RMLA President’s Report – June 2013

Dear Members

It is already halfway through the calendar year and in addition to working through the Association’s Annual work plan, much of our efforts have been directed towards the increased tempo of ongoing central government reforms to the resource management system and other related Acts.

We have been approaching this in two ways: tactically, by continuing to provide input by way of submissions into relevant reports, discussion documents and legislative changes; and strategically, by increasing our Association’s profile in Wellington so as to be in the forefront of developing reform proposals now and into the medium term.

A submission was prepared at short notice on the fast-tracked Housing Accord and Special Housing Areas Bill 2013 introduced after the budget speech in May (www.rmla.org.nz/librarydoc/index/category/2).  The preparation of the submission was lead by James Gardner-Hopkins of the Legislation portfolio team.  I had the opportunity along with Karol Helmink to attend James’ presentation to the Social Services Select Committee in Wellington earlier in the month and it was very well received for its clarity and helpfulness to the Committee.

The National Committee Executive members travelled to Wellington earlier in June to continue building upon the relationship with the Ministry for the Environment reported in April.  The meeting with senior policy and regulatory staff canvassed areas of current reforms where the Association could assist regarding the workability of proposals, particularly with the continued push for decision-making on resource allocation to move from the project scale consenting stage to the preceding planning stages.  

Assistance the RMLA might provide with development of common plan templates and capacity building around use of collaborative techniques for early phases of plan preparation was also discussed, as was the advantage the Association has through its broad membership and non-aligned status to lead debate on how to transition the resource management system in the medium term to meet the needs of an exporting economy.  Further meetings have been scheduled.

While in Wellington we took the opportunity to meet with MPs from opposition parties with an interest in resource management.  This was to introduce the Association as being the largest national multi-disciplinary organisation interested in resource management from a wide range of backgrounds ranging from law, planning, environmental sciences, central and local government and the judiciary.  We were able to covey our interest in promoting excellence in resource management policy and practise that contributes to high quality environmental outcomes to David Parker, Russell Norman, Eugenie Sage and Julie Anne Genter.  The meetings followed on from a similar meeting last year with the Minister for the Environment Hon. Amy Adams.

In April, members of the National Committee were refered to an article, published in the New Zealand Energy and Environment Business Alert that there may be a proposal to “fold” the Environment Court into the District Court.  The National Committee unanimously resolved to urgently seek information from the Government about this proposal and policy intent, including to understand why the RMLA had not been consulted about a potentially significant change to the Environment Courts jurisdiction.  As a result, last month the National committee made an Official Information Request to a number of government departments and their ministers for reports, briefings and cabinet papers relating to the proposal.  The possibility that the specialist nature of the Environment Court could change is of particular interest at this time of significant legislative changes to the RMA, both to decision-making processes and potentially to interpretation of new resource policies and plans developed using new Part 2 principles.

At the time of writing we have not received any substantive responses, only acknowledgement of the requests and advice that it will take time.  The National Committee will keep you posted on developments as they occur.  On that note and in the spirit of using the Association’s webpage as the first place to look for serious debate about current resource management and related issues, please visit the site to read the item on this from Martin Williams and Simon Berry, the Association’s Courts Portfolio Convenors on the “Obiter” page (www.rmla.org.nz/obiter).  Those of you who have signed up to the Association’s Facebook or LinkedIn pages will have already received automatic notification of this new posting.

This paper raises very important issues about the significant reform phase of the role (and future) of the Environment Court we are currently experiencing under RMA.  No doubt members will have their own views about these issues; but the paper may help you test or confirm your thinking, and I know that is the authors’ wish in preparing it.

This month marks the start of the annual process to recognise excellence through the Association’s Awards that are announced at the Conference Dinner.  The Awards criteria, revised last year to make them more relevant to the range of publications, documents and projects that contribute to the business of resource management in this country and that further the objectives of the Association, can be found on the Association’s website (www.rmla.org.nz/scholarships-awards).

I make the observation that the Project category is not limited to newly completed work but note there is provision for projects that have a history as an implementation criterion has also been added.

We are aware that there are many pieces of work, projects and outstanding individuals that have contributed to best practice resource management and it has been our objective to incentivise recognition of these through the revised criteria.  It is by seeking the recognition of an award that the innovation and best practice epitomised by your work can be identified, recognised and communicated to others.  It is a key contribution to raising the overall standard of our practice.  My hope is that this year, the Awards committee will be faced with a record number of entries in all categories.

The Auckland branch have been extremely well organised and have not only arranged this year’s Salmon lecture to be given by Chief Justice of New Zealand, Dame Sian Elias on 25 July 2013, but have also locked in The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright for July 2014.  For those Auckland Branch members and any members from around the country, this is a good reason to be in Auckland this July.

Recently the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade asked the Association to co-host a visiting Indonesian legal delegation in Auckland with the NZ Law Society.  The 19 person delegation of Government Officials, Court staff and Judges were here to enquire into our environmental laws and their implementation.  The one hour question and answer session was hosted by Russell McVeagh and included members of the current and past National Committees.  Thanks to Derek Nolan for his expertise and providing the Auckland venue for the discussions.

The final touches are being added to this year’s conference programme so once again a big thanks to Lauren Wallace of the Conference Committee and to the Taranaki Branch in general whose continued efforts are ensuring this will be the must attend resource management event this year, so remember to diary it in for 26 to 28 September 2013.

Blair Dickie