The Whangarei, Far North and Auckland communities recently celebrated our respective councils' decision to protect our productive lands from GMO (genetically modified organisms) releases and to provide a platform allowing local food producers to leverage off that GM Free status.
This represents a culmination of years of analysis, debate, court cases and consultation within our communities; a broad coalition of Soil & Health, GE Free groups, manawhenua - iwi and hapu, farming and producer community groups and members, concerned locals, scientists, wildlife and natural environment special interest groups, and local government representatives.
Now, our community protections are under threat. Environment Minister Nick Smith announced that changes to the Resource Management Act are moving forward, supported by the Maori Party.
These include widely condemned powers that would allow him to strip our communities of our democratic right to determine whether our territories remain GM-free.
Section 360D of the bill is an assault on local democracy. Yet the Maori Party is poised to get them over the line.
Smith argues for efficiency - doing away with duplication. But the powers Smith wants are custom-built to nix district plan rules protecting our productive lands from GM releases and our regional plan provisions.
That is why the Māori Party should not, under any circumstances, support him.
Dropping s360D still allows the minister to deal with duplication. He can go to Parliament and argue for any specific change needed so that beneficial activities are not unduly held up by local controls.
If he can make a persuasive case to the community and our elected representatives in Parliament changes can be made.
Smith has had enough time to identify where council rules create unnecessary overlap and make the case for concrete solutions to deal with these.
He has not, choosing instead going a quick and dirty route to impose his dictatorial will on our communities.
Section 360D is a crude and unprincipled power grab by the minister. He doesn't want to have to bother convincing Parliament of the merits of reducing local democracy on controversial issues. He wants to rule by decree.
The Maori Party's idea that supporting s360D ensures that our communities have a say is plainly wrong - it will take away our ability to have a real say and reduce our voice to submissions that the minister of the day can simply receive and ignore.
Nick Smith has refused to accept our community's aspirations or acknowledge the solid policy foundation and thorough consultation on which our local GM Free plan policies are based. He has responded with scaremongering about local plans preventing citizens from accessing GM medical treatments - when our councils have clearly stated they do not intend to regulate GM medicines and will clarify the plan rules to ensure, if required.
If the Maori Party supports his widely condemned power grab, the GM Free protections that Kaipara, Whangarei, Far North and Auckland communities have worked so hard to achieve will be gone.
The Maori Party is committed to the principles of kaitiakitanga. It has stood strong against the Government's agenda to undermine other aspects of our environmental laws.
Indeed, their GE/GMO policy states explicitly their intention to work towards achieving a GE Free NZ; to encourage organic food production; to oppose "terminator technology" which prevents food crops from producing seed for the following year; to reject patents on life forms and to oppose bio-piracy of traditional and indigenous knowledge and resources, including genes.
But it must not support unnecessary laws, destructive of local democracy.
The choice before the Maori Party is therefore stark and clear:
• It can stand against communities by championing an attack on local democracy.
• Or it can stand with our community and others around the country and tell the minister that s360D is not acceptable.
- This guest editorial is submitted by: Dr Benjamin Pittman - chairman of Te Parawhau ki Tai and a Soil & Health member; Marty Robinson - spokesman for GE Free Northland; and Zelka Grammer - chairwoman GE Free Northland.