Time to regulate freedom campers

Bex Hill is a tour operator in Dunedin. The other day she saw a people mover turned freedom camper vehicle with a self containment sticker on it. The problem is, it was not self contained.

If there is an issue that divides New Zealand during the summer tourism season, it must surely be what to do about “Freedom Campers”, campers whose transport – often an old Toyota Previa or similar – doubles as their home, and who refuse to camp in regular camping grounds. For many such campers the vehicle is also where they claim to have a toilet, so that they are able to access camping grounds without sanitary facilities.

The majority of them are no problem and will comply with requests. However it needs to be said that there will always be a small percentage for whom no amount reasoning will work – they think that by some higher entitlement they can be in a particular place and do as they wish. New Zealand, contrary to popular belief – does have minimum standards for self containment in vehicles – they just are not that well known or enforced. They are set out in full below (see New Zealand Motor Caravan Association):


The Standard requires sanitary, safe installations:

  1. Fresh water tanks: 4 L per person per day (12 L per person minimum); eg. 24 litres is required for 2 people for 3 days & 48 litres is required for 4 people for 3 days;

  2. A sink: (via a smell trap/water trap connected to a water tight sealed waste water tank;

  3. Grey/black waste water tank: 4 L per person per day (12 L per person minimum, vented and monitored if capacity is less than the fresh water tank);

  4. Evacuation hose: (3 m for fitted tanks) or long enough to connect to a sealed portable tank;

  5. Sealable refuse container (rubbish bin with a lid).

  6. Toilet (portable or fixed): Minimum capacity 1 L per person per day (3 L net holding tank capacity per person minimum);

A portable toilet must be adequately restrained or secured when travelling. The portable toilet shall be usable within the motor caravan or caravan, including sufficient head and elbow room whenever required, even with the bed made up.  Where permanent toilets are installed, this shall be in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and comply with the sanitary requirements in section 3 of the Standard (plumbing requirements).

When these conditions are met, a portable toilet may be used externally e.g. within a toilet tent or awning, where it is appropriate and convenient to do so.

I had time for them, but now my patience – and I think that of many many New Zealanders – is running out. It is time to regulate their vehicles as being supposedly fit for over nighting in places where camping is generally forbidden is often not what one thinks it is. Far too often we now hear of campers becoming aggressive when challenged about the suitability of their vehicle to be parked in a non camping area. Far too often we find freedom campers parked in parts of towns and rural areas where they should not be.

Aside from being disgusting and unsightly in the extreme to see other peoples faeces, it is a particularly poor look on the part of a country that prides itself on being clean and green. Yes everyone needs to answer a call of nature at some point and that there will most certainly be cases where it cannot be done in a proper toilet.

Is it inappropriate to remind them that they are in New Zealand and are therefore expected to comply with New Zealand law (which admittedly needs to be clarified and tightened up, but that is beyond the scope of this article)? I think not. When other campers cannot get access to a particular site because it is blocked and the campers are aggressive, whose fault is that?

I do not believe I am being unnecessarily harsh when I say that the only vehicles that should be permitted for this purpose should have an enforceable certificate of self containment. But before we do that, there has to be a regime with appropriate agencies involved and a way of making the enforcement stick. This will require the co-operation of rental car and other rental vehicle agencies, the N.Z.T.A. and local councils.

Then, may be people like Bex Hill will not have to see such sights again.

Challenges for New Zealand in 2019

A range of social, economic, political and environmental challenges loom large on New Zealand’s horizon as the year 2019 gets underway. In a turbulent world and stressed domestic situation New Zealand finds itself trying to live up to the international reputation bestowed on it as a clean, friendly and – for the most part – safe place to visit, live and do business. Addressing these challenges will go some distance towards improving our future. So, what are those challenges?

Environmental challenges are numerous. But they also present some opportunities which are beyond the scope of this article, and which will be discussed at a later time.

  • Our fresh water continues to be stressed by the demand placed on it by domestic consumption, dairying, industrial and other uses. Despite increased acknowledgement of the threat posed to it there is still resistance in some economic and social sectors, who view it as green wishy washy politics.
  • Waste is a rapidly growing problem and despite moves to tackle plastic bags, it ignores significant other sources such as electronic waste, food waste, packaging and our poor recycling. This may threaten our reputation for being clean.
  • The level of carbon in our atmosphere is the highest it has been for 3 million years. Whether one believes in climate change or not, this carbon is having serious effects on the marine environment, peoples health through air pollution and potentially cancerous dioxins

Economic challenges exist both on the world stage and domestically. Some are challenges that are decades old and some are challenges that have only arisen in the last few years:

  • A trade war between the United States and China might have flow on effects for New Zealand and other trade partners of these two countries – no immediate talks on ending the hostilities which started last year seem likely in the near future
  • A continuing reluctance to diversify our economy so that fewer eggs are in the same proverbial basket means opportunities to develop niche sectors such as recycling and environmentally friendly technologies are being passed up
  • New Zealand is supposed to be carbon neutral by 2050, but the Ministry for Environment and the Ministry of Energy and Resources have not given thought as to what a long term blue print for this might look like.

