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Eckhoff Speech: Property Rights Must Be Protected


Gerry Eckhoff Speech: Property Rights Must Be Protected

Address to ACT Central Regional Conference, Awatea Conference Centre, Palmerston North, Sunday 9 November 2003

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown - it may be frail. Its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it - the storm may enter, the rain may enter, but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement. William Pitt, the Elder, British Prime Minister.

That wonderful speech written all those years ago holds as true today as it did then.

William Pitt recognised that the only power the poor had was their unquestionable right to their own property. The King may not enter nor all his forces. In today's language the Government nor its agencies should have any right to take private property without the owner's consent. For 300 years that concept has ensured the steady advance of civilization. Better still, it has ensured the peace and security of a nation's people.

Today we have a proposal by Government to stand those principals on its head. The Reference Group, headed by a former Meat Board Chair, John Acland, has made many radical proposals, which included public access to private land. The king may not enter but the public may, according to Acland's group. This report will be used as a platform to launch yet another attack on farmers - foresters - indeed all those who own rural land.

The group was carefully chosen to reflect the Government's desire for a predetermined outcome. They got it. The group does believe that the public should get good access to their favourite spot. You see, ladies and gentlemen, the group believes the public have a relationship with the land - your land. This relationship changes as society changes. In other words, when Governments change, so do your property rights.

The RMA under National changed your stewardship forever; you must apply to others for permission to plough, grow, to clear or to plant. That was bad enough - I always believed that we as farmers had the ultimate weapon - access - no longer, it seems.

The report does away with trespass if that person is on your property for recreational purpose. To a burglar it would seem as though their profession is now respectable and state sanctioned. The escalation of rural crime should send a shudder thought us all. The ability to protect your asset will decrease enormously under this proposal if others have some rights to your asset as well. As the population in New Zealand increases so will the pressure on resources, whether these resources is a river or bush or an historic shed or barn or house - it matter little. The public will ultimately destroy the very resource they demand access to. The only way to conserve is through private ownership and control. Why? Because it's worked for hundreds of years. I do not advocate the exclusion of people from the rivers or bush, but I do believe management and control must be applied to ensure sustainable results.

Who is better than the owner to apply that control? It is not so much about the exercise of property rights but the recognition of the fundamental traits of mankind. Human nature cannot be legislated for or against. Human beings are territorial - we fence to precisely what we have bought and paid for in town. Fences are erected not so much to define boundary lines, but to enclose your property - house, children, car and we fence to exclude - a neighbour's stock or to send a signal: you may not enter - unless with good intent.

The result, of course, of a fence is harmonious relationship with your neighbour (in most cases). Disputes are rare because we accept each other's rights and quite literally know where the boundaries are. In other words, our society becomes very civil. Compare that to the destruction of the environment where all is owned by the public and nobody is responsible. Take quickly and move on.

The real benefit of property rights is not based on exclusion but on security. The security of having an exclusive use of your land. Something we all take for granted - or used to. The security of having enjoyment of the land you nurtured, in many cases for generations. There is to me, something offensive about free riders - those who, because they want part of your asset and they have the numbers, can impose their will over your previous rights.

Make no mistake; this new law will redistribute your existing rights without lessening your obligation to the public.

I have many requests for access to my property from trampers, horse trekkers, four-wheel drive enthusiasts, hunters - goat and rabbit shooters - botanists - all are welcomed, as I have never refused permission. My favourite group are the UFO investigators. All have the courtesy to ask. They respect my need to know who is doing what and where and I respect the tradition of saying yes, long may that continue.

When this legislation is passed we will loose that good will from both sides. The public will become more demanding property owners, more protectionist.

Confrontation on a scale never before in New Zealand will occur. That is certain.

John Acland, the Chair of the Reference Group, says he knows of five incidents where landowners have denied access. There are an estimated 30,000 rural landowners. Enough said.

I advocate strongly for the rights of the individual over the power of the collective because I believe there is no better way to live, than in a world where we respect each other - where we respect each other's right to differ from the accepted wisdom of the day. Where we respect the right of a free man or woman to enjoy the fruits of their labours without threat imposed by the majority.

Private ownership is an integral part of a free society. It is the glue.

We should always fight hard to deliver to our children the benefits we received that were once taken for granted, but can be no longer.

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