Quite when they will get back to considering the merits or otherwise of the Bill is anyone’s guess.
When that day comes though, it will be keenly watched - the discussion paper on the review attracted 320 submissions, and the 161 submissions the environment select committee waded through to reach this point included a form submission lodged by 1733 individuals.
The committee also held hearings in Wellington, Christchurch and in Queenstown, a visit which included trips to the majestic Branch Creek and Minaret Stations.
Those visits helped cement the standpoints of either side of this debate.
Labour and the Greens want the land at the centre of the debate - some of the most scenic in New Zealand - to be managed with biodiversity and landscape values in mind.
So do National and Act New Zealand, but both parties feel that the way the Bill intends to do that alters the relationship between the leaseholders farming the land and the Crown from a partnership to ‘‘regulation and policing’’.
Many leasehold farmers feel that the proposed law changes are a statement by the Government that it does not trust them to look after the land properly, an inference they bitterly reject.
Just a few weeks ago, rural advocacy group Groundswell held its first nationwide event, the Howl of a Protest, which placed the grievances of some farmers about their relationship with an allegedly uncaring government front and centre of the political agenda that day.
Groundswell’s founders are Southland farmers, well-versed with these issues, and entirely prepared to add the debate about the future of the high country to their shopping list of perceived let-downs from Labour.
However, the tussle over the Bill predates Groundswell and is over process as well as policy.
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean has many of the affected farms in her electorate, and right from the beginning opposed the environment select committee hearing it due to the committee being chaired by Green MP Eugenie Sage who, back when she was Minister of Land Information, introduced the Bill at first reading.
To try to allay those concerns, Labour Dunedin list MP Rachel Brooking, Ms Sage’s deputy, took over the hot seat to hear submissions, and tried to keep the process off the rocks.
On Wednesday Ms Brooking reported back to Parliament with, ironically, Jacqui Dean in the Speaker’s chair.
‘‘Five percent of the country is high country land so that means it’s about 10% of the South Island,’’ Ms Brooking said.
‘‘In any comments of the iconic nature of this, I’m going to be thinking of Otago but I acknowledge other members here will be thinking about their parts of Te Wai Pounamu.’’
She went on to discuss the importance of sustainable farming practices, the adding of consideration of the viewpoint of mana whenua to management of the land, and the Bill’s intention to introduce farm management plans.
‘‘We were also working on the consenting regime ... there were a lot of changes made by the select committee, and a lot of that I would attribute to the time spent on those farms and engaging with all the different farmers that we spoke to in the submission process.’’
Mrs Dean has not spoken in the debate, but Coromandel MP Scott Simpson made sure she was front and centre of his arguments against the Bill.
‘‘She has been a strident, passionate advocate for the leaseholders,’’ he said.
‘‘She has done an outstanding job, in my view, representing them not only in this Parliament, on the select committee, but actually collecting their views, their opinions, and their heartfelt messages of concern and frustration with this current Labour Government.’’
Mrs Dean spent the best part of a year visiting high country stations and listening to farmers.
She and her colleagues remain to be convinced that it is a given that the Wellington-based Department of Conservation would be a better guardian of these rugged landscapes than the families whose livelihood depends on them remaining healthy and productive.
Pest control (both animal and plant), fire control, erosion control, and water management are among the many issues afflicting these properties
This reform process runs parallel with the overhaul of the Resource Management Act, and the Bill’s new sponsor, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor,
He also said he wanted greater certainty about public access rights, and a supplementary order paper to amend the Bill was being prepared.
Mr O’Connor was at pains to stress that little would change for leaseholders, but farmers — and opposition MPs for that matter — remain to be convinced.
The committee stage of the Bill, when Parliament finally reaches that point, is poised to be a lengthy and bruising battle.
Lock the doors
Parliament is due to resume sitting next week, although Covid-19 will have the final say about that.
Act made its assumptions about the Friday Cabinet decision about whether to persist with the nationwide Alert Level 4 status long before, calling for the epidemic response select committee to be reinstated.
The committee did some valuable work in its first incarnation and could conceivably do so again, but the Government has more pressing issues.
Under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act the minister can make, and recently has, a range of orders, but they are revoked unless the House of Representatives subsequently approves them.
The House has to give its say so either after 10 sitting days after the date the order was made, 60 days after the order was made, or any other period specified by a resolution of the House, whichever is longer.
So, there is a fair amount of leeway available should Delta make the summoning of Parliament problematic, but Labour will not wish to govern without sanction of its action for long.
However, that is entirely up to the vagaries of a virus which has no respect for legislative requirements.