The Coalition Government’s record on freshwater:

The road to hell is pathed with good intentions


Message from the Ministers

Healthy freshwater is important for all New Zealanders. It is our birthright.

1 TVNZ Q&A programme environment election debate, 10 September 2017.

At the election the Government won a mandate, and we now carry a duty, to improve the quality of our rivers. We welcome the contribution of anyone who is willing to share that duty to protect our birthright. For many of us the river closest to us is the one we hold most precious. It is where we swam as kids, or where we want to see our kids swim in summer, safe in the knowledge they can put their head under without getting crook. If we all work to improve our local river, then all our waterways will improve. It is our goal to create a proper legacy for future generations by developing a fair and enduring system for sustainably managing this precious resource. We have turned a corner. Water quality, allocation, and pricing were top issues throughout the 2017 election campaign. All political parties agreed during the 2017 campaign that we have passed environmental limits for nutrient and livestock pollution in some intensely-farmed catchments.1 Farming leaders representing 80 per cent of the industry have pledged to improve water quality. Auckland Council is planning to spend $7 billion over 10 years to upgrade water infrastructure. Research shows that more than 80 per cent of New Zealanders want action to improve water quality. The good news is New Zealanders are optimistic for the future, with 75 per cent agreeing that together New Zealanders can make a difference. This Government made a clear commitment to action on freshwater in the coalition and confidence and supply agreements.

In the months since the election we have: » wound down public subsidies for large-scale  irrigation schemes » announced investment in the science behind the OVERSEER® farm management tool, which helps measure nutrient use and greenhouse gas emissions » progressed the Three Waters Review to tackle water issues in urban and rural communities » invested in more compliance, monitoring and enforcement activity » sought and received advice from the Land  and Water Forum » developed our thinking on amending the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and other regulation, including working with freshwater scientists and others to clarify shortcomings and areas for further development » developed a new approach to the Crown/Māori relationship for freshwater.

This document sets out the path ahead for the next two years. Freshwater management is complex and challenging. There is no easy fix, because it sometimes takes many years for the pollution already in our land and water to dissipate. But we’re not going to keep kicking the can down the road and leave the hard issues for future generations.

We are confident that the inclusive approach, policy framework, and work programme set out here will result in enduring solutions. We are focussing on the areas where the Crown and Māori have shared interests – improving water quality and ecosystem health and providing fair access to water resources. Our approach is discussed in the companion document Shared Interests in Freshwater. We are also supporting our land-based sector to transition towards sustainable land use. Our vision goes beyond healthy water – we are working towards an environmentally-sustainable, high-value economy  that supports the well-being of all New Zealanders.  We want economic growth within environmental limits. Many in the sector are already working hard to address the environmental impacts from land use, and recognise the importance of enhancing our reputation as a trusted producer of high-quality food and natural products.

Sustainable land use will not happen overnight. There will need to be a transition period, which the Government will support fairly and effectively through our programmes in the areas of agriculture, climate change, afforestation, freshwater and biodiversity. For more on this transition see the Cabinet minute: Aligning land-based sector work programmes. Cabinet has directed that the Essential Freshwater work programme outlined in this document be delivered jointly by a dedicated cross-government taskforce. The recently established taskforce is led by the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries, with members drawn from the Treasury, Te Puni Kōkiri, Māori Crown Relations Unit, the Department of Internal Affairs, the Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, plus expertise provided by local government.

Hon David Parker Hon Damien O’Connor Minister


The Essential Freshwater work programme will deliver important long-term improvements to our freshwater. While changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management are needed, it will take time before these fully take effect as councils need to incorporate any changes into their planning processes. So more immediate impacts are achieved, we propose identifying at-risk catchments where immediate action can be targeted and developing a national environmental standard, which can take effect as soon as it is complete.

Find out more: More information on the Government’s Essential Freshwater work programme is available on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.   |   Published October 2018. INFO 848

This report confirms our freshwater resources are in a bad way and getting worse

Our health, our unique ecosystems, our culture and identity, etc., matter.

