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That Freedom Camping Thing (Part 2)

Following my post a few weeks ago [1] regarding the Freedom Camping Bill (yuck! I hate that name!), I’ve finally gotten around to authoring my submission. Submissions are due on June 29th so if you have anything to say, you’ll need to be quick. You can submit directly online by following this link [2], and I think it’d be great if anyone with an interest did so. (I really don’t care if you agree with me or not, I just think it’s important that people’s views get considered.) You can view the Bill online [3] at the New Zealand Legislation website.

I’ve included my submission in the rest of this post. It was something of a rush job in the end, and I re-wrote about two thirds of it this evening having given myself a few more days to think. I hope it came out okay. [Update 7.55pm, 28-6-2011: There were a few grammatical and cut/paste errors towards the end that really annoyed me, so I made some small changes and resubmitted. Hopefully they’ll take the revised one instead.]

Freedom Camping Bill Submission

A submission for the Local Government and Environment Committee to consider in relation to the Freedom Camping Bill.

This submission is based on the Freedom Camping Bill at its first reading.

Thanks for the opportunity to submit on the Freedom Camping Bill.  I think the intent of the Bill is a good one, in that it aims to give local authorities and DoC the practical ability to police their own bylaws. That said, I also think some parts of the Bill need careful reconsideration.

The concerns I raise relate to how current wording of the Bill might affect back-country tramping and (in particular) tramping clubs that presently spend some time camping on road-sides. This is despite the Bill’s introductory text which claims that it does not target back-country users. I also believe the wording includes some inconsistencies which should be clarified.

My perspective comes from several years of back-country tramping with a tramping club based in Wellington, although I’m not representing any particular club here. I’ve lived in Melbourne for employment reasons since the start of 2011, but still have a strong interest in happenings in New Zealand.

Burying waste on Conservation Land

The Freedom Camping Bill states that its intent is not to target back-country campers, but in Clause 5(1) the Bill also defines “Freedom Camping” as (among other things) being camping “within 1km of a formed road, [or] a vehicle accessible area” whilst on DoC land. The intent of this clause is presumably to cover areas on the fringes of roads where people might stop and camp, but as written it also appears to cover (for instance) some areas fairly deep into parts of the Tararua and Ruahine Ranges to name a couple of examples. These ranges include vehicle accessible areas in the form of 4 wheel drive tracks, often public roads. Some conservation areas can also feel relatively like back-country whilst still being close to a road. The walk to Rangiwahia Hut in the Ruahine Range, for instance, is signposted as 3 hours due to steep and awkward slopes, but the Hut itself is still less than 2km from a road.

Problem: Waste restrictions seem to contradict existing DoC rules

Camping within a significant proportion of Conservation Land that is traditionally treated as back-country by its users might, in fact, be defined by this Bill as “Freedom Camping” despite the policy statement which indicates it “does not target” back-country campers.

For the most part this definition probably doesn’t create practical problems, because most of the Bill’s changes would require for DoC to implement rules in those areas where Freedom Camping might occur. Presumably DoC is unlikely to do this unless it has good reason as defined under the Bill. In at least once case, however, the Bill seems to be inadvertently re-defining back-country policy in these areas with no action from DoC.

Specifically Clause 18(1)(h)(ii) does seem to create a new rule that applies on DoC land for these “Freedom Camping” zones, irrespective of what DoC says. The clause states that it’s an offence to deposit waste onto land unless it’s into a waste receptacle. This is consistent with the existing law for regular rubbish which trampers must carry out, but it’s not presently the case with human waste which the Freedom Camping Bill also targets with its clause. Even according to DoC’s own guidelines [1], toilet waste can be buried in a suitable place as long as there’s no toilet nearby and that doing so meets sensible guidelines, such as being away from waterways. The Freedom Camping Bill seems to change this, saying that it’s no longer okay, but (apparently) only if the perpetrator happens to be camping at the time.

The clause, therefore, seems to be changing New Zealand’s back-country management policy without clear consultation on the change.


Suggestion 1: Carefully consider the Bill in the context of how it might affect back-country management policy through a clause that really seems to be being targeting tourists who camp next to easily accessible roads.

Suggestion 2: Re-consider whether Clause 5(1) should include infrequently used 4 wheel drive tracks on equal terms to regular roads when it refers to “vehicle accessible areas”.

Suggestion 3: Presuming that DoC’s existing guidelines for burying toilet waste are still considered reasonable on conservation land, the Bill should make it clear that digging a hole counts as a suitable “receptacle” as referred to in Clause 18(1)(h)(ii) in such situations, as long as it’s a back-country area.

