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Media releases

Media release archive

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2009 RELEASES


Farmers welcome new high country policy
Lobby groups misunderstand tribunal decision
Minaret gives the Crown a week to object
Victory for farmers in long rent battle
Parliamentary Commissioner's report welcomed
High Court confirms lessees' rights

Farmers welcome new high country policy
Released 26 August 2009

The government’s new policy for Crown Pastoral Lands has been welcomed by those who farm the two million or so hectares of high country land under perpetual pastoral lease contracts.

“This is very sound policy. The government has taken into account the interests of the public as well as the rights of the land holders, while achieving a balance between economic and environmental objectives,” says High Country Accord chair Jonathan Wallis.

“The commitment to rebuilding relationships between the Crown and high country farmers is particularly welcome. Coupled with the recognition of the iconic nature of high country farming and its contribution to New Zealand culture and identity, this will hopefully put to an end an unfortunate era in which farming families were under constant attack by their own government.”

Mr Wallis says the lifting of the ban on lakeside properties from entering tenure review was inevitable.

“The previous exclusion policy was based on the premise that tenure review would automatically lead to unsustainable or inappropriate development on what was previously public land. This was completely incorrect.

“Tenure review is a change of tenure from leasehold to freehold while achieving outcomes that reflect the national objectives for high country land. It is not an alienation of Crown land, rather it is a review of land already alienated from the Crown under the pastoral lease system.

“Tenure review does not mean farmers are given a right to develop or subdivide. Both of these activities are subject to district planning regimes under the Resource Management Act.

“No one has ever supported or endorsed unsustainable or inappropriate development, but it is for the district planning process to decide where to draw the line. The government’s initiative to ensure a level of consistency between the various district plans is fair and makes sense.”

Mr Wallis says the three new objectives of stewardship, economic use and relationships are practical and achievable unlike the ones they replace. The key difference is that the new objectives reflect an understanding that conservation and farming can co-exist as part of sustainable enterprises.

“The new policy no longer envisages the creation of a network of high country parks. This reflects the fact that there is already a considerable network of conservation land in the South Island high country and that there are options other than Crown ownership when looking to achieve conservation outcomes,” he says.

“This government appears to understand the need to distinguish preservation from conservation and the need to prioritise what is genuinely in the public interest.”

Mr Wallis says the policy surrounding the rental formula on pastoral leases is still an area of concern. Until the Crown explains the exact nature and intent of their High Court appeal in the Minaret case he says there is an element of not knowing where it will lead.

“If the appeal does not challenge the fundamental determinations of the Land Valuation Tribunal regarding the description and value of improvements, nor the determination of where Minaret Station sits as a pastoral proposition, there are some positives for the station,” he says.

“But if they are seeking to have non-pastoral values included in the rental valuation, this would be highly problematic for all pastoral leases. Depending on the outcome, this would raise the prospect of yet a further appeal with Minaret supported by the High Country Accord representing all other high country lessees.”

Mr Wallis says the prospect of further litigation is disappointing. It means further financial and emotional cost for farming families who have already endured more than six years of uncertainty as a result of the previous Government’s decision to review its approach to rental valuations in the high country.

“Clarifying the decision will indeed come as a benefit for both the Crown and the farmers, but the costs will be substantial. The Government appears committed to seeking a legitimate sustainable approach to high country management, but in so doing they must respect the well established legal rights of lessees.”

For more information, please ring Jonathan Wallis, Tel 03 443 6001

Lobby groups misunderstand tribunal decision
Released 17 August 2009

The decision of the Land Valuation Tribunal in Dunedin not to include amenity values such as lake and mountain views when setting rents for high country farms does not change the law, or disadvantage the public in any way, says the High Country Accord.
 
“It simply reaffirms that the process used for setting rents since 1948 is correct and that the decision of the last government to change that process was incorrect,” says Accord chair Jonathan Wallis.
 
Mr Wallis, who is also co-owner of Minaret Station at the head of Lake Wanaka, challenged the rental valuation of the station in the Tribunal.
 
“The Tribunal’s decision has not reduced Minaret’s rent but substantially increased it.  But the increase reflects the market for a prescribed use,” he says.
 
“The assertion by Forest & Bird that the Government should appeal or ‘risk losing millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money’ is nonsense.
 
“This is not a case of the Crown missing out on rent, or farmers getting a windfall gain, rather it is a case of the Court applying the law to a form of tenure that has been in place since the 1948 Land Act. Similarly the assertion by Forest & Bird that the Land Valuation Tribunal decision ‘severely reduces the extent of public ownership of the high country’ has no basis in fact or law.”
 
