Treaty of Waitangi's place in overhaul of Resource Management Act yet to be defined

By Meriana Johnsen for RNZ

Decade-long calls for stronger recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi in planning laws have yet to be realised, but form part of the package as the government prepares for a major overhaul of the RMA.

The Resource Management Act will be scrapped and replaced, but the government said specific aspects of the replacement legislation - such as a Treaty clause, consenting and people's right to appeal - were yet to be finalised.

A wide ranging independent review by retired judge Tony Randerson found the Treaty clause in the RMA too weak.

The current legislation simply required decision-makers to take Treaty principles into account and the Randerson review called for that to be strengthened, so decisions give effect to the principles.

It would require those in power to conform to the Treaty which would result in more power sharing with Māori, something the Waitangi Tribunal called for more than 20 years ago.

Environment Minister David Parker said the detail was still being worked through.

"The recommendations here are that we should be front-ending involvement of the likes of iwi authorities, not just in the preparation of plans."

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer was sceptical the new legislation would have a strong commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

"We're not overly confident that it's going to land but we're glad to see that change is happening.

"Our ultimate aim is to make sure that some of these changes aren't expediated at the cost of our mana whenua, our mana moana kaupapa so that's what we're still waiting to find out about."

National's environment spokesperson Scott Simpson said there was already evidence of Treaty partnership in environmental law practices, so it may not be necessary to make the Treaty relationship explicit in the new laws.

"There has been a steady progress towards co-management in many environmental matters over the 30 years of the existing legislation. That is likely to continue, it's a question of what pace and in what quantum."

But Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said the act must give effect to Treaty principles.

She said today's critical problems with water quality and pollution would have been avoided if Māori had more influence.

"Some of the waste water, sewerage treatment systems are not up to scratch. If we had listened to those iwi collectives in the very first place, we may not be facing some of the terrible harbour pollution circumstances that we face today."

But the quality of water, who gets to use it and how much they have access to, won't be part of the first round of consultation on the Natural and Built Environments Bill, and those conversations with iwi, hapū and other interested parties, would take place separately.

In the meantime, a collective of five Māori groups would be talking to the government about the changes it wants to see in the new Bill, and a spokesperson Rukumoana Schaafhausen was confident their views would be heard.

"There is no reason to suggest at this early stage that they won't honour that commitment, and we will do our bit once we understand the detail to ensure that we are having robust discussions to ensure our views are taken onboard."

The collective wants the new law to help ensure the freshwater rights of iwi and hapu are recognised and guaranteed, and for Māori to have a central role in achieving the restoration and protection of the natural environment, Te Taiao.

The Māori Collective is made up of representatives from Te Wai Māori, the Federation of Māori Authorities, Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group, New Zealand Māori Council, and Te Kāhui Māori.