Resource management reforms aim for greater Māori involvement

The resource management reforms proposed by the Natural and Built Environment Bill (NBE Bill) and the Spatial Planning Bill (together, Bills) aim to provide tangata whenua with more meaningful and effective involvement in the management of natural resources. The changes seek to heighten the primacy of the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi), place Te Ao Māori at the centre of the reforms purpose, include Māori in a key role on regional planning committees and establish a new national Māori entity.

Te Oranga o Te Taiao

The NBE Bill moves away from the RMA’s focus on sustainable management and instead aims to promote environmental outcomes for the benefit of the environment through compliance with limits and targets, to support both present and future generations and manage adverse effects.  The purpose also introduces the concept of “te Oranga o te Taiao,” which emphasises the connection between the health of the natural environment and its ability to sustain life and the interconnectedness of all parts of the environment. The purpose of the NBE Bill is not to prohibit use and development, but to ensure it is managed in a way that is consistent with environmental goals and cultural sensitivities.

To assist in achieving the purpose of the Bill, every decision maker must recognise and provide for the responsibility and mana of each iwi and hapū to protect and sustain the health and well-being of te taiao in accordance with the kawa, tikanga (including kaitiakitanga) and mātauranga in their area of interest.

Submissions on the NBE Bill have raised concerns that while te Oranga o te Taiao is the conceptual purpose, that purpose is not pervasive through the operative provisions and decision making framework of the NBE Bill and that the relationship between iwi and hapū with te Taiao needs to be formally recognised.

Giving effect to te Tiriti o Waitangi

The new system aims to provide more effective roles for Māori by requiring decision-makers to give effect to the principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi rather than just taking them into account. This means that Tiriti principles must be considered and implemented across all decision making under the NBE Bill and Spatial Planning Bill.

Submitters have voiced some concerns in relation to existing te Tiriti o Waitangi settlements, as some include specific RMA-based redress, and these arrangements, as well as bespoke RMA arrangements between iwi, hapū and the Crown need to be protected as a foundational piece of the reforms otherwise they risk being re-engineered during transition.  The government has indicated that their intention is to ensure all settlements are upheld however some further work may be required in achieving this in practice.

Role of Māori in Regional Planning Committees

Under the NBE Bill, regional Planning Committees (RPC) will be established to make final decisions on Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) and Natural and Built Environment (NBE) plans. These committees will include members appointed by local authorities and Māori in the region, with a minimum of six members and a minimum of two Māori members required to be appointed.

Engagement agreements will be used to clarify engagement expectations and funding for Māori participation in the development of RSS and NBE plans.

The Establishment of National Māori Entity

The National Māori Entity, once established, will provide independent monitoring of decisions taken under the NBE Bill or Spatial Planning Bill in order to inform and support progress in managing the environment in light of Te Tiriti.  This is intended to ensure implementation of the Te Tiriti obligations.

Submissions on the NBE Bill identify that some submitters are apprehensive that, given the National Māori Entity’s far ranging powers, it will become the default Māori entity for Crown engagement and policy development, usurping the rights and interests of individual iwi and hapū.

Overall, the reforms aim to ensure additional involvement for Māori compared to that enabled under the RMA.  How this is achieved in practice will continue to be a matter of debate through the hearing of submissions on the proposed legislation.

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