Bylaws around road-side camping

Many back-country users, particularly but not limited to tramping clubs, camp on the side of roads prior to entering back-country areas. A common scenario for a tramping club might be for a group to leave after work on a Friday night, arrive at a conservation area access point late at night, camp until the following morning, and then start tramping. Arriving at the start of a tramp on Friday night is often desirable so as to maximise weekend time for tramping. Furthermore, the nature of tramping clubs’ interest in visiting obscure places means that it’s often desirable to start and finish trips at uncommon locations which don’t necessarily have reasonable campsites either on or off DoC land.

The most obvious location for camping is sometimes on the side of the road, or (more frequently) at the end of a road that leads into an access point. These roads are nearly always rural, and tend to be well away from popular tourist zones. I can’t speak for those I’ve never met, but it’s my belief from those I have met that members of such clubs are responsible and aim to have minimal impact on any local authority land, just as standard practice on DoC-managed back-country areas is to leave no traces.

The Bill makes clear that when road-side camping is restricted or disallowed, it is Council Bylaws that do so rather than the Freedom Camping Bill itself. As the incoming framework for such bylaws, however, it’s important that the Freedom Camping Bill is consistent and clear about how bylaws should be designed and enforced.

Clause 11(2) of the Bill says that new bylaws must be justified to protect an area, to protect health and safety, or to protect access to an area, and that they must be the most appropriate way of addressing a problem. Furthermore, Clause 11(5) clarifies how local authorities must go through consultation processes when considering Freedom Camping bylaws. These are good rules, but they appear to be contradicted in certain ways by other parts of the Bill.

Problem: The Bill suggests “perceived problems” may be suitable to justify bylaws

Specifically, Clause 11(2)(b) uses the phrase “perceived problem”. Use of the phrase suggests that it may be acceptable to create a bylaw that restricts or prohibits Freedom Camping without having clear evidence that there actually is a problem.

Suggestion: The phrase “perceived problem” should be removed from Clause 11(2)(b), and replaced with text that’s consistent with being clear that problems being addressed must be backed by evidence that proves they exist. Otherwise it suggests, for instance, that bylaws could be justified by exaggerated media reports or anecdotal claims not backed by empirical evidence, and that would be unfair to responsible Freedom Campers who’d like to make use of the affected areas.

Problem: Risks of bylaws being created across-the-board

Schedule 3 and Schedule 4 contain lists of incoming and existing bylaws that will be administered under the Freedom Camping Bill. Many of these bylaws are described as disallowing “Camps other than in designated areas”. I’ve not had an opportunity to read the bylaws in detail, but I’m concerned that at least some councils seem to have decided to restrict or prevent Freedom Camping across the board (with the exception of those specific places they designate), without necessarily considering locations on specific a case-by-case basis.

This may be a practical thing to do when confronted with trying to define places where the problem types of Freedom Campers may choose to camp and cause problems, but such an across-the-board approach, both with the existing bylaws and future bylaws, could result in Freedom Camping being prevented or restricted unnecessarily. It may also contradict Clause 11’s requirements that justification of bylaws be established, particularly if some locations covered haven’t been shown as being likely to experience problems without the restrictions being in place.

Suggestion: Ideally the Freedom Camping Bill would ensure that by-laws could not be made in such ways that restrict or prohibit camping everywhere “except for designated places”. If practicality makes it necessary to allow local authorities to make across-the-board or otherwise wide-reaching bylaws, however, I would like the Select Committee to consider an addition to the Bill that would require councils to consider reasonable requests for exceptions or permits, and to do so in a predictably timely fashion.

Ideally there would be a clear procedure that provides for individuals and organisations to make such requests, and to generally expect a positive response as long as the specified location is one that doesn’t typically experience problems, such as the end of a rural road, and as long as the individual or organisation does not have an unacceptable track record of previously causing problems.

To be useful, such a system needs to guarantee responses from local authorities within reasonable time-frames, preferably within a week or less so as to allow for recreation clubs and others who wish to plan ahead to know when they can expect a response and finalise activities accordingly. Unfortunately it would still not provide for those who simply want to stop wherever they are on short notice, but it would mean that:

This concludes my submission.  Thanks for your consideration.


[1] Minimising your impact: Keep streams and lakes clean. Department of Conservation Website Page, available 27th June 2011.  http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/plan-and-prepare/care-codes/nz-environmental-care-code/keep-streams-and-lakes-clean/ [4]

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "That Freedom Camping Thing (Part 2)"

#1 Comment By gazza On 28 June, 2011 @ 9:28 am

Nice submission.

