RMLA President’s Report : August 2015

In preparing this, my last report as President of RMLA, I have had cause to reflect on how well the RMLA is “performing” and its strengths and weaknesses as an Association.  At a more personal level, I have reflected upon my own contribution and how satisfied I can be about the standing of RMLA within the resource management community of New Zealand, or indeed more generally. 

On the positive side of the ledger, my view is that the RMLA’s greatest strength lies in its membership.  That is, You I am talking about, so think about that for a moment as you read this report, and the rest of the August Newsletter. 

We have a healthy and relatively steady membership sitting at around 1,100.  All relevant sectors are represented among the membership:  primary production, infrastructure and utilities (including electricity generation), retail and commercial developers as well as operators, local government, aggregates, construction and transportation (ports, airports, airlines etc.). This diversity in turn makes RMLA membership for professional advisors to these sectors all the more worthwhile. 

This is a truly unique situation.  I am not aware of any other Association operating in the environmental policy and law context which has this quality, and at the same time is consistently bipartisan in its perspective.  We differ from any counterparts through that combination of maintaining independence from policy (and policy makers), and being able to draw upon direct expertise across all relevant sectors of our Association in advancing our objectives as RMLA.

To remind you, the RMLA’s central and overriding objective is to be: 

The preeminent organisation for the promotion of best practice in the implementation of environmental policy and law, including through education, debate and commentary. 

At one level this one might sound a bit ‘dry’.  But what it directs us toward achieving, and like no other organisation, is the drawing together of a national conversation involving all key perspectives from a uniquely wide range of expertise and experience. 

Where we potentially miss out however is a degree of “visibility”, whereby market or media profile (as influences the political sphere and in turn policy) tends to be dominated by those promoting a particular cause, and who are more willing to take a strong or even extreme position on substantive policy direction. 

This can be a challenge but is equally a strength.  I consider that the stable nature of RMLA membership, and its consistently strong relationship with central Government (both Minister and Ministry) over successive administrations, is a reflection of our ability to harness constructive debate, but not be captured by any one side of it.

Year after year some of our most successful and I think rewarding conference plenary sessions have been those where even diametrically opposed perspectives have been pressed ‘along the table’, but in a manner where members are left to form their own views (and perhaps challenge or advance their thinking) about the issue of concern. 

Another great strength of the Association is regional branch activity at which members not only update and progress their understanding of current and emerging RMLA themes and topics, but perhaps more importantly (as with the conference) network to the benefit of both professional profile and an informed understanding about our overall environmental law and policy system, including how it is actually playing out in different contexts at the ‘coal face’. 

Where am I going with all of this? Well back to you actually. 

You will recall from my previous post that the National Committee has made a very significant decision to create a new employment position; namely that of a Communications and Sponsorship Manager.  As a committee of volunteers, and despite exceptional service from our Executive Officer, the reality is we seriously struggle to meet the need of the RMLA to maintain a regular and visible presence with all members, stakeholders, Government (central and local) as well as regulatory agencies.  That is, and again, You. 

Feedback suggests our relationship with sponsors is verging on tenuous. A little ‘taken for granted” perhaps. We are aware that sponsors are seeking a greater return on investment, within an ever increasingly competitive market.  On a broader level, there are important places that the RMLA brand is yet to reach.  We have few members from central Government, and iwi groups. Beyond the Ministry for the Environment (as well as Minister) I suspect we are essentially an unknown quantity, and yet other Ministries and Departments have a significant influence on relevant law and policy (Treasury, Primary Industries, and Justice for example). We struggle also sometimes to serve the regions as well as we would like, with the font of volunteer effort and potential road show candidates not having infinite depth. 

We consider for these reasons that, while in good shape and consistently so to a point, the RMLA is nevertheless somewhat vulnerable to a potential risk of declining profile in a dynamic and busy landscape of professional organisations and representative bodies, all striving to meet their industry or sector specific objectives, and with many supported by a number of paid staff and executive officers.  

This step will have a material short term impact on our balance sheet.  We are confident however that a Communications and Sponsorship Manager will serve to assist the RMLA better promote its principal objective, better sustaining a diverse membership across all relevant sectors, and whereby what membership yields as well as enables the RMLA to in turn achieve is as valued, relevant and compelling as it can be.  The longer term returns should prove significantly positive. 

I have genuinely enjoyed and appreciated the privilege of serving this Association now for well over a decade; and for (I think) nine years on National Committee.  We are in good shape.  We are in good heart.  But as with the world we live in we need to evolve – we cannot stand still, we must inspire to survive. 

I very much look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in Tauranga at the conference and otherwise beyond that as a fellow member of New Zealand’s preeminent multidisciplinary bipartisan environmental law organisation.

Martin Williams
President RMLA