Thursday, May 13, 2021

Another captive agency

The Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998 requires leaseholders to obtain permission before conducting certain activities, such as burning vegetation or disturbing the soil (which includes clearing vegetation, planting trees, draining wetlands, and applying fertiliser, as well as going wild with a bulldozer). It allows the Commissioner of Crown Lands to take court action if these activities are carried out without permission, and allows for remedies including orders to remedy damage, exemplary damages, and forfeiture of the lease. So how many times has the Commissioner done that? None:

An Official Information Act (OIA) response received by Forest & Bird details 10 years of complaints about activities on public land held as pastoral leases. The compliance responses show that Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) has so far undertaken no prosecutions.


The OIA response lists 125 complaints over 10 years, which include soil disturbance, cultivation, spraying, over-sowing and top dressing, exceeding stock exemptions, clearing scrub, burning vegetation, gravel extraction, constructing tracks, wetland clearance, commercial hunting and undertaking commercial tourism activities without permission from the Commissioner of Crown lands.

“We’re disappointed that even repeat offenders have not been prosecuted to date. Forest & Bird has written to the Minister of Land of New Zealand, Damien O’Connor, expressing our disquiet at the past lack of accountability and transparency shown in high country management.” The letter is available here.

No prosecutions means there is simply no incentive for leaseholders to refrain from illegal environmental destruction. But it does make it clear that the Commissioner has been systematically derelict in their duty to protect public property from abuse, and that (like MPI over animal welfare and the Ministry of Fisheries over fishing) they have been captured by the very people they are meant to police. And this is simply unacceptable. If the Commissioner is unwilling to do their job properly, they should be fired and replaced with someone who is.