The Government’s plan pre COVID-19


The Sequence of Parliamentary Press Releases:


Resource Management Act oversight unit to be established

17 May 2018

Media release from the Environment Minister

A new unit will be established to oversee compliance with the Resource Management Act (RMA) and to improve consistency across councils, says Environment Minister David Parker.

“At present compliance, monitoring and enforcement actions are somewhat variable across councils,” says David Parker.

“The unit will improve the consistency, effectiveness and transparency of council enforcement of RMA rules and decisions.”

Environmental benefits to flow out of new action plan

05 June 2018

A new action plan launched today by farming sector leaders and environment and agriculture Ministers will support the implementation of good farming practices that improve this country’s freshwater quality.

The aim of the Good Farming Practice Action Plan for Water Quality is to have every farmer and grower supported with a farm environment plan. This will help them identify and implement relevant good farming practices for their farm and catchment. It will also enable them to monitor and report on progress.

A farm environment plan can also help farmers and growers to recognise environmental risks and set out ways to manage those risks.

Draft National Planning Standards aim to make plans easier to prepare and to use

06 June 2018

Environment Minister’s media release:

Plans that are easier to use and prepare under the Resource Management Act (RMA) have taken a step closer with the release of the first set of draft National Planning Standards.

“The aim is to make plans simpler and more efficient to prepare, and easier to understand and comply with,” Environment Minister David Parker said.

“Standardising plan format and definitions is long overdue. It will reduce compliance costs, and address some of the justified criticisms by those who find RMA plans unduly complex,” he said.

Taking action to improve water quality

08 October 2018

Environment Minister’s media release

The Government today is announcing its next steps to improve the state of our waterways, promising a noticeable improvement in water quality within five years.

“Clean water is our birthright. Local rivers and lakes should be clean enough for our children to swim in, and put their head under, without getting crook,” Environment Minister David Parker said.

“There will be a focus on at-risk catchments so as to halt the decline. We’re not going to leave the hard issues for future generations.”

New Zealand leaders stand together in shared responsibility for long-term investment in our natural resources

19 October 2018

A new initiative to halt and reverse the decline of New Zealand’s natural assets was launched in Auckland today.

The Aotearoa Circle is a unique and voluntary initiative bringing together senior leaders from across the public and private sectors. The founding members of The Aotearoa Circle share the fundamental belief that by contributing, benefits will flow to New Zealand, its environment, its people and our economy – and that prosperity comes through recognising the connection of people to nature and our responsibility to safeguard this for our mokopuna.


RMA plans will be easier to make and understand

05 April 2019

Media release from Environment Minister David Parker

Plans will be easier to prepare, use and understand under the Resource Management Act (RMA) with the release of new National Planning Standards.

Environment Minister David Parker said the move would reduce compliance costs and address criticisms that RMA plans are unduly complex.

“Standardising the format of local government plans made under the RMA and the definitions used in them is a step forward,” David Parker said at the New Zealand Planning Institute’s Conference today.

New report signals nine top environmental issues facing New Zealand

18 April 2019

A new report shows the way we live and make a living is having a serious impact on our environment.

Our ailing nature

10 May 2019

Dr Alison Collins is the Ministry for the Environment’s Departmental Chief Science Advisor – Kaitohutohu Mātanga Pūtaiao Matua. Alison reflects on the recently released United Nations report on biodiversity and why we need to care about what is happening in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Around 100 sustainable land and water resources now available on MfE partner website

12 July 2019

Whether you want to know how to start a catchment group, the many ways that good management practices can help your farm or lifestyle block, or the environmental code of practice for the deer industry — it’s all now available on the NZ Landcare Trust website.

Teachers can download resources made for use in schools, including the very popular Hooked on Native Fish series, and the WETMAK (Wetland Monitoring Kit) is also a useful monitoring resource for schools and community groups.

NZ Landcare Trust is a non-governmental organisation that focuses on improving land and water quality across the country. The Ministry for the Environment provides funding for NZ Landcare Trust’s core programme of work.

Comprehensive overhaul of the RMA

24 July 2019

Media release from Environment Minister David Parker:

The Government has today launched a comprehensive overhaul of the Resource Management Act (RMA) to cut complexity and costs and better enable urban development, while also improving protection of the environment.