Mr Wallis says it is imperative to understand that rent review valuations are carried out on a different basis to tenure review valuations. It must also be understood that tenure review does not involve the alienation of Crown land, but is a review of the tenure of land that is already alienated from the Crown.
 
“The job of the Tribunal was to ensure that the annual rent for Minaret Station was set in accordance with the Land Act. This is a prescribed process, quite different from any normal valuation of a house or commercial property.”
 
He says under this process valuers are required to ascertain the value of the land after excluding the improvements which have been made to that land by farmers themselves.  In some cases these improvements go back 150 years. 
 
The Land Act then applies a set rental to that land ‘exclusive of improvements’.  The Land Act also excludes a number of elements that would otherwise be included in a capital value for open market or sale purposes and focuses on the fact that the land has been leased by the Crown to farmers for pastoral farming.
 
“The farmer’s rights under a pastoral lease are held in perpetuity. The Crown’s interest is subject to these rights granted to farmers. One of those rights is to have the rent fixed in the manner determined by the Land Act, and not in a manner which suits those who have a particular axe to grind from time to time,” Mr Wallis says.
 
“The assertion that amenity values which are excluded from the rental value become lessee improvements is incorrect. The Land Valuation Tribunal decision does not disturb the balance of property rights granted by the Crown to farmers, it merely confirms that the rental value has to be fixed in the manner set out in the Land Act and for a specific purpose -- pastoral farming.”
 
Statements made last week by other interest groups reflect the misunderstanding that Crown land is public land to which the public have an automatic right of access. The High Court confirmed just a couple of months ago in the Fish & Game case that this is not the case and that pastoral lease land has been alienated from the Crown, and that farmers are entitled to occupy their land free of public interference provided they comply with the terms of their leases.
 
“The public’s remaining interest in the land is to ensure that the land is managed in an environmentally sustainable manner.  That is also the common interest of high country farmers and is backed up by extensive provisions of the Land Act and the Crown Pastoral Land Act,” Mr Wallis says.
 
“It is surprising that even now following such clearly expressed decisions of the High Court and the Land Valuation Tribunal commentators such as Forest and Bird should so misconceive and thus mis-state the correct position.
 
“I consider the current Government is clear in its understanding that what is a matter of contract between the Crown and the farmer, a business agreement if you like, is not a political issue to warrant some other method of rent setting unrelated to the purpose of a pastoral lease. This is simply a matter of contract.”
 
In the face of this Government’s apparent recognition of the rationality of the lessee’s case it would be a huge about-turn to appeal a decision they have publicly welcomed as closure to an issue which, in the case of Minaret Station, has been going on for six years, he says.
 
“The rental formula introduced by the previous government has been a huge threat to the successful pastoral operation of Minaret and most other high country leases. It has resulted in a period of great uncertainty and distress to the lessees.
 
“The courts do not respond to policy. They determine the meaning of legislation and apply that meaning to the facts. That is what has happened in the Minaret case.”
 
For more information, please ring Jonathan Wallis, Tel 03 443 6001

Minaret gives the Crown a week to object
Released on 14 August 2009

Minaret Station has agreed that the Crown has until next Friday 21 August to lodge an objection with the High Court if it wishes to do so, regarding a decision made by the Land Valuation Tribunal in Dunedin a fortnight ago.

Station owner Jonathan Wallis says he considers this appropriate based on legal advice he has been given.

For more information, please ring Jonathan Wallis on 03 443 6001

Victory for farmers in long rent battle
Released 31 July 2009

High country families who thought they might be rented off their farms by the Crown are breathing a huge sigh of relief.

The Land Valuation Tribunal, in a test case, has ruled that the Crown should not have added the value of lake and mountain views into the formula used to calculate the rents on pastoral farms.

Jonathan Wallis, chairman of the High Country Accord and co-owner of Minaret Station which was the subject of the test case, simply said “It’s the right answer,”  when he learned of the tribunal’s decision.

“This is a huge relief for my family, but what makes it so rewarding is that this result can be applied to every pastoral lease, not just Minaret. It applies to all the farmers and families who have fought passionately whilst their very livelihoods were hanging in the balance.”

As a result of the decision, the rent on Minaret Station will increase by 400 per cent from the previous rental set 11 years before, but this a sixth of the rent proposed by the Crown.

“For many farmers, the rent sought by the Crown exceeded the gross income from the farm. There is nothing rational in that,” states Mr Wallis.

He says the persistent attacks and treatment of high country farmers by the previous government were cynically motivated.

“The tribunal reflects this in its criticism of the previous government for choosing ‘to direct and demand of its valuers a process that is intended to achieve a particular outcome’.”

