Visit the full NBR website

Don't let politics decide land use


Last week "Rastus" took me to task in comments at NBR ONLINE for writing that people should have next to no say about how you use your own land and resources.

He explained that if he owned 2000ha of high country he shouldn’t be free to burn it bare and let it erode. He likewise said he shouldn’t be allowed to strip his topsoil until none is left and the land is useless in the future.

“We should all have a say as to how land is used… You are the caretaker of it and no more.”

It sounds good, it sounds caring and most Kiwis would agree with the sentiment. But sounding good, caring and agreeable doesn’t make a proposition true, correct or even sensible.

What Rastus omitted is how “we” all get to have a say. It’s hard to imagine a meeting of four million souls to decide what to do with 2000ha.

And why should the use of 2000ha just concern Kiwis? The entire world should be at the meeting. And future generations. Oh, and don’t forget other species.

That’s the absurdity of the proposition that everyone should have a say.

It is a practical impossibility. And so the “we” is not “us” but the people’s elected representatives. It makes a big difference to the proposition when the “we” is replaced with “government” or “politics.” As in, “government should have a say how land is used”. Or “politics should decide land use”.

But that’s what the proposition boils down to.

The proper question is not whether we should all be having a say but whether government or private landowners should decide land use.

Private landowners have always and everywhere proved superior to government. There’s a simple reason for this: landowners have every incentive to care for and maintain their land. If they don’t, it won’t be worth much.

Landowners don’t strip-mine their soil and render their land useless for the future because it’s a valuable asset. They don’t want to destroy it.

Governments have no such incentive. It has historically been governments that have overused and abused natural resources, not private landowners.

The worst example was the eastern bloc countries, which were environmental basket cases and where all land was state-owned.

Here in New Zealand privately owned land is far better cared for and far more productive than land owned by the Department of Conservation.

When the government gets it wrong, the entire country is affected. Government subsidies to cultivate marginal land destroyed habitat, eroded land and cost money. Private landowners can get it wrong, too, but it’s only the land they own that they affect and, if they are devaluing the resource, they will be bought out.

The real trouble of government having a say over land use is the uncertainty.

Farmers with patches of bush on their land may want to keep it as valuable habitat. But they run the risk that the local council will take control of that bush through planning controls and turn an asset for the farmer into a liability.

That threat greatly diminishes the incentive to care for and manage environmental amenities.

I used to think the problem with political decision-making was that politicians only looked ahead to the next election. I now know that politicians looking past tonight’s TV news is long-term planning.

But the problem is not how best to look after the environment. The real problem is the greedy desire of people like Rastus, who want to have a say over how land is used with none of the responsibility of ownership.

More by Rodney Hide

Comments and questions

If Government has historically overused and abused natural resources, could you give us the five worst examples of this?

So the invisible hand of the free market will save us all will it Rodney? Sorry to have to try and disabuse you again but it just doesn't happen.

The bottom line is always about the pursuit of profit. Its encouraged. Greed is stimulated. Greed is good. Competition is celebrated. Beat the other guy down. Take his wealth.

And in the meantime, most people and the environment suffer. Unless Governments intervene representing the mind of all their people. Its all about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all and posterity isn't it? Governments are players in the market place. Whether we like it or not. Values based Government is our hope.

Better the invisible hand of the free market than the iron totalitarian murderous fist of the Marxist filth.

Values based government! Marxists have no values.

You forget to compare with the murderous stupidity of the imperialists during WW1. Over the top the workers. For King and Country (oh and the fat capitalists at home with their sons on the estate. Healthy ideologies evolve and bigots fade away.

East Germany, Russia, China, Albania, North Korea.

Alan - you aced that one !

Marginal loans board, SMPs, NZ Forest Service, Ministry of Works, Think Big.

Rodney. How did the NZ Forest service destroy land? Generally they improved it. It is today's foreign owners of forests who look only at the current rotation who are takin the short cuts.

Japan, USA, UK...

"Landowners don’t strip-mine their soil and render their land useless for the future because it’s a valuable asset. They don’t want to destroy it."

Sorry, as a landowner I don't agree with you on this one. If my soil was worth more than my land I would strip it off and sell it -- if there was no controls at all on land usage.

Wonder how your kids would feel inheriting a worthless hole in the ground.

Then you don't understand either the market or arithmetic. Your land will always have a value, therefore your land plus soil will always be worth more than your land minus soil.

However, if you are a useless farmer and the soil is worth more to someone else than to you then the nation will benefit from you selling it to someone who will use it more productively.

Right on again Rodders.

Looking forward To your next piece on the unions and how they fund the Labour Party... Whilst keeping their members in the dark as to their finances. Please pour on some brilliant sunlight disinfectant....

Another good one, Rodney.

Good article again, Rodney.
When are you going to re-enter the halls of power?
Looking forward to your forthcoming article on old boys clubs and insider trading deals.

