Environment Minister David Parker. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The proposed revision of the resource management law could give the government a chance to win back voters. By Jane Clifton.
The government’s apparent campaign to be constructively rejected in the upcoming elections has turned into a
roaring pace, but two bollards have appeared that could derail it.
Polls now reveal that Labor will have to do all the heavy lifting for its own demise, as national leader Christopher Luxon loses traction with voters, his heady rise appears to have stalled.
And, despite an impressive set of vote-pushing reforms, the government appears to have engineered an unintended coup, in the unlikely form of Resource Management Act (RMA) reform.
As semantically and philosophically challenging as The Complete Works of Shakespeare, but only a fraction as rewarding unless you’re a quarter-hour-charging lawyer, the RMA has been more of a dead weight than the landscape protector it was for. been designed. He stalled much-needed development and greased it with highly questionable fees. Housing projects typically languish four to five years before they can simply apply for consent.
Perhaps the legislation’s worst failure is that it has rarely been applied equally to the same tax by two enforcement authorities.
For successive governments, reforming it was the last dreaded task. Two dozen major amendments and thousands of tweaks in 30 years simply seem to have created a greater variety of inequities and inconsistencies.
But this week, Environment Minister David Parker, long banned in cabinet mischief for various unforced errors – GST on KiwiSaver taxes, being rude to farmers – stepped forward with a blockbuster. His RMA rewrite won’t galvanize the water-cooling chatter, but it’s a proposition surprisingly few critics have yet criticized. Given the crippling complexity and inherent unpopularity of the project, this fell short as Samoa defeated Tonga in the league.
National sighs of relief at having more than 100 regional plans reduced to 15 presents an immediate opportunity for wind farm installments.
No one would be under any illusions that this will usher in a sunlit upland era of sensible development and harmony. There will always be those who want the sunlit highlands to remain as nature intended, and those who would fill them all with McMansions.
But after years of inconsistent decisions, unexplained delays, and unaccounted for charges, 15 planning rings to rule them all will seem like nirvana to both anyone trying to build anything and anyone trying to stop them.
It was therefore a bit rude of Luxon to say so quickly that National would oppose the reform on the grounds that it would bring “more bureaucracy”. What long-accused victims of RMA purgatory will have heard was, “Oh, no, more delay and uncertainty if National gets in.”
While no reform of this magnitude will reduce red tape, it should at least loosen the leash on whatever red tape is enforced. Which is why, when National sought to rally assorted mayors, rural notables and developers to form a chorus of opposition to RMA reform this week, it struck a chord.
The party seems to have thought it would be Three Waters again, when politically it was almost the opposite.
Parker had been chatting far and wide, staying meticulously open about what was on his board and what wasn’t, so that over the past year or so, those whose business depends on RMA parameters have been kept well informed. The announcement was almost entirely old news to such stakeholders, which, while providing a few sexy headlines, is exactly how public policy-making should be conducted.
However, the government is ticking many more boxes on its “Eligibility Avoidance” spreadsheet, perhaps the most provocative and effective being allowing Waka Kotahi to go ahead with a mass reduction in speed limits nationwide. The commendable safety focus is automatically discounted here, given that so many road accidents result from risk-taking by young and rural, often far from sober drivers, who either disregard existing limits or even notice those new .
Also given that major cities are reduced to a low limit for most of the day and speed limits on highways are rarely reached even during peak holiday hours, this campaign will only further alienate drivers.
This is, at least, a cheap labor deterrence policy, requiring only a change of signage.
The other government news “Haven’t you had enough of us yet?” the policy is to trumpet new public consultations on what amenities Aucklanders want on a second harbor crossing. After Transport Minister Michael Wood’s feint of a bridge for buses and bicycles only, which was so immediately unpopular that senior ministers vied with each other to announce its cancellation, this might seem like progress.
Alas, in the manner of anything advertised as a “consultation,” the exercise will leave most submitters feeling ignored at best and at least expressly contradicted. Cynicism is generally an approach that is best avoided, but in this case it would save time and money. The government should just get busy and do what it already intends to do, which is build a crossing that severely rations private vehicles.
The key factor
All of which means that Luxon has plenty of opportunity – one could almost compare it to a novice golfer’s handicap – to pillage Labour’s vote, which makes it puzzling that the National surge has stalled.
Perhaps unfairly, the reason for this might be best evoked by the old “This is not Jim Beam” ad campaign. Voters have become so accustomed to John Key’s preternatural brightness and easy pragmatism that his fifth successor, despite being Key’s favorite protégé, simply can’t compare.
Luxon still doesn’t play the role of leader with aplomb and humor and, as with his RMA response, is unconvincing in his grasp of political details and priorities.
Key this week reportedly rattled off three or four significant parts of RMA reform that were typical of leftist, bullying Labour, and vowed to root them out. He’d know better than to abandon the baby with the bathwater, always discerning which issues were worth all-out war and which deserved only a vigorous barrow-bargaining feast.
Presumptuous Prime Minister Luxon’s Environment, Agriculture and Construction ministers won’t thank him for backing them with a behemoth of RMA reform from the ground up, reducing bandwidth for their most beloved and crowd-pleasing projects.