It was pleasing to see the Hawke’s Bay Regional Planning Committee Bill (RPC) pass through the committee stages in Parliament recently. For me it goes some way towards redressing the balance between the Treaty of Waitangi partners locally. Not all the way mind you, just some of the way.
What the RPC Bill does is formalise a currently informal arrangement. The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s planning committee already operates in a similar manner to RPC. Essentially Maori & HBRC have equal numbers on the RPC.
This committee makes recommendations to the full council on RMA planning issues. For example changes to the Regional Resource Management Plan. It’s powers are limited to making recommendations. At the same time HBRC can only accept or decline any recommendations. It cannot amend them. To my mind this strikes a reasonable balance, although some would argue otherwise. They say that politics is the art of compromise. So what has been compromised?
Supporters of the status-quo argue that having unelected members on the RPC is undemocratic. They also argue that it is racist. I would argue that firstly, RPC can only make recommendations to an elected council. I liken it to how my wife and I make decisions. As much as want to I can’t wake up tomorrow and say ‘I’m off to the world cup no matter what the cost’. Believe me, ‘don’t come back then’ would be the likely response. If I wanted to go to the world cup there would have to be lot of negotiation in our house before hand and I certainly wouldn’t present a decision to my wife fait accompli. I’d be a dead man if I did. So why shouldn’t negotiations with our Treaty partners proceed in a similar manner? The PRC means they have to on planning issues.
As for the argument about RPC being racist I think this is just an expression of fear. People are generally afraid of change. When they see that things are changing, especially when they think power is being diluted, then the same old clichés come out. I think this fear is based on a lack of understanding. We are only talking about recommendations on planning issues. I’m a pakeha. As far as I can tell what Maori bring to the table is positive. Not only do they have a spiritual connection to the land, air, and water they also understand the concept of commons. I for one welcome those who place these values higher than the need for economic exploitation.
This is not to say that Maori will be against economic activity. Not at all. From what I understand they want jobs just as much as anyone else. It’s just that their solutions require our natural resources to be looked at in a different manner than what they are at present. After all, it’s not as if HBRC have been exemplary managers of our environment.
The other side of the coin is the argument that the powers given to RPC do not go far enough. Fair enough. I think the RPC should also have some authority over the granting of resource consents under our current plans. Not just in the amendment or creation of plans. In other words would something like the right of veto been a step too far?
We can either have revolution or transition. I think that the RPC in it’s proposed form is merely another step in the transition to full partnership. It gives people the opportunity to get over their fears. It brings them to the inevitable conclusion that with changing demographics Maori are going to have far more influence in future regardless. Therefore I would argue that at this point the right of veto could be a step too far.
Another important point to consider about the RPC is that it grants resources to Maori to allow research to done to back up any arguments they wish to propose. This is hugely important because there is an imbalance in power when one party, HBRC, is able to tap the deep well of ratepayers money to support a particular point of view. It is my belief that the process around Plan Change 5, Plan Change 6, and RWSS would not have dragged on for so long, nor have cost the ratepayers so dearly, if the RPC had been in place at the start of these processes. Funding the RPC satisfactorily will be a cost saving in the long run given that there are likely to be another 3 or 4 catchment type Plan Changes to come.
So I look forward to the third reading of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Planning Committee Bill. Not with a sense of fear, but with a sense that we are looking at the way of the future and that that future is good.
Published 25 July 15