Policy Statement raises eyebrows

Bridget Irving

This article appeared in the Otago Daily Times, June 29th 2015.


As I indicated in my last article I intend to provide my 5 cents on the Otago Regional Council’s Proposed Regional Policy Statement (“PRPS”). Because the PRPS is divided into 4 parts headed up by 4 ‘outcomes’ it is convenient to tackle those one by one.  

The first outcome seeks that “Kai Tahu values, rights and interests are recognised and kaitiakitaka is expressed”. In my view this outcome has the clearest focus. Unfortunately that is where my praise ends. As previously mentioned the failure of the PRPS to systematically identify the relevant issues faced by the region and then develop the objectives and policies to addresses those issues makes it really difficult to understand why the outcome is sought and how it will be achieved.

According to the section 32 report that supports the PRPS, the first outcome is intended to elevate Kai Tahu involvement in the resource management process and ensure that they are involved in the identification of their cultural values. Given the adhoc manner that Kai Tahu have been involved in resource management processes historically, providing further guidance and clarity in respect of their involvement is a helpful addition to the PRPS.

However, what has resulted is not the same as what was intended. The objectives go a step further and seek to elevate Kai Tahu values, rights and interests in the decision making process. I suspect that will raise a few eyebrows.  In my opinion this is a step too far and is not consistent with the treatment of Maori values and interests in the Act. Under section 61 of the Act the PRPS must be prepared in accordance with Part 2. Sections 6-8, within Part 2 establish what is effectively a hierarchy between matters of national importance in section 6, matters to have regard to in section 7 and a requirement for the principles of Te Tiriti to be taken into account under section 8. More specifically, section 6 provides for the relationship of Maori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, waahi tapu and other taonga as a matter of national importance. While section 7 identifies Kaitiakitanga and the ethic of stewardship as matters to be given particular regard.

These values sit alongside a variety of other values identified in Part 2. They are not elevated above other values within the respective sections. In my view the PRPS cannot be prepared in accordance with Part 2 if Kai Tahu values, rights and interests are elevated above any others. To do so would be inconsistent with the Act.  This difficulty may be overcome by identifying specific locations, or resources that have particular value to Kai Tahu. This would need to be more detailed than the values and interests outlined in schedule 1A and 1B of the PRPS. With a higher degree of detail the community can gain a clearer understanding of the values and interests that Kai Tahu are seeking to protect and what trade offs are required in order to facilitate that. This would allow informed decisions to made that achieve the purpose of the Act, being sustainable management.

Such a high degree of detail may be better placed within Regional or District Plans. However, the ORC has seen fit to identify Maori Land and Native Reserves in the Region within schedule 1D and I think it would be helpful if this step was also taken in in relation to other ancestral lands, water sites, waahi tapu etc. This would avoid potential inconsistencies between districts particularly at district boundaries and give some certainty to Kai Tahu in ensuring appropriate recognition of important sites. Some effort has been made to do this in schedule 1C, but the lack of detail means that the schedule is of limited value to a lay person. It also makes it very difficult to assess the effectiveness or implications of the Policies that support Objective 1.2.

Policies 1.2.1 to 1.2.4 set specific principles for identifying and protecting cultural values in other planning instruments. These policies have the potential elevate the importance of Kai Tahu values to the point where it may become difficult to obtain a resource consent for any activity that has significant adverse effects on these values. In some instances that will be entirely appropriate. However, in others it may not. The PRPS in its current form does not provide enough clarity about when Kai Tahu values are engaged. I am not suggesting that Kai Tahu values are unimportant. Section 6, 7 and 8 clearly include them in the mix. Unfortunately the generality of the PRPS robs everyone of the opportunity to have an intelligent and informed discussion about when those values may take precedence.

Either the PRPS needs to be more specific in identifying the sites or locations where Kai Tahu values are engaged, or alternatively it needs to devolve more responsibility to the local authorities having set the process for engaging with Kai Tahu more comprehensively to identify the sites, locations and resources where their values need to be given particular attention. The later would achieve the outcome and elevate Kai Tahu involvement without elevating Kai Tahu values in a manner that is inconsistent with the Act.

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