As political footballs go, the Resource Management Act has been kicked so hard and so many times, it's a wonder the stitching still holds.
Now it appears, the act is finally heading for the sideline. Labour is promising to repeal and replace the 30-year-old legislation. Labour's policy is similar to National – which in December last year promised to tear up the legislation and start again.
In Labour's case, the RMA has been singled out as needing to go in order to bolster the supply of housing across the country.
The party's housing policy is a poor relation to the ambitious, and ultimately unsuccessful, KiwiBuild plan Labour pitched ahead of the 2017 election and the direct inference to be drawn is that the RMA was the problem.
Whether that holds up to the credibility test, the RMA has been in the sights of governments for more than a decade. So far, attempts to fix issues in the act have only resulted in increased complexity. The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (RLAA) alone contained close to 40 amendments.
If there's blame to be apportioned for the cumbersome and counter-productive act, it could be shared by both major parties. The RMA came into being as a result of National Party antipathy to environmental issues in the 1980s. The New Zealand Labour Party then campaigned in 1984 on a platform of reforming planning and adopting better environmental policies.
While Labour's former Environment Minister Geoffrey Palmer drafted the bill National's Simon Upton, continued the law reform process leading to the enactment.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
After three decades of being the fallperson, rightly or wrongly, for successive central and local authorities' failure to maintain or increase infrastructure requirements, our two major parties have seen life without the RMA, courtesy of the Covid-19 virus. It would seem to be a life much less convoluted.
Under measures introduced to expedite economic recovery from the pandemic, resource consent applications for selected projects are being processed by an expert consenting panel, chaired by a current or retired Environmental Court Judge or senior lawyer.
As with many measures brought in under extreme circumstances, the true efficacy and ongoing impacts will take time to manifest. Could a broader version of such a process work under any "new normal" when the viral menace has passed?
One of the major driving forces to the creation of the RMA was the "Save Manapouri" petition in 1970, signed by almost 10 per cent of New Zealand – opposing a government plan to raise the levels of lakes Manapouri and Te Anau as part of the Manapouri Power Project to power the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.
Consensus on booting the RMA for touch is well-and-good but of vital importance is the long-term substitute; a coalition partner such as the Greens or Act could dramatically change the bounce; history shows the replacement will need robust stitching; and abuse of the environment in a post-RMA regime could readily reinflate the very circumstances which led to the RMA in the first place.