Missed opportunity for fairer outcomes

July 19, 2018

The Ministry for the Environment has missed the opportunity for fairer outcomes in its new guidelines for the Resource Management Act:

Federated Farmers is in favour of ‘best practice’ guidelines on how councils exercise their duties under the Resource Management Act if they bring common sense and consistency to that role.

But there is concern the new guidelines miss opportunities for fairer outcomes.

The guidelines released by the Minister for the Environment this week are intended to assist councils in their compliance, monitoring and enforcement duties in promoting the sustainable management purpose of the RMA.

Richard Gardner, Federated Farmers senior policy advisor, says this is a very admirable purpose “because too often we find that councils are misusing their powers under the legislation, and managing compliance and enforcement matters inappropriately.

“The guidelines will hopefully usher in more practicality and consistency to the exercise of that role.”

That would be a welcome improvement but there is a but:

Federated Farmers finds fault with some of the guidelines and is disappointed that it had not been more involved in putting them together.

There is concern about the lack of differentiation in the guidelines between routine inspections and inspections that arise as the result of a complaint. Feds also sees faults in the way enforcement decisions are handled.

“We have long held the view that there should be a pecuniary penalty regime for ‘misdemeanour’ and accidental offences, with criminal prosecutions reserved for the worst, deliberate offences, and the current strict liability standard regarding those prosecutions removed,” Mr Gardner says. . .

There is a big difference between deliberately flouting the law and accidents which breach it.

Farmers can be charged for accidental effluent ponding that could reach a waterway. That’s a bit like charging someone for drink driving when they are drinking but have no intention of driving.

Contrast that to the soft approach taken to councils which fail to deal with sewerage spills.

The latest example of this was in Northland:

A Kaipara Harbour farmer says raw sewage was left to flow into local waterways for up to two weeks.

Grant McCallum, speaking with Jamie Mackay on Newstalk ZB programme The Country, said the overflowing sewage was discovered by a Wellsford farmer who leases the land.

McCallum said Auckland Council sent up one-tonne diggers to deal with the broken and blocked pipes but the machines were too small.

Five days later the sewage was still flowing, so the farmer contacted Rodney Local Board member Colin Smith to ask him to get involved.

Smith said there had been problems with the sewerage infrastructure in the area before.

“The sewerage line in the area’s been broken for a long time…it’s buggered.”

Farmers wouldn’t be allowed to get away with systems that were buggered, nor should they be and councils should be held to the same standard.

He said it took far too long for the problem to be fixed.

“The thing is it could’ve been done in eight hours and it took weeks.” . .

Too many councils waste their time and ratepayers’ money on fripperies when core responsibilities like sewerage are in urgent need of attention.

The RMA, or the way it’s administered, appears to let them away with it while farmers are prosecuted for accidents which are often beyond their control.


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