All farmers ask is to be respected as guardians of the high country and to be treated fairly by the government. Photo copyright: Paul Collins
The High Country Accord's vision is for farming families to be valued by the government and people of New Zealand as environmental stewards and cultural guardians of the high country. Also our businesses need to be allowed to have the flexibility to remain viable during changing times.
Land ownership patterns in the high country need to be able to respond to changes in economics, technology and in society itself. But if these changes are forced by government, there is much for New Zealand to lose.
We believe tenure review should continue, but on the basis - as promised by the minister of lands to parliament during the debate on the Crown Pastoral Lands Act (CPLA) before it became law - that it would "deliver a fair and equitable outcome to all parties".
It is in everyone's interest for government and other stakeholders to work with farmers in achieving outcomes from tenure review that are environmentally, economically and socially sound.
To achieve this, more emphasis should be given to the CPLA objective that resources should be managed sustainably. At present, government policy is based on the unproven doctrine that changing ownership and removing stock from tussock country will of itself result in a better environmental outcome.
The Accord's main objectives are:
A fair Tenure Review policy
Most tussock country is in good shape after 150 years of grazing. There is no justification for routinely transfering it to the Crown during tenure review. Photo copyright: Antonia Steeg
The Accord believes owners of perpetually renewable Crown Pastoral Leases should be allowed to buy the freehold title to all or most of their land, so long as there is ongoing legal protection of areas with Significant Inherent Values (SIVs).
A fair rent-setting formula for perpetual leases
The Accord takes heart from the election in November 2008 of a new National-led government that has promised to link high country rentals to the earning capacity of the farm, as recommended by the Armstrong Report. Photo copyright: Antonia Steeg
A policy of including "amenity values" in the valuation of the Crown's interest in pastoral leases, when valuing them for rental purposes, was introduced by the government in 2007. This was in direct conflict with the recommendations of the independent Armstrong Committee charged by the government with reviewing the fairness of rent-setting arrangements, and has had the effect of dramatically increasing rents on properties with high amenity values.
Higher rents not only increase the Crown's income from each lease at the expense of the farmer. They force farmers into tenure review, increase the Crown's share of the value of each property and make it cheaper for the Crown to buy out the farmer's interest. They also divert money from the local economy to central government and reduce the farmer's financial ability to manage weeds and pests.
The government should abandon this policy and adopt the recommendations of the Armstrong Committee which said that if case law and the overall intentions of the Act were taken into account, rents for leases had to be based on the value of the land, exclusive of lessees' improvements, for "pasturage", the only land use permitted under the Crown Pastoral Lands Act.
The Accord takes heart from the election in November 2008 of a new National-led government that has promised to restore confidence in the tenure review process. Its promise to link high country rentals to the earning capacity of the farm, as recommended by the Armstrong Report is particularly welcome.
In the meantime, the Accord is supporting a challenge by Minaret Station in the Land Valuation Tribunal to the new rent-setting formulas imposed by the previous government.
Looking across Lake Ohau to the Ben Ohau range. Photo copyright Norman Mackay
In November 2007, the government announced that 65 leasehold properties visible from major South Island lakes would no longer be eligible for tenure review. At the time, 38 such properties were in the review process.
This policy, which is of questionable legality, should be abandoned. Farming families should be permitted to negotiate tenure review settlements in all locations, subject to protective mechanisms provided for in the Crown Pastoral Lands Act 1998.
The new policy was ostensibly to ensure that properties in "iconic" locations were protected from inappropriate subdivision and over-development.
However, iconic high country landscapes are already well protected by district plans under the Resource Management Act. If there is any uncertainty about the strength of protection under a particular plan, it can be provided for in legally binding covenants on land titles during tenure review.