Got a problem? Then blame it on the Resource Management Act. When it comes to political whipping boys (or girls), few pieces of legislation get whacked with such alacrity and regularity as the RMA.

So no one will be surprised that the measure received a lashing from Nick Smith in a speech last night in which the Minister for Building and Housing promised to undertake the "most significant" overhaul of the law in its 25-year history.

Smith, however, also holds the Environment portfolio. While the pairing of the two portfolios might make administrative sense as the RMA impinges heavily on both roles, Smith's duty to uphold environmental principles may place some limitation on just how radical that overhaul will be once the fine print in the amending legislation is available for scrutiny.

Smith is portraying the scheduled changes as radical. As things stand, however, Labour should not have too much difficulty backing much of his 10-point "reform" agenda.


The political right's constant denunciation of the RMA has given the measure a very bad reputation. The act is hideously complex. It gets no plaudits when it produces the right result. There is a deluge of criticism when its procedures bog things down at huge expense to all involved.

The widespread perception is that this law is in serious need of reform. To argue otherwise is to find yourself marginalised as some out-of-touch and thus out-of-date greenie.

Labour does not need to be told which way the political wind is blowing on the RMA. Indeed, Andrew Little's response to Smith's plan was a piece of one-upmanship. The Labour leader's rather cruel critique was to suggest National's package would not result in the construction of a single extra house. He stopped short of seeking to trump Smith's initiatives with some of his own. But Little does not really need to do so.

Smith may blame the RMA for skyrocketing land prices in Auckland. He certainly laid things on thick in his speech by retelling some real RMA horror stories and wielding a Treasury-commissioned study by private sector economic consultants claiming that the RMA had reduced housing supply by 40,000 homes and added $30 billion to developers' costs in building new houses and apartments.

Would we have seen the report had it come up with far less spectacular figures? Never mind. Smith is using the RMA as a smokescreen. The Auckland housing crisis is really a crisis of insatiable demand. And you do not need to be an economist, Treasury-hired or otherwise, to work that one out.

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