The polls see ACT finishing the year as clearly the third party in New Zealand politics. We couldn’t have finished the year better prepared for 2023, and not before time with the challenges New Zealanders face under Jacinda Ardern.

The Haps

The polls see ACT finishing the year as clearly the third party in New Zealand politics. We couldn’t have finished the year better prepared for 2023, and not before time with the challenges New Zealanders face under Jacinda Ardern.

REAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT REFORM

A couple of weeks back ACT released a big policy. A serious alternative to the Resource Management Act based on property rights. For the final Free Press of the year, we take on something substantial before the summer. We summarise why resource management reform matters and how ACT’s alternative works.

It’s hard to overstate how badly New Zealand has screwed up resource management. The country’s biggest advantage should be its land. This country has it all, perhaps more than any other on earth. A mild climate. Unbelievable scenery. Endless space. No snakes.

It’s easy to forget how big New Zealand is. If you put it on top of Europe, it stretches the length of France and Germany combined. On top of the U.S. it stretches from New York to Florida. Those are both regions of over 100 million people.

Somehow New Zealand, with five million people, is a contender for the world’s most expensive housing most years. Everything costs heaps because doing anything is almost impossible. The idea of building a new port or, heaven forbid, a competing plaster board factory or sawmill is about as realistic as putting a Kiwi on the moon.

Actually, thanks to special legislation allowing Rocket Lab to launch satellites, putting a Kiwi on the moon probably is more realistic than building a new port. The land should be New Zealand’s greatest asset. New Zealand should be good at providing people with affordable and attractive places to live but, unfortunately, we just suck.

Being good at providing affordable and attractive places to live would be helpful about now. There is a global war for talent on, and New Zealand is sucking at that, too. The immigration department is apparently doing its best to stop anyone moving here while Australia and Canada clean up. The Government of Victoria, for example, is putting up billboards to recruit nurses on the drive home from Auckland City Hospital.

That’s a pity because New Zealand already has lower wages, but we insist on making it practically impossible to build homes, or infrastructure connecting them, so costs are high too. The best thing New Zealand could do to retain talent and attract more is make it easier to use the land for a good life.

So, what’s the heart of the problem? The Resource Management Act creates confusion. Confusion about who has what rights over a piece of property. In fact, the property owner has no rights. Resource use has to fit within the purposes set out in Part II of the RMA. Part II sets out about 20 goals including ‘sustainable management’ to ‘the ethic of stewardship,’ and ‘the intrinsic value of ecosystems.’

Nobody really knows what any of that means. A $1.3 billion per year industry of consultants, planners, and lawyers has grown up to argue with each other about what these things mean in the case of each piece of property. The end result is: almost nothing gets done.

Enter Labour’s Natural and Built Environments Act, and Spatial Planning Act. These pieces of law will replace the RMA (until the Government changes, at least). They are much worse than the RMA.

Where the overarching purpose of the RMA was ‘sustainable management,’ the overarching purpose of the Natural and Built Environments Act is sustainable management, but also to ‘recognise and uphold te oranga o te taio.’ It then continues with 18 vague and often contradictory ‘system outcomes.’

The new law has the same basic problem as the old one. What you can do with your land depends on whether the council decides it fits within the purpose and system outcomes of the new law. The only difference is that it will take 15 years for the courts to settle what the new terms mean in practice.

A problem defined is a problem half solved. ACT’s alternative starts by saying ‘The land and the right to peaceably enjoy it belongs to its owner. ACT believes in the fundamental right for people to control and use their land as they wish, so long as it doesn’t infringe on others’ property rights or harm common property (such as rivers).

It goes on to explain in detail how local people would be able to change the zoning of their street with street votes if they wished to. More homes with more harmony through greater local democracy.

It explains how top down freshwater laws would be replaced with smart markets, where farmers can trade rights to take and discharge, within locally set limits. Irrigation and storage activities would be allowed as of right so that water can be better used.

Codes of practice would be reintroduced so that things that are built often can be built according to generally accepted rules, instead of consented for effects every time. The full paper is available here.

The most important thing that New Zealand can do for its long-term future, outside of sorting education, is empowering property owners to use their land for human good. ACT now has a blueprint to rip up Labour’s attempt before the ink dries and do what the Key Government refused to do - replace the Resource Management Act with a resource management regime based on property rights.


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