Federated Farmers - High Country Field DayAssociate Minister for Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control
Good morning chairman Malcolm Bailey from Federated Farmers, fellow speakers and ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for inviting me to Omarama today to take part in your Field Day dedicated to examining the issues that concern High Country farmers.
Firstly, let me start by saying that I have a great deal of sympathy for the situation you are enduring with the drought.
As a farmer who has been through drought, I know how devastating it can be to have your farming future put at risk by factors completely out of your control.
The Government is taking the situation very seriously and today we have announced several initiatives which will alleviate some of the effects of the crisis here in the south.
We have awarded $48,500 for drought relief work in South Canterbury, and another $38,000 has been set aside for similar relief work in the Clutha district.
Both Government packages comes on top of the $80,000 awarded to Otago farmers in the last month.
My colleague Conservation Minister Nick Smith will also announce today that some parts of DOC reserves will be opened up to farmers for emergency grazing.
Nick Smith is currently flying over some of the drought and fire-ravaged areas in Otago to see first-hand the need for emergency grazing.
He is expected to formally announce a package later this morning.
One of my other colleagues Defence Minister Max Bradford will also announce today that military personnel will be put on stand-by to assist communities as they persevere through drought conditions.
This could involve helping to transport water into some of the most severely affected areas.
These initiatives show how seriously we are taking the situation.
We all hope you see a break in the weather soon and that the south is treated to some decent rain, that is the enduring solution.
I now want to turn to the topic you have chosen to debate today, the Crown Pastoral Land Act.
I have been aware for some time of the rumblings over last year's Crown Pastoral Land Act and I welcome this opportunity today to run through the issues with you.
Let me open with this statement.
The Crown Pastoral Land Act is now 8 months old and entrenched policy.
It is time we all, Government, environmentalists and farmers, moved on from the bickering that has marked the debate over the future of High Country farming.
The Act you now have before you is the best possible compromise that could have been reached between the various interest groups involved in the High Country's future.
Not only does it safeguard your interests, it has provided you with a platform for the reform of the 2.5 million hectares of Crown pastoral land tenure in the South Island.
The new Act is an enormous improvement on the old system, and has opened the way for farming and conservation interests to both be listened to.
That's no mean feat when you are talking about an area as special and as unique as our South Island High Country, an area which all New Zealanders feel they have an ownership of, but which you have special empathy with.
Let's turn now to the question you have posed today.
Are "ecological sustainability" and "economic use" compatible in terms of the new Crown Pastoral Land Act in the long and short term?
I believe they are.
In the 1948 Land Act which was amended by last year's Crown Pastoral Land Act, the emphasis as you all know, was on the "productive" values of the land, and pastoral farming was regarded as the best use of the land.
Over recent decades there has been growing public concern that the natural values of our high country land have been eroded, and need protection.
Whether you like it or not, the environmental lobby has acquired an increasingly vocal voice.
The environmental lobby in this country has moved from being a fringe element to being a concern to many, in fact most, New Zealanders.
You, and I, can no longer afford to ignore or dismiss the representations of the conservation lobby.
The new Crown Pastoral Land Act reflects this cultural change by requiring the Commissioner of Crown Lands to take into account the desirability of protecting the inherent values of our High Country land.
The Government wants to own and protect areas of significant inherent value, and this is something that is now demanded by many New Zealanders.
In the Government's eyes, the Crown Pastoral Land Act is the best possible compromise between the expectations of environmentalists and farmers, that could have been reached.
Let's turn now to the situation of tenure review.
The Act has facilitated the ability to allow for tenure reviews of high country leasehold land, and the freeholding of parts of current leasehold properties.
This is a welcome improvement on the old system, something that you as high country farmers have long called for.
Nowhere in the 1948 Act was there the foresight to cover the need for freeholding.
The right to move from leasehold to freehold is now much more certain, and as I am told more than half of you have taken up the opportunity for a review there are obviously real benefits you can see in this.
At the same time there is no obligation on you to undertake a tenure review.
I invite you to read the Hansards at the time this legislation was being passed.
The Labour and Alliance Parties argued strongly that tenure review should not be voluntary, but absolutely compulsory for High Country farmers.
In other words a sunset clause on the perpetual right of renewal that is currently retained.
Therefore complaints about being forced into a freeholding situation are simply inaccurate, under the legislation that this Government has delivered to you.
Both sides have to agree to the review, and without this agreement the status quo simply remains in place.
Many farmers I know felt vulnerable under the old act; the new Crown Pastoral Land Act has given you the opportunity to create some certainty in your future.
And it is clear that the new Act is helping to speed up the process and time it takes for a tenure review.
Where five years or more was consumed in the past, we're now looking at a much shorter timeline, which is in the best interests of everyone.
Now turning to one of the continuing bones of contention, I am aware that much of the continuing debate is about Clause 14, which deals with Discretionary Actions.
The Clause requires the Commissioner of Crown Lands to consider both farming and conservation interests when considering whether to grant consents for activities such as cropping and cultivation, timber felling, burning and soil clearance.
The objective is not to restrict lessees' rights, but to ensure that the Crown's interest in the land is safeguarded.
This does not mean that Clause 14 erodes property rights.
It simply means that the Commissioner of Crown Lands is now able to give consideration to conservation values, as well as farming values, when considering consents.
In practice, the consideration given to consent applications has not significantly altered.
But I am told that many farmers remain confused over consent requirements.
The bottom line is where the application is for the continuation of a practice that has been done in the past, the consent is usually automatic.
Where the application is for work on new country, consultation with DOC will probably be required.
Obviously this has been a bugbear for some farmers, but the elements of the consent procedure have remained constant through the passage of this legislation.
The Crown Pastoral Lease Act attempts to balance as fairly as possible society's changed conservation values, with the needs of local farmers.
While consensus was always going to be difficult, the act is a huge step forward from the cumbersome legislation which existed before.
In effect, the Act has brought a 50-year-old piece of legislation into the 1990s.
On a closing note, I don't need to remind you that today's political situation is nothing like that of ten or five years ago, and getting consensus in Parliament, particularly when passing legislature, is becoming increasingly difficult.
The political reality of MMP is that minority voices often claim more attention than they perhaps deserve.
The Crown Pastoral Land Act has brought positive outcomes for High Country farmers.
Under another political administration with greater influence from the left, it's highly possible you would not have achieved such a balanced situation.
You only need to look at comments like these from Green and Alliance MPs..... as an illustration.
So, I'd encourage you to be happy with the deal and to make it work.
This region contains many special features, close to all New Zealanders, and as the guardians of the High Country you have a very important role to play in protecting our natural heritage.