Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Point of Order: Buzz from the Beehive - 23/4/24

RMA reforms aim to ease stock-grazing rules and reduce farmers’ costs – but Taxpayers’ Union wants even more changes

Reactions to news of the government’s readiness to make urgent changes to “the resource management system” through a Bill to amend the Resource Management Act (RMA) suggest a balanced approach is being taken.

The Taxpayers’ Union says the proposed changes don’t go far enough. Greenpeace says they go much too far.

RMA Reform Minister Chris Bishop said the government is delivering on its commitment to “improve” resource management laws and give greater certainty to consent applicants with the Bill, which is expected to be introduced to Parliament next month.

But whether the RMA laws are “improved” may well depend on whether you are a farmer, miner or operate some other enterprise that will benefit from an easing of the regulatory burden on resource consent applicants for development.

Similarly, “balance” probably is a matter of perspective.

Resources Minister Shane Jones had news with environmental implications, too. He announced that overseas models for regulating the oil and gas sector – including their decommissioning regimes – are being scrutinised as a potential template for New Zealand’s own sector.

Then there’s a press statement from Emergency Management and Recovery Minister Mark Mitchell which deals with the Report of the Government Inquiry into the response to the North Island Severe Weather Events.

The report has 14 key recommendations, such as –

1. Putting people at the centre of emergency management: Establishing a community-led approach to emergency management, leveraging existing structures, and enhancing public awareness and education.

Putting people at the centre of emergency management?

Was an inquiry really needed to give us that advice?

Latest from the Beehive

23 APRIL 2024

The coalition Government is delivering on its commitment to improve resource management laws and give greater certainty to consent applicants, with a Bill to amend the Resource Management Act (RMA) expected to be introduced to Parliament next month.

Overseas models for regulating the oil and gas sector, including their decommissioning regimes, are being carefully scrutinised as a potential template for New Zealand’s own sector.

Emergency Management and Recovery Minister Mark Mitchell has today released the Report of the Government Inquiry into the response to the North Island Severe Weather Events.

22 APRIL 2024

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith is today travelling to Europe where he’ll update the United Nations Human Rights Council on the Government’s work to restore law and order.

On the RMA reform issue, Chris Bishop said five changes in his Bill will:
  • Make it clear that, while the NPS-FM is being reviewed and replaced, resource consent applicants no longer need to demonstrate their proposed activities follow the Te Mana o te Wai hierarchy of obligations, as set out in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM).
  • Amend stock exclusion regulations in relation to sloped land.
  • Repeal intensive winter grazing regulations.
  • Align the consenting pathway for coal mining with the pathway for other mining activities in the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (NPS-IB), NPS-FM, and the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F).
  • Suspend the NPS-IB requirement for councils to identify new Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) for three years.
Agriculture Minister Todd McClay says improving primary sector profitability is key to boosting our largest exporting sector.

Regulations need to be fit for purpose and not place unnecessary costs on farmers and growers, he said (inviting an argument about what is a “necessary” cost and why it should be imposed).

“Removing the need for resource consent applicants to demonstrate that their activities follow the hierarchy of obligations will better reflect the interests of all water users,” McClay says.

This is a reference to “Te Mana o te Wai” and its imposition of a hierarchy of obligations by prioritising the health and wellbeing of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems first. The second priority is the health needs of people (such as drinking water) and the third is the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing.

So we can all look forward to cleaner water for drinking, swimming in and so on thanks to the Luxon government’s relaxing of the regulatory burden?

Let’s weigh the prospects of this happening against what McClay is telling us:

“Cabinet has agreed changes to stock exclusion and winter grazing regulations representing a move to a more risk-based, catchment-focussed approach.

“We’re proposing to remove the problematic and contentious low slope map and for regional councils and farmers to determine where stock need to be excluded, based on risk. The focus is on farm-level and regionally suitable solutions. This will reduce costs for farmers.

“Importantly, effective non-regulatory measures are already in place to support the continued improvement of winter grazing practices going forward. Sector groups have confirmed their continued and collective commitment to work alongside farmers and regional councils to ensure good outcomes.”

Regional councils have told the government there have been significant improvements in winter grazing practices, with farmers changing where they plant fodder crops and how they manage winter grazing.

The national requirement for farmers to obtain prescriptive and expensive winter grazing consents is being removed in time for the 2025 season. Management will be done “”through good practice and regional council plans”.

Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard says freshwater farm plans will enable farmers and growers to find the right solutions for their farm and catchment.

Property and catchment specific farm plans make sense because they can be used to identify environmental risks and plan practical on-farm actions to manage those risks, he says.

“Sector groups and farmers have told us the current system is too complex, so the Government is working at pace to simplify and improve the freshwater farm plan system.

“We have heard that many in the sector would like existing environmental programmes, including farm environment plans and industry assurance programmes, to be integrated with the freshwater farm plan system.”

The freshwater farm plan roll-out began in Southland and Waikato in 2023 and expanded to areas of the West Coast, Otago, and Manawatū/Whanganui earlier this year.

But Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams said:

“These changes are a step in the right direction in terms of removing ideological and unworkable red tape but they don’t go far enough.

“While we welcome the removal of the requirement on consent applicants to demonstrate compliance with the Te Mana o te Wai hierarchy of obligations, the Government must go further and remove all references to Te Mana o te Wai altogether.

“Te Mana o te Wai is vague and ill-defined, going so far as to mean different things in different parts of the country, depending on the local iwi or hāpu. We have serious concerns about councils continuing to waste money on work to uphold Te Mana o te Wai, even it is not required by law. We are writing to Minister Bishop seeking clarification on a number of issues related to this and urge his Government to issue a direction to councils halting all work on this issue.”

Greenpeace Aotearoa spokesperson Amanda Larsson – on the other hand, and to be expected – says the government has just deprioritised the protection of freshwater and the health of rural communities, in favour of allowing big businesses to pollute water across the country.

“The current freshwater protections such as Te Mana o Te Wai and the intensive winter grazing regulations aren’t perfect, but they are better than nothing, and they are working. By removing these protections, the Government is condemning more rural communities to unsafe levels of nitrate contamination of their drinking water.

“Everyone has a right to know that the water coming out of their kitchen tap is safe to drink, and to be able to take a dip in their local river without getting sick, but Christopher Luxon’s government is taking that away from rural New Zealanders.”

Larsson said the vast majority of nitrate contamination in drinking water, lakes, and rivers comes from the intensive dairy industry’s use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, and from cow urine.

Greenpeace reckons removing these protections will worsen water contamination.

Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton

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