By Mark Cameron
OPINION: Before he became Land Information Minister Damien O'Connor said of the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill, "My primary focus has been to ensure the Bill recognises that Crown pastoral lands supports a prosperous high country pastoral farming industry and I'm confident that this new regime proposed by the Minister will ensure that sustainable pastoral farming on Crown land will continue to thrive".
I don't see how he can stand by that statement today in light of what's occurring with the Bill, despite his colleague Andrew Little, who was answering questions from me in Parliament on his colleague's behalf this week, saying he does.
According to Andrew Little's reply the Government believes the purpose of the Bill isn't to impose costs but is to "ensure a partnership" between the Crown and responsible leaseholders.
But a perfectly workable and effective partnership mechanism between the Crown and farmers already exists. Farmers are opposed to this additional measure of extreme regulation because it essentially allows for a takeover of high country farms by stealth, using concern for the environment as a pretext.
The Bill will clearly deliver more costs and red tape for no environmental gain but ministers are completely dismissing farmers' concerns.
It will stop any future tenure review, which returns land with high conservation values back to the Crown, and allows the farmer to purchase the balance at a fair return to the Government.
This has led to much improved outcomes for conservation land, where it has been managed well by the Department of Conservation and Land Information New Zealand, and better control over environmental effects on farms.
But the Bill gives the Commissioner of Lands excessive control over how they use their land for lawful purposes including business, recreation, and tourism, and sets up a parallel consenting and compliance system in addition to Resource Management Act consenting.
Or as Federated Farmers eloquently put it, a "solution looking for a problem" that replaces existing relationships based on trust and reciprocity with regulation, policing and enforcement.
Passing this Bill will be another huge black mark on this Government's already broken relationship with rural New Zealand.
Mark Cameron is the ACT Party's primary industries spokesperson.