Tackling social challenges might be one of the bigger success stories of the Sixth Labour Government. In adopting a policy of greater kindness and compassion, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took a great step forward in including the more vulnerable parts of society that have been marginalized by market economics. But challenges remain:

  • Whilst moving to address the effects of drugs on society is a laudable action, clearly some such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine have more damaging effects on individual than cannabis – having a referendum on cannabis will not address the need to be firm on the manufacturers, importers and sellers of these more damaging substances
  • Our road toll – what a disaster it has been these last few years and too much of it caused by offenders thinking that a wet bus ticket judicial system is a licence to reoffend. Whilst true simple ownership of attitudes will also go some distance towards lowering the road toll as well.
  • Reform of the labour laws is necessary to stop New Zealand developing a wild west reputation for employing non-New Zealanders and then exploiting their likely lack of knowledge about their rights and responsibilities under our laws

New Zealand has some serious decisions to make in the near future politically. What sort of constitutional system do we want? Is our flag still relevant? Do we want Prince Charles as our head of state?

An alternative New Zealand flag. Designed by R. GLENNIE

The above is a flag design that I conceived over Christmas and New Year. Whilst I supported the New Zealand flag in the referendum, that was not so much because I like the design of the existing one, as I found it suspicious that replacing it should suddenly be a raging priority. The time to have that debate is when we are forced to address the constitutional issue, which I suspect will be when Queen Elizabeth II passes on.


Rebuilding forestry in New Zealand

Re-establishing the New Zealand Forestry Service is a noble move. As one of the larger primary industries in New Zealand, having a purpose built agency to maintain our forests in a sustainable manner is a no brainer. With a plan to plant 1 billion trees over the next several years, the likes of Carter Holt Harvey and other major companies with an interest in timber need to be on board.

Perhaps also the Forestry service can stop more events like the recent flood in Tolaga Bay, Gisborne where clear felling in a plantation left a slope overly exposed. The slope then failed disastrously during prolonged heavy rain and swept mud, floodwaters and timber debris through several properties. Could a forestry agency with oversight have foreseen the danger and taken steps to mitigate it? Quite possibly.

There are not only potential economic gains to be had, but also biological gains. Plantation forestry has been found to support a wide range of biodiversity on its floor. This has been found in the Kaingaroa Plantation on the volcanic plateau of the central North Island where pumiceous soils readily support pinus radiata.

In terms of climate change, whilst the pledge to plant 1 billion trees is very welcome, little has been revealed about how, when and where this is going to happen. Who is going to fund it; do the work; source the appropriate trees. So, I have come up with a solution:

  1. Give prisoners at Rangipo and other rural prisons something to do by getting them to plant the trees – in return this may contribute towards rewards such as extra visits; more R&R time inside the prison grounds and so forth
  2. Buy back land that is too damaged or unstable as a result of hydrothermal activity, or man made activity to be built or developed on and stabilize it with some sort of plantation
  3. Talk to Iwi about possibly allowing them to have buy-in into the forestry
  4. If economically permissible build a railway line to somewhere like Kawerau to get the logs onto rail and sent straight to the Port of Tauranga
  5. Examine whether restoration of native forest can lead to a minor scale logging operation, acknowledging the value of our Totara, Kauri, Rimu and Rata

At least one of these plantations should be a large carbon sink to soak up as much of New Zealand’s carbon based gas emission as possible. Whilst carbon emission trading schemes have constantly run into political or economic problems, perhaps that is more because the politicians and economists are not looking at the larger picture – politicians primary jobs are to represent their constituents and get the best deal possible for them (and of course get re-elected); economists as their titles suggest are better trained to look at the picture from the perspective of how it will affect a country’s economic performance.

Whilst one might say, that is where environmentalists step in, and it is, again, they are advocates. I guess one could say the same for the planners caught in the cross fire, but planners have to look at the overall picture and weigh up the differing arguments. In this case, is a National Policy Statement or other planning instrument on Forestry needed? I think so. No such instrument specific to forestry exists at the moment and having one would enable regional councils to give direction on how they envisage related.

National announce environmental reset

At the weekend, the Leader of the National Party, Simon Bridges made an announcement. National is going to hit the reset button on environmental policy. Whilst this will please the party’s left-leaning Members of Parliament and their supporters, are the grass roots on board?

For a while National has had the Bluegreens. This is a wing of the party that has had an environmental focus in an attempt to shore up the party’s credentials with the Green movement.

