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Government Pressures High Country Families

Government Pressures High Country Families

The government is holding a gun to the heads of High Country families to force them to enter the 'voluntary' tenure review process, said Ben Todhunter, Chairman of the South Island High Country section of Federated Farmers of New Zealand (Inc).

"The government has always said that the tenure review process -- in which leaseholders give up their perpetual leases in return for some freehold farm land, handing the rest to the Crown -- is voluntary. If farmers didn't want to enter, they didn't have to.

"But government papers* released recently imply that farmers who do not enter the 'voluntary' reviews might face unjustifiable rent hikes, to a level that could make their businesses unviable," Mr Todhunter said.

"There is no evidence to suggest that rentals on the Crown's High Country land (excluding improvements made by the farmer) are not already at market rates. If there is evidence, we would like to see it.

"For example, the average rents proposed for seven High Country properties now at their review point is $25,290 a year -- to most people, that seems a reasonably large amount to lease bare land without buildings and fences."

Mr Todhunter said the government's real motive for finding ways to push up rentals is not to screw every last dollar out of farmers but to scare them into tenure review, which has already seen vast tracts of the South Island locked up in conservation estate.

"Among the legislation introduced by Government over the past few years is an obligation on employers to reduce workplace stress. Yet the government and its agencies are ratcheting up pressure on High Country families.

‘Rather than holding a gun to farmers' heads, the government should promote the management of all the Crown’s High Country land in a way that is ecologically sustainable, as stated in its High Country objectives. Those who have entered the process in good faith deserve a fair outcome. Those who do not see any benefit to entering should not become victims of government pressure, but continue to be able to provide for their properties in the way that has made them so sought after."

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