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Why ACT Believes In Private Property

Why ACT Believes In Private Property

Speech to ACT Scenic South Regional Conference; Rydges Lakeland Hotel; 38 Lake Esplanade, Queenstown; Saturday October 30, 2004.

Who would you rather trust to look after our land? Someone who lives on it, and knows it? Or someone who lives miles away in Wellington and has never been near the place?

Someone whose very livelihood depends upon the land's care and its sustainability? Or someone who gets paid whether the land is cared for or not?

Someone who has poured their blood, sweat and money into the land? Or someone who hasn't done a single thing?

I know who I trust. And I know who I don't.

It was the trust that we had in those who owned and farmed land that made this country great. That was how we prospered for so long - feeding the world from this great paddock in the South West Pacific.

We used to let those committed to land get on and farm it - why wouldn't we look after our producers, the nation's lifeblood?

Well, the sad reality is, we don't hold them in such high regard any longer. How do I know this? Because we simply don't look after them, and we certainly don't listen to them.

Instead, we hamstring them. The sad fact is that they must get Government permission before doing anything.

And what of those giving permission? What do they know of the land? What effort have they put into it? What do they have at risk?

We are clogging up our ability to develop our resources and to prosper.

The Resource Management Act is hamstringing us all. And it's not about conserving natural resources - it is about bureaucracy, lawyers, political processes, and the shifting of power and control away from private landowners to Government.

There's no give and take when it comes to the Resource Management Act - it's all take, and there's no room for commonsense.

In fact, politicians around in the early 1990s - when this Geoffrey Palmer Bill was rushed through the Parliamentary process and put on the statutes - tell me that, at the time, they had no idea of this legislation's far reaching consequences. Even for some of the lawmakers, the Resource Management Act is regretful.

We all have examples of where the RMA has proved impossible. Let me share another with you:

A district plan recently recommended that a solitary rimu tree be "protected" along with the entire working area of a Banks Peninsula farm. As the Banks Peninsula farmer complained: "If I'd known the problem that tree was going to cause me, I would have cut it down 20 years ago".

Such takings mean, not only that the landowner would no longer care for that particular tree but also, that landowners up and down the country view native trees on their land as potential liabilities rather than assets. The incentive is to get rid of them, rather than care for them.

Ironically, in many ways, the RMA discourages conservation. As the Banks Peninsula farmer now believes: it's simply easier not to have native trees.

The best thing going for the environment is private property. Private property ensures that owners care for, and look after, natural resources. Private landowners look after their assets a lot better than bureaucrats and politicians do.

The RMA overturns private property rights, and renders private property subject to political control and direction. Under the Act, political permission - in the form of resource consents - is needed to use your own land as you choose. The costs in time and money are horrific.

Hopper Developments spent $2.5 million and five-and-a-half years getting consent for their $100 million Whitianga Waterways residential development. The direct costs in terms of time and money are substantial, but the lost opportunities are even greater. Many wealth-creating projects never see the light of day because of these wealth-sapping planning costs.

The discretionary political authority created by the RMA promotes a "lolly scramble" approach to resource development. Resource owners, conservationists, rival firms and neighbours apply for and oppose resource consents in the hope of securing an advantage. Instead of resources being swapped in a trade, they are expended in the planning process and consumed.

The process is political and expensive. Much can be at stake, and much gets spent on planners and lawyers and other consultants - the total spent often exceeds the overall value of the actual project. The process restricts trade, saps wealth and renders property rights uncertain.

Political direction of resource use encourages conservationists and protectionists to lobby for the control of other people's resource, rather than simply buying them.

The law of what you can't do gets more and more complicated, and the penalties can be horrific. We recently had the spectacle of motor mechanic Andrew Borrett being jailed for five months. His crime? He had cleared regenerating bush on his property after a landslip. The property was his. So too was the bush. He had bought and paid for it.

But the Waitakere City Council's District Plan declares that landowners can't clear their own land without Council permission. Mr Borrett didn't have it.

It wasn't the first time Mr Borrett had ignored the council's dictates. Judge McElrea declared that Mr Borrett had to "experience the inside of a prison to understand the full reality of his re-offending". The judge denied Mr Borrett home detention because his "crimes' took place at his property.

Waitakere City's Mayor Bob Harvey backed the judge, and declared that society had got beyond the point where people could do whatever they liked on their land. He said it was time the environment got a voice. And, so, Mr Borrett was condemned to jail.

Taking the right to clear native bush from landowners leaves no incentive for anyone to care it. Native bush can be saved from the chainsaw, only to be lost through neglect.

"I will let my property grow over with weeds and won't touch a thing," Mr Borrett told a reporter from Auckland's medium security Paremoremo Prison. Of the jail? "It's a pretty scary place. I'm with a whole lot of crooks and child molesters."

That's what we have come to New Zealand. Jailing people for simply using their own resources, resources that they have bought and paid for.

Imagine if this lunacy were around when our great grandfathers were working night and day to develop our young country. New Zealand today would be even poorer - much poorer. Now, for the sake of our great grandchildren, we must continue to build our country. A head-in-the-sand approach will provide nothing for future generations to reap.

The RMA has enabled extortion, as potential objectors seek payment in return for not delaying or frustrating a development. Councils now require developers to pay local iwi to undertake "cultural audits" of their projects. One developer had to pay $200,000 for just a few weeks' work. Developers have little option but to pay up - otherwise they run the risk that objectors will stall their developments.

I am privileged to lead the ACT Party - a Party that stands for freedom and prosperity. And we can't be free, and we can't prosper, without the freedom to use our own property as we choose.

That's why ACT stands up for private property rights. We don't harp on about getting compliance costs down; all political parties pay that lip service and do nothing. What we need is parties standing up for private property. That's the only way to get rid of red tape.

The ACT Party trusts the people of New Zealand to look after their own property. The other political parties see the answer solely in legislation.

I leave you with one simple message: if you believe in the importance of private property, vote ACT.

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