Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill divides farmers and environmentalists

Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage
Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage Photo credit: Getty

By Maja Burry of RNZ

Farmers and environmentalists are divided over proposed changes to the laws governing the high country.

Law changes to end tenure review were considered by Parliament last week with the first reading of the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill.

This comes after last year the Land Information Minister, Eugenie Sage, announced plans to scrap tenure review, saying New Zealanders had lost out in a process that saw some farmers on-sell land at huge profits.

Sage said the Bill provides the framework for pastoral leaseholders to continue to farm while safeguarding unique and precious landscapes.

But the High Country Accord Trust, made up of South Island farmers, said the Bill was poorly drafted and placed a number of absurd limitations on day-to-day farming activities for pastoral leaseholders.

The accord's chair, Philip Todhunter, said if the changes were brought into law, farmers would be bogged down in red tape and environmental outcomes would go backwards.

"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 Todhunter.

Forest and Bird has welcomed the Government's plans to cap tenure review, but it said the Bill needed to be strengthened before it could stop long-term biodiversity loss.

The group's chief executive, Kevin Hague, said the Bill includes a positive move towards outcome-based decision making, but those outcomes currently still require a balancing of environmental and farming interests.

"Forest and Bird seeks a number of changes to the Bill, including changing the outcomes to prioritise inherent natural values and adding the opportunity for the public to have input into discretionary consent decisions," he said.