RMLA President’s Report : October 2013

Dear Members

It is a great honour to be in the position of writing this report, my first as President of the Association.  I am very conscious of the legacy that stands behind me, including that of my immediate predecessor Blair Dickie, and also the previous 9 Presidents that have served in that capacity over the Association’s now 21 year history.

I am also very conscious of the significance of the role in carrying out the important work of the Association, including as priorities:

  • promoting the  RMLA’s objectives
  • providing value to members
  • maintaining the credibility and relevance of the RMLA to the broader resource management community, along with our local and central government decision makers.

For several years now, the National Committee has been actively and unashamedly seeking to promote the RMLA as the “go to” place for resource management professionals operating at the forefront of emergent, innovative “best practice” approaches to environmental policy development and implementation.

Some years ago, we set as a strategic objective of the RMLA as follows:

To be the pre-eminent forum for debate regarding current and emerging issues in environmental practice , policy and law, and as to education regarding best practice in its implementation

The New Plymouth conference exemplified this approach, with the plenary sessions on “White Gold” (Dairy), “Black Gold” (Petroleum) providing a platform for a divergent range of viewpoints to all be expressed.  Witnessing such a range of perspectives from leading experts and commentators enables us to advance our thinking, and move the debate forward towards better overall outcomes on an informed basis.

I am very keen to continue this approach, and to publicly represent the RMLA as the space within which that model operates through its range of activities (publications, road shows, conferences).

I am frequently reminded by members that as a bipartisan association, it is neither strategically smart nor legitimate for us to push any particular policy platform.  This is despite how strongly some members may feel about a given issue, and in these turbulent times of accelerated reform and increasing resource use tension.

But equally we must remain relevant as an Association, and whereby a failure to speak out with a single, clear and immediate message can mean we are “left behind” in the broader public perception around emerging environmental issues and debates.

This is the ‘tightrope’ I hope we can nevertheless successfully continue to walk, standing in the very large shoes of such a high calibre gallery of our predecessors.

In that respect, I am delighted to be joined on the National Committee by such an impressive line-up of my colleagues, and other even more important practitioners (ie the non-lawyers) as follows, noting their Committee Portfolios beside each name:

Kate Barry-Piceno, Barrister (Secretary) – Annual Conference, Strategic Relations and Publications and Communication

Maree Baker-Galloway, Anderson Lloyd (Treasurer) – Annual Conference and Roadshows

Simon Berry, BerrySimons – Courts and Awards

James Gardner-Hopkins, Russell McVeagh – Legislation/Special Interest Groups and Membership Recruitment/Retention

Ian Fraser, URS New Zealand – Membership Recruitment/Retention and Scholarships

Rachel Devine, Minter Ellison Rudd Watts – Awards, Roadshows and Scholarships

Andrea Rickard, Beca – Awards and Strategic Relations

Andy Carr, Abley Transportation – Membership Recruitment/Retention, Regional Development/Co-operation and Roadshows

Bianca Tree, Heimsath Alexander – Annual Conference and Legislation/Special Interest Groups

On 22 October, we had our first full meeting as a committee, appointing the portfolios holders as set out above, and confirming the work programme for the 12 months ahead (to the next AGM at the conference in Dunedin 2014!).  One of our major initial work streams will be the RMLA submission on the forthcoming 2013 Amendment Bill delivering the Phase 3 reforms, and we have on standby a team of practitioners ready to go to ensure a professional and helpful submission is lodged, bearing in mind the bipartisan approach touched on above, but drawing on some ‘collective wisdom’ from across the membership.  We will of course invite comments from within the wider membership to inform that submission as well, as soon as the Bill is released and the timeframe for submissions is known.

Returning briefly to the New Plymouth conference.

For those that were not able to make it, I encourage you to visit the website where the keynote and plenary sessions touched on above will soon be available to be viewed in full.

A stand out for me and I consider a “book mark” for the RMLA in its conference history was the opening keynote address by Sir Geoffrey Palmer (Keynote Address).  Not everyone would have agreed with everything Sir Geoffrey said.   But I think all would agree that the address was compelling and powerful, as well as a reminder of where the RMA came from, and what it set out to achieve.  Sir Geoffrey made very clear the dangers and risks he foresees in reducing the degree of environmental protection afforded by RMA, or any return to the “National Development Act” type model which the Act was intended to replace.

I wish to give a further and public expression of gratitude on behalf of us all for the hard work put in by the local committee, in delivering such a successful conference this year.

I also encourage members to visit the website to read one of the more profound contributions the Association has ever had the benefit of receiving, from Chief Justice Sian Elias, through her Salmon Lecture in Auckland in July.

The road show series this year continues and is concluding with the latest in a sequence of initiatives conducted in association with the Environment Court, this time around advocacy skills in the Court room.  This forum allows the “rock stars” within the profession in each region to strut their stuff and show us how it is done, measured and tempered by guidance from the Court as the most important audience, and of course best positioned to evaluate and comment on the performance of those appearing before it!.

Planning is already underway for the road show series for 2014, including a recent suggestion from the Environment Court of a road show regarding the enforceability, durability and security of consent condition frameworks.  This is undoubtedly an important  topic given developing case law and examples of complex condition sets involving landscape enhancement and restoration initiatives, as well as ecological offsetting programmes, particularly for larger or more challenging resource developments.

Finally, a note towards the Dunedin Conference 2014.  You absolutely must put that one in your diary (25 to 28 September 2014).

After over a decade now of serial reform, it is time to step back and pause.  To evaluate and consider what type of resource management system is the most effective in securing positive environmental and economic outcomes; to consider how we monitor or track this in the real world, and then adapt respond.  This theme will be explored through contributions from a range of leading international and domestic speakers that have already been confirmed, under the conference title ‘Through the Looking Glass”.  It promises to be the ‘must attend’ environmental law event in 2014, and the Dunedin conference committee deserves huge credit for how far advanced they are with conference development.

I look forward to that, and to serving the Association on a day to day basis over the 12 month journey toward that destination ahead.

Martin Williams