Maori Party threatens Government
By Richard Harman (author)
Last minute negotiations between the Maori Party and the Government are continuing as Environment Minister Nick Smith bids for the party’s support for his landmark Resource Legislation Amendment Bill.
Maori Party Co-Leader, Marama Fox, told POLITIK last night that unless the party gets Smith's agreement to change a clause in the Bill relating to GE-free regions, the party will withdraw its support for the Bill altogether.
That would be a major embarrassment for the Government over what is one of its legislation show pieces.
Fox appears to be suggesting that Smith renegged on an undertaking he had given the party.
It has already lost the votes of ACT’s David Seymour and United Future’s Peter Dunne.
It has been negotiating with the Maori Party for nearly two years now, and it was thought an agreement had been reached.
But the Maori Party were surprised by the final draft of the Bill and are arguing that it does not meet their demands to remove the power of the Minister to over rule local authorities who declare themselves GE free.
“There are some things that we would still like to negotiate with the Minister, because the drafting does not completely match the anticipated decisions that we came to and the agreements that we came to around policy,” Fox told Parliament yesterday afternoon.
“So in good faith today we are going to vote for this, on the guarantee that we continue to have those conversations to put forward the policies of not just the Māori Party but yes, regions such as the Hawke's Bay, regions such as Te Tai Tokerau, and regions within Te Wai Pounamu, which are advocating for a GE-free stance.”
The Minister’s retention of powers to over rule not only local authorities declaring themselves GE free but undertaking a variety of other planning and resource consent activities, was also attacked by the Greens MP, Eugenie Sage.
“ Sir Robert Muldoon's ghost is back in the Beehive," she said.
“He is striding the halls of Parliament with this bill.
"Muldoonism was an assault on democratic processes and the rule of law, with legislation like the National Development Act and like the Clutha Development (Clyde Dam) Empowering Bill. Muldoonism was about the executive making a decision and imposing it by its will.
“That is what this Resource Legislation Amendment Bill is all about, not only in its content but also in the way in which it is being considered by the select committee, because of the way the Minister dominated the whole select committee process.”
But by early evening after the debate in the House and after the Maori Party had made it clear its support was only conditional on the clause allowing the Minister to over rule GE regions being withdrawn, a compromise was beginning to be hammered out.
Environment Minister Nick Smith issued a statement saying he was continuing to work with the Maori Party to ensure detailed changes as a result of the select committee process were consistent with their agreement with the Government.
“I will be meeting with the Maori Party co-leaders on ensuring we have got the detail right,” he said.
After an initial meeting between Smith and Fox, she told POLITIK that she was fairly confident that there were “aspects of the details” that could be locked down.
“There are a few technical things that we need to explore a little bit more.
"And if we do not get those things to a satisfactory positions we will not support the Bill."
Fox suggested in Parliament that the Maori Party could move an amendment to the Bill as it stands.
What would worry the Government, if the party did that, was that the amendment could gain enough support from Opposition parties to pass and thus the Government would have to face the humiliation of a defeat in the Chamber.
NZ First Leader Winston Peters told POLITIK that he was aware of other amendments being prepared by Opposition parties which might pre-empt any Maori Party move to amend the legislation.
Whichever way it went though, the Government would face a defeat on the GE clause.
A possible face saver for the Government would be for the Maori Party to go ahead with an amendment and for the Government to come in and support it.
There seems little doubt that National's relationship with the Maori Party has been tested by this legislation.
The party has already forced the Government to strengthen the iwi participation provisions to make it mandatory for local authorities to now include iwi in the planning process.
The GE issue is less of a specifically Maori issue but given that the current GE free local authorities include Northland, Whangarei and Hastings along with Auckland --- all with large Maori constituencies --- a win on this issue will be an important victory for the party to proclaim during the election campaign.
That may not be lost on the Prime Minister who seems determined to have the Maori Party as his main coalition partner after the election.