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High Country Farmers Seek Fair Deal

High Country Farmers Seek Fair Deal

The majority of High Country farmers are collaborating on a collective approach to achieve positive outcomes from tenure review, says Donald Aubrey, Vice-Chairman of the South Island High Country Committee of Federated Farmers of New Zealand (Inc).

High Country farmers rallied to action following the government announcing in August its modified objectives for the tenure review process.

The farmers have agreed an accord which seeks economic, environmental, and social sustainability for South Island High Country communities. The accord also covers biodiversity, access and Treaty of Waitangi issues

"Two thirds of the 304 pastoral lessees attended 11 meetings through the South Island to discuss tenure review and sign the accord," said Mr Aubrey. "This is an unprecedented mandate to tackle a process that in some cases is disadvantaging farmers."

Nearly all signatories to the accord are members of Federated Farmers but the group is also supported by High Country trustees and many land care groups.

Two-thirds of pastoral lessees have invited the Crown to review their pastoral lease tenure, which involves negotiating with the government to give up perpetual title over a High Country station or "run" in return for freehold title to some of their leasehold land, with the remainder returned to the government. Three properties have completed tenure review, with about a further 20 to follow.

Mr Aubrey said lessees had major concerns about the tenure review process that were not being canvassed in the most constructive way. Pooling of resources allowed the assembly of research and other evidence to correct inaccuracies peddled by interest groups opposed to a negotiated settlement. A settlement gives the public certain rights of access which they do not have at present.

"The key issue is property rights. The Crown's interest is only in the land exclusive of all improvements, which in a typical pastoral lease is only 15 to 20 percent of the total value of a High Country run. The bulk of a lease's value is in the improvements by the lessee over many generations on the land," Mr Aubrey said.

"Of the 2.17 million ha in the tenure review process the Crown wants 1.3 million ha, or 60 percent, of the leasehold land. This is clearly an attempt to nationalise land which has been alienated -- or separated -- from the Crown." Mr Aubrey said the Department of Conservation (D0C) already controls half of all land in the South Island. A further 1.3 million ha will take its holding to nearly 59 percent, meaning fewer animals on the land and less foreign exchange earnings to benefit all New Zealanders.

"Existing laws allow for ways of protecting significant inherent values of the leasehold land without locking it up in DoC. We look forward to the opportunity to talk with the government about these options which at present are being ignored," he said.

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