Submission on the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill

Dr Cliff Mason, cliff.mason@hotmail.com
The Pacific Institute of Resource Management, 14 March 2016

The Pacific Institute of Resource Management (PIRM) welcomes the opportunity to comment on this Bill. PIRM is a long-established organisation dedicated to promoting the sustainable use of the earth’s resources. It publishes the journal “Pacific Ecologist” We have made frequent submissions to government on environmental and social issues including submissions on the Resource Management Act (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Bill 2009, the proposed Environmental Reporting Bill of 2011 and “Improving our Resource Management System” Discussion Document of 2013. These and other submissions are available on our website.

The Institute is generally supportive of work to improve the functionality of Resource Management Act (RMA). However, we contend there is a need for that functionality to reflect the state of the world in the second decade of the 21st century. Since the drafting and subsequent enactment of the RMA it has become increasingly evident that the paradigm of that time; broadly covered by the phrase ‘sustainable development’, is no longer sufficient for present needs. The assumption that development, construed as a progressive enlargement of production and consumption under the economic orthodoxy of the late 20th century, would proceed and that management of the effects of development was the only task at hand is no longer viable. The discretionary nature of decision-making under this weak sustainability paradigm has led to progressive deterioration and loss of the renewing environment, its resources and its assimilative capacity. The life-supporting capacity of the environment, especially for non-human nature, has been diminished. The law has failed to adequately preserve natural assets critical to Life that should have been held in trust for present and future generations.

In this situation, the RMA, as the primary Act governing the relationship between human activity and the broader environment is in need of work to make it fit for purpose. The majority of changes proposed in the present Bill do not serve to improve the Act in this primary function. In fact, and as detailed below in discussion of some of the Bill’s Clauses, they would serve to further compromise the ability of the RMA to protect the vital components and functions of Nature.

Addressing certain Clauses in turn:

The overarching purpose of the Bill does not extend intent beyond the sustainable management that has in fact failed to deliver sustainability and only proposes process improvements rather than outcome improvements.

The Bill has contradictory aspects in governance provisions, simultaneously attempting to bolster centralised and local decision making by respectively increasing the influence of the Minister and the power of procedural rules while supporting collaborative decision making. It is difficult to see how these could be reconciled in practice.

Clause 22 and related items expand the role of the EPA and lead to a situation in which legislation becomes self-referential as the EPA is charged with upholding the RMA without itself having any defined role to protect the environment.

Clause 27 supports leniency in the application of legislation at a time when stringency is required.

Clause 29 introduces the curious concept of National statements and standards having strictly local application. Again, it is difficult to see how this might work in practice.

Clause 62 contemplates the use of offsetting of environmental impacts. The entire notion of offsetting in this context is extremely controversial.

Clauses 63 and 64 unacceptably narrow the frame of reference of the consent process. This is especially egregious where only direct effects can be considered. The consent of the Applicant being a requirement is also inappropriate in this process.

Clause 105 again expands the centralised decision-making process in a manner that seems designed to expand the range of permitted activities and reduce the regard given to their adverse effects.

Clause 114 and related items threaten to limit the ability of persons with genuine interest, and especially where they may represent the wider public interest, to participate in decision making.

Clause 115 and related items increase the assumption of development over protection. It is of particular concern to see the emphasis on ‘development capacity’ as a fundamental matter regardless of limits.

Clause 135 limiting right of appeal is objectionable in a similar manner to that of C114.

The Pacific Institute of Resource Management would welcome the opportunity to present further on the matter herein and to appear before a Select Committee for the purpose.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Cliff Mason MB, ChB, FRCPA, BSc