Saturday, April 20, 2024

Govt reforms ‘absolutely punishing’

Neal Wallace
Local authorities and industry groups warn they are being driven to breaking point by the volume and pace of Government legislation reforms. One described the pace and scale as “absolutely punishing” and warned “it has the potential, unless managed very carefully, to break the system”. Karen Williams, a former planner and current Federated Farmers vice president, says that pace shows no letting up, with parties given just one month to comment on the exposure draft of the first of three documents to replace the Resource Management Act (RMA).
Beef + Lamb chief executive Same McIvor says sheep and beef farmers are ready to do their part on climate change but need the right tools and a clear and equitable line of march.
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Local authorities and industry groups warn they are being driven to breaking point by the volume and pace of Government legislation reforms.

One described the pace and scale as “absolutely punishing” and warned “it has the potential, unless managed very carefully, to break the system”.

Karen Williams, a former planner and current Federated Farmers vice president, says that pace shows no letting up, with parties given just one month to comment on the exposure draft of the first of three documents to replace the Resource Management Act (RMA).

“The RMA is 30 years old, so you don’t start looking at its replacement with one month of submissions,” Williams said.

“Where are the workshops, where is the engagement?”

Others spoken to have commented the exposure draft is more notable for what is not in it than what is in.

The impact of the pace and scale of reform on farmers and rural communities was one reason for the recent nationwide Groundswell protests.

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) is driving policy on climate change, the RMA, Essential Freshwater and indigenous biodiversity and the Department of Internal Affairs Three Waters and pending changes to local government.

In addition, the Government is centralising health and polytechnic administration.

There is consensus among those spoken to that some laws need changing, but interest groups say they are struggling to keep up with a government emboldened with a Parliamentary majority and a one in 30-year opportunity to drive its reform agenda.

Comment was made that the Government appears to consider it easier to fix legislation once passed, as happened with water quality rules for fencing and intensive winter grazing.

Williams says all lobby groups are overwhelmed by the space and volume of change.

“Everyone is under pressure to keep up with this comprehensive and far-reaching legislation,” she said.

A spokesperson for Local Government NZ (LGNZ) says councils are also struggling and there is real concern at the impact on staff health and wellbeing.

“Councils really are suffering from change and reform fatigue,” the spokesperson said.

That pressure has been accentuated by the MfE and private firms recruiting skilled planners from local authorities.

Environment Minister David Parker was asked twice to respond to concerns about the pace and speed of change and the pressure on lobby groups, but he declined.

Environmental Defence Society executive director Gary Taylor acknowledges the increased workload on lobby groups, but says the reforms proposed for the primary sector have been well forecast.

He also says some claims made during the Groundswell protests were false and spread fear among farmers.

“There is a bit happening, but I don’t think it is anything like the position Groundswell is advocating,” Taylor said.

Beef + Lamb NZ chief executive Sam McIvor says producer groups have been talking about working together to tackle the legislative workload.

McIvor says scale and pace were issues, but so was style – how the Government was implementing its reforms.

“Look at the water issue around how the policy was initially developed,” McIvor said.

“The failing of the Government was to sit down with industry early and share what the big picture is and the ideas of achieving that.”

Instead, the final policy lacked scientific rigour, was impractical and is still being amended 18 months later.

“One thing the Government could do is to take time to listen and develop solutions where it takes a more co-design and solution approach with industry,” he said.

McIvor attributes the Government’s rush to wanting to leave a legacy of addressing issues such as water quality.

Associate Professor Hamish Rennie from Lincoln University’s Department of Environmental Management warns not to expect instant improvement from the new RMA legislation.

He questions the merits of replacing the legislation as new definitions and concepts will need to be determined through the courts before it starts to work.

“I can see a lot of litigation coming that will delay its implementation for some time,” Rennie said.

Innovative tools and national policy standards enabled the current RMA to function.

Ministry staff are working in regional offices or from home, which Rennie says should ensure policy is not developed with a Wellington-centric perspective.

“By being based around NZ it is more likely to have a sense of the variety of the country and issues should be better understood,” he said.

Farmlands chair Rob Hewett says the co-operative has regularly raised farmer-concerns directly with ministers and officials.

The reality is that consumers’ demands have changed since they were forced into lockdown by the pandemic.

“These changes are coming. All the Government is doing is reflecting that consumer sentiment,” Hewett said.

“It is the volume and pace which people are talking about, what people are angry about.”

Hewett says Farmlands is sympathetic with the concerns of farmers.

“We are supportive but we are engaging in a different way,” he said.

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