Access to Waterways and RMA Election Issues

Tony Ward-Holmes outlines key issues affecting kayakers arising from policy proposals announced in the build-up to the 2005 General Election. Changes to the RMA and access to rivers are of particular concern.

The NZRCA usually does not comment on politics, however recent debates on the access to waterways and amending the Resource Management Act deserve some mention.

The background to the waterways issue is that Jim Sutton (Minister of Rural Affairs) commissioned a Land Access Ministerial Reference Group to consult and report on land access issues nationwide, and to recommend suitable changes if necessary. NZRCA submitted on the LAMR Group's request for input in early 2003, and then submitted on the draft report later the same year. The resultant report, entitled Walking Access in the New Zealand Outdoors, stated that The submissions received by the Group make it abundantly clear that New Zealanders believe very strongly that there should be practical and secure access to and along the nation's waterways, lakes and coastlines as enshrined in the commonly accepted view of the Queen's Chain, (page 61).

The issue concerns everyone and should not be split along party lines, however some unscrupulous politicians and interest groups have chosen to spread much misinformation and turn it into a football for electoral points scoring. They have proven either ignorant or heedless of the community's submissions to the LAMR Group. At the Mystery Creek Field Day, Don Brash even promised that a National government would repeal access legislation that Labour passes, even though he hasn't actually seen it yet. In a nutshell, Labour and the Greens support the Queens Chain, National and ACT do not. NZ First has contradictory policies.

The Resource Management Act then became the next political football. National is promising a raft of changes, that would make it extremely difficult for groups like NZRCA to oppose RMA applications. In particular, fewer applications will be notified at all, many that are will be fast-tracked to the Environment Court which means lawyers will always be required, once there Environmental legal aid will no longer be available for said lawyers, and not only can costs be awarded against submitters, but security for such costs may be required before submitting. This is something NZRCA could rarely if ever do, a single loss would completely bankrupt us. Many of the gains NZRCA has made recently (e.g. Tongariro, Whakapapa, Fuljames releases, Hawea course, Rangitata WCO) may not have been achievable under such a process.

Labour has plans of its own to streamline the RMA, however without gutting the intent of the law as National intends. ACT proposes repealing the RMA entirely.

Do what you will with this information, but if paddling or the environment is a priority in your life then your voting choices appear limited.

For those who wish to keep up to date with election issues around the environment check out the following websites:

  • Forest and Bird's August Conservation News assesses the attitudes of political parties to a range of conservation issues including freshwater and public access. Read more at http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/publications/index.asp#ConNews (refer August 2005).
  • Environment and Conservation Organisations of New Zealand (ECO) Forest and Bird and Greenpeace have a website that rates the political parties on their environmental policies and suggests ways to encourage people to 'Vote for the Environment' at www.environmentvote.org.nz. Vote for the Environment is also running a banner competition.
  • The NZRCA, Fish and Game, Federated Mountain Clubs and Forest and Bird have a website devoted to freshwater issues at www.livingrivers.org.nz.