For much of the time Prime Minister John Key and his successor former Prime Minister Bill English were in office, the Bluegreens were at best, paid lip service. Little was mentioned about them in the media, and little – unless the media ignored it, which is possible – appears to have been said by the Bluegreens. For the vast majority of National voters the environment was only something to be paid attention to if it meant depriving the Greens, Labour and New Zealand First of votes. That is probably still the case today. It therefore remains to be seen just how on board the party grass roots will get.

National, like Labour has philosophical supporters. Just as Labours are traditionally unions, lower income workers, and those with concerns about social justice, National is typically supported by industry, farming and people who are philosophically conservative. This is where much of National’s funding for its day to day core operations as a party come from alongside member donations and fundraising efforts.

It will be interesting to see what sort of environmental reset National leader Simon Bridges was thinking of when he made the announcement. Will it be a comprehensive one across all environmental concerns – waste, freshwater, marine environment, air pollution, climate change, soil quality?. Or will it be concentrated into a few areas with significant policy announcements intended to be made in these areas?

If National stick to a few key environmental issues that they are prepared to invest in, then climate change, waste and fresh water issues are the most obvious top three. In addressing waste and fresh water, National would be indirectly tackling climate change.

The waste New Zealanders generate is substantial. The potential for burning waste in order to drive a power station generator unit would allow a clean source of electricity whilst reducing the risk of toxics leaching into the groundwater supply – the technology and know how is there. This provides the opportunity for scientific research and significant job creation, whilst at the same time providing New Zealand with electricity.

Just because climate change involves cutting back on carbon emissions does not mean it is an economy killer. It is important for National to recognize this because a significant part of New Zealand’s environmental reputation, which is essential for keeping tourists coming here rides on reducing climate change. Other nations are starting to take significant steps to address this with policy announcements. New Zealand can become a hotbed of research into carbon neutral technology if it wants to, which like waste to energy plants, could lead to job creation.

Finally I have mentioned in prior articles the important contribution of fresh water based recreation. But also there are many obvious medical benefits to be had from clean drinking water and a secure supply. These benefits are too many and too diverse to adequately capture in an article of this length, but New Zealand will be a healthier, wealthier nation for it.

So, I look forward to seeing what Mr Bridges has to say in terms of policy. It is a chance for National to claw back some of the ground it lost at the last election. But if he is genuine, the grass roots will need to be on board. Right now, I do not think they are.


Malthusian theory and New Zealand’s environment

Malthusian theory relates to the idea that exponential population growth and consumption of resources whilst food production remains arithmetical at best eventually causes a Malthusian catastrophe – the decline of the worlds population to a somewhat more sustainable level.

In 1983 with concern over the exploitation of natural resources around the world, and fears of a neo-Malthusian outcome for an accelerating human population, the Brundtland Commission was formed. It had the task of examining the problem on a global scale and how the world might address an increasingly intricate mish mash of environmental issues, economics, societal pressures and politics. It struck a chord with the then Labour opposition in the New Zealand House of Representatives, angered as it was by the antipathy of the National Government to environmental issues here.

The 1991 Resource Management Act was written in partial response to the Brundtland Commission findings. It was also written in partial response to the fact that New Zealand had an obsolete environmental framework of laws that when put together were unwieldy. The Act replaced 69 other Acts and amended Acts, as well as 19 regulations and orders.

In terms of neo-Malthusian theory, the Resource Management Act on its own is not able to change the rate of resource consumption. The ecological footprint of the average New Zealander 10 years ago was large enough that if the whole world had our rate of resource consumption, all of planet Earth and 94% of an equivalent planet would be needed to sustain it. In other words, quite simply our rate of consumption is not sustainable by a large population.

In third world countries adults tend to have larger families for socio-economic reasons including that in their senior years older people have family members who are able to support them when they can no longer work. Every human being needs fresh water to drink, to cook, to clean themselves and their clothes. About 800 million have no access to clean drinking water worldwide. This is perhaps the most important part of understanding how a Malthusian collapse could occur.

No such problem exists in New Zealand with the growth of families. However clean water is becoming a bigger issue with each year due to the large amount used for dairy farming. It has degraded in many areas across the country and the rise of water bourne bugs has increased (see Hawkes Bay crisis in 2016). The advent of changes to hydrology and climatology caused by climate change (man made or otherwise)mean that these issues are going to become more acute with time as weather patterns change how we farm and how we use our fresh water resource. It will not be the cause of wars here, but in arid parts of the world, such as the Middle East water shortages might well cause confrontations involving individual nations military forces.

Malthusian theory has been discredited by some theorists. Some say it is a theory that is too pessimistic. Others acknowledge the socio-economic causes of the theory, but say that there will be positive checks and balances that stop it from advancing, which I assume to mean further work on international treatises including the development of new ones and further advancing existing ones relating to the environment. However a trend away in the countries with the most economic, military and political influence from global co-operation against these challenges means even if all of the small and medium sized nations collaborated to share knowledge and technology, larger powers could undermine it.

So how discredited is Malthusian theory after all? And should we be worried in New Zealand?