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Camping Groups At War

As a renewed focus is placed on the domestic tourism market, 2 lead players in freedom camping continue to battle between themselves.

The groups, New Zealand Motorhome Association (NZMCA) and Responsible Campers Association Inc (RCA) are probably as different to each other as they can be, while still being united over freedom camping.

NZMCA has been around for 65 years and have a membership of approx 50,000 financial members. They are a club made up of owners of Caravans and Motor-homes, and while they have done some good over the years, to many outdoor users they are also causing considerable damage.

RCA has been around 3 1/2 years, and are principally a lobby group. Their support comes from the same group of Motorhome and Caravan owners as NZMCA, but their greatest support comes from other outdoor groups. Hunters, Cyclists, Trampers and water users that camp on shore, all make up that support base. Current estimates to their support numbers are over 100,000, with recent talk about affiliating with a organization that currently represents over 250,000 outdoor recreationists.

For many that is where the similarities cease.

NZMCA promote a program of Self containment Certification which has been around for over 25 years and which is used by approximately 25% of Councils in NZ as a restriction on freedom campers, usually in conjunction with the 2011 Freedom Camping Act. To comply with that program, a RV must have certain facilities which focus on managing the waste generated while camping - it is only available to those in RV’s, with tents, slide-on camping units, Bivouacs and other temporary structures being unable to comply and/or be certified. It provides no education on responsible camping. The focus of the program is waste management -it does not consider any elements of personal hygiene, so showers are not a requirement. Of interest is that NZMCA promoted that this self containment be included in the Freedom Camping Act, but ultimately failed to have it included. This was at a time when a Government Department (Ministry of the Environment) was the administration authority. The Self Containment Standard currently has no administrating or regulatory Authority and has not had since 2012.

RCA was formed initially out of concern that the Freedom Camping Act was being used against the homeless sleeping in cars, which is a defined mode of camping in the Act. It become evident that placing the onus on facilities within a RV, was something the homeless could not comply with, neither could the majority of campers as the Act defined. That was particularly true of anyone not in a Motor-home or Caravan.

RCA then contacted every Council and other stakeholders, as well as Government Ministers. The solution agreed on, was to develop a program that both educated and tested on the expectations and principles of freedom camping. Placing the onus on the people not the mode and made it inclusive to everyone including every day travelers.

The Responsible Campers Accreditation program was developed, and launched in February 2019 after over 10 months of research and stakeholders contributions. Its focus is solely on the people due to the many different modes of camping & in recognition that many non RV campers can not attend on specific sites at night where there are toilets etc, a simpler form of self containment is taught which requires no certification. This includes accepted alternatives to portable camp toilets so all outdoor users can comply with the expectations. By removing the requirement for certification the program becomes inclusive. By comparison of self containment certification’s 25 years, the accreditation program is informally recognized by 1/3 of Councils in just 16 months.

NZMCA refuse to recognize that non RV campers are described in the Camping Act, and therefore continue the “wholesale” promotion of certified self containment to Councils to use to limit all freedom campers, even though only RV’s can be certified under that program. The failure to acknowledge other groups is seen to be an issue which could see the whole Certified Self Containment program suspended. There have been suggestions that it is non-complaint with the Bill of Rights (Due to the small portion of Campers that can comply with it and other issues) as well as allegations that NZMCA are using it to drive their own self interest agenda.

So far this year, complaints have been made against NZMCA with the Commerce Commission which allegedly were about NZMCA’s claimed authority under the self containment program (They have no more than anyone else even if they do fund amendments) as well as misrepresentations that only NZMCA can issue self containment certificates, and that only members can be certified.

It is also understood the Ombudsman has complaints relating to the use of self containment program and amendments made to it in 2017 that were funded by NZMCA.

There have also been claims made about Fraudulent behaviour by both parties. RCA claim NZMCA alterations to online versions of self containment certificates are fraudulent, while NZMCA has made claims to Police that RCA have fraudulently altered documents on their letterhead which has been denied by RCA.

It creates an interesting situation- especially when NZMCA is battling to retain high level relationships with SOE’s and other stakeholders as has been reported by the CEO in his magazine reports, while RCA is being informally recognized by Councils, but unable to even get a seat around high level tables, while representing clubs and other organizations that make up the biggest group of freedom campers in New Zealand.

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