Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Nats eye more resource act tweaks

Nick Smith says RMA changes and reform of marine reserves law among party’s key environment priorities

Conservation Minister, Nick Smith. Photo / David Haxton
Conservation Minister, Nick Smith. Photo / David Haxton

Further moves to reform the Resource Management Act have been flagged among key environment priorities for National ahead of the election.

The party is to reveal its environment policy closer to the election, but Conservation Minister Nick Smith yesterday shared several focus areas at the Environmental Defence Society's annual conference in Auckland.

National would continue to pursue more reform of the Resource Management Act (RMA), despite being forced this year to put proposed changes on hold after failing to muster enough support in Parliament.

The proposed changes to sections six and seven of part two of the act had drawn heavy criticism amid concerns they would erode environmental protections in favour of economic imperatives.

Dr Smith told the conference that while the debate had "caused some angst" in the environment community, reform was overdue.

He particularly wanted recognition of natural hazards in the law, with "the importance of well-designed and planned infrastructure".

"We need to keep the dialogue on-going on how we can address these issues without compromising the environmental protection of the act."

If re-elected, National would also advance legislative reform concerning marine reserves; the present framework was "clumsy", "outdated" and in urgent need of reform, he said.

Another priority would be finishing legislation for more regular, transparent and improved reporting on freshwater, air quality, biodiversity and oceans.

A lack of statutory framework for environmental reporting had been "well acknowledged" as a weakness.

"We put enormous energy and resourcing into carefully managing New Zealand's financial capital - but too little into the measurement and management of our natural capital."

Also on the agenda was a review of the status of stewardship land, and possibly greater protection for rivers in national and conservation parks.

Significant areas of the country remained "inappropriately" classified as stewardship land - the lowest category of conservation land - and the Government had recently created the new Aotea Conservation Park after reclassifying stewardship land on Great Barrier Island.

National was also keen to advance a proposed national park for Northland kauri forests at Waipoua, having already received a recommendation from the Conservation Authority.

Dr Smith listed many of National's efforts in environment and conservation over the past two terms, including work on freshwater management, predator control, more marine reserves, a ban on shark finning and increased funding for the Queen Elizabeth II Trust. Opposition parties responded with criticism to the priorities outlined by Dr Smith, with the Green Party dismissing them as "greenwash".

Labour environment spokeswoman Moana Mackey said her party would oppose any further attempt to reform the RMA, which she said would "destroy more than 20 years of case law" and provide "incredible uncertainty".

Labour is also still to release its full list of environment policies, but has so far announced measures including irrigation water take charges for farmers, a goal for all rivers to be swimmable within a generation, restricting cheap international units under the emissions trading scheme, increased protection for Maui's dolphin and more funding to fight kauri dieback disease.

The Greens' water spokeswoman, Eugenie Sage, claimed National was ignoring "the two big elephants in the room" - water quality and climate change. Kiwis wanted action on both.

- NZ Herald

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