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Parker: High Country Federated Farmers conference

Hon David Parker
Minister of Energy
Minister responsible for Climate Change issues
Minister for Land Information

9 June 2006

Speech

South Island High Country Federated Farmers conference
Dunedin

Thank you for the invitation to address this conference. Welcome to Dunedin.

Before I start, I would like to acknowledge the passing of Rodney Patterson. My earliest dealings with Rodney were close to 20 years ago when he played an active part in the hearings on the water conservation order for the Ahuriri River. Rodney was a tireless and very knowledgeable advocate for the high country and he will be sadly missed.

There are a number of areas I want to cover today including:
· Progress in achieving the Government’s objectives for the high country;
· Tenure review and valuation methodologies for pastoral leases; and
· Access issues, including marginal strips.

Government’s objectives for the high country

The Government’s objectives for the high country have developed over time and were consolidated in 2003. The objectives set out the wide range of things that we want to achieve in the South Island high country.

We want to promote the management of the Crown’s high country land in a way that is economically and ecologically sustainable. We want to enable productive land to be freed of current management constraints that limit land use choices, so that farmers can put it to the most profitable use. We also want to protect significant inherent values, normally by the restoration of the relevant land to Crown ownership.

As we progress tenure review in the high country, we secure public access through freeholded land to conservation land and waterways. And we want the conservation outcomes for the high country to be consistent with the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy. One such outcome is the progressive establishment of a network of high country parks and reserves, in combination with existing conservation land.

Another outcome of tenure review is the certainty that freehold title gives to high country farmers and their communities as they contribute to the economy of New Zealand.

I am also mindful of my duty to the New Zealand public to obtain a fair financial return to the Crown on its interest in high country land.

So as you can see, the objectives include environmental, economic, and social outcomes. They encompass economic activities – including farming – and recognise conservation values that the Government wishes to protect.

I think it’s worth reinforcing that the tenure review programme is completely voluntary. Holders of pastoral leases can choose to enter tenure review if they wish, and they can pull out of the process at any point. So can the Crown.

It’s also worth reiterating that tenure review is a consultative process. The views of all parties, including the leaseholder, Department of Conservation, and the public are taken into account. In any consultative process or negotiation such as tenure review, competing interests have to be balanced.

As you know, the 1998 Crown Pastoral Land Act (or CPLA) formalised the tenure review process previously conducted under the 1948 Land Act. Most of the 304 leases eligible for the CPLA tenure review programme have entered it.

Steady progress is being made, with 52 of the reviews at or near completion. In addition, there have been some whole or partial lease purchases through the Nature Heritage Fund.

In all, over 300,000 hectares have so far been dealt with, or about 15% of the area of pastoral lease land. While the split between conservation and productive land varies according to the particular property, it is averaging 50/50.

Inevitably not everyone will get everything they want out of tenure review – the Crown does not get to protect everything of importance, quality, or rarity that it wants to. Similarly, lessees may not be able to freehold as much land as they want to. The role that LINZ plays in tenure review is to administer the process, consult with the various parties, and seek acceptable results.

A recent change in the process means that the lessee can provide input and have their views taken into account before formal consultation on a preliminary proposal begins, rather than afterwards, as was previously the case.

This means that the preliminary proposal will now be a much more robust document to consult on and it should lead to outcomes that lessees and the Crown can agree upon. I would like to acknowledge the work of the South Island High Country Committee in suggesting this improvement in the process.

Valuation methodologies
A matter that the Government has been addressing is valuation methodologies for pastoral lease rental calculations and tenure reviews. As you know, we’ve had a panel of valuers looking at this.

I know you are keen to see the result of their review, and I can assure you that you will. However, there are some steps to go through first.

I have asked my officials to look into matters discussed in the valuers’ interim report and to advise me on some of the specific issues raised. I will not be releasing the interim report until I am satisfied these issues have been satisfactorily addressed. I understand from my officials that they will have some progress for me later this month.

Once you have seen the interim report, I am sure you will consider it carefully and make your views known to LINZ. In fact I encourage you to do so.