The tribunal determined that the previous government’s approach led to an inappropriate conclusion. It accordingly ruled that significant inherent values and amenity values should not be taken into account in determining a rent for pastoral purposes.

Mr Wallis says the tribunal decision has been made in a very different political climate than when Minaret Station lodged their objection to the previous government’s new rental valuation formula.

“We are heartened by the fact that the new government is restoring relationships in the high country, not through subsidy or preferential treatment, but by looking for the most rational and sustainable approach, based on respect for property rights and in recognition that conservation and agriculture can co-exist.

“The tribunal’s decision stops short of suggesting potential legislative changes. However this decision, along with the recent High Court decision on access which confirmed that high country farmers have exclusive occupation, opens the doors for changes to legislation to ensure that this never happens again. Never ever.”

Mr Wallis says the tribunal has recognised the intent of the legislation that surrounds pastoral leases. Recognition of a business agreement between lessor and lessee is critical to a proper interpretation of the legislation.

“It notes that the intent of the legislation is to protect the interest of the Crown in the land, but also the interests of the lessee by transferring the rights to the land in perpetuity,” he says.

“This provides the lessee with security of tenure and occupation. In doing so the lessee assumes all of the risk but also the opportunity.”

Mr Wallis thanked the “first class team of legal, valuation and scientific professionals” for their five hard years of work on the case.  He says he and all high country farming families with Crown Pastoral Leases are indebted to the considerable expertise and leadership of Nick Davidson QC and solicitors Kelvin Reid and Kit Mouat.

“This is a very good day for the South Island high country,” Mr Wallis concluded

For more information, please ring Jonathan Wallis, Tel 03 443 6001

High Court confirms lessees' rights
Released 14 May 2009

High country farmers are pleased with a High Court decision that confirms their rights of exclusive possession to their Crown Pastoral Leasehold properties. The judgement was handed down by Justice Simon France in Wellington yesterday.

“It’s the right answer,” says High Country Accord chairman Jonathan Wallis. “A pastoral lease is alienated Crown land which provides farmers with absolute title. It is similar in many respects to freehold title, distinguishing it from its Australian counterpart.”

Fish & Game New Zealand had sought a declaratory judgement, to clarify whether lessees had exclusive possession. Mr Wallis says the Crown and farmers had operated on the basis that the right existed. It hadn’t been questioned in the past, because it was the clear intent of the government to grant it when the leases were created.

“Nevertheless, the judgement will provide some reprieve for farmers and families who are also waiting anxiously for the decision of The Land Valuation Tribunal with regard to the formula used by the Crown to set their rents.”

In the High Court, Fish & Game cited the work of Lincoln University lecturer Dr Ann Brower who had argued that based on Australian case law pastoral leases did not confer exclusive occupation.

“Although Dr Brower’s work has been largely dismissed by leading New Zealand authorities it has been widely used as the basis for attacks on the high country community. It has polarised views and undermined longstanding relationships based on trust and respect,” he says.

“Dr Brower is entitled to her professional opinion, but so too is the High Court. Questions now have to be asked about the validity of her other published works and her role in teaching the land management professionals of the future.”

Mr Wallis says her campaign, along with persistent attacks on the legal status of their leases by the previous government, had come at a huge emotional cost for high country farming families. This had made them increasingly reliant on expert legal advice via the collective structure of the High Country Accord.

“We are extremely fortunate to have the considerable expertise of Nick Davidson QC and solicitors Kit Mouat and Bridget Ross. They have repeatedly proved themselves, leaving no stone unturned, in protecting our legal rights.

“I just hope this new government is willing to listen and respect what is legally and morally correct by honoring the lease contracts and the legislation that governs them. This is not about how the law should be – it’s about how it is.”

Mr Wallis says high country farmers were somewhat bemused by the argument advanced by Fish & Game, that a pastoral lease is not a lease - it just likes to call itself one.

“Less amusing was the lack of evidence that responsible members of the public have difficulty gaining access to the high country. High country farmers recognise the public interest in the high country and are more than willing to grant access, subject to safety, environmental and farm concerns.”

In the wake of the High Court decision, the Accord has questioned the decision of Fish and Game – a public entity established under the Conservation Act 1987 – to ignore the advice of the Crown Law Office and to take proceedings against the Crown and farmers.

“Was this a misappropriation of public funds?,” asks Mr Wallis.

“Certainly, the precious funds generated from fish and game license fees used to prosecute the case would have been much better used to protect and establish habitat for our fish and game. And the taxpayer funds used to defend the Crown’s position could also have been much better used in these trying times.

