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Barry Soper: NZ's never-ending wrestle with the RMA

Author
Barry Soper,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Thursday, 25 July 2019, 8:57AM
Sir Geoffrey Palmer. Photo / Supplied
Sir Geoffrey Palmer. Photo / Supplied

COMMENT:

The trumpet-playing law professor Geoffrey Palmer marched into Parliament 40 years ago determined to make change which, in his case, was always going to be heavy on intellect and short on pragmatism.

As a warm-up act he was given the responsibility of writing the Labour Party's 1981 election manifesto which is the document that punters can have a squizz at before going into the ballot box. Only trouble with Geoffrey's effort was that you'd either have to be a political nerd or a speed reader to get through the 300-page tome.

As one of his senior colleagues said it was the world's longest suicide note, which certainly turned out to be the case. The punters were lucky enough to avoid the second edition because three years later Muldoon called the schnapps election and there was no need, change was inevitable.

But the lawman hadn't finished, publicly and with great gusto declaring war on quangos, those nebulous bodies that cling like tax sucking leeches to the body politic which lets them think they're making decisions. At the same time he was planning to put in place a system that controls in some way virtually everything we do.

In the dying stages of his haemorrhaging, yes he was the Prime Minister, he introduced the Resource Management Bill bringing together resource-use agencies which had been fragmented between various and numerous sectors, covering land use, forestry, pollution, traffic, zoning, water and air, to name just a few.

It was another 300-page effort that ended up leaving the impression Palmer held significant shares in a red-tape manufacturing plant, which probably wouldn't have got resource consent anyway.

So complex was it that a year later, by the next election, the bill hadn't been able to make its laborious way through Parliament.

One of Palmer's senior colleagues confided the election loss by Labour was sad even if it was inevitable, but at least he was relieved, the Resource Management Bill was also lost. Not so, another pointy head, National's Simon Upton, picked it up and a year later it was law.

Almost 30 years on, they've grappled to come to grips with what is a legislative beast. They've attacked it on and off over the years but it's just got bigger, growing to more than 800 pages.

Another pointy head's now wrestling with it. David Parker's stepped into the arena, appointing a panel headed by a retired Appeal Court Judge and of course the obligatory expert panel of advisers. An ever-hopeful Parker reckons the first tranche of changes will begin happening next year, don't hold your breath, many have tried and died in the process over the years.

That senior Cabinet minister confidante around at the time of the beast's birth is praying for just one thing, the meaning of "sustainable development". Courts have adjudicated on that in the past, he laments, but the jury's still out.

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