A war of words has erupted between David Seymour and James Shaw over the issue of Significant Natural Areas (SNAs).
Seymour accused Shaw of "divisive race-baiting" on Monday after the Associate Environment Minister made a series of comments to local radio station Ngāti Hine FM referring to a "group of Pakeha farmers from down south... who have always pushed back against the idea that they should observe any kind of regulation about what they can do to protect the environmental conditions on their land".
But in response to Seymour's comments, Shaw says the ACT leader is deliberately conflating two separate issues and is "either ill-informed or lying, or both".
In a statement on Monday, Seymour said Shaw had "shown his arrogance and contempt for ordinary New Zealanders in an interview he didn't think would make the mainstream".
He said Shaw "let his guard down and gave us an insight into his contemptuous attitude towards everyday Kiwis".
In the statement, Seymour said: "When talking about Significant Natural Areas Mr Shaw said, 'You've actually got a group of Pakeha farmers from down south who have always pushed back against the idea that they should observe any kind of regulation about what they can do to protect the environmental conditions on their land who are really whipping this up at the moment'.
"He went on to say, 'And I know there was a big meeting up in Kawakawa... where people were getting wound up and a lot of it is because these guys were spreading misinformation'."
Seymour said the "big meeting" referred to by Shaw attracted hundreds of people "from all walks of life", and that "to dismiss their concerns so casually shows an arrogance and lack of responsibility for his badly rolled out policy".
But Shaw says Seymour is deliberately conflating two separate issues: a protest down south by the farmer group Groundswell NZ and the Far North District Council's handling of SNAs in Northland.
Groundswell was founded following a tractor protest in Gore last year to protest freshwater regulations many farmers say are impractical and unworkable. Since then their numbers have grown and they have also expressed concerns about the impact of SNAs on the rural sector.
But Shaw says comments about the group's concerns and what is happening in the Far North are not the same, and Seymour should know this.
"David Seymour is either ill-informed or lying, or both, about the misinformation being shared by a small group of farmers about the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB)," Shaw told Newshub.
"This is not the same as the concerns Iwi/Māori have raised about the lack of engagement by the Far North District Council when they went about identifying Significant Natural Areas as required by the Northland Regional Plan."
He said the requirement to identify areas of significant indigenous biodiversity is not new and has "existed for several decades".
"However, until now there has been no guidance on how this should be done. As such, the extent of the protections currently in place vary. The NPSIB will help change that."
Shaw said the NPSIB had been developed in collaboration with a range of groups including Federated Farmers, environmental organisations, foresters and the Iwi Chair Forum.
"It is widely acknowledged that, once published, the NPSIB will improve the process for identifying SNAs and equip councils with the tools they need to work with their local communities, including tangata whenua. It will set out standardised ecological criteria on how SNAs should be identified and a national framework for biodiversity protection. This will help avoid costly litigation that for years has been happening on a council-by-council basis."
Seymour also said "Shaw himself has admitted the SNA process has been bad", a claim Shaw denies.
"I have done nothing of the sort," he told Newshub.
"There is a lot of good work happening that we want to continue. The point is that this is not consistently true across the country. And so what I have talked about are issues with the process the Far North District Council has followed. The council themselves has acknowledged there are issues here that needed be addressed. The NPSIB will help ensure greater consistency across the country."
SNAs are meant to protect flora and fauna of environmental significance but many landowners have expressed concern the regulations will limit what they can do on their land.
The policy has come under increasing scrutiny recently, with residents in the Far North saying their private land rights are under threat because the council is trying to designate their property as an SNA.
Much of the backlash came after the Far North District Council sent around 8000 letters to residents explaining that parts of their private property will be considered an SNA, with some people describing the policy as a "modern-day land grab".
Following the council sending out the letters, a number of meetings were held in Kawakawa, with hundreds of people attending. A hikoi was also held to protest the policy.
The outcry eventually led to Far North Mayor John Carter meeting with Shaw and the pair agreeing to put a temporary halt on introducing SNAs in the Far North.