While I don’t want to comment on the report until I have received further advice from officials, I do want to explain where the Government was coming from when it commissioned this report. We wanted to find out whether the Crown is obtaining a fair financial return on its interest in high country land, both in terms of rentals being paid and during tenure review.

So we want to know whether pastoral lease rental valuations are being established in accordance with the legislation. In other words, is the Crown receiving, and lessees paying, the correct amount of rent for the land being leased?

We also want to find out whether the current methodology used for valuing lessor and lessee interests in tenure review is consistent with the law and is fair to both lessees and the Crown.

It is particularly important to have clarity on the rental issue because the Government is willing for the Crown to be a high country lessor indefinitely where doing so is consistent with the high country objectives, including obtaining a fair financial return on the Crown’s interest. My responsibility to New Zealanders, who are the ultimate lessors of high country land, is to ensure that the rent does provide a fair financial return.

I note that the Crown being willing to remain a lessor is obviously consistent with tenure review being voluntary.

Access issues
Now to access issues. Currently, there is a consultation process working its way around the country looking at access for walkers. There has been controversy about this process in the past, which I don't really want to get into today – other than to say that it is important we focus on the fact that this process is about access to water, not access to land.

New Zealanders have a real affinity with the great outdoors, but there is sometimes disagreement between landholders and outdoor enthusiasts about how and where access should be allowed.

As the emotions surrounding walking access highlight, a crucial part of our national identity is our traditional relationship with, and attachment to, our public lands and waters.

Personally, I think people should have access to the publicly owned resources of land and water. After all, if we recognise the importance of private property rights – and I think that all of us at this gathering do – then we must also recognise the importance of public property rights.

To do this properly, we need to know exactly where that legal access is.

LINZ acts as the custodian of a lot of land and water, and as part of that role is responsible for identifying legal rights of public access. One of the big areas of work for LINZ at the moment is in relation to the identification and recording of marginal strips.

Marginal strips are strips of land – generally 20 metres wide – that adjoin many waterways, such as streams with a bed width at high flow of three metres or more.

They are created whenever the Crown disposes of land, for example, in tenure review. They are also created when pastoral leases are renewed.

Marginal strips provide obvious environmental benefits to the waterways they adjoin, and as well they provide public access along waterways.

Marginal strips exist by operation of law rather than by any administrative discretion. The Surveyor-General and the Registrar-General of Land are responsible for recording them according to the provisions of the Conservation Act. Once created, the Department of Conservation administers the marginal strips.

Under the Conservation Act, marginal strips are identified by putting a notation on the property title. Because the Act doesn’t require the strips to be surveyed, they generally haven’t been.

Marginal strips are public not private property. Just as I respect the private property rights of others, I expect people to respect the rights of the public to use marginal strips.

Over the past couple of years, the fact that not all marginal strips have been individually identified has been the subject of public comment – and Ministerial concern.

Accordingly, LINZ and DOC officials have been working on options for improving the process of identifying and recording marginal strips.

The objective is to inform both landowners and the public of the existence and location of the strips. This would enable adjacent landowners and members of the public to know what their rights and responsibilities are. This is most likely to be achieved by depicting the strips on topographic maps.

However, the task is not small. There are more than 130,000 parcels of land that have a marginal strip notation on the title. Based on an initial desktop survey, approximately 16,000 of these parcels contain or adjoin qualifying waterways.

Officials are looking at how information about the existence and location of marginal strips can be made available in a way that provides certainty for landowners and the public but doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Conclusion
I have some concluding remarks.
As a lawyer, I see pastoral leases as legal contracts that set out the rights and responsibilities of each party. It is important that both parties to a legal contract respect the contractual rights of the other party as well as complying with their own contractual responsibilities. As the Minister responsible for pastoral leases, I will be ensuring that the Crown conforms with the law and its legal obligations. It is my duty to require the same from lessees.

Ladies and Gentlemen: thank you for your time today. The South Island high country is a special part of New Zealand, and you and your families are an important part of New Zealand's history. The Crown and your families have worked in partnership to achieve that. There are a lot of competing interests in this area, but if we continue to work together, I am confident that we can achieve a positive future.

ENDS

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