Last Tuesday Sir Geoffrey Palmer made a submission to Parliament’s Standing Orders Committee. He said, “You need more MPs if you're going to hold the Government to account.” He told the committee that 150 Members of Parliament would be preferable to the current 120, especially given that around a quarter of the MPs are preoccupied as part of the executive.
The same day Environment Minister, David Parker, announced plans to replace the Resource Management Act (RMA), which the NZ Herald described as a “planning and consenting bonfire”. The RMA was, of course, the ‘brainchild” of Geoffrey Palmer.
Let’s not beat around the bush. The RMA is and has been an absolute and indisputable disaster for quite a long time. The travesty is that it has taken more than 30 years to begin the process to have it terminated.
The Resource Management Act was passed in 1991. At the time, the effects-based approach was considered a world-leading environmental policy and a radical departure from the prescriptive rules that preceded it.
The RMA arose from a reform project initiated by Geoffrey Palmer when he was the Lange Labour Government’s Minister for the Environment following the 1987 general election. His “visionary reform” included giving effect to the Treaty of Waitangi and a host of esoteric environmental standards expressed as “effects”.
The legislation had been introduced into the House but not passed into law when Labour lost the 1990 election. However, National picked up the legislation and passed it in 1991 under the guidance of MP Simon Upton.
By the year 2000, the shortcomings of the legislation had become obvious to many. It became known as the “Ransom Management Act” because the result of “giving effect to the Treaty” and other “affected parties” was the emergence of cash payments in return for a signature on the consent form. It also allowed radical environmental groups to “capture” the process through appeals and eventually corrupt the enabling aspects of the legislation by influencing policymakers.
The effect was to throw obstacles and costs in the path of developers. From this, a whole new industry of planning law experts and environmental consultants emerged who were only too willing to extract a pound of flesh from applicants. This added risk and costs to developments which, of course, ended up being passed onto the end user in the form of substantially higher land prices and rents. Making things worse, the risks and costs are such that subdivision to meet public demand for land is now only ever attempted by those with very deep pockets, who can pay off the queue of folk with their hand out for cultural and environmental compensation.
All this started with Sir Geoffrey and his “enlightened” view of what should be. And now he says we should have 150 MPs, so we can have what? More MPs who sit around toeing the party line, pretending they are actually doing public good?
No thanks, Sir Geoffrey – once badly bitten twice very shy.
P.S. And no thanks Sir Geoffrey to your proposed constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand. We all know how that will end.