I could follow all your points and found your recommendations to be practical and well thought out.

#2 Comment By Mike McGavin On 28 June, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

Thanks gazza, much appreciated. I didn’t properly run the suggestions past anyone for feedback for lack of time when I finally got around to writing it, so it’s good to know that I hit the mark with at least one person.

#3 Comment By Richard Davies On 28 June, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

Hi Mike, good sub, similar to FMCs. We highlighted the peverse incentive it creates for councils. They get to keep the proceeds of any enforcement action, therefore I would expect that most will blanket ban freedom camping and then farm those areas for revenue.

As drafted, this is bad news for trampers. Hopefully the committee is persuaded by peoples arguments.

#4 Comment By Mike McGavin On 28 June, 2011 @ 11:11 pm

Hi Richard. Thanks for that. I was hoping that FMC might also submit something. Phil told me a few weeks ago that it was on the agenda.

I toned down my final submission, but I guess I’m more than a little concerned that the Bill’s requirements of by-laws being clearly necessary will only be interpreted loosely, and that we may see many new bylaws which only justify themselves as far as a broad precedent that may already be in place with what the Bill already seems to be accepting in its schedules. Some such blanket by-laws might be reasonable for councils that cover nearly entirely urban or suburban zones, but probably not all.

#5 Comment By Mike McGavin On 4 July, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

Hey Richard, I’m not sure if you were there in person or if this was from the written submission, but you’ve [11] (I’m not sure which newspaper if any).

Richard Davies, of the Federated Mountain Club, said the proposed changes would have a huge impact on trampers who stayed overnight before starting their walks.

Davies said he was not denying that there was a problem and said poor toilet habits were not limited to the side of the road.

”Both in New Zealand and overseas I’ve seen a number of public toilets that are quite revolting and a number of toilets on commercial premises that are revolting too.”

The remedy should not be to rule out a whole class of activity.

Clamping down on those who stopped to rest on the side of the road could also hamper the road safety campaigns which encourage sleepy drivers to have a rest, he said.

#6 Comment By Mike McGavin On 4 July, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

…and [12], which seems to have done a much better job of capturing the concerns.

#7 Comment By Richard D On 5 July, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

Yeah I presented it on Monday and Dom Post and Herald were there. Good that we got some media when the industry groups and local govt seemed to miss out!

#8 Comment By Paddy On 6 July, 2011 @ 9:34 pm

I missed the chance to make a submission .However a comment or two wont go amiss.
My feeling is that this bill is primarily for the World Cup influx of campers . Doc dont have the staff to police(?) this bill in the back country, if it really applies there anyway.The critical areas ie Queenstown and Haast are obvious because of the sheer numbers of freedom campers. I have it on good authority that District Councils in the lower South Island are also struggling to remove abandoned “bombs-camper vans” left on the side of the road by departing tourists. But areas say for example Wairarapa, forest park roadends are well served with toilet facilities although Doc took out all rubbish bins a few years ago because of the cost involved in emptying them!Perhaps it would be better to identify these incoming tourists/freedom campers at the border check and levy a decent sized amount of dollars to cover at least some of the perceived costs.

#9 Comment By Mike McGavin On 6 July, 2011 @ 11:40 pm

Hi Paddy. Thanks for the thoughts. I don’t know about the levy idea. The argument against it (which I expect you’ve heard) is that these tourists already bring big amounts of money into the country. Perhaps it just doesn’t always go directly to all the authorities that manage the places where the tourists pass through. It’s probably also hard to apply reliably — do you discriminate between a backpacking tourist and someone on a 3 week wine tour? What about someone who says they’re doing one thing but then do another? Another risk with a levy is that (some) tourists will start treating it as a right to do what they want and have people clean up after them. That’s something that I’ve often noticed in certain people who pay for back-country hut tickets, or who pay taxes for that matter. They get annoyed that a door’s creaky or an axe is blunt in the middle of nowhere because they think they’ve “paid” for the service. Granted that many of these tourists who’d think that of a levy could be the same tourists who’d be slack with their camping practices anyway. They’d just have another excuse to justify it to themselves, but still… word gets around in the backpacker community.

Yeah the FCB is definitely being rushed for the World Cup, which is a shame. There’s been lots of lobbying and I think Richard & FMC are possibly on to something with the suggestion that local districts want to drive an expected big influx of visitors to paid camp-sites and make sure they get their money’s worth out of it one way or another rather than just waving as visitors cheaply pass through. And the legacy will be the Freedom Camping Act combined with all of those bylaws which turn careful and responsible people into rule-breakers potentially eligible for $200 instant fines (even if few people care any more), and that legacy won’t disintegrate with the Rugby World Cup.

