The Maori Party is opposing the Government's proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) because they remove guarantees that protect the quality of the environment and they undermine the role of Maori as tangata tiaki of their traditional rohe.
As tangata whenua - people of the land - our role and responsibility have always been to take care of the environment from which we gain sustenance and with which our ancestors have long had a spiritual connection. That connection is now under threat and will be undermined by these new proposals.
We are opposed to the proposal in the RMA to remove emphasis on the "maintenance and enhancement of the quality of the environment". We think this is critical to the RMA because it is not only about the way resources are allocated and distributed - but also about preserving the vital role of kaitiakitanga or stewardship, improving the quality of our waterways and protecting our unique ecosystems and natural habitats.
Kaitiakitanga is about guardianship and protection - effectively a way of managing the environment from a Maori point of view. Traditional practices of kaitiakitanga ensured the resources were monitored so there would be plenty for future generations. Our tikanga included rahui or temporary bans from taking food from a particular area. We utilised the maramataka, the cycle of the moon, to decide when to plant and harvest - we hunted and fished as a food source - not as a sport and we took only what was needed. These practices enabled early Maori to sustain themselves whilst ensuring the environment was not pillaged. The connection to the resources and the environment was more than one of merely obtaining food for physical sustenance - it also reflected the spiritual connection with deities like Tane, Tangaroa and Rongo - the guardians of the forests, the waterways and cultivated foods for example.
The Government has plans to merge sections 6 and 7 of the Act, but we believe they should be retained in full as they currently are - because they contain crucial guidelines about the principles that drive the interpretation of the Act.
The issue we have is that if these sections are merged to provide a single list with equal consideration, that means economic development will have the same weighting as environmental considerations. The question has always been how do local authorities understand the vital need for environmental protection if they are not given guidance about the relative value of different indicators. By merging the different sections into one non-hierarchical list issues such as the water quality in our rivers or the health of our environment is undermined.
It is the role of all Governments to ensure that all legislation enhances the environment and upholds the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi which take into account provision for kaitiakitanga - it is disastrous that, 20 years after the Act was passed, the environment is in a worse state than ever before and this is because commercial interests have been prioritised and are overriding the environmental principles of the RMA.
If the proposals go ahead, several central principles will be deleted, including the ethics of stewardship (kaitiakitanga), the quality of the environment, the intrinsic value of ecosystems and the finite characteristics of natural and physical resources. The proposed changes remove environmental bottom lines as far as we are concerned and we believe this will lead to more rapid degradation.
In 2008 we fought for the retention of section 8 of the Act, the Treaty of Waitangi clause and we are relieved that at least this will be retained. But that makes the threat to kaitiakitanga even more of a concern because the treaty and kaitiakitanga are inextricably linked.
There still needs to be a lot more work to promote a wider understanding of how to make the Treaty work in today's times and we are disappointed that the reform proposals are a missed opportunity to advance the concept of co-governance with iwi in freshwater planning. The Land and Water Forum recommended a national body with 50:50 co-governance - instead, this appears to have been reduced to iwi having "a seat" on collaborative stakeholder groups.
The days are long gone when effective participation with iwi becomes interpreted as one seat at the table. We are absolutely clear, we will not support legislation that breaches the rights and responsibilities of hapu and iwi.
The recognition of iwi rights and interests in freshwater needs to be tangible and meaningful. If we are to ever achieve effective iwi participation in water management and the RMA - then the government needs to demonstrate sustainable commitment to that relationship. We know that the vast majority of public submissions on the minister's discussion document on the RMA opposed or expressed serious concerns about the changes and the growing emphasis and relaxation of protections that favour those with economic interests.