Environment Minister David Parker said that close to 30 years after it was passed the country’s main law managing built and natural environments was not working as well as intended.

“It is unacceptable for this cornerstone law to be underperforming in a country that values protection of the environment while properly housing its people,” David Parker said.

“Our aim is to produce a revamped law fit for purpose in the 21st century that will cut complexity and cost while better protecting our environment.

Government joins forces with local communities to clean up waterways

11 August 2019

Media release from the Prime Minister and Environment Minister:

The Government has today announced the next step in its plan to clean up our rivers and lakes by supporting community-led programmes, delivering on the Wellbeing Budget’s investment to clean up our waterways.

“Every New Zealander should be able to swim in their river without getting sick,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Sadly, half of our monitored swimming sites are not safe for swimming.

“Today, we are focusing on cleaning up the Kaipara, the largest estuary in New Zealand, showing how it will be done – a unified effort led by the community, with Government support.

Government launches action plan for healthy waterways

05 September 2019

Media release from the Environment Minister:

The Government is taking action to stop the degradation of our waterways and clean up our rivers and lakes within a generation.

“Our rivers, lakes and wetlands are under serious threat after years of neglect. We can’t continue to go on like we are. If we don’t fix things now they only get worse and will be more expensive to fix,” Environment Minister David Parker said.

“Our Action Plan for Healthy Waterways aims is stop the degradation of our rivers and lakes, achieve a noticeable improvement in five years and restore our waterways within a generation.

“Many of the places we swam as kids are not safe to swim anymore. That’s not good enough. Our plan will stop things getting worse and start to reverse the damage.

Resource Management Review Panel announced

09 September 2019

Environment Minister David Parker has announced the Resource Management Review Panel for the Government’s comprehensive review of the RMA. The review was announced in July.

Resource Management Amendment Bill passes first reading

27 September 2019

The Resource Management Amendment Bill has passed its first reading. This is the first stage in the government’s work programme to improve our resource management system.

MfE and Stats NZ welcome opportunity to continue improving environmental reporting

07 November 2019

The Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ welcome a report released today by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton, which reviews the performance of the reporting system created under the Environmental Reporting Act 2015.

Study underway to improve understanding of the health risk of swimming in rivers

18 December 2019

With thousands of New Zealanders heading to their favourite swimming spots in rivers around the country, the Ministry for the Environment is funding research to better understand the relationship between the presence of pathogens in freshwater and people getting sick.

The Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA) pilot study will confirm the best method to establish the link between levels of disease-causing organisms and indicators of them (such as E. coli) in New Zealand rivers to determine the health risks to people in contact with fresh water.

Swimming in summer is a part of the kiwi way of life and we want people to enjoy our rivers without fear of getting sick. Ministry for the Environment recognises that we need reliable information to be able to properly advise people of any of the potential health risks.

Being able to use our lakes and rivers safely is an issue that affects everyone, which is why Ministry for the Environment is working with research institutes (ESR, NIWA and Massey University) and regional councils to determine the best way to provide the data.

Review panel appointed as Overseer improvements continue

11 March 2020

Media release from Ministry for Primary Industries and Ministry for the Environment

Eight independent experts have been appointed to lead a technical review of the Overseer environmental modelling software, the Ministries for the Environment and Primary Industries announced today.

Latest report on New Zealand’s freshwater environment released today

16 April 2020

The Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ have released the latest instalment of environmental reporting on the state of New Zealand’s freshwater – Our freshwater 2020.

Nominations sought for Environmental Legal Assistance Advisory Panel

25 April 2020

The Ministry for the Environment is seeking nominations for the Environmental Legal Assistance Advisory Panel. There are currently five (5) Panel member positions to be filled from July 2020.



Much ado about nothing?


Government announces new fast-tracking consent process

03 May 2020

The Government has announced a major element of its COVID-19 rebuild plan with a proposed law change that will fast track eligible development and infrastructure projects under the Resource Management Act.


, The Coalition Government’s record on freshwater:


“Think big” projects focused primarily on economic growth which are under the direct control of a Minister tend to end badly in terms of the environment.

This change in direction is suspiciously like the previous Government’s Ecan Act (2010).


Dr Peter Trolove




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