But my main concern with my submission is with how it affects tramping, which is why I was hoping that if the government’s so insistent on pushing this through regardless, and if various authorities are going to pepper us with camp-nowhere-except-where-we-say bylaws anyway, then Parliament might at least add a guarantee to say that some responsible users, without dirty records, who plan far enough ahead, can still be assured of being treated fairly and reasonably and in a timely fashion when they request an exemption from the bylaw. The Freedom Camping Bill really should protect the right to camp for free on public land as much as it helps authorities to ensure people do so responsibly.

On the DoC side, Clause 31 basically says the Director General can appoint enforcement officers, and that those officers can now issue instant $200 fines for breaches of rules (such as camping too close to a ‘No Camping’ sign within 1km of a road or a coastline), or not using a waste receptacle. This is the key difference from the current situation where DoC has to string people through courts to impose any actual penalty, which tends to be impractical and therefore ineffective. In concept I don’t have an issue with this because it’s not changing any rules so much as making it possible for DoC to enforce its rules when it discovers people breaking them. To me it seems likely that the DG will simply appoint enforcement powers to the bulk of DoC staff who work in any situations where they’re likely to meet people on the estate. Think everyone in local visitor centres, all the hut wardens along the Great Walks and everywhere else. There doesn’t even seem to be a requirement that an EO be a DoC employee, so potentially volunteers could also be made DoC Enforcement Officers if a DG in the future considers it appropriate. (I wish I’d noticed that one before I put my submission in.)

And yes, the intent on the DoC side is that it’s only meant to be front-country. It just doesn’t work out that way as it’s actually written. I agree that DoC couldn’t hope to police it in the back-country as you say, but it’s the inconsistencies that irk me, including the way it makes law-breakers out of people who are doing exactly what DoC recommends. Once introduced, legislation such as this is very hard to change. It’s unfair to both users and to DoC to create ambiguous situations where nobody knows for certain what the actual rules are, especially when there’s a chance of a fairly hefty fine being dished out.

#10 Comment By gazza On 8 July, 2011 @ 11:22 am

I wonder how much authority DOC have to actually enforce those fines on the ground?

By which I mean if I felt I wasn’t doing anything wrong (the only sign I leave that I have been camping somewhere is a bit of flattened grass) and refused to provide my name or identification (which I often do not carry on the DOC estate anyway) to a DOC officer who pings me camping at a road end…what would happen? They wouldn’t have the authority to detain someone.

I am hopeful that most DOC staff will be reasonable about this, but you occasionally bump into someone that likes to try and bully people around, and I could see this sort of situation happening.

#11 Comment By Mike McGavin On 8 July, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

Hi Gazza. I’m not a lawyer here but I don’t suppose a regular enforcement officer could man-handle or arrest someone or force them to hand over info any more than a parking warden or a council noise control officer, even if the person is legally required to do what they ask for. The FCB states (sections 33, 34 and 35) that properly designated Enforcement Officers who’ve produced their warrant (if requested) can then require people give them certain identifying information, can require that people leave particular places, and can seize certain property. If people don’t cooperate, I guess it becomes a criminal offence in direct conflict with the (future) Freedom Camping Act, rather than just a council bylaw, and the police can be called in, and the police do have authority to detain someone if they believe there’s a reason.

Much of the motivation of this Bill relates to vehicles, so I guess in that case there are usually registration numbers to follow up on, and the registered owner ends up being responsible for knowing who has their vehicle and possibly for any fines incurred with relation to that vehicle (unless rental companies have a propagation arrangement of some sort, which most would).

I think you’re right, though, that typical DoC workers will probably be fairly reasonable about it as long as they can see there’s no real problem, at least with today’s culture. If it’s DoC land, you’d have to be camping in a place where DoC’s already decided and communicated that there’s no camping allowed, and unlike some councils I think DoC’s less likely to do this unless it actually does have a good reason. I’m still personally concerned about tommorrow’s culture of DoC (or whatever new entity might one day manage the estate), which is why I think it’s important for the Bill to spell out exaclty what it means without being lazy and imprecise about it.

#12 Comment By Mike McGavin On 9 July, 2011 @ 12:05 am

All submissions on the Freedom Camping Bill [13].

#13 Comment By Mike McGavin On 17 August, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

Hmph, [14].