The natural landscapes and seascapes of Aotearoa New Zealand and the plants and wildlife they support are taonga, and are cherished and celebrated by many New Zealanders.
In a Māori world view, the relationships between all living things are the basis of a profound respect for and connection through whakapapa with Te Taiao.
The Green Party's vision is that people's interaction with the rest of the natural world is based on ecological sustainability, underpinned by mātauranga Māori, avoids waste, and that our economic activity protects the health of Papatūānuku. Human health and wellbeing, and our economy, depend on healthy nature.
The resource management system in Aotearoa has fallen out of step with the challenges we face. Nature is in crisis, with extensive habitat destruction and 4000 species threatened or at risk of extinction. We have a housing crisis with too many New Zealanders without a warm, dry, secure, and accessible home. And we are increasingly conscious of the urgent need to reduce climate pollution.
Power imbalances in the resource management consenting and decision-making process mean those who can afford lawyers and expert witnesses and use the courts to challenge council decisions often triumph over local community groups and mana whenua trying to stick up for nature and public values.
The Government's overhaul of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is a major exercise with three new laws proposed to replace it: a Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA) to provide for land use and environmental regulation; a Strategic Planning Act which will provide for long-term regional spatial strategies; and a Climate Change Adaptation Act.
The Government is expected to release the exposure draft of the NBEA very soon for public consultation through a Parliamentary select committee. This reform is an important opportunity to fix the system.
The new legislation needs a clear purpose that avoids the trap of so-called "balancing" or trade-offs between the environment and the economy.
We must build more homes and prosper at the same time as we protect and restore nature. All human activity takes place within the limits of our finite planet. When it comes to putting these limits into law, the approach must be clear, evidence driven, science-based, and consistent with mātauranga Māori.
This reform has fundamental implications for iwi Māori. The new legislation must give effect and honour the mana of Te Tiriti o Waitangi acknowledging Māori as kaitiaki. Māori need to be at the decision making table at council level and the Government needs to persist in seeking full consultation with iwi, hapū, and whānau across Aotearoa.
The process of spatial planning under the reformed system must give power to local communities to shape their neighbourhoods. The system needs to provide effective ways for communities and local councils to enable new housing, papakāinga, natural spaces, active and public transport, recycling and composting waste infrastructure, and clean water.
The new system should direct decision-makers to remove unnecessary planning hurdles for developments that are consistent with a community's overall vision while avoiding versatile soils important for growing food.
We need the law to allow meaningful engagement for people at the plan and strategy development stage, supported by widely available information. Public participation in council planning has too often been captured by a small number of well-resourced property owners and commercial land developers.
This reform is a chance to explore tools such as citizens' assemblies and increased recognition of the value of Environment Court mediation processes – to avoid people having to drag disagreements through the court.
We also need the system to enable disabled people to inform urban design and development to ensure accessibility for all.
There will be tensions which collectively we need to navigate. For example, how do we create certainty and clarity in council plans while also allowing for some flexibility for local circumstances? How do we carve out space for public input without lobbying and vested industry interests drowning out local voices?
As the Government's resource management reform progresses people need to get involved and share their views on what the solutions are and where the priorities should be.
• Eugenie Sage is a List MP with the Green Party and chairperson of the Environment Select Committee.