Ask the land owners in Australia who have Government owned reserves as neighbours. The vegetation on the reserves is left grow unmanaged. The landowner worries about about fire risks and tries to make a fire break along the boundary. Even if he/she succeeds in Court ( because that is uaually where it ends up in most states) the risk grows each year from the unmanaged reserve.

So - if as a landowner I am able to decide what I do with my land then (to go the absurd extreme) you would agree that building a pig farm and treating my own waste from it (and others who will pay me for it) is ok in my back yard.
There needs to be a level of control (ie compliance with some sort of plannig rules) to control the extreme end of things. If not I'll have a roadside stall for my pork ready in no time!

Councils should have control only of health and safety - and nothing more in pretence of those aspects.

As for your waste treatment, so long as it doesn't impact your neighbours' properties you should be free to do as you wish.

Ah - so how does one know what impact there will be on the neighbours, how do we decide, when do i ask, who makes those calls, what rules do they follow. Oh dear that sounds like the RMA (how it should work, not how our daft councils try to manipulate it...)

One has a brain. One uses it. When one requires to know something one doesn't know, one consults a specialist. Most times one uses one's common sense.

Who makes the calls - you and your neighbour. If there is an irreconcilable dispute you choose either mediation or a court case just as every business already does and every property use that doesn't require a new construction or resource consent already does. The big difference is that only those directly affected get to have a say rather than every busybody in the area and a bunch of lobbyists who are not.

Could new immigrant rules that require some to make an investment of 500k in NZ business be a factor? Real estate purchases are approved as an immigrant investment, I am reliably informed this is a factor for Asian's who are very strong in the market in Auckland. Why not change the rule to exclude real estate as an improved investment and divert that money into business?

Go for it, Rodney. I would not invest in this country the way it is. It makes more sense to spend our discretionary funds holidaying overseas than trying to do anything here that requires consents.

Yes, most land owners do look after their land. The problems come when they go to sell that land. It is usually more profitable to split the land up and sell it in sections. Thereby depriving others and future generations the ability to own and use what the previous land owner had.
Weak argument Rodney, and as Act has now resorted to being just a party for the greedy, it has lost my vote. Why not come up with some innovative thinking rather than just destroying N.Z.

I am sorry but you were clearly about ACT with your vote if you thought it was greedy and if you ever thought it wasn't about defending property rights.

It's bizarre that you oppose subdivision when that is what allows most of us to own our home and property and I am sure, too, that you would be against someone buying up land and agglomerating it.

I have never, ever heard of a rule that land can never be subdivided so as not to deprive others and future generations of the ability to own ans use what the previous land owner had.

Auckland would not exist!

RE: "Auckland would not exist"...
"Go the Crusaders!"

Property rights. Oh we are back to the Waitangi Tribunal and land theft again.

Spare us your Sixth Form leftist trip and silly nom de plume, 'Spartacus'. Mummy's calling you - it's way past your bedtime.

What a silly name Kane is.

Rodney, you helped create the Auckland Council - a monopoly - that is Exhibit A of the bad things you ascribe to government in your article. Your credibility on land use and property rights would be a lot higher if you had created at least a contestable, if not competitive structure fo local government in Auckland. Your theory that one government would cost less than many is flawed - and the evidence is playing out right now.

We all make mistakes. How about acknowledging that you made one with Auckland local government?

Well, the issue first is whether what we have is better than what we had. I was pleased that the Auditor General's report gave that the thumbs up.

I am pleased with the CCOs compared to what Auckland had and the reduction in managers that was achieved day one.

Is it perfect? Of course not.

But you always have to play with the hand you have.

The concern about contestability and council costs isn't peculiar to Auckland. But unfortunately cabinet did not accept my paper to limit councils to core functions and to cap their spending.

That's the way it is.

Cabinet also required that I not reverse one spending decision of all the previous councils in auckland. And of course, utlimately spending decisions are in the hands of the voters of Auckland and the new council.

Why should I apologise? There was no contestability in council services in auckland before, just fragmentation and duplication.

In the new council we have a structure that can make decisions, e.g. world cup, cf to the stadium decision before reform, and I reduced senior management in auckland more than the entire government took out of wellington central govt!

This week's column by Rodney Hide the neo-liberal economist and former MP has been replaced by a piece by Rodney Hide, budding children's author and fantasist.

"The entire world should be at the meeting. And future generations. Oh, and don’t forget other species."

I think I know what you're getting at Rodney. There's this thing called democratic representation. AKA government. Remember? No, of course not.

Regarding your bizarre reference to eastern bloc countries:

Are you saying that the RMA is bad because it's the same thing as corrupt, anti-democratic government that torche the houses of people they disagree with?

The wonderings of the untrained mind ... truly amazing.

Urghhh. The stench of communitarianism.

Yikes the fetid breathe of the greedy capitalist

« Back to home page