Maori Party wants protections to stop RMA 'super-powers' for Minister

Marama Fox said negotiations on the RMA should be completed very soon, once agreement on limiting ministerial powers is reached. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The Maori Party and the Government are in the final days of negotiations that would allow Resource Management Act reforms to pass. But the Maori Party is pushing hard to water down a clause that would allow any Environment Minister to over-ride Council rules such as a ban on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). It is pushing so hard that ACT and United Future think there is a real prospect of a complete impasse that might force the Government to ask for their help. The Maori Party and the Government say they are still confident of agreeing a deal, but brinksmanship is getting more intense.

ACT and United Future announced on Thursday they had renewed their offer to support the bill if the Government could not agree a deal with the Maori Party, ramping up the pressure for a deal within days.

The potential for the RMA reforms to allow a central Government over-ride of local Council bylaws and the Maori Party's negotiation of Mana Whakahono a Rohe/Iwi Participation agreements are proving the major sticking points. The Maori Party wants to keep the Participation agreements and block or water down so-called 360D powers for the Minister to over-rule a GMO ban. ACT and United Future have offered to support the bill if the Participation agreements are removed and the 360D powers are also removed.

Later on Thursday, Maori Party Co-Leader Marama Fox told reporters in Parliament her party wanted safeguards to the 360D powers introduced at the final committee stages so a Minister could not use "super powers" to override a Council.

"We did have some concerns over certain areas, particularly in the 360D," Fox said.

"We wanted to ensure that the process by which the Minister has to enact that is secure, that it has some oversight or a way for people to appeal those decisions and it's not just walk in and do whatever you like -- no superpowers here please -- and we also wanted to ensure there is protection for regions to declare themselves GE free," she said.

"We wanted to assure ourselves that the process by which those powers can be enacted is suitably robust that the Minister would have to go to consultation with the community, that it's subject to judicial review and we wanted to know he couldn't just walk in and do something without talking with the local region."

Fox said she expected negotiations to be completed within the next day or two.

Environment Minister Nick Smith, who is handling the negotiations with Fox and the Maori Party, said he was still confident of a deal and confirmed he was in discussions about potential safeguards for the 360 D powers.

"There will be some technical amendments that we'll need to address during the committee stages," Smith told reporters in Parliament.

"Work is continuing, but I remain confident of the Maori Party's support for the passage of this bill," he said, adding the Government expected to get the bill through the committee stages and its third reading within the next month.

"We're going to have those discussions directly with the Maori Party and there may be some technical changes to the bill," he said when asked about the potential for the Minister's override rights to be subject to appeal or community consultation.