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8 degrees of harm

Gary Stoneley

With change there always consequences. While some changes are positive and beneficial sometimes consequences cause a degree of harm.

The recent changes to camping legislation in NZ will have a flow on effect throughout the leisure camping industry and to a large degree there is the potential for significant harm, to society (our supposedly inclusive camping culture) plus economic factors and environmental impact. The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment prepared a ‘limited’ regulatory impact statement, but the impacts of the new legislation cause more than just a small degree of harm. The question must be asked if the NZ tourism ministry should be making decisions for NZ’s recreation campers and why was the recreation minister not involved? How do we unwind the harm that the new law brings?

Left Auckland 34 days ago, halfway through my 73 days traveling the South Island. Now in Cromwell then Arrowtown on the weekend. Noticed that it’s getting colder. Now I appreciate my diesel heater. ©2023 Roland Jones

8 Degrees of harm

1 • Perpetuating NIMBYism and the wealth divide

Ex-Minister Stuart Nash’s push for greater control over motor vehicle campers in NZ has been led from a tourism-centred point of view. In an attempt to raise the image of tourism in NZ, vehicle campers without onboard toilets, plus responsible campers with portable toilets, have been targeted, without evidence that freedom campers cause any more harm than other recreational users (MBIE 2022, DIA 2016). The Department of Internal Affairs found that media emphasis on ‘freedom campers’ distorted the public view and supported NIMBYism (not in my back yard).

This legislation advances the myth that NZers travelling in campers with portable toilets or without onboard toilets are less responsible than those with permanently fitted toilets, even though there is no evidence to support this myth.

The economic burden of this act widens the wealth divide leaving behind those using lower-cost campers such as compact campervans, trailer tents, pop-tops, tear-drops, roof-top tents, and older, smaller caravans, while intentionally favouring higher-end camping vehicles, to boost the tourism image, never mind the effect on New Zealanders: this is a tourism initiative that restricts New Zealand citizens.

2 • Mental Health

Lake Monowai was quiet and still as if time itself had stopped. We walked some of the easier, pleasant, short paths through the mossy bush. Hug a tree and bring bug repellent. ©2022 Heather Auckram

Thousands of NZ campers pack up their vehicle and hit the road, freedom camping on council reserves, for their rest and relaxation.

This includes young families with trailer tents, roof top campers and older caravans as well those retired with a small campervan set up with a portable toilet.

The changes brought in with this act mean thousands of NZ campers will no longer be able to participate in freedom camping on council controlled land. Thousands of NZers will miss out. The ‘green pill’ of spending mental health time by the sea, or the lake or in the forest, is now reserved for the wealthy but all age groups and income levels are affected by this act.

Only those who have a vehicle that is certified as ‘self contained’ according to this new legislation can camp on council land, unless a council designates areas for non self-contained vehicle camping (and for those self-contained campers whose toilet is not screwed to the floor).

3 • Economic cost to consumers

On the road in Aotearoa in this beauty. Dunedin to Auckland and back again. © 2022 Lisa Ambrose

The cost to thousands of NZ vehicle campers with portable toilets is considerable. Many consumers will be unable to afford them. To continue to be certified, currently ‘certified self contained’ vehicles will be required to upgrade to a permanently fitted toilet. This applies primarily to smaller campervans and older caravans. Retro-fitting can require changes to the vehicle layout including bodywork, which will cost at least $600 and up to $2500.  In some cases it won’t be possible and the owner will need to replace the vehicle at a cost of extra thousands of dollars.

In addition to retrofit costs are the new fees. The Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board will levy fees on both the certifier (for being a certifier) and the camper (for getting certified). These too are costs many consumers will not be able to afford.

Then there are fines. Both freedom camping and, indeed, simply and legally parking, can now lead to fines starting at $400 and as high as $3000. 

A freedom camping vehicle of any kind, parked anywhere not actually designated for freedom camping (on the street, outside the laundromat or shop) could be considered to be “preparing to freedom camp”.  

4 • Economic cost to businesses

Rental vehicle operators that have vehicles with portable toilets are faced with either retrofitting their fleet or replacing vehicles. Rental vehicle operators will be required to do this before the 2024/2025 Summer season. Replacing 2000 smaller rental vehicles, at an estimated cost of $70,000 per imported vehicle, could cost the industry more than $140 million over the next 18 months, an inflationary activity at a time when inflation is already high.

5 • Social and economic cost on communities

Many councils have received funding to assist with the transition to the required bylaw changes restricting freedom camping access. However the ongoing costs in managing the new regime will be passed on to ratepayers. As a national law with fines for ‘preparing to camp’ it is expected that there will be legal challenges that councils will have to fund.

Car camping in Aparima. ©2022 Heather Auckram

NZ families have traditionally had social licence to camp on council-controlled land around NZ which is now undermined by this new law which forces additional restrictions on families who enjoy low cost, vehicle-based camping. Parking on council land in a campervan or putting out your chairs for a lunch stop can now be considered preparing to camp and subject to a $400 fine.

To “make preparations” to freedom camp, the legislation tells us, means to “park a motor vehicle to use it for freedom camping” (Section 20 2 (b)).

It declines to tell either campers or the enforcement officers how they can tell if the vehicle is about to be used for freedom camping, presumably because it is not possible to read minds.

6 • Seasonal employment

Thousands of seasonal workers traditionally come to NZ every summer and work in our hospitality and horticulture industries, many buying low cost vehicles to live in, due to the shortage of accommodation. The incentives for them to come and work in NZ and explore the country are now reduced.

They might be young, active, energetic and contribute much to our economy, but the new act bars the low-cost, low-footprint vehicles that allow them to explore NZ.

7 • Environment

The more people who travel with their own toilet the better for the environment, but the act removes the incentive for leisure campers and travellers with compact or older camping vehicles (e.g. poptops, teardrops and retro caravans) to carry one.

The new act encourages, almost requires, the camping industry to move away from compact camping vehicles with a low environmental footprint to larger camping vehicles that use more resources to construct, considerably more fuel to operate and have the potential to cause greater damage to flora and fauna due to size and weight. The larger vehicles also take up more physical and visual space in the environment and at tourism hotspots.

8 • Emergency preparedness

Ten hours  into a power cut with this cyclone ….  then I remembered I've got full batteries in Mavis! ©2023 Cheine Matheson
Ten hours into a power cut with this cyclone …. then I remembered I've got full batteries in Mavis! ©2023 Cheine Matheson

In a country like NZ, being prepared  for an emergency is encouraged — those with camping vehicles have an extra degree of preparedness, but this preparedness has been devalued by this legislation. When an emergency hits, those set up for a minimum of 3 days with water and waste facilities (including toilets of any kind) have the resources to quickly adapt and cope, with minimal support. Promoting self containment for vehicle camping with bring-your-own toilets is something that should be encouraged and not discouraged, if for no other reason.

The 8th harm: this legislation discourages thousands of NZ campers from being self-contained, that is, able to contain their waste for 3 days in an emergency.

Until Jun 6 2023 we called the ability to contain your waste for 3 days ‘self-containment.’ Now, its not just being able to contain waste, but also being able to afford an expensive toilet.


Should the NZ tourism ministry should be making decisions for NZ’s recreation campers?

ISSN 2815-827X (Online) | ISSN:2815-8261 (Print)

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