The Government and the Maori Party have reached agreement on how the resource management reforms should go forward.

In what appears to be a big win for the party, the Government is believed to have backed down on a controversial clause which would allow the Minister for the Environment to overrule local authorities to declare regions GE free.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox had made it clear the party would not support the Bill going ahead unless the powers were withdrawn.

By agreeing to the compromise, the Government has clearly signalled that the Maori Party is its preferred coalition partner.

The deal means the Government has rejected a move from both ACT and United Future who had joined to say they would support the legislation but only if the Government removed other concessions to the Maori Party.

The compromise is believed to exclude crops from the Minister’s power to intervene so that regions may declare themselves GE free as far as crops go but they would not be able to restrict genetic modification to animals.

However, the approval process for that is complex and takes a substantial amount of time.

The concession means that Councils may now declare themselves GE free as far as crops in their area  go — a move that Smith had previously described as “unrealistic” and “unworkable”.

Ironically ACT also opposed the GE free clause that is now going to be amended.  

Last night the deal was being kept under wraps, and National backbenchers had no idea what had been agreed.

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Maybe that reflects what may be a political tension within National over making concessions to the Maori Party.

That was a theme that ACT leader, David Seymour picked up on.

“If the emails I have been receiving are even remotely indicative then there are people in the National Party who are very upset about this,” he said.

“Why do you go out and knock on doors and campaign in rural New Zealand when there was such an obvious way out of this.”

By that, he meant the deal that he and Dunne proposed.

In Parliament yesterday Seymour challenged Environment Minister Nick Smith over his decision to do a deal with the Maori Party.

Smith said that ACT thought the Bill’s reforms had not gone far enough while United Future thought they had gone too far.

“This is a centre-right Government, and I actually think that the reform and agreement we have reached with the Maori Party is a good way to advance this important reform,” he said.

Seymour also asked about what the Maori Party regards as its biggest win, “Mana Whakahono a Rohe” agreements which allow iwi to initiate an iwi participation agreement in a local authority’s planning process. 

The most potentially influential of the roles for the new bodies will be that they can be included as an affected party on any consent application.

But Seymour argued that the agreement duplicated two sections of the current Resource Management Act which require that anybody implementing the Act should recognise and provide for the relationship of Maori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, waahi tapu, and other taonga, and should have particular regard to kaitiakitanga. (guardianship).

Smith replied that the provisions referred to by Seymour were very different to the iwi participation arrangements now in the Bill.

“I would remind the member that before this term of parliament the Government put out an options paper on the Resource Management Act and the iwi participation arrangements were in the Government’s original proposals.

“They were there before we entered into discussions with the Maori Party and they are there because the obligation to consult with iwi is already in the law.”

But the Maori Party itself was nearer the mark when it pointed out that it had gained concessions from National.

The Māori Party is confident that the gains we have advocated for, will ensure that there is a clearer balance around protecting Papatūānuku,” said Fox.

And the party’s other co-leader, Te Ururoa Flavell said “we worked hard on the outcomes to reach an agreement that we are satisfied with.

“The Māori Party is confident that the changes advocated for in the RMA amendments better balance development and kaitiakitanga.”

The gains made by the Maori Party in the negotiations over the Bill are significant and the Government’s willingness to do those deals plus its clear preference for the party yesterday suggest that  Ministers are now making good on Prime Minister Bill English’s indication that the party is his preferred coalition partner after the election.