If there was a single group which had more reason than most to be delighted when Labour was defeated in 2008 it was pastoral leaseholders.
Families who had loved and looked after the South Island high country for generations had their livelihoods and their property rights threatened when the then-government tried to rewrite the rules on their rents.
It was expensive not only in financially but emotionally too.
When pastoral leases were set up, legislation established that rents were based on land exclusive of improvements. That meant the land was the Crown’s but all improvements – including soil fertility, pasture, fences and buildings were the property of the leaseholder.
Then Labour decided to add the amenity values to the equation. Land which happened to be close to a lake, river or have a good view was suddenly deemed to be worth more and the rent was based on that even though that figure was often many times higher than the property’s earning capacity.
To make it worse the main reason amenity values were so high was they were based on the ridiculous prices, well above market norms, that Labour had paid to buy high country properties like St James Station.
A test case taken by Minaret Station to the Otago District Land Value Tribunal backed farmers ruled against the inclusion of amenity values in rent reviews.
By then National was in power and came up with a much more equitable formula for pastoral rents which was accepted by farmers and Labour, or at least that’s what their agricultural spokesman Damien O’Connor said back in August last year.
It’s not what he’s saying now Crown Pastoral land (Rent for Pastoral Leases) Amendment Bill is in the House for its first reading.
But at least he’s saying it without the vitriol which punctuated the speech of his colleague David Parker, who as the then-Minister was responsible for much of the mess which resulted in the test case.
The rural grapevine reckons the seeds which drove Labour’s determination on this issue were planted when Helen Clark’s request to land a helicopter on a high country property to shorten a tramp was declined by the landowner. I don’t know if that is true. But if it is Parker often tramped with her and even if he wasn’t with her on that occasion he’d no doubt have been told the story.
If it’s not true I have no idea what is behind his apparent dislike of farmers.
We were part of a small group of pastoral lessees who met him when he was Minister. He didn’t appear to understand our concerns and made it quite clear he wasn’t prepared to make any concessions.
But I never thought I’d hear an MP say, as he did in Tuesday’s speech:
. . . what comes around goes around and I will never put up with an argument now from the lessees coming to me and saying ‘please respect my property rights under this lease’ because what comes around goes around and this is a licence for a future government to go in and fix these things up and to change the terms of this lease. . .
That is a threat lessees should take seriously because it means when Labour regains power they will mess with rents again.
The message lessees should take is to do all they can to freehold their property through the tenure review process before that happens.
Spot the irony – Labour’s stance on pastoral leases and the anti-farmer sentiment of its former minister, are going to force lessees into freeholding. It’s the only way they can be sure their property rights are secure.
Hat tip: Kiwiblog