Government agencies have publicly released their reports briefing incoming Ministers about major issues they face, and the outcomes they seek to achieve over the next few months. This legal update provides a summary of the key issues discussed in these reports and the regulatory reforms likely to take place.

BRIEFING FOR THE INCOMING MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE - REPORT PREPARED BY THE MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

The Ministry's briefing focuses on the need for a more integrated resource management system. The Ministry's concern is that the evolution of New Zealand's resource management system has been piecemeal, with the result that core legislative frameworks are misaligned, and processes are becoming increasingly complex. A more systematic and coherent resource management regime is therefore a key priority for the Ministry.

Other key issues identified in the Ministry's briefing include:

  • Freshwater management in New Zealand with the focus on setting limits for water quality and quantity, governance and efficient allocation mechanisms (we have addressed these issues previously, including the role and reporting back to the Government of the Land and Water Forum during 2012).

Interestingly, given the current Treaty claims in respect of freshwater and geothermal resources, the Ministry's briefing addresses the work that has occurred with iwi leaders and, more broadly, the "challenge to move beyond constructive dialogue [with Māori] and into reform proposals that better provide for Māori rights and interests." In its briefing the Treasury states "clarification of Māori interests in water will also provide for greater certainty" while the Natural Resources Sector briefing states "reform [for fresh water] will not be achievable without iwi/Māori buy-in."

  • The need for effective management of risks and natural hazards. This priority is unsurprising following the Canterbury earthquakes and the Rena oil disaster. The Ministry intends to improve the management of natural hazards through improvements to information distribution, planning of engineered infrastructure, and improved processes for local government decision making.
  • Deciding New Zealand's position on climate change (a new international agreement on climate change is expected in the coming years), which includes ensuring the Emissions Trading Scheme is fit for its purpose.
  • Fixing issues related to the implementation of the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 (such as levy avoidance), which is likely to require new or amended regulations.
  • Ensuring the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill (EEZ Bill) and associated regulations are progressed, in order to realise the economic potential of the exclusive economic zone (the EEZ Bill is also addressed in the EPA and Natural Resources Sector briefings).

A copy of this report can be found on the Ministry's website.  

BRIEFING TO THE INCOMING MINISTER OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT - REPORT PREPARED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS

The briefing to the incoming Minister of Local Government focuses on the implications of the Canterbury earthquakes and New Zealand's preparedness for future events. With Environment Canterbury's structure and functions needing to be determined by October 2013, the Minister is likely to be involved in discussions about this, so that any work that is required can be undertaken during 2012.

This report also identifies a number of upcoming issues including:

  • The need to review the structure, functions and funding of local government, and the relationship between central and local government. The Department of Internal Affairs considers central government’s approach to local government is poorly co-ordinated across portfolios and needs improvement. The Minister's role, as Minister of both Local Government and Environment, could offer significant opportunities for greater coordination and collaboration.
  • Fostering a stronger relationship with Auckland Council.
  • Taking a key role on the Cabinet Committee on Auckland Governance Reform (should this body continue).

A copy of this report can be found on the Department's website.  

OTHER BRIEFINGS TO NOTE

In addition to these briefings, other relevant briefings include:

  • The Department of Conservation

The Department's strategic focus is on working with both the public and private sectors, prioritising resources, research and innovation and organisational cost saving. The Department identifies 12 key issues for the next three years which include biodiversity, working with iwi, business and councils, marine protection, coastal management and freshwater. In respect of biodiversity the Department will work with the Natural Resource Sector on the common objective of ensuring policies address the environment and the economy and that the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy be refreshed to "more closely link biodiversity to our economy and prosperity."

A copy of this report can be found on the Department's website.

  • The Ministry of Economic Development (Energy and Resources Portfolio)

This briefing emphasises the importance of the sector to New Zealand's economy while recognising the "challenge of capturing the large upside of New Zealand's energy and resources potential while managing the risks – particularly the health, safety and environmental risks associated with any resource development." Key priorities include encouraging investment while ensuring "world class" environmental standards, continuing towards the target of 90% renewable electricity generation by 2025 and ensuring the regulatory environment supports investment. The key focus for reforms is on the Crown Minerals Act for which the briefing suggests a "more coordinated regulatory process may be advantageous, relative to the status quo."

A copy of this report can be found on the Ministry's website.  

  • The Natural Resources Sector

The Natural Resources Sector (involving 6 core agencies) briefing sets its challenge as providing "better long-term economic return from our natural resource assets by improving the value we get from their use." It promotes better allocation, greater efficiency of resource use, innovation and building enduring institutional arrangements. The briefing identifies a "perceived lack of connection between the economy and the environment." Key issues identified in the briefing include freshwater management (discussed in the MfE briefing above), marine (including mineral exploration and extraction with the passing of the EEZ Bill as a work priority) and developing robust biodiversity policy provisions. Usefully, the briefing identifies some common trends among the issues including rights and responsibilities of resource use, Treaty issues, the correct and efficient use of rules (and tools) and the provision (and sharing) of robust information.

A copy of this report can be found on the Ministry's website.  

  • The Environmental Protection Authority

The EPA's briefing identifies a number of major policy and implementation issues, including the control of hazardous substances. The EPA's current programme to reassess existing hazardous substances is to be amended so groups of substances are reviewed, as opposed to single substances. This is intended to provide greater consistency in risk management controls of hazardous substances. Other key roles identified include the processing of proposals of national significance, administering the New Zealand Emission Unit Register and to ensure the EPA is operationally ready to undertake any new functions under the EEZ Bill.

A copy of this report can be found on the EPA's website.

 

  • The Treasury

The Treasury's briefing identifies regulatory change at the regime and system level for resource management. The briefing proposes more efficient management of natural resource through reform of the RMA "to ensure appropriate consideration of economic objectives and incentives", explicit recognition of economic growth alongside ecological protection) and the establishment of a market structure to "facilitate more efficient use of water".

A copy of this report can be found on the Treasury's website.

These briefings suggest that greater integration of resource management systems and central and local government will be a key priority. The Government's drive to re-balance environmental and economic interests is a common trend through the proposed policy development. Resource management issues such as freshwater management, the exclusive economic zone and natural hazards also remain topical issues and will ensure that these agencies, and their Ministers, are kept busy with significant and contentious policy developments.