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Farmers' ribbon campaign mis-judged

22 June 2005

Farmers' ribbon campaign mis-judged

New Zealanders feel strongly about access to water, Associate Rural Affairs Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mr Sutton said the Government's proposals were limited solely to land along waterways ? people would not be allowed to wander willy-nilly wherever they liked across private land.

The core principle of the Government's walking access policy is that people should have access to their commonly-owned assets of water and the animals living in it.

"The existing mechanisms governing public access to waterways ? colloquially known as the Queen's Chain ? are extremely important to all New Zealanders. It's part of our cultural tradition."

Mr Sutton emphasised that the proposed five-metre walkways applied only where there was no current existing Queen's Chain.

"This proposal does not affect in any way any current existing access measure. There is no change to the Queen's Chain and nothing in the proposed walking access policy applies to those existing mechanisms."

However, he said, there were gaps in access to beaches, rivers, and lakes, and it was important to address those. The Government was doing that in the most moderate way ? enabling walking access only along a five-metre strip along waterways where there was no access now.

Mr Sutton said it was clear from what the Government was proposing that there would be little or no impact on farming operations from the policy, and the costs of signage, etc, was to be borne by the proposed access commission. Farmers could continue to use their land as they wanted.

"If you are a deer farmer, you can keep your big fences all the way to the waterway."

He said personal safety has been taken into account.

"This is not willy-nilly access, it's keeping people to the publicly owned resources of waterways. We do not want people near homes or farm buildings. The policy creates buffer zones to ensure that. "The proposed code of conduct would apply to those using the five-metre strip.

"As for biosecurity risk, roads run along many paddocks now, providing far more access than the proposed walking access policy along rivers.

"There is no evidence that personal safety or biosecurity is compromised by the existing Queen's Chain access, existent throughout the country."

Mr Sutton said it had been liability law for many years now that you are not responsible for someone you do not know is on your land. As well, compensation for demonstrable loss had not been ruled out, contrary to what Federated Farmers was saying.

He said that in New Zealand, water and the animals living in it were public property, owned by all.

Mr Sutton said the Government wanted to maintain the Queen's Chain, and where possible in the future, to extend it, where sales to foreigners and subdivisions allowed.


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