Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Keep the MacKenzie brown!

The government is at it again. Having promised no privatisation,1 they're planning to give away thousands of hectares of land in the MacKenzie Country so it can be irrigated - in the process threatening rare plant and lizard species as well as the MacKenzie's unique landscape.

The land is being given away under the tenure review process, which sees holders of high country leases given freehold title in exchange for surrendering the lease on part of the land. This highly contentious process has seen vast swathes of crown land in the South Island privatised, then the farmers make out like bandits from subdivision, particularly around lakes and rivers. The latter has been so contentious that the previous Labour government suspended tenure review in such areas - but National has restarting it, and in this case is planning to give away thousands of hectares of land along the shores of Lake Pukaki. The leaseholders promise they will not subdivide - but such promises cannot be trusted, and elsewhere they have inevitably led to the same result of subdivision, development, and the restriction of public access (meanwhile, the farmers laugh all the way to the Gold Coast at having suckered us again).

But in addition to the threat of development, there's also the threat of irrigation. The lease-holders are planning to do this, calling the area a "desert" which needs to be irrigated if anything is to be done with it. But where they see a desert, I see one of New Zealand's most unique landscapes, home to its own unique dryland ecosystem. Irrigation will destroy that landscape, and destroy that ecosystem, forever. It will be replaced with a monoculture of cows, and Lake Pukaki - one of our purest lakes - will fill up with fertiliser runoff and cowshit. Farmers will get rich - but at the cost of the government, the environment, and the rest of New Zealand, who will no longer be able to visit and enjoy the emptiness and aridness of the Mackenzie country.

We cannot let this happen. The MacKenzie country is a unique landscape which should be protected for the use and enjoyment of all New Zealanders, both now and in the future. Rather than carving it up, the government should halt the tenure review process, and instead use its land in the area to create a drylands park. We should keep the Mackenzie brown, not green.

1 Does not include all privatisation; promise does not apply after first term in office.