RMA reform process in turmoil

Nick Smith conceeds it could now be February before the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill can be passed into law.

The government's Resource Management Act reforms face further delay, with Environment Minister Nick Smith conceding for the first time the risk that delays will prevent their passage before Christmas.

In comments to BusinessDesk, Dr Smith conceded it could now be February before the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill can be passed into law.

The bill is due back in Parliament on next Monday after 11 months and three deadline extensions for the local government and environment select committee, after opposition MPs refused to grant a further extension of time for flagship reforms that foundered after the government failed to find a parliamentary majority for them among its support parties.

However, Dr Smith told BusinessDesk last night that the government would move a non-debatable motion in Parliament sending the bill back to the select committee to complete its deliberations.

Asked whether that would allow enough time for the bill to pass into law before Christmas, as Prime Minister John Key was confident it would as recently as Monday this week, Dr Smith said: "It's tight. I'm not guaranteeing it can be done, but what the select committee is saying is we could get it back in December and get it through.

"I remain confident it will be passed in December or February."

The chairman of the local government and environment select committee, Scott Simpson, told Parliament at Question Time that the committee "continues its work" ... "and has yet to complete its work".

Labour MP David Parker told BusinessDesk the committee would not be furnishing any report when the bill returned to the House on November 7, an embarrassment for the government, as is the unusual step of Parliament ordering the bill back to the select committee for completion after opposition MPs refused to grant a fourth deadline extension this week.

In his unofficial minority report, released today, Mr Parker says the Parliamentary Counsel Office had advised the committee that redrafting the bill to deal with recommended changes "would take months after it receives drafting instructions,, which it had not yet received. However, Smith said two-thirds of that work had been done, based on a draft report that the select committee had been working with for months. It only received the 500-page final version of the officials' report this morning.

Mr Parker claimed the release of his minority report was not a breach of Parliament's Standing Orders, which require confidentiality for select committee deliberations because the committee had rejected it. Dr Smith said he was clearly discussing the confidential deliberations of the committee, in breach of Standing Orders.

Dr Smith said negotiations with the Maori Party, which are vital to passing the bill, were "in good shape" and that the discussions related to the complex and inter-related nature of the bill so that changes in one area could affect another.

The National Party's other support parties, Act and United Future, are opposed to numerous provisions, as are Labour, the Greens, and New Zealand First.

An MP risks breaching parliamentary privilege by "divulging the proceedings or the report of a select committee or a subcommittee contrary to Standing Orders" and Speaker David Carter shut down questions to Mr Simpson in Parliament yesterday when they threatened to breach the confidentiality requirement.

However, Mr Parker, NZ First's Denis O'Rourke and the Greens' Eugenie Sage all issued statements on what Parker described as a legislative process that had become "a slow-moving train wreck."

Mr O'Rourke said "the bill will go back to Parliament but it is not ready or fit for purpose" while Ms Sage said it was a shambles and should not proceed.

"Because of interference by the executive, resulting in interminable delays to the finalisation of the final departmental report received only today, and because there has been no time to produce a draft revised bill for consideration by the select committee, the process has become the most frustrating and least productive of any we have experienced," Mr O'Rourke said.

The RLA Bill was to have been reported back in June and then September before the deadline was extended to November 7.

Among objections to the draft bill is the extent of proposed new ministerial powers to override local government planning documents, to control resource consents, and to limit participation rights. Reduced rights of appeal have also been widely criticised, while detail dealing with alternative collaborative processes was "unnecessary, wrong in its details, and adds further complexity," Mr Parker said.

The bill had drawn opposition from a broad range of interests, ranging from the New Zealand Law Society, local government, major infrastructure developers, environmental lobbyists, and major industry players, including Fonterra.

(BusinessDesk)

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