The government has signalled changes to the way drinking-water, grey-water and storm-water are managed with their proposed Three Waters reforms; at the same time as initiating changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) 1991.
All parties agreed that the RMA was "not fit for purpose". In 1990 nine people made submissions to Geoffery Palmer's proposed RMA; I know this because I was one.
The thrust of my submission at the time was that environmental decision making should devolve to the local level - that was where environmental impacts are actually felt, I reasoned. Instead the Labour Government devolved decision making to the newly created regional councils - a new layer of government half-way between national and local.
The Labour government now proposes to split the RMA into three: The Natural and Built Environment Act, the Strategic Planning Act and the Climate Adaptation Act.
More fragmentation and complexity to be inflicted onto the locality.
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I have a BSc in geography and I am drawn to maps. The map of the four large Three Waters entities that the Labour government wants to transfer our collective water assets into splits our regional council (Horizons) between the Rangitikei and Manawatu catchments - contradictory in the extreme.
I have long advocated imploding all local councils into their respective regional councils, partly for efficiencies of scale and partly to reclaim local autonomy. I would go one step further and effect a constitutional change at the national level so that the regional councils do not devolve their authority to the state. This is how they do it in Switzerland, their "cantons" retain their autonomy and Switzerland consistently ranks first for environmental management in Europe.
"What about the Treaty?" people usually ask at this point. One can argue that the "Treaty is a fraud" - several have. The Treaty was signed "at the point of a gun" by a military empire and the chiefs who needed to get guns for their own survival. The Treaty oversaw loss of land and culture and created a dependent underclass. But the Treaty is also our founding document, a historical treaty between "the Crown" and iwi.
What does it mean for the Treaty to devolve constitutional and environmental authority to the regions? At a national level, the Treaty still exists. At a regional level, local iwi would be involved in regional government. We are already going down that road with our own Horizons Regional Council. The Treaty becomes a regional relationship including local iwi, hapu and whanau and we all mahi kotahi.
Like they do in Switzerland, each region would come up with its own way of managing "three waters" - as well as managing their health, education, housing, transport and environment (including the Department of Conservation budget).
People are rightly worried about the Three Waters reforms shifting our local water assets into central government ownership and control. What about our liabilities?
The debt that the Whanganui District Council took on to upgrade our sewage system, for example. Does that go to the Three Waters entities too?
Although well intentioned, albeit statist, Labour's Three Waters and RMA reforms haven't been sufficiently thought through. Why not go the whole way? Implode local government into the regional councils. Transfer control of water and the RMA to the new regional councils to manage and not devolve authority from the regions to Wellington?