It is said that the worst day in Government is better than the best week in opposition. That is because you can actually get things done. Things that matter. Like getting rid of the tenure review policy, under which large tracts of rural land has been privatised and on sold for ridiculous profits and sensitive environmental areas have been wrecked.
The announcement was made yesterday by Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage. She said this:
We’ve seen a very mixed bag in terms of the tenure review outcomes … [t]here’s been a lot of criticism of the process for a long time, and there is strong support across all of the government parties for ending tenure review and moving to a vision of enduring stewardship for our high country.”
So what exactly is tenure review?
David Williams at Newsroom has this scathing description:
Tenure review ends a Crown pastoral lease by privatising some land and setting aside the rest for conservation.
Bizarrely, in some settlements farmers have been paid by the Crown, because greater value was placed on their interest in the soon-to-be conservation land than the freeholded portion. Research suggests the more rare and threatened the ecological values of the land, the more likely it was to be freeholded.
Tenure review has been slammed by opponents as inefficient, ineffective and ill-judged – not least because former Crown land, once freeholded, has been broken up and sold to property developers for massive profits.
University of Canterbury’s Ann Brower estimates farmers have made $275 million by on-selling 74,000 hectares of former Crown land, at a median sale price of about 500 times what the Crown was paid.
And who benefited? How about Peter Thiel and John Key among others.
Some of those who bought land that was formerly Crown leases include Peter Thiel, Graham Hart, and Sir John Key. Some of the most expensive properties advertised for sale in New Zealand are on former pastoral leases.
In numerous cases, land that was privatised by the Crown for significantly less than market value was quickly on-sold for enormous profits.
A Stuff investigation in 2018 found that tenure review had cost taxpayers about $65 million, and, since its beginnings in 1992, had resulted in the privatisation of nearly half a million hectares of once Crown-owned land, some of which had become property developments and luxury golf courses.
The report that prompted the change was summarised by Mitchell in this way:
The decision to scrap the process appears to be driven by an internal report conducted by Land Information New Zealand (Linz), which manages tenure review on behalf of the Commissioner of Crown Lands.
The report said it was unclear what the Crown was trying to achieve with tenure review, and there had been a focus on completing deals.
It said the Crown “does not appear to have a clear strategic objective, other than exiting the [leases]” and the system had been “seen as operational in nature, which has encouraged a focus on processes at the expense of outcomes”.
It concluded: “Overall, the combination of stronger farming links, poor or variable quality ecological advice, and the desire to complete deals has meant development has resulted.”
National’s spokesperson David Bennett has the strange take that it is Government sticking its nose in where it should not. It is a strange take that the Crown has no interest in the future of Crown owned land.
Well done Eugenie Sage.