Friday, April 12, 2024

Three cheers for the long goodbye to SNAs

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Alan Emerson will be pleased to see the back of a certain piece of environmental legislation.
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Let me say up front that I am strongly opposed to the Significant Natural Areas legislation. If someone wants something on my land they can convince me of its importance or pay for it. 

In addition, the current legislation is sloppy, as “significant” isn’t defined. That means councils and iwi can confiscate virtually at whim. There’s no scientific rigour and in some cases the land confiscation has occurred as a result of aerial photos.   

For those and many other reasons I was pleased with Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard’s statement on Significant Natural Areas (SNAs).

Hoggard told councils that “the government has agreed to suspend the requirement for councils to comply with the SNA provisions of the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity for three years while it replaces the Resource Management Act”.

The statement shouldn’t have surprised anyone as during the last term of the previous government, ACT agricultural spokesperson Mark Cameron launched a petition to stop the land grab. 

He issued a statement condemning SNAs and promising repeal. Hoggard has continued that crusade and good on him.

The Hoggard statement brought the predictable bleats from outfits such as the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) and a bevy of lawyers claiming the statement was encouraging councils to break the law.

I’d dispute that. Councils were told to sit on their hands for three years, which is the best advice you could ever give to some of them. 

To then compare Hoggard’s statement to the activities of the late RD Muldoon was, in my view, bizarre.

In my old stomping ground, the South Island’s West Coast, the whole SNA debate became ridiculous. The reality is that only 15% of land on the coast is in private hands so what are councils doing interfering with the property rights of that minority – the minority that provides the wealth those councils enjoy?

Once a SNA has been declared, for whatever reason, a farmer can appeal if he or she has the resources to do so. The level of scientific proof of an SNA is minimal and for SNAs “of significance to Maori”, the burden of proof is also light.

Environment Canterbury describes SNAs as “areas, sites and habitats of high natural, physical, heritage or cultural value” and that, in my humble view, could mean anything.

In addition, who decides, especially when it comes to heritage and cultural value as that is incredibly broad? For example, what’s the definition of “heritage or cultural value”?

Am I going to have a 20-something-year-old with an obscure degree assuring me they have a lifetime of experience in all things before telling me what I can and can’t do on my property? 

Some time ago I had a mate phoned by that 20-something-year-old to be told that there was a stand of totara at the back of the property and they were going to inspect it with a view to classifying it. They were told not to come onto the property.

The reality was, if the council employee had bothered to do any research, that the stand of totara was part of a fenced-off regeneration area of over 100 hectares that several neighbours had banded together to preserve. 

Such is the level of ignorance promoted by some councils.

The Hoggard statement received support and criticism.

The EDS came out describing the Hoggard statement as “the latest in a rolling maul of attacks on the constitution and environment by the government”. It added “it represents Executive overreach in a way not seen since the 1970s”.

You’d hold your breath over that hysteria and one could suggest that the author have a cup of tea and a lie-down.

On the other side you had Federated Farmers and Beef + Lamb NZ, who predictably came out in support of Hoggard.

Feds issued a statement under the heading “Another unworkable farming law bites the dust”.

It said “the suspension of SNA rules is a positive step forward for both farmers and New Zealand’s biodiversity”.

Feds biodiversity spokesperson Mark Hooper told me that “these unworkable rules were universally despised by farmers and we’re pleased to see the back of them”. 

That “farmers opposed these rules because they infringed on our property rights and added endless layers of unnecessary complexity, compliance and cost for very little environmental gain”.

I agree.

The issue is that you had a jackbooted law that, as Hooper said, infringed on property rights and created a bureaucratic nightmare. 

It had no scientific credibility and it wasn’t always run by people qualified to do so.

For those reasons alone it deserved the boot and congratulations to Hoggard for starting the process and please don’t stop.

And if in the process he offended some, well, so be it. As Napoleon was reputed to have said, “you can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs”.

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