“From a farmer’s point of view, the huge sums used to defend our position were needed to maintain the high country environment and to build our farming businesses.

“For almost a century license holders have recognised that access to private land is a privelege and not a right and have respected the goodwill and relationships established with farmers. Many Fish & Game members will be now asking whether this costly exercise is the result of a personal crusade by a national executive that has become distanced from the views of its grassroots membership.

“On the opening morning of the duck shooting season this May the ponds at Minaret Station [the Wallis family owns Minaret] were open to licensed duck shooters regardless of the destructive process before the courts. I do not consider Fish and Game members should necessarily be accountable for the actions of their national council.”

He says the Accord strongly supports fostering and, where applicable, improving access to the high country. This process should respect property rights, not ignore them, and should be directed through the Walking Access Commission appointed last month.

“A huge part of farming is the management of recreation. High Country farmers respect this and pride themselves as land managers linking the public to the land and our heritage.

“Here lies the quandary … does the alternative of returning land to full Crown ownership and control restore and improve access or does it simply add cost and complicate a system that is already working harmoniously.”

For more information, please contact Jonathan Wallis, Tel 03 443 6001

Parliamentary Commissioner's report welcomed
Released 7 April 2009

The High Country Accord has welcomed the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report on the high country.

“Three years ago the Accord asked the commissioner to look at high country tenure review because we were concerned that the government’s policies were not resulting in the best possible outcomes for farmers, the public or the environment,” says Accord chairman Jonathan Wallis.

“We are therefore delighted that the Commissioner wants tenure review to continue and has made useful recommendations to ensure balanced outcomes are achieved.”

He says both the Accord and the Commissioner had identified that a single word in the Crown Pastoral Lands Act lay at the heart of the issues surrounding tenure review.

“The Act says land with conservation values should ‘preferably’ be returned to full Crown ownership and control. Because of this, vast areas of tussock country that benefit from sustainable grazing have been transferred to the Crown, to be maintained at Department of Conservation expense. And New Zealand has been looking at losing its Merino wool industry and high country pastoral farming heritage for little conservation gain.”

By removing the word ‘preferably’ from the Act, other flexible mechanisms – like covenants – could be used to ensure that the land remains productive and is managed sustainably.

“The Accord welcomes this recognition that conservation and environmental outcomes benefiting the general public can be achieved under farmer management.”

He says the Accord agrees with the recommendation that the government should invest more in wildling conifer control, but would like it extended to include rabbits. It is also happy for environmental gains and losses to be reported in the next official review of the government’s high country objectives, but would like productive and social gains and losses to be included as well.

Mr Wallis says the Accord questions the need for a High Country Commission to be set up to manage high country issues as recommended by the Commissioner.

“Some properties have been in tenure review for nearly a decade – more bureaucracy will mean more costs, delays and family stress.

“We accept much of the rationale the Commissioner has used as a basis for this recommendation. But the outcomes she is seeking can be achieved if Land Information New Zealand and the Commissioner of Crown Lands are directed by a rational and effective government policy and take account of the national interest when they negotiate with farmers.”

He says the Accord is aware of public concerns about development on the shores of iconic high country lakes, but believes district plans under the Resource Management Act are the best mechanism for ensuring that any development is sustainable and in sympathy with the environment.

"As the Commissioner points out, development can bring many economic, environmental and social benefits and there are ways to mitigate its effects.

“The Minister of Environment has the power under the RMA to ‘call in’ any major developments that are not adequately covered by a district plan, on the grounds that they are proposals of national significance. The Accord believes these and other RMA mechanisms are the best way to ensure environmental protection following tenure review, especially in publicly sensitive areas, such as along lake shores,” Mr Wallis says.

“This also applies to the recommendation that regional councils introduce rules for monitoring and controlling discharges of nutrients, pathogens and sediment to iconic high country lakes. So long as these rules are based on sound science and RMA principles there should not be any problems.”

Mr Wallis says the Commissioner’s recommendations, apart from the proposal to set up a High Country Commission, are broadly in line with the National Party’s election policies with regard to tenure review. Both endorse the important role farmers can play in conservation and the stewardship of the high country.

“As the Commissioner points out, the undue priority the previous government gave to the creation of a vast network of parks and reserves in the high country is not a good use of limited conservation resources.

“Her recommendation that a representative high country land holding of high conservation value should be created without drawing resources away from conservation priorities elsewhere in New Zealand, will be received well by the New Zealand public. Her report recognises the need for a rational and sustainable approach towards conservation that prioritises what is genuinely in the public interest.”

For more information, please contact Jonathan Wallis, Tel 03 443 6001