Eugenie Sage

Sir Geoffrey Palmer on what’s wrong with National’s proposed changes to our environmental law

by Eugenie Sage

The NZ Fish and Game Council recently asked former Environment Minister and RMA architect Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC to analyse the Government’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act, one of our most important environmental laws.  Sir Geoffrey’s 65 page report is well worth reading. We hope current Environment Minister Amy Adams considers it carefully as it clearly explains what’s wrong with her proposals.

For Sir Geoffrey’s full report and references see Fish and Game’s website.  If you’re short on time some of his conclusions are set out below:

Consequences for the Environment

160.        Together the Government’s proposed changes to the RMA and freshwater management will weaken the legal protection currently given to New Zealand’s natural environment and its recreational enjoyment by all New Zealanders.

161.        The changes of greatest impact are the proposed changes to sections 6 and 7 of the RMA. These changes will reduce the level of legal protection for the natural environment by:

  • Reducing the relative importance placed on environmental protection principles and increasing the relative importance places on development principles.
  • Limiting the outstanding natural landscapes that receive protection under the Act.
  • Significantly reducing the level of protection given to the habitats of trout and salmon.
  • Deleting any reference to the “ethics of stewardship”, “amenity values”, the quality of the environment”, and the “intrinsic value of ecosystems”.
  • Emphasising the benefits to be gained from the “use and development” of resources (but not the associated costs).
  • Emphasising the benefits of urban development and infrastructure.
  • Prioritising the rights of land-owners over the rights of the public to enjoy a clean natural environment.

162.        These changes will inevitably change the decisions that are made under the RMA in the future. No evidence or analysis has been introduced to demonstrate the need for them. They will not only pave the way for weaker environmental outcomes. They represent poor legislative design and will introduce uncertainty and confusion and lead to significant implementation costs.”


166.        These reforms need to be assessed against the backdrop of other changes to the RMA over time. These changes have seen a steady tilting of the RMA away from sustainability, undermining public participation, local decision-making and evidence-based judicial oversight.


167.        This analysis is consistent with the views that have been expressed by a wide range of experts. No reasoned response has been provided by the Government to rebut these views or to demonstrate that they are incorrect.

168.        It is highly questionable that the Government’s proposals are, in fact, “designed to deliver the natural environmental outcomes that New Zealanders want” as is claimed.  New Zealanders consistently identify quality of life and the quality of the natural environment as higher priorities than economic considerations. The current proposals are completely out of step with those priorities. They represent a significant step backwards for environmental protection in New Zealand.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Eugenie Sage on Thu, September 12th, 2013   

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