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Maori Party backs RMA bill after changes

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 8/11/2016

The Maori Party will back changes to the Resources Management Act through its second and third reading after reaching agreements on policy issues with the government.

Party co-leaders Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox say they were able to make significant gains including improving iwi participation and consultation without any trade-offs.

The changes include paring back the ministerial powers for overriding councils and directing regulation, improving Maori participation arrangements, strengthening natural hazard risk management requirements and the restoration of some appeal rights.

Ms Fox said the party had worked to strengthen the Mana Whakahono a Rohe agreements to ensure they were stronger than the iwi participation agreements that had been proposed.

"Mana Whakahono a Rohe agreements goes beyond anything that currently exists for Maori outside of a Treaty Settlement. This Bill gives iwi a chance to engage like they haven't been able to do before," she said.

The content of these agreements will be arranged between individual iwi and councils.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said the government had to agree on a large amount of detail to secure the Maori Party's support to see the bill through the second and third readings.

"The government supports these provisions because we want iwi involved in how natural resources are managed and because formalising the process will help achieve better outcomes with less delays and costs," he said.

Labour, ACT and the Green Party all criticised the timing of the announcement suggesting it was timed to coincide with and be overshadowed by the US election results.

But Dr Smith denied that and said it was announced on Wednesday to allow him to refer the bill back to the select committee, after opposition parties on Monday blocked an extension on its report.

The committee was initially scheduled to report on July 3 but was granted two separate extensions until September 7 and again on Monday after negotiations delayed the process.

"I will be moving a motion immediately after question time tomorrow that refers the bill back to the select committee, which is now able to progress the bill through it's detailed stages," Dr Smith said.

"It will be touch and go as to whether they are able to complete such a large bill and report it back prior to Christmas."

Dr Smith said he was confident the bill would be brought into law next year.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said it was a disgraceful decision and it was very hard to see the gains for the Maori Party.

"Maori Party are entitled to negotiate what they like but what they have negotiated is increased powers for the minister, it has been described as a constitutional outrage because the minister would have so many powers and so many New Zealanders will be locked out of RMA decision making," she said.

Labour environment spokesman David Parker said the RMA bill was a "terrible piece of legislation".

"The Maori Party are agreeing to changes that will undermine the environment and confer outrageous regulation making powers on the minister to overrule councils," he said.

"National does not have the votes to pass these latest changes to the RMA without the Maori Party, and voters will take note."

Federated Farmers welcomed the news saying the return of the legislation to the select committee stage would be well received by members.

"Ensuring the provisions are practical, workable and affordable will be a high priority for us. We'll also be keen to see the proposals around requirements for councils to free up more land for housing," spokesman Chris Allen said.

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