Clarification of Environment Court's position on RMA reboot

I write with respect to your lead article and opinion editorial by Vernon Rive, “Proposed RMA Reboot Draws Ire” (Law News, Issue 8, 12 April 2013). 

In this article Mr Rive refers to comments made by Ministry for the Environment (MFE) official, Douglas Birnie, at the Auckland public meeting consulting on the discussion documents Improving Our Resource Management System and Freshwater Reform 2013 and Beyond, in particular comments made in relation to the Environment Court and proposed changes to Sections 6 and 7 of the Resource Management Act (RMA).

In the early stages of developing the discussion document, MFE consulted a number of organisations including the Ministry of Justice and the Environment Court on the implications of the changes proposed.

The discussion with the Environment Court focussed on MFE’s need to understand the implications for the Court’s decision-making processes and workload. As well as this, and consistent with the objectives of the proposed reforms, we wanted to avoid creating further uncertainty through any new proposals, and wanted to test our thinking with the Court.

The advice we received from the Environment Court was that its task would be interpretation of change, and that would be reflected in new case law following the passage of legislation, should it proceed. Mr Birnie’s comment that the Environment Court is “not alarmed” by the proposed changes reflects this advice.

At no time did we ask representatives of the Environment Court whether they supported or opposed any of the proposed changes to Sections 6 and 7. At no time did any representatives of the Environment Court express any view about the merits or otherwise of the proposals. The Environment Court made it very clear such decisions were for the Government and Parliament to determine.

Around 2000 people attended over 50 public meetings, hui, council and stakeholder meetings from Invercargill to Whangarei examining the discussion documents. Work is now underway refining proposals in light of the consultation in preparation for further Cabinet consideration later this year.

The Minister has reiterated resource management reform is a Government priority and there will be further opportunity for public input including Iwi/Maori perspectives during the select committee process.

Yours sincerely,

Guy Beatson
Deputy Secretary Policy
Ministry for the Environment

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