New Zealand Law Society - Law Society concerned about the use of urgency to repeal resource management legislation

Law Society concerned about the use of urgency to repeal resource management legislation

Today the Government has passed under urgency, legislation to repeal the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA) and Spatial Planning Act (SPA) without referral to a select committee. The Government has also stated its intention to suspend the requirement for a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) to be completed where proposals are ‘solely to repeal legislation’. 

The New Zealand Law Society Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa is concerned about the use of urgency and the limited scrutiny of the legislation which repealed two comprehensive enactments. These concerns are heightened as the repeal legislation was not accompanied by a RIS, which usually contains useful information about the costs and benefits of proposed reforms.

“The appropriate process would have been to undertake public consultation through the select committee process,” says the Law Society’s Environmental Law Committee convenor, Vicki Morrison-Shaw.   

The select committee process provides a useful opportunity to seek feedback from the public, and to identify any concerns relating to the repeal legislation, including drafting deficiencies, issues affecting implementation, and any other unintended consequences. 

“We appreciate this legislation may have been the subject of informal or confidential consultations with select organisations and stakeholders,” says Ms Morrison-Shaw.  

“However, such processes are not transparent or consistent with open democracy. They do not allow the public to engage directly on issues arising from the proposed legislation and understand what other feedback may have informed the proposals contained in the bill.”  

While some aspects of the repeal legislation have been debated in the House, the use of urgency severely limits the ability of the public, MPs and officials to meaningfully engage with, and scrutinise, the proposed changes. 

“The Law Society strongly supports legislative procedures which promote democracy and transparency by allowing select committees, and the public, to give proper consideration to legislation passed by the House. We recognise there are a range of views about the repeal of the NBEA and SPA, however those views – and a comprehensive and considered approach to further reform – should be subject to our ordinary democratic processes.”  

The Law Society’s role in law-making is to make sure new legislation achieves what it intends and is workable. The Law Society works with many volunteers on submissions and avoids commenting on policy, except in the areas of access to justice and rule of law, as the Law Society has specific legislative authority to look at policy matters in relation to access to justice and the administration of justice. 

About the National and Built Environments Act and Spatial Planning Act 

The NBEA and SPA significantly reformed environmental law in Aotearoa New Zealand, implementing an extensive and detailed legislative framework for managing the environment and its resources.  

These enactments were the product of considered policy and legislative processes over several years, which allowed for meaningful public scrutiny and input on the new resource management system. The legislative process saw these bills referred to select committee, with a three-month period for public submissions. The select committee received submissions from over 2000 groups and individuals, including a submission from the Law Society. The select committee subsequently recommended numerous changes to improve the bills, and to address issues and concerns raised by submitters.