Brower book should be read with a ‘pinch of salt’

High country farmers say the views of environmental activist Ann Brower should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Ms Brower’s book on the high country, due out today, will almost certainly repeat the inaccuracies and falsehoods which have characterised her past utterances, says High Country Accord chair Ben Todhunter.

“Since coming to New Zealand in 2003, Ms Brower has waged a campaign to cast doubt on the legal status of high country farms with perpetual leases from the Crown. An accomplished self-publicist, she has used her status as a Lincoln University lecturer to get substantial media coverage.

“Yet far from being an objective academic, Ms Brower came to New Zealand in 2005 from the United States with a track record in environmental activism and for courting media controversy.”

In February 2006, Ms Brower published a report criticising tenure review in the South Island high country, saying “government contractors and government officials are giving away the crown jewels and paying the recipients to take them away.”

Victoria University professors Neil Quigley and Lewis Evans, in a critique of her report, said her claims were “entirely unfounded”, that she had “completely misinterpreted the available data” … and had made a series of claims about the outcome of the process that were “entirely erroneous”.

In late 2007, Australian property law lecturer John Page and Ann Brower published a paper in the Waikato Law Review claiming that holders of high country perpetual leases do not have exclusive possession rights to their properties.

Again, these conclusions were discredited. This time, in a Crown Law Office opinion which described their conclusions as “unconvincing”.

“In fact it would be impossible for the [lease]holder to undertake farming operations without exclusive possession of the land,” said crown counsel Malcolm Parker in his opinion.

Mr Todhunter says Brower’s claims have had wide media coverage, in contrast to the expert rebuttals of her allegations.

He says individual farming families have found Ms Brower’s past actions to be extremely distressing and her new book will add to that distress. Mr Todhunter says Ms Brower’s willingness to play fast and loose with the facts in order to achieve a political goal is foreign to the high country culture where straight talking and honesty are highly valued.

“When an American academic who knows how to work the media challenges your personal integrity, your livelihood, your culture and your role as a guardian of a fragile landscape, it’s both infuriating and disempowering.

“Yet, as a tactic it has worked, especially with those who share Ms Brower’s activist agenda. Despite her lack of experience in New Zealand, she is being treated as an expert on high country land tenure, while respected judges and senior academics – including some of Brower’s senior Lincoln University colleagues – are being ignored.”

Mr Todhunter encourages media to take Ms Brower’s book with a pinch of salt and have it reviewed by such experts, rather than relying on vested interests on either side of the high country debate.

“Many people have a passionate interest in the high country, but passion alone cannot be allowed to determine the future of our precious tussock country. Decisions need to be based on facts and those include the legal rights of existing land holders.”