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Why fining Freedom Campers will never work in NZ

We have in recent times seen what can only be called an explosion in complaints about Freedom Campers not paying fines.

In response we have seen a number of moves to hold camper-van rental companies liable for collecting fines, collect fines at the border and earlier this year a members bill to increase on the spot fines for littering from $400 to $1000.

Lets be honest here, none of these moves will ever work while we live in a Nation that has any sort of democracy.

Why I hear you say? the answer is simple.

On the spot fines or instant fines are anything but instant or on the spot, that is because of the Democratic process everyone has the right to. The fines have a 28 day period in which to be paid, add to that another 28 day reminder period and you are already looking at a 2 month period to pay the fine with postage etc.

Now if that fine remains unpaid, the Council or whoever has issued the fine then has to apply for a court hearing / enforcement - typical length of time is 2-5 months, so we are looking at a minimum period of 4 months before any real enforcement can take place. Most overseas freedom campers are gone in 4 months. See the problem?

Now add to that equation that if someone decides to dispute the fine which they have a democratic right to do. A Court hearing takes on average 2-5 months depending on Court District involved.

Naturally Freedom Campers especially those from overseas are unlikely to be in the same area after 2 months if they are even still in New Zealand.

Another reason for non payment and for wanting a day in Court is that Government Legislation (IE, Freedom Camping Act 2011) over rules any Council bylaws. That said any bylaws made that do not uphold the intent of the Freedom Camping Act are quite rightly overruled by the Act.

So what is the answer?

For some time there has been a call to educate Freedom Campers rather than issuing infringement tickets and fines. Unfortunately for us as a nation the emphasis has been placed on Certifying the mode of camping while failing to educate the people doing the camping. Placing the onus on the mode of camping is akin to giving motor vehicles drivers licenses.

Mr Bob Osborne spokesperson for Responsible Campers Association Inc said

“The need for education has sadly been missed while trying to solve issues around freedom camping. Many people even after 25 years still believe that Certifying the mode of Camping is the correct way forward. It has in reality done very little if anything, to solve camping issues.

Australia for instance## runs a self containment program which is based on “leave no trace” principles. As far as the Australian Motorhome Club (CMCA) is concerned all they want from the owner of a self contained camper is a declaration that they have sufficient waste storage so as to leave no trace of their camping once they leave the camp site. Australia recently considered the ‘certified’ self containment as NZ has, but decided against implementing such a scheme due to it being exclusive not inclusive (IE does not involve all campers), has too many limitations and NZ has already proved there are far too many problems with such a scheme.

Our Accreditation program developed with assistance from Councils and other Stakeholders sought to solve a lot of the problems, at times the solutions were so simple we were surprised no one had bothered to look for them previously. The program which was launched in early February has exceeded our wildest expectations and received glowing reviews ie Department of Conservation ”Can clearly see the amount of effort and research that has gone into producing the website and the level of detail is impressive”.

We sought out the problems from Councils and in a collaborative effort sought solutions, these came from Councils as well as members of our own facebook groups. The level of engagement was staggering and demonstrated a clear wish by all that participated to resolve the issues once and for all. Unfortunately some organizations declined an invitation to be involved preferring to continue to promote Certified self containment, these organizations are the very ones that we would expect to be at the forefront of developing alternatives solutions to the ongoing problems”.

So there you have it, why instant fines do not work for freedom campers.

Where to from here?

Well the program developed by Responsible Campers Association Inc is a first for New Zealand and appears to be a good basis going forward.

That they have also developed a “Glovebox Guide to Freedom Camping in New Zealand” shows their continuing commitment to solving the issues.

We look forward to the report to Hon Kelvin Davis from the Responsible Camping Working Group and the recommendation that a program such as this becomes a legislated part of Freedom Camping in New Zealand because frankly without it Freedom camping will continue to be an ongoing issue for not just NIMBY’s but also Councils and other Stakeholders.

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