RMLA President’s Report : February 2014

Dear Members

As you will read in this report, the RMLA is off to a cracking start in 2014, with the summer holidays already having faded into distant memory for most of us.

An early highlight for the year was the swearing in of two new Environment Judges, Judge Hassan on 31 January in Wellington and Judge Kirkpatrick in Auckland on 3 February.  Our thanks must go to Derek Nolan who spoke both on the Law Society’s and RMLA’s behalf, and presented a respectful but entertaining tribute to Judge Kirkpatrick’s time at the bar.  The address is on our website and I commend it to all readers of this report (https://www.rmla.org.nz/news/view/id/100).  At Judge Hassan’s swearing in tributes from the resource management profession were delivered by Suzanne Janissen (partner at Judge Hassan’s former firm of Chapman Tripp) and Royden Somerville QC.

Environment Judge Hassan will initially sit in Wellington for 4-6 months before relocating to Christchurch (premises depending!).  Environment Judge Kirkpatrick will preside as Chair of the Hearings Panel on the Auckland Unitary Plan.

Most recently, it was announced that Principal Environment Judge Newhook has been confirmed in the role, enabling continuity of leadership in a Court now bolstered in terms of both numbers and experience. It is great to see investment in the future of this Court, the work of which is so critical to continued development, understanding and application of RMA, and within our constitution as the base of independent adjudication regarding environmental litigation.

On a sadder note, I must acknowledge the passing of Jim Guthrie, a highly respected leader within the profession practising primarily in the South Island including as Chair of Anderson Lloyd for many years, and serving on the National Committee of the Association between 1999 and 2002.  David Parker delivered a eulogy at Jim’s funeral referring to Jim as a “fantastic lawyer”, a “great advocate”, and outlining his role as a pioneer within resource management law who both “acted for the little guy” and lead his firm’s practice to prominent status within the country from its base in Dunedin.

For our part, we first met as a National Committee on 5 February, a lengthy meeting with a lot of business to cover including a principled review of the Association’s central objective, refining that adopted in 2007 to now state as follows:

            RMLA is the pre-eminent organisation for the promotion of best practice in the implementation of environmental policy and law, including through education, debate and commentary.

This objective sits within the context of the formal objects of the Association as recorded in its constitution.  The intention is that this objective inspires all of our activities from the annual conference and roadshow series, through to the suite of RMLA publications and submissions on environmental law and policy statutory reform initiatives.

We are also seeking to develop a more strategic and principled approach to sponsorship across our range of activities (i.e. beyond just the conference which has been the focus to date), and are reviewing how we best realise this in a fair and transparent manner that is consistent with the objectives of the Association.  A framework of sponsorship policies and criteria is currently being developed, spearheaded by Kate Barry-Piceno.

The ‘Young RMLA’ model is also an area of development we wish to focus on, prompted into action by Andy Carr on National Committee.  Andy’s vision is that a more consistent approach across regions be established, and that we identify and address any obstacles to recruitment of younger (or less experienced) new members – in effect investing in our future. On that score, membership (numbers and makeup) is a key regular focus of the Committee as we work to ensure a healthy mix of industry and consultant practitioner involvement in the Association.

You would already have heard about the Dunedin conference (Through the Looking Glass) in September this year, with details of that on the website (https://www.rmla.org.nz/annual-conference) and outlined in my December report.  Planning is also already underway for the 2015 conference to be held in Tauranga, and we intend to meet with the Regional Committee in Tauranga in early May.

I recently met with Chris Moore, President of the New Zealand Law Society, to discuss (among other things) coordination between NZLS and RMLA submissions on environmental law reform.  I also met with Gary Taylor (EDS) and we shared a number of ways in which the RMLA and EDS can work together in promoting issues of common interest and activity.  Again, watch this space in that regard.

On 13 February, the Executive will meet with the Minister for the Environment at which we hope to promote the benefits of the Association as a ‘go to’ resource in developing policy and testing reform proposals, given our multi-disciplinary membership and bipartisan approach to reform initiatives.

We still wait with baited breath for the Supreme Court decision in the King Salmon case, along with any further news as to the possibility of an amendment bill within this term of Government.  The RMLA has a project team on standby to get straight into action should such a bill be introduced.

We recently prepared and lodged a submission on the amendments to the National Policy Statement (Freshwater Management) (a copy of this also being available on the website at https://www.rmla.org.nz/librarydoc/index/category/2).

Can I finish with some emphasis on the importance of regional (branch) activity.

I am keen to support regional activity through which the RMLA’s networking opportunities and the “education” component of its objective (as set out above) are most frequently delivered.  I intend to make contact with all of the Regional Chairs over the course of the next few weeks to that end to offer what assistance I can.

Planning for our 2014 roadshow series is well underway (thanks to Maree Baker-Galloway, Rachel Devine and Andy Carr).  The roadshow topics available for regions to choose will be provided to the regional committees this month, which will include a joint initiative with the Environment Court focusing on conditions of consent.

In this context, I would like to acknowledge and thank retiring Chair of the Wellington committee (Jill Gregory) for her significant contribution.  The Wellington committee is keen to attract new members and now needs a new joint Chair to assist Stewart McKenzie in this role (and our thanks and congratulations to Stewart for taking this on).

The RMLA relies to a huge degree on voluntary work.  Without the regional committees we simply cannot function effectively in terms of delivering benefits at a regional level.  It is an important commitment, and I ask our Wellington members to seriously consider making it if at all possible.

Canterbury held its AGM on 12 February at which time Gerard Cleary was appointed the new Chair.  Thanks must go to Andy Carr, retiring chair, who was elected to the National Committee in 2013 and will be kept busy in that regard.

That’s it from me for now. All the best for the (rest of the) first quarter of 2014.  I hope it is productive and enjoyable for you all.

Martin Williams