Thursday, July 22, 2004

RMA myths

Jeanette Fitzsimons has a good editorial about the RMA in today's Herald, in which she thoroughly trashes the right-wing mythology surrounding the Act. Almost all consents are granted (without notification, to boot), and only a tiny fraction go all the way to the Environment Court; growth has been high and unemployment low for the past four years, so what's the evidence that the RMA is "deterring investment and blocking growth"?

There are similar problems with the mythology around "national interest" projects. The RMA already allows central government to provide guidance to local government on such matters, and even allows them to "call in" projects of national significance - but these processes haven't been widely used. Why not? Some of it is bad memories of "Think Big", but a large part is almost certainly the desire to provide a "level playing field" and avoid criticism for "picking winners" - not to mention businesses lining up at the Minister's door for special treatment, and the resulting allegations of corrupt behaviour and favortism that would inevitably accompany such a process... Labour wants to avoid this, just as National did

In fact, the current bout of whinging over the RMA is just the latest incarnation of the business lobby's disatisfaction with having a Labour, rather than a National, government. First it was "business confidence", then it was the government's "failure" to gain an FTA with the US (one that never was, and never will be, on offer), and now it's the RMA; in all cases its pretty much independent of the underlying facts. These people will never be satisfied unless the government benches are full of compliant Dead White Males dancing to Treasury's tune, and so we might as well ignore them.

The core principle of the RMA is that local communities should have a say over development which affects them. Propertarian absolutists will never be satisfied with this, but it's a good basis to start from, and any changes which move away from this idea - for example by reducing the need for notification, or limiting the ability of people to make a submission or access the Environment Court - would be a grave mistake.