Thursday, 4 September 2014

Amy Adams’s meddling dirtier than the dairying

newtechsampleNational’s environment minister Amy Adams is following up the stellar record of National’s previous environment minister Nick Smith in pandering to the idea that "industrial dairying," Russel Norman’s term, needs to pull its head in.

Russel has been talking down “dirty dairying,” his other term, as one of the country’s greatest pollution problems and getting worse. This ignores that, under current rules, the number of convictions due to dairying is falling, not rising. The number due to council sewage treatment however is rising, not falling.

Therein is a clue to the solution to Russel’s problem, and it’s not to give more power to governments central or local.

Sadly, Adams answer to “dirty dairying” is a government ban on cattle around waterways, and a government buy-out of the land taken out of production by the ban – paid for by taxpayers and ratepayers to the tune of $200 million.

A gift to bureaucrats of land they can never use, and an expensive top-down solution to a bottom-up problem easily solved with property rights.

Russel Norman pays no attention to property rights, but he’s a communist. Amy Adams should pay attention to property rights – they are after all part of her party’s stated principles – but apparently knows nothing about them.

Her assumption, and the assumption of everyone else as ignorant of property rights as she is, simply assume that human production and things like clean rivers are opposites. That production and the environment necessarily clash. That fixing this face-off costs money.

campaignLet me tell you, it’s possible to do it without costing taxpayers anything.

The answer  is not less property rights and more bureaucratic intensification. This is what has produced the problem. The answer is the very reverse.

The answer is not government departments protecting “water quality” in the abstract, as some intrinsic good. It is to protect the quality of actual, specific water flows – giving proper legal protection to all water users.

The answer, in short, is property rights protection under the system of common law we once very much enjoyed.  Elizabeth Brubaker from Canadian organisation Environment Probe offers some examples.


Property rights under a common law regime provides superior environmental protection -- that is, a system of clear property rights as a means by which water can be protected in common law.  No question about that ( I invite you to follow those three preceding links to check that claim).   

When the costs of one's own actions are one's responsibility, a change of behaviour is greatly encouraged.  When producers themselves have to pay for their own pollution, a change in methodology of production has to be considered. 

When water users themselves have clear rights in common law to protect the water in which they have property, then looking at it as a long-term resource that merits looking after is going to happen. 

PropertyRightsAnd when neighbours' actions start to destroy that resource, then with their property rights secured rights' owners have the motivation to act in protection of that resource, and under common law they have simple and effective remedies with which to take action -- remedies that simply don't exist under the bureaucratically intense RMA.

Under common law for example, those with recreational or water rights along the Waikato or with rights to fish the lakes of Rotorua or the headwaters of the Tarawera River would have recourse against farmers or pulp and paper mills who polluted the fishery -- whereas with the RMA the polluters get a license to pollute and the affected parties find they have no particular legal standing, and no particular protection in law to protect their resource, common law grants them solutions, standing, and the means by which to protect their resource long-term.

What common law does in other words is give effective legal power to recognised resource users to protect their resource long-term.  If we genuinely want to rehabilitate NZ's clean green credentials, then I maintain the solution is better protection of property rights and the rehabilitation of common law remedies for environmental protection.


And inexpensive.

But there’s a problem, wouldn’t you know it.  In fact, there's two problems -- not dirty dairying, but dirty government.

  1. First problem is National’s Resource Management Act, the RMA.
        The RMA has successfully buried almost all avenues for common law environmental protection.  Despite their proven effectiveness over eight-hundred years, common law measures to protect against pollution are buried under the statutory framework of bureaucratic control set up  by the RMA. 
        To bring back decent common law environmental protection, the RMA has to be scrapped, and replaced by a 'codification' of rational common law principles of environmental protection.
        Simple to do – and just what a party genuinely committed to property rights would do, and would argue for.
  2. Even with the codification of common law, there is still no protection without clear ownership.
        To work effectively, property rights-based environmental protection needs an owner to stand up for their property, yet nearly half of this beautiful country and most of the seabed, foreshore and waterways still have no property rights attached – and rather than improve the situation, Amy Adams now wants to take away the most environmentally strategic!
        Most water, most water rights, and most land, remains essentially un-owned – which means the conservator of record of much of the country's waterways  is a government department. Recent Environment Reports should be regarded as a report card of how well they've carried out the role.

The fact remains that water quality in some places is going to get worse under the current system, however many election-based band-aids ministers throw at it, and it will be "non-point sources" such as agricultural runoff (those that command and control resource management can't so easily control) that will play a large part in that diminution.

Amy Adams slush-fund and ban will do little or nothing to stop that.

The answer is not Adams addled to give greater power to those who value the resources under threat: and there is no greater power in law than the protection of property rights and the legacy of common law -- if only these were allowed to function as they should.


  1. a bottom-up problem easily solved with property rights.

    Even simpler: a non-problem. Not a problem. How about this: it's the farmers' land, and they can do precisely what they like. If Norman wants to swim he can build himself a swimming pool and filter the water as much has he damn well likes - with his own damn mon

    The whole idea of "Dirty Dairying" or "Dirty Sewerage" is nothing but a leftist beatup.

  2. Yes, it's the farmers' property, and they can do precisely what they like with it just as long as they refrain from injuring the property of another.

    That's the corollary of property rights that common law understands, and you don't.

  3. The lawyers would have a field day. Everyone else, not so much. Thanks for playing though.

  4. @Chaz, you say "would." If fact, we have several hundred years of historical evidence on this. The answer is: didn't.
    Thanks for trying, though.

  5. @Chaz: Lawyers may be busy at the outset, but it would settle down as precedents were established. More precedent would lead to more certainty. Contrast that with the RMA, where things continue to get worse year by year, and the army of planning consultants required for any project of significance grows as the regulations get more complex. The precedent that gets established under the RMA is not the precedent of what you can legally do, but the precedent of what new hoops you need to jump through before you can do anything.

  6. "If (sic) fact, we have several hundred years of historical evidence on this. The answer is: didn't."

    The world is a different place now, and anyway, in your much hailed libertarian golden age pollution was terrible. It would be even more horrific now, and you have no compelling argument to suggest otherwise. You would have to sell the waterways/forests/air to someone who cares first, then they would have to lawyer up - a polluter buys it all and hey!). Thanks for playing.

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