Wednesday, 1 October 2008

National's RMA Policy "like a chocolate-coated turd"

National's Nick Smith released National's Resource Management Act policy yesterday.  Smith said within 100 days of forming a new government National would introduce a bill to "streamline" the Resource Management Act.

Responding for the Greens, co-leader Russel Norman says "the National Party's plans to reform the Resource Management Act are a misguided 'business-first, community-second, environment-last' policy:

Dr Norman says National's RMA gutting will undermine New Zealanders' ability to protect our environment..."

Actually, they're both wrong -- although they both gain politically by the ruse.

  • At the moment the RMA removes from property-owners rights over their own land, including the common law right of recourse over pollution by neighbours or downstream polluters.
  • It locks up land around the country's major cities, jacking up the price of new housing for new home-buyers.
  • It gives large polluters a "license to pollute" -- meat processors to dump their wastewater into rivers and oceans; farmers, pulp and paper mills and landfill sites to discharge their waste (with a license to pollute gifted to them by the RMA) into lakes and rivers; a developer to  dump sewage effluent directly into an ocean outfall at Akaroa with no recourse in law for those polluted by such discharges.
  • And the lengthy delays and seemingly arbitrary basis on which consents are granted makes it virtually impossible for producers to plan ahead, adding huge costs to every new project.

'Smith's dream' does nothing at all to address these serious problems, on top of which he wants to introduce two new bureaucracies -- an Environmental Protection Agency to make things even more restrictive, and a toothless "independent complaints mechanism" to give the appearance that someone gives a shit when the council stuffs you around.

The guy's a fool.

Smith's on record as calling the RMA "far-sighted environmental legislation" -- it isn't. 

Remember that Smith had three years as minister in charge of the RMA back in the nineties to change things -- he didn't. 

He promises nothing fundamental now, either.  The policy overflows with buzzwords like "fix," streamline" and "get business moving," but closer examination demonstrated Smith's large print giveth, but his small print taketh away.

Does he promise to put protection of New Zealander's property rights at the heart of the Act?  No.

Does he promise to take power over your property away from planners and council bureaucrats?  No.

To make it easier for a builder to get a subdivision consent and lower the price of land to buyers?; or for a supermarket owner to build a new supermarket in the face of a competitor?; or a developer to build a new village in the face of council opposition?  No, of course not -- not when you read the fine print. 

Will they abolish the likes of development levies, and squash the huge delays and rises in consent costs that add thousands, and sometimes millions, to every private project in the country?  No, of course they won't. 

Will they do anything at all to increase the supply of suitable land available on which to build houses, or to remove council planners the power to zone private land, and the power to set urban walls around New Zealand towns and cities?  No, emphatically not.

Not one of these things will happen under National.  Here's what they  promise instead:

"We want to get business moving again by addressing the needless bureaucracy that is frustrating so many homeowners, farmers, and businesses, and to enable New Zealand to get on and build much-needed infrastructure," he says.

Well adding a new bureaucracy is hardly a good start, is it?  And since there's nothing here to kill off planners, consultants and the sundry other needless parasites who leech off the Act and destroy enterprise, there's hardly cause to celebrate. (And don't forget, National have their own Emissions Trading Scheme to roll out as well, and don't think you'll be seeing any details of that before you go into the polling booth in November.)

National supports the underlying principles of the Resource Management Act...

The underlying principles of the RMA uphold the toxic collectivism of kaitiakitanga - or stewardship - while completely ignoring property rights; they uphold the nonsense of 'intrinsic values' while destroying distinctively human values; they tout 'effects-based planning' while prescriptively regulating and prohibiting human activities; they have empowered an enormous army of consultants to interpret and manage it; they protect trees, rocks and mud puddles while providing no protection for human life; they "protect" "future generations" while making it virtually impossible to build the infrastructure these generations will need. The RMA fails to even mention property rights in its 455 pages, while harbouring a savage penalties regime of fines up to $200,000, and up to two years in jail!

These are the underlying principles that the National Party supports.

