A series of public meetings has been set up by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) to highlight proposed reforms for both the Resource Management Act (1991) and the highly disputed arena of Freshwater management. What comes through in the discussion document http://www.mfe.govt.nz/issues/water/freshwater/freshwater-reform-2013/index.html of the latter is liberal use of the words ‘collaboration’ and ‘community’. What’s clear is the desire to engage communities earlier on in planning processes rather than in an adversarial position once the proposed plan is being challenged in the Environment Court. Definitions aren’t provided – this will be left to Regional Councils to determine how in practice ‘collaboration’ with the ‘community’ occurs. If what is meant by collaboration isn’t clearly defined, then the same dissatisfactions will be revisited as have occurred with other poorly used processes like consultation…. and participation. Instead of being a meaningful process, ‘collaboration’ risks becoming a set of bare bones without being fleshed out by any mutually agreed moral and ethical parameters.
Community is another one of those all encompassing words (which is why is gets used so often…). In the document community covers everyone else if all users and managers of freshwater include councils, iwi/maori, city dwellers, farmers, businesses, scientists and recreationists (p9). “Communities need to come together to decide how to use and manage their freshwater resources” (p20).
But getting back to collaboration… I’ll be waiting impatiently for the promised guidance and support package on implementing the collaborative planning process to be produced by the MfE – no date has been specified for this output. However, it will still be up to Regional Councils if they want to work in a collaborative manner – it’s only an option not a rule.