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Mackenzie farmers' petition

Mackenzie farmers' petition

The government has every sympathy with Mackenzie Basin farmers wanting water from the upper Waitaki River for irrigation but it cannot cut across legal proceedings underway in the High Court, Environment Minister Marian Hobbs said today.

The farmers are petitioning Parliament to honour commitments contained in a 1969 Order in Council which promised farmers some water. That commitment was extinguished in 1991 following the transfer of rights to the old ECNZ and then to Meridian Energy, and the Order-in-Council became defunct.

"The High Court has been asked to determine whether Meridian has rights to all the water in the upper catchment and it would be inappropriate to interfere with the court process," Marian Hobbs said.

She criticised National Party Leader Don Brash's undertaking to give effect to the guarantee by moving amendments to the Waitaki Catchment legislation currently before Parliament.

"To pass such amendments would be unconstitutional," she said. "National is also indicating it is prepared to interfere with existing property rights. The High Court may decide that all the water in the upper catchment is already allocated, so taking away water to give to the Mackenzie farmers would be a huge interference.

"Just last week Nick Smith told his party faithful that property rights had to be recognised under the RMA. Legislating them away as Dr Brash suggests is not on. What next? Would National run roughshod over farmers' property rights to build new hydro dams?

"My colleague Jim Sutton, MP for Aoraki, has made my cabinet colleagues and me well aware of the farmers' concern and we are keen to see an agreement reached with existing users for providing irrigation once the court proceeedings are resolved. The farmers have also had a strong advocate in United Future MP Larry Baldock.

"Any legislative solution for the Mackenzie situation must wait for the Court proceedings to finish. The process set up under the Resource Management (Waitaki Catchment) Amendment Bill is designed to take the Mackenzie farmers' issues into account."

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