National will simplify the Act by limiting the definition of environment to natural and physical resources...

Hardly a king hit to bureaucracy and red tape, just a very small baby step that consultants will very quickly learn to exploit.

...  and prohibiting objections with respect to trade competition.

The Act already prohibits trade competitors using the RMA to stifle competition.  But as North Shore supermarket and shopping centre owners will know, it hasn't stopped them using proxies.

We will also reduce the number of consent categories ...

But the increase in the number of consent categories has made consent applications easier (if only slightly); reducing them is going to make applications harder, not easier.

...replace the broad reference to Treaty principles with specific requirements for iwi consultation...

Which means the present vague references to consultation over taniwhas will be replaced with explicit demands for consultation over taniwhas.

...and remove the ministerial veto on coastal consents.

Which will be retained for much of the northern North Island in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act, introduced by Smith in his previous term as minister.

The ministerial veto on coastal consents adds time and unnecessary uncertainty to applications. This was emphasised by the political interference of the Conservation Minister in the Whangamata Marina.

And as this dickhead is well aware, the Conservation minister's political interference with the Whangamata Marina -- and with the Whitianga Waterways -- was necessitated by his own Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act.  The man has a tongue so forked he could hug a tree with it. What else does he promise with it?

Tens of thousands of people every year apply for smaller consents and are frustrated by breaches in statutory processing times, excessive fees, and unreasonable requests for further information from consenting authorities The bill will provide an independent complaints mechanism for these issues, where there will be a power to discount or waive consent-processing fees where statutory processing times are breached.

This is about as attractive as a chocolate-coated turd; it looks almost edible until the sugar coating is removed. 
    Councils are already adept at asking pathetic and irrelevant questions to extend the nominal twenty-day limit they have for considering resource consent applications without the delays being recorded as such; Smith's proposal just invites more of the same ruses.
    An "independent complaints mechanism" won't make consents arrive any earlier, or save anyone any money: instead we'll simply have yet another useless bureaucracy, while applicants will be assailed by councils processing their consents with even more stupid and irrelevant questions than they do now just to justify them "stopping the clock." 
    And although it's hard to image how much more stupid some of those questions can get, it's clear enough that the stupid questions will increase under Smith's stupid proposal. That he wants to hang his hat on this is a sign of how little he really understands the Kafka-esque problems with making and receiving Resource Consent applications.

The bill will simplify the process for councils amending and updating their plans... We will encourage regional and district councils to develop a single plan.

Irrelevant window dressing.

We will also encourage greater use of the Internet to replace onerous paperwork requirements.

Even more irrelevant window dressing.

We will provide for a system of approved contractors in areas like tree trimming to reduce the number of minor consents required.

Jobs for the boys.

And now, with the window-dressing out of the way, we come the crux of National's RMA policy -- at least, the crux of the policy for National:

National’s Resource Management Amendment Bill will provide for ‘Priority Consenting’ of major infrastructure projects.

This is what is gets Smith and his colleagues excited -- removing the major legislative impediment to "Thinking Big" -- requiring that projects unilaterally deemed to be of "national significance" to be consented in nine months, or else.

That won't help you or I get our projects built or our property rights protected, but it would allow a National government to steamroll over people's property rights to push through projects like the Waikato pylons.

Which all makes one thing very clear: They don't want to protect your property rights -- they want to promote their ability to steamroller over them.  They don't want to make it easier for you to build -- they only want to make it easier for them to build, using borrowed money.

Taken together then Smith's proposals are a mixture of irrelevant, meaningless, hopeless and more damaging -- much like himself really.

Nothing will be fundamentally altered.

The productive will still have to go cap in hand to to ask permission from the unproductive in order to produce.  It's just that under Smith's regime the unproductive would be saluting a different coloured flag.

Alas for the opportunity lost -- for the chance to tear down the bureaucratic monster of the RMA altogether, to drive a stake straight through its heart, to dump the RMA once and and for all, and to uncover the property-rights protection of common law that has over seven-hundred years of sophistication and success in protecting both property owners and environment.

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