Eight-year RMA reform saga enters home straight with GM carve-out

"This is not separatism. It's distributed democracy" – Marama Fox

The National Party's long-stalled second round of Resource Managment Act reforms have returned to Parliament, revealing the detail of a final concession to the Maori Party to allow local authorities to declare their regions free of genetically modified organisms.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, which reforms six pieces of legislation including the RMA, reached the committee stages where several Supplementary Order Papers, containing last minute drafting changes that have not been examined in a public process before a select committee, were introduced.

The SOP from Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox covered the ability to carve out GMOs from the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act regime.

The bill spent most of last year stuck in the local government and environment select committee because the government had lost its parliamentary majority in the Northland by-election in March 2015, making it dependent on two votes from its three support partners, Act, United Future and the Maori Party, to pass legislation.

Neither Act nor United Future would support key parts of the RMA reforms, but the Maori Party used its votes to negotiate enhanced iwi participation arrangements in planning processes and, at the last minute, a "carve-out" on GM-free area declarations in return for supporting the rest of the bill.

The government had resisted the change because it insisted GM decisions should be dealt with under the HSNO Act, administered by the Environmental Protection Authority, and is enacting provisions giving wide ministerial override powers as part of a broader policy push to strengthen guidance from central government in the application of environmental standards and targets.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters attacked the Maori Party's wins, calling the provisions examples of "brownmail" by an "elite brorocracy" of Maori leaders, called on National Party MPs to "step back from the separatist abyss" by withdrawing the RLA Bill, and accused its leadership of having a "road to Ngaruawahia" conversion to the Maori separatist cause.

He vowed to support comprehensive RMA reform after the 2017 general election, a commitment already shared by every political party in Parliament as consensus mounts that the 17-year-old legislation is past its use by date and needs a fundamental overhaul.

A Productivity Commission report published last week all but recommended that outcome and was widely welcomed as a basis for reform.

To claims the Maori Party was trying to create a "parallel government", Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox says Mr Peters is on a "march back to colonisation" and that local governments were required to consult Maori under the existing RMA. The new provisions will strengthen the nature of that protection and will be a "value add to our regions, local governments, environment and this nation."

"This is not separatism. It's distributed democracy, giving a voice to minorities who would not otherwise have a voice," Ms Fox says.

Labour MP Meka Whaitiri, who has led Labour's attack on Ms Fox, says the Mana Whakahono a Rohe participation arrangements should have included carve-outs to prevent oil and gas exploration and fracking. She criticised the Maori Party for doing no more than including in legislation the kinds of arrangements that already exist widely between local governments and iwi.

Environment Minister Nick Smith acknowledged the compromise required with the Maori Party on GM-free declarations as part of MMP politics.


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