National caves to Maori over GMO override

With compromise and gritted teeth Nick Smith finally got his RMA reforms over the line. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Environment Minister Nick Smith has finally secured the two Māori Party votes he needed to get the Government's long-touted Resource Management Act reforms over its final Parliamentary hurdle, but it came at a cost.

Smith had to agree through gritted teeth to give up powers in the bill that would have allowed the Environment Minister to override council bans on genetically modified organisms (GMO) for crops. But he did manage to keep those powers to override trials of GMO for human tissue or medical trials.

The Māori Party signalled nearly two weeks ago that it would agree to vote with the Government in the final third reading of Smith's Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, but that it wanted safeguards to ensure the so-called 360D override powers were subject to appeal rights and would not stop council bans on GMO.

Māori Party Co-Leader Marama Fox tabled the details behind what that concession actually meant in a Supplementary Order Paper late on Tuesday. The amendments mean that the 360D over-ride power "does not apply to rules or types of rules that regulate the growing of crops that are genetically modified organisms."

Smith acknowledged the climb-down on GMO for crops, but touted the retention of the override on GMO for medical trials.

He referred to an Auckland Council draft plan that banned GMO for a liver cancer trial at the Auckland Hospital by the Auckland University.

"It is the view of the National Party that if a genetically modified organism (GMO) to treat liver cancer has been approved by the Environmental Protection Authority, we are not going to have councils have rules on GMOs in their plans that prevent people from being able to get that treatment. I stand by it," Smith told Parliament.

"Marama Fox has put the case, and we have had discussions with our support party. They have said: "We not uncomfortable with that, but we are uncomfortable around the issue of crops," Smith said.

"That is why the Government will be supporting, as always occurs in an MMP Parliament, between support parties, a compromised provision. We will be supporting Marama Fox's amendments that will not allow section 360 to be used."

And there it was. After nearly a full electoral term of trying to get through amendments to the RMA after failing in the 2011 to 2014 term, Smith had finally gotten the changes over the line.

So what is changing in the RMA?

Smith described the changes as the biggest to the RMA since 1991. He said they are mostly aimed at increasing housing supply and affordability by reducing appeal rights on sub-divisions and allowing easier consents for alterations such as decks.

Smith said 5,000 consents were currently needed by renovators under the current boundary rules.

The changes also add the issue of natural hazards into the RMA and will allow the Government to pass national regulations to require stock to be kept out of waterways.

So what about Iwi Participation agreements?

The Māori Party negotiated to include Mana Whakahono ā Rohe or Iwi Participation Arrangements in the initial versions of the Bill so that Councils have to consult with iwi before granting consent.

ACT and New Zealand First have accused the Government of creating a 'bro-rocracy' and a 'parallel Government' where iwi leaders can conduct 'brownmail'. New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters called on National Party members to dump the bill on Tuesday, saying it handed power to iwi elite.

Fox and Peters clashed in Parliament on Tuesday night. Fox described Peters' comments as scaremongering.

"That fear is absolutely irrational. To say that it is a retrograde step is just merely catering to some stale, male, pale vote that they seem to go after," Fox said.