Northland Farmer Mark Cameron
Northland Farmer & ACT MP Mark Cameron

Mark Cameron: Pakeha farmers are not to blame

Opinion 18/06/2021

OPINION: As a Pakeha farmer myself – I took great offence to James Shaw saying we’re to blame for the so-called ‘misinformation’ around Significant Natural Areas (SNAs). The arrogance and contempt shown towards ordinary New Zealanders was staggering.

His exact words were “You’ve actually got a group of Pakeha farmers from down south who have always pushed back against the idea that they should observe any kind of regulation about what they can do to protect the environmental conditions on their land who are really whipping this up at the moment.” And “I know there was a big meeting up in Kawakawa... where people were getting wound up and a lot of it is because these guys were spreading misinformation.”

The ‘big meeting’ attracted 500 people from all walks of life. To dismiss their concerns so casually shows an arrogance and lack of responsibility for his badly rolled out policy.

The reason people are so worried is because James Shaw has been all over the place on this issue. One minute it’s all go, then he’s telling councils to hit pause, then he’s back on again.

To put the SNA policy into perspective, imagine owning a piece of land, this land is your livelihood, you care for it – not just because it’s how you make your money but because you’re a conservationist. Then one day, the council, at the direction of the Government comes along and says they’ll stop you from using 30 percent of it. It doesn’t matter that you’ve always looked after it. And even though you can no longer do anything with it… you’ll have to keep paying rates on it.

This is what’s happened with Significant Natural Areas. Private property rights are out the window. They can place as much of your land as they want under an SNA. It’s madness.

I’ve been a Fieldays this week – and it’s all anyone is talking about. ACT has had more than 6000 signatures on a petition against SNAs.

Farmers are the ones who kept the economy going during COVID-19, now they’re having their land confiscated and being taxed on farm vehicles. James Shaw should be thanking farmers rather than continually trying to punish them.

James Shaw should apologise to farmers who are the best conservationists of their own land. If you take away property rights, there’s no incentive to be a conservationist. Who would be a conservationist on their own land if the reward is getting your land confiscated? Countries without property rights are environmental disasters.

Of course, it’s not just my friends in rural New Zealand who’ll be affected, it’s iwi and anyone who owns a property. I’ve heard of guy in Central Wellington on the town belt whose property might be designated as an SNA.

ACT believes there’s a better way and this week at Fieldays we announced our alternative to the Significant Natural Areas debacle the Government has overseen.

ACT would remove the requirement for councils to identify Significant Natural Areas through the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity.

In addition, we would create a $10 million fund to provide funding for local biodiversity initiatives, such as the work undertaken by the Queen Elizabeth II trust. 

Protecting biodiversity is a goal shared by all New Zealanders. But SNAs undermine private property rights and the conservation efforts of the people who care most about the environment.

Central and local government should work with, not against, communities to advance conservation across the country in an inclusive and democratic way.

The $10 million Biodiversity Fund that would provide funding for efforts to manage biodiversity on private land. Initiatives, such as pre-existing work done by the Queen Elizabeth II trust where covenants are negotiated with landowners would be supported.

The fund would represent a significant increase in conservation funding and would mark an important step towards a New Zealand in which the natural environment and the principles of a free society are not mutually exclusive.

Mark is a 48 year old dairy farmer from Ruawai, Northland. He's lived and farmed around the Northland region for 30 years. He has a partner, and three children.

He’s seen the calamity of rural mental health and understands what MPI inspectors coming on to your land means in practical terms. No party in recent times has had a professional farmer who actually milks cows every morning enter Parliament. While his family manages the farm, Mark will speak for all those who do.