Landowners let down by select committee on firearms changes

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Unless further changes are made to the Arms Amendment Bill, pests will be the winners and the environment will be the losers.

Federated Farmers says the Government has failed to deliver on its commitment to farmers and other major landowners that they would continue to have access to the firearms they need for effective animal pest control.

"Labour has the opportunity to fix the Bill over the next few days - otherwise Federated Farmers will feel duped by this process," Feds Rural Security spokesperson Miles Anderson says.

As the Select Committee reported back on Tuesday, landowners with significant pest problems will no longer have access to one of the tools they need to effectively manage their land.

Farmers will have to rely on contractors who are unlikely to be available when required. Pests don’t wait around for contractors to turn up.

"The whole Select Committee has shown both a lack of trust and a complete lack of understanding of the needs of the rural sector on this issue,‘’ Anderson says. ‘’We have publicly backed the Government on this important issue from day one, based on the need to both protect public safety and ensure continuing access to the appropriate firearms for those who have demonstrated a genuine need.

"There are 5 million hectares of  privately owned high and hill country in New Zealand. What these landowners have been left with is the equivalent of painting the Auckland harbour bridge with a toothbrush.

"Where were the Agriculture, Biosecurity, Forestry, Conservation and Land Information Ministers when common sense was needed around this important issue?’’

The Select Committee considers that Department of Conservation and Regional Councils staff can be trusted with these firearms, but a small number of carefully vetted private landowners cannot, Anderson says.

‘’Our farmers would like an explanation why a junior DoC field staffer on freely accessible public land is somehow safer with these firearms than a landowner on thousands of hectares of a back-country station with strictly controlled access.’’

He says bringing in contractors is problematic.

"Will they be available at 10pm on a frozen winter’s night to shoot wallabies off a forage crop? Or up at 5am waiting for a mob of pasture-wrecking pigs? And if they are, how much will they expect to get paid to do it? By the time the contractors arrive the pests will have moved on.

“Instead of a limited number of rural landholders having these firearms locked away in a safe on the property where they will be used, we are being told that having people travelling the country with these firearms in their vehicles, staying in temporary accommodation with no firearms security, is a safer option.

"It is completely illogical," Anderson says.

He say farmers and landowners are being loaded with more responsibility to look after the native biodiversity on their properties than ever before, and at the same time the Government is taking away one of the tools necessary to do so.

"We were astonished that the Department of Conservation that constantly advocates for conservation on private land appears to have simply looked after themselves when it comes to controlling pests that threaten New Zealand biodiversity," says Mr Anderson.

“All Federated Farmers is asking is that rural landowners who can demonstrate a genuine need to use these firearms as part of their business be eligible to apply for an exemption, just as provided for other professional firearms users in the Bill. None of the changes we seek undermine public safety.”

Sam Gardner