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Far-reaching Changes Threaten High-country’s Future

Far-reaching changes proposed for the laws governing New Zealand’s high-country put at risk the landscape that promoters of the change claim they want to preserve, says a group of concerned South Island farmers.

High Country Accord Trust Chair Philip Todhunter said the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill, which is in the name of Green Party MP Eugenie Sage, is poorly drafted and places a number of absurd limitations on day-to-day farming activities.

“Under the bill as it stands, we’d need to apply for consent to fence off a wetland or waterway and then another consent to put in a new stock water trough so our livestock can have a drink,” said Mr Todhunter.

Mr Todhunter said the proposed bill is completely at odds with the government’s recent statements that “farmers, growers and producers will play a critical role in New Zealand’s economic recovery”, and also compromised farmers’ ability to carry out plant pest control, which was vital to maintaining biodiversity.

“The stewardship role of farmers working Crown Pastoral Land, particularly our responsibilities for weed and pest control, is at the centre of the current Contract with the Crown,” said Mr Todhunter.

“What the proponents of this bill do not seem to realise is that it is the economic returns from farming and other activities that enable us to meet those responsibilities. Put one at risk, and you jeopardise the other,” Mr Todhunter said.

“If these changes are brought into law, farmers and the Commissioner of Crown Lands will be strangled in red tape and environmental outcomes will go backwards.”

Mr Todhunter described the timing of the bill as extraordinary, and the consultation process preceding it as extremely disappointing.

“Trying to ram this through under urgency, at a time when farmers are already having to deal with the financial and operational impacts of the pandemic, as well as a raft of other proposed changes to the RMA, and regulations governing water reform and indigenous biodiversity shows what Minister Sage and her colleagues really think of the primary sector,” he said.

“If they are successful in implementing this, it will be a sad day for the land, the environment, the families which have nurtured these properties, and the local communities which service regional New Zealand.”

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