition. Metiria Turei.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"This legislation has been called a constitutional outrage because it gives Ministers so much more power over decision making, it's just not OK."

Dr Smith denied there was any scheming behind the timing of the announcement.

"Just because the US are having elections doesn't mean the business of the New Zealand government stops."

The bill will be referred back to select committee today, and the government expected it would be passed late this year, or early next.

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