This week at Parliament the Māori Party will oppose the first reading of Resource Management Act (RMA) reforms. This will be some of the most important legislation we look at this term when it comes to our rights and interests as tangata whenua and our role as kaitiaki to lead environmental protection and restoration.
However, the changes being proposed will weaken baseline environmental protections and undermine the rangatiratanga of whānau, hapū and iwi Māori. They will favour developers at the expense of the natural environment and undermine the relationship tangata whenua have with the environment.
We are facing an unprecedent biodiversity crisis and the imminent collapse of many ecosystems integral to our way of life — to weaken environmental protections at a time like this is a sick joke.
The current resource management regime at least requires sustainable management and environmental standards to reflect the safeguarding of life-supporting capacity of ecosystems, a higher standard than is being proposed here.
It would be wrong of me not to acknowledge some improvements from the existing RMA, such as the Tiriti clause using the language “give effect to” rather than “take into account”, but we do feel this legislation will take us backwards in other ways.
Key groups, such as the National Iwi Chairs Forum, are urging caution and highlighting that the scale and pace of the reforms cannot be implemented on the ground. They also strongly reject the notion of a National Māori Entity on the basis that it would undermine the rangatiratanga of hapū and iwi. The National Māori Entity is just another layer of bureaucracy similar to what we have under the EPA.
Co-governance is only a step on the road to realising our rights as tangata whenua, but these changes don’t even get us that far. Māori will be a minority on the crucially important regional planning committees, rather than being able to exercise the rangatiratanga and kaitiaki leadership that is our right.
Why did the Crown refuse to release all sections of the legislation to its Treaty partners prior to introduction to the House? Not only did they make us sign confidentiality agreements before we could see parts of it, they also then gagged us from sharing that information with our own people. Is this not the age of partnership? Sidelining Treaty partners has meant that iwi settlements cannot be renegotiated to reflect the new landscape.
Once again “mainstream” interests are being catered for first, and those protected by Article II of Te Tiriti come second. Even the Tiriti clause falls short of requiring the Crown to honour Te Tiriti, despite there being precedent for that language in the Education and Training Act.
The transition provisions provide for a slow roll-out across the country. This means the RMA and new legislation are going to operate side by side. This level of complexity will not be easy for mana whenua to manage and will also undermine a unified system across the country.
On an issue as important as this, the Government must be striving for cross-party support, and Te Pāti Māori wants to be able to support these reforms. Our hope is the Government is willing to work with us to set stronger environmental limits and ensure the framework is supported by tangata whenua, so that we can support these bills into law.
We will be proposing a range of amendments to the legislation at the select committee, including:
- Setting environmental limits that require the restoration of ecosystems from their current state
- Holistic application of “Te Oranga o Te Taiao”, including cultural and social determinants
- Increasing Māori appointments on regional planning committees so that they make up at least half of the committees
- Changing “give effect to Te Tiriti” to “honour and implement Te Tiriti”
- Explicit acknowledgments of the articles of Te Tiriti, rather than the principles, and of tino rangatiratanga
- Remove references to the National Māori Entity in favour of references to accountability and oversight structures determined by NICF and Numa.
Until then, Te Pāti Māori cannot support the RMA reforms until changes are made to protect and restore our environment and guarantee the rights of interests of tangata whenua.
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is an MP and the co-leader of Te Pāti Māori.