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Parliamentary submission on RMA replacement

Below is the oral submission Don Brash made today, August 26, before the Environment Select Committee of Parliament. You can read the written submission here.

Mr Chairman/Madam Chair, Ladies and gentlemen,

You will have gathered from my written submission that I believe the Minister has totally failed in his objective of replacing the RMA with something better. On the contrary, I believe the Bill under consideration would, if enacted in anything remotely like its present form, make matters vastly worse.

In the press statement announcing the release of this draft Bill, the Minister said that, when enacted, the new law would contribute to the affordability of housing and the productivity of our economy.

Certainly improving the affordability of housing should be one of the Government’s very highest priorities – it is the absurdly high prices which prevail in all our cities which explains a large share of the extreme financial stress which afflicts both those who rent a home and those who labour under an enormous mortgage if they have recently bought one. It is also the absurdly high price of housing which has produced a marked increase in wealth inequality over the last decade or so.

Perhaps the first Bolger Government could have been excused for not initially recognizing what a disaster the RMA would be. But it is 30 years since that law was passed, and the median house price has gone from something like three times the median household income when that legislation was passed to eight, nine, or ten times the median household income now, depending which city is considered for the comparison. Governments of both the Left and the Right have failed New Zealanders.

It is my considered professional opinion that the Bill we’re discussing would, if enacted in its present form, make housing even more unaffordable, thus causing even more social distress. And it would certainly do nothing to improve the productivity of our economy.

The Bill envisages giving enormous and unfettered power to the Minister for the Environment, and to unelected Planning Committees all over the country, committees which would be required to develop comprehensive plans to “protect, restore or improve” almost everything – words which leave scope for endless debate and, potentially, litigation.

Ironically, though the Bill requires the Planning Committees to include “mana whenua representatives” (plural), requires the usual deference to the so-called “principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi” and makes frequent reference to Maori interests, the Bill actually overrides Article 2 of the Treaty in depriving all New Zealanders of their property rights.

Sir Hugh Kawhura’s translation of te Tiriti has Article 2 stating unambiguously that “the Queen of England agrees to protect the Chiefs, the Subtribes and all the people of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise of the chieftainship over their lands”. Nobody could claim that this Bill would protect all the people of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise of the chieftainship of their lands.

Ladies and gentlemen, I urge you to send this Bill back to the Minister and ask him to start again.

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