National Environment spokesperson, Scott Simpson

In a rare display of what almost amounted to consensus, National have supported two major Government measures in Parliament.

ACT did not and voted against both of them.

The measures were a report on a Select Committee investigation into the planned Resource Management Act changes and then a debate on the Emissions Reduction targets announced by Climate Change Minister James Shaw last Monday. Both issues were debated in the House yesterday.

The report on the RMA is six months old and covers what was little more than a broad draft of what will eventually be the new Natural and Built Environments Bill.

When it was introduced, it was dismissed by then-National leader Judith Collins as “a grab at wokeism”, but on Wednesday night in Parliament, the party’s Environment spokesperson, Scott Simpson, described it as a “very important potential change to our legislative and regulatory framework.”

Simpson was critical, as he was on the Committee, of the big gaps that existed in the document presented to the Committee to consider by Environment Minister David Parker.

“It was kind of like asking the select committee and the submitters to do a big jigsaw puzzle with many of the key pieces missing and to be wearing a blindfold at the same time as you’re trying to do the jigsaw puzzle with the pieces missing,” he said.

But Simpson’s fundamental criticism of the draft was that it was ultimately a redraft of the current legislation rather than a fresh new start.

“Do not take the National Party’s support for this reform for granted,” he said.

“We want to see something far more ambitious, far less costly, far less cumbersome, and far less confusing than what has been put on the table so far.

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“We don’t want to have decisions made by judicial activism and interpretation because so much of what is being put into this legislation at the moment is ill-defined, andunknown—words, phrases, and terminology that have no common-law tie.

“The potential for the courts to be deciding what the framework for our natural and built environments should remain enormously high in this area.

“We are utterly unconvinced that the pathway that the Minister is taking is the right one, but we are prepared to continue engaging, and we want to work with the Government constructively if we can.”

The report from the Committee, in its section on the Treaty of Waitangi and proposed legislation, raises the question of co-governance.

The question of Maori involvement in resource management planning is a contentious one.

In 2017, National did a deal with the Maori Party to get its changes to the RMA through by enabling iwi to have a role not only in preparing plans but also in approving consents and monitoring compliance.

The proposed new legislation has a requirement to “give effect to” the principles of the Treaty that would be a higher standard than currently provided for under the RMA, which requires people to “take into account” the principles.

The Committee rejected proposals that the clause be further strengthened by requiring that the Treaty be honoured or that legislation “give effect” to the Treaty.

Submissions from Māori set out two approaches to the Treaty partnership that could be incorporated within the legislation.

 One approach was to set up national and regional co-governance bodies, comprising iwi/hapū appointees and local and central government appointees. Another approach included the establishment of “mana whakahaere councils” and regional executive committees, which would comprise iwi, hapū, and Māori landowners.

Labour MP Tamati Coffey, who sat on the Environment Committee, said many Māori told the Committee that they were sick of being consulted and they wanted some stronger recognition.

“We believe that that’s a good thing, so we have instructed the Government, through our report, to be able to do the same,”

Maori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, however, wasn’t happy with the report.

“Decision making at the national and regional level must include at least 50 per cent tangata whenua to reflect the purpose of the bill in partnerships enshrined within Te Tiriti,” she said.

“Iwi must be able to make their own appointments that reflect takiwā boundaries.

“The relegation of iwi to be no more than an “engaged party” appears too often in the words used in this exposure draft in various discussion documents.”

But if Simpson’s support for the Natural and Built Environments Bill was lukewarm National sounded more enthusiastic about Climate Change Minister James Shaw’s emissions reductions targets which were also debated on Thursday night.

Deputy leader Nicola Willis said the party supported the targets “and we do so based on our proud history of making responsible commitments to reduce New Zealand’s emissions in line with our global obligations.”

But there was a but.

“I want to be very clear, however, that in supporting emission reduction, that does not mean that we will support every emission reduction proposal that the members opposite put on the table,” she said.

“Because while we support the ends, in terms of the overall emission reduction that should occur in this economy, we will not always agree with the means by which others suggest that we get there.”

She then made a surprising reference which appeared to be to the neo-liberal economic reforms of the 80s and 90s.

 “We have experienced as a country in the past what happens when economic reform is done in a way that is too fast, that is too furious, that doesn’t take people with it,” she said.

“And what we have seen is that if we aren’t conscious to ensure that we are fair, that we are efficient, that we are effective, then in fact, we can cause a lot of harm on the way.

“So we stand very proudly for a view that the way in which we reduce emissions must be done carefully and rationally.”

National’s Agriculture spokesperson, Barbara Kuriger, said New Zealand farmers were up for the challenge.

“We already lead the world in the production of low-carbon food and fibre products,” she said.

“There was a KPMG report out recently on an evaluation of 32 countries where New Zealand was ninth out of those 32 countries for zero-carbon readiness, and our agriculture sector was at No. 1 “

But Kuriger, in a reference to the genetically modified methane inhibiting ryegrass developed by Ag Research, said that for  18 months, it had been sitting on the desk of the Environmental Protection Authority waiting for approval to use here.

“ If other countries like in parts of Europe are able to use technologies that we have sitting on a desk here in New Zealand that our farmers cannot use, that puts us at a disadvantage,” she said.

The question of emissions targets will become much clearer on Monday when the details of how the targets are to be achieved will be announced by James Shaw.

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