Failed High Court action by New Zealand Fish and Game has
provoked a farming leader to question whether public funds have
been misappropriated and others to call for a review of the
Farmer reaction has been fierce and vocal after the High
Court in Wellington on Wednesday found in favour of pastoral
lessees and against Fish and Game which sought a declaratory
judgement on whether lessees have exclusive possession and
giving the public greater access to leasehold land.
There have been calls for the Government to review Fish and
Game's powers, accusations of a waste of money and calls for
the head of its chief executive, Bryce Johnson.
High Country Accord chairman Jonathan Wallis said Fish and
Game was a public entity established under the Conservation
Act, but ignored Crown Law Office advice by taking action
against the Commissioner of Crown Land and farmers.
"Was this a misappropriation of public funds?" he asked.
Federated Farmers said the failed court case should encourage
the Government to look at Fish and Game's powers.
"Fish and Game chief executive Bryce Johnson now needs to
take a long hard long look at his and his council's decision
to waste a vast amount of licence fee money on this
challenge," the federation's high country chairman, Donald
"Federated Farmers consider it also time for the Government
to look at the legislative privilege that enables Fish and
Game to fund such frivolous litigation.
This inappropriate use of licence fee money should not go
unchecked by Government."
Mr Wallis said the money to fund the court action could have
been spent more wisely.
"Certainly, the precious funds generated from Fish and Game
licence fees used to prosecute the case would have been much
better used to protect and establish habitat for our fish and
"And the taxpayer funds used to defend the Crown's position
could also have been much better used in these trying times."
It was understood defending the case cost farmers more than
$200,000, for which they would seek costs.
Fish and Game chief executive Bryce Johnson would not reveal
how much the case cost his organisation, and last night said
no decision had been made on an appeal.
Mr Wallis said Fish and Game produced no evidence that
responsible members of the public had any difficulty gaining
access to the high country.
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said the judgement reinforced the
rights of farmers to get on with the job - "something the
leaseholders have simply asked for all along".
Mr Johnson described the attacks on him and the case as
"nonsense", saying he was acting in his legal role of
protecting habitat for fish and game and fostering public
Fish and game were a public resource and were not tied to
land title, and he was acting in the interest of licence
holders in lobbying for fair and reasonable access.
"I think they [farmers] need to get off their high horse . .
. and think about the status of the land that they occupy."