Resource management reform: Greater integration of Māori perspectives

Many are aware that in July the Resource Management Review Panel (Panel) suggested a suite of reforms that include repealing the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and replacing it with a new Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA) and a new Strategic Planning Act (with spatial plans), a new Managed Retreat and Climate Change Adaptation Act. Our summary of the reforms is available online.

We have identified three things you may not know about this upcoming reform programme that are likely to be of interest to organisations interfacing with the resource management system in future. They are:

  1. Economic tools are more likely to be used to incentivise environmental outcomes.
  2. Proposals for greater enforcement and transparency will lead to greater public knowledge of environmental non-compliance.
  3. Māori perspectives will be more integrated into New Zealand’s resource management system.

This article is focused on the third point.

Greater integration of Māori perspectives

The Panel’s recommendations seek to provide great recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Te Tiriti) and tea o Māori (Māori world view) in all aspects of the resource management system. These range from incorporating Māori values in decision-making through recognition of tikanga and Te Tiriti, national oversight, more effective iwi partnership arrangements, and funding to empower iwi and hapū to protect the environment and improve outcomes for people.

Whether these recommended changes become meaningful relies on the willingness of the next government to effectively implement them with appropriate funding.

Recognition of tikanga and Te Tiriti in purpose and outcomes

Part of the recommended new purpose of the NBEA is to recognise the concept of ‘Te Mana o te Taiao’. This is the concept of safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of natural resources (as is already recognised in the RMA) and literally translates to the mana of the environment. The Panel intends that the use of this language is to help recognise our shared environmental ethic in a systematic manner.

The Panel’s recommendations for a new resource management system is strongly focused on outcomes. Instead of ‘principles’ to be considered by those exercising functions and powers under the NBEA they must provide for specific outcomes relating to tikanga Māori (and other matters, like the natural environment and climate change). These goals are supported by environmental limits or bottom lines.

Specifically, the Panel recommends that those exercising functions and powers under the NBEA must provide for the protection and restoration of the relationship of iwi, hāpu and whanau and their tikanga and traditions with their ancestral lands, cultural landscapes, water and sites; protection of wāhi tapu and protection and restoration of other taonga; and recognition of protected customary rights. This approach is stronger than that taken in the RMA.

Greater Te Tiriti requirements and national oversight

The Panel recommends that those exercising functions and powers under future legislation be required to ‘give effect to’ the principles of the Te Tiriti, rather than ‘take into account’ the principles as is required under the RMA.

A national policy statement is recommended to further guide how the principles of Te Tiriti are to be given effect to. The Panel recommends that the national policy statement identify the key principles of Te Tiriti in the context of resource management issues so that it may assist with integrated management of natural and cultural resources. This national policy statement could provide further clarity on a national level on integrating mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) into the resource management system.

The Panel also recommends a Māori Advisory Board to assist with the development of this national policy statement. The Māori Advisory Board would also advise and audit central government agencies and local authorities on how they give effect to Te Tiriti in a resource management system context. This is intended to overcome passive responses that central and local government have had to obligations in the past.

Partnership between mana whenua and local government

There can be debate in about the definitions of Māori groups used in the RMA and the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011. The Panel’s response to this issue is to replace the definitions of ‘iwi authority’ and ‘tangata whenua’ with a new definition for ‘mana whenua’, meaning ‘an iwi, hapū or whānau that exercises customary authority in an identified area’.

The Panel envisions a more strategic role for mana whenua in planning – a move toward ‘partnership’ with local authorities, rather than consultation. Recommendations to achieve this include:

  • Including mana whenua representatives on regional spatial planning committees and combined planning committees.
  • Redesigning current Mana Whakahono ā Rohe provisions to become a more ‘integrated partnership process’ between mana whenua and local government.
  • Removing some legislative criteria to make it easier for local authorities to transfer powers to mana whenua.
  • Requiring local authorities to investigate opportunities to initiate integrated partnership processes, and transfer power and use joint management agreement provisions.

The Panel recognises that it may be appropriate that resource management functions be delegated between mana whenua groups. It recommends that the Māori Advisory Board be required to maintain records of such groups.

The Panel suggests it would be helpful for, but does not require, mana whenua to have an iwi management plan, which would form the basis of discussing a partnership with local government. Iwi management plans may be particularly useful for establishing who is the mana whenua responsible for various parts of the environment in a particular area.

Changes to funding recommended to make integration meaningful

The Panel recognised that the most significant barrier to mana whenua involvement under the RMA is that underfunding their role in the system. Although the RMA has had a large number of provisions designed to provide for Māori interests, these have not been implemented meaningfully and it has been difficult for Māori to effectively achieve outcomes.

Consequently, the Panel recommendeds the implementation of numerous funding and support options as essential to achieving better outcomes. These range from significant, meaningful funding (from both central and local government) to capability building assistance. The Panel also proposes a principle in the NBEA or Local Government Act 2002 to specify that ‘where Māori undertake resource management duties and functions, and these duties or functions have public benefits, the reasonable costs incurred should be provided for’. This approach will make it explicit that mana whenua do not have to bear the costs of engaging in the system and should empower mana whenua to recover costs and incentivise local government and participants in the system to engage with mana whenua in a sensitive and efficient manner.

As with all of these recommendations, follow through on these recommendations will be needed to ensure the intention behind the Panel’s recommendations is achieved.

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