Maori Party still not sold on RMA reformsSave
By Isaac Davison
Long-awaited reforms of environmental and planning laws are set to progress to the next stage, but the Government is yet to secure the support of the Maori Party to ensure they can pass into law.
A select committee will finally report back on the Resource Management Act reforms tomorrow, after 13 months of deliberation and four extensions to its deadline.
But it is understood the Maori Party has still not promised to back the bill because of concerns about how it will affect councils' ability to set their own rules on issues such as genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).
Local authorities in Auckland, Hastings and Whangarei want to limit GMO releases or introduce "GE-free zones" but Environment Minister Nick Smith says that is the Government's responsibility.
The Maori Party would not comment today. But it has previously said it will not back reforms which include the provisions around GMOs. It is seeking legal opinions on the clause to clarify its impact on local government.
The Government's other support partners, Act and United Future, have opposed the legislation, meaning National needs the Maori Party's two votes to progress the law changes.
Failure to get the Maori Party's agreement would be a blow to Smith and the Government, who have been trying to advance the second tranche of RMA reforms for two Parliamentary terms.
The proposed changes, which affect environmental and planning decisions, are seen as crucial to making housing more affordable in New Zealand.
The Maori Party's support was initially secured in November after National made concessions around the way iwi were involved in the planning process.
However, Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said in December the party was reconsidering its vote after it had been made aware of the way it could affect councils' decision-making.
Smith said there would be further talks between him and the Maori Party co-leaders.
"The Government has a policy agreement with the Maori Party over the progress of the second and third readings.
"The next stage, when the Bill is reported back, is for there to be discussions between the two parties on the legislative detail to ensure it is consistent with the agreement.
"This is a large, complex Bill of over 200 pages and the detail of the drafting is important."
He said on the weekend he expected to have the reforms passed into law in March.
Smith has pointed to the Auckland Council being challenged in court by Auckland Hospital and the University of Auckland because its ban on GMOs could prevent the Pexa-Vec liver cancer vaccine treatment of patients in the city.
If passed into law, the reforms will also allow homeowners to carry out minor renovations such as extending their deck or building a fence without a resource consent.