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The controversial Nash Self-contained Motor Vehicles Legislation Bill

Gary Stoneley

The Minister of Tourism’s (MP Stuart Nash) draconian proposals to further regulate ‘freedom’ camping in NZ is a hot topic at the moment. 

For two years the minister has been very vocal about what he wants to change and when it will happen. Time is getting on and finally we have a proposed bill to study. 

Following on from initial public consultation of the style ‘we are going to do this’, the industry has been in a state of limbo, wondering if and when any changes will take place.  

Stuart Nash’s proposals, should they progress, do not address the current regulatory inconsistencies and disadvantages for tent campers but move to further disadvantage ‘all’ vehicle campers who carry a portable toilet. 

Based on the misguided premise that travellers with a portable toilet are less responsible than those with a fixed toilet, the Minister’s proposals intend to stop all vehicles with portable toilets from being able to be certified as self contained. These proposals are harmful to our camping industry and detrimental to an inclusive society. 

The Ministers proposals dont address the problem of providing toilets for travellers. The lack of public facilities thorough the country is the root cause of the problem, and it affects all travellers, not just those who camp. While the Minister suggests that the government tried allocating money to provide public facilities, which has not worked to solve the toileting problem, much of this money was spent on enforcing rules, very little on actually providing public facilities. 

One would have to question why the Minister for Tourism with a brief to support regional economies, seems so hell-bent on restricting thousands of NZ campers from enjoying this recreational activity.  The Ministers with responsibility for camping legislation, the Freedom Camping Act and Campground Regulations in NZ are Conservation, Health and Recreation and Sport.  

There is no doubt that NZ camping legislation is out of date and needs substantive review, but having a misguided Minister of Tourism, fiddling with our freedom camping because he seems to have a portable toilet fetish, is unhelpful. 

His attacks on responsible NZ campers who use portable toilets comes across as vindictive. 

There is no question that it is far better for a small vehicle camper, traveling and living in their vehicle, to have a portable toilet than no toilet at all. By voluntarily having this on-board, campers not only have the opportunity to use it when caught short, but are (currently) able to enjoy staying overnight at self-contained-only-sites. There is no obvious benefit in the removal this incentive for small vehicle campers to have a portable toilet on-board, and some very obvious down-sides. 

To be self contained a vehicle must have a ‘fixed’ toilet — consequences. 

The proposal to exclude portable toilets from the definition of self-contained will exclude many of NZ’s campers who have older classic caravans and motorhomes, trailer tents and outback campers, poptop caravans, vehicles with roof top tents, small vans, teardrop campers and slide on campers. Under Stuart Nash’s proposals these campers will be excluded from staying at many council reserves or other government controlled land. Up until now the benefits of self-containment have encouraged vehicle campers to have a portable toilet, but this proposal removes the incentive and negates the hoped-for benefits from this proposal.  

Excluding some kinds of campers from public land —consequences. 

The bill will have an immediate effect on the more than half of NZ councils which do not have freedom camping bylaws. 

Camping vehicles that are not certified as self-contained when the bill becomes law, will be immeditately blocked from freedom camping on any public land controlled by a local authority. 

These councils will have to take on the cost of enforcing these new rules when they come into force. NZTA (NZ Transport Authority) and LINZ (Land Information NZ) will be given power to issue notices and manage freedom camping. 

Older classic caravans and motorhomes, trailer tents, outback campers, poptop caravans, vehicles with roof-top tents, small vans, teardrop campers and slide on campers, and other vehicles, which can (and currently do) freedom camp responsibly, are being excluded from self-containment under the new rules. 

Councils could well lose the patronage of these groups of campers and the economic benefits they bring. A council that wants to encourage all NZers to visit would need to expressly cater for non-self-contained freedom camping — this will necessitate the cost of developing and consulting on new policy and bylaws, create signage etc . This is a change that could well create greater inconsistency between regions. 

Councils that already have freedom camping bylaws have 2 years to transition their bylaws to the new rules. 

The costs of the changes — who pays? 

The increased regulation will not apply to all travellers. It is intended that the administration of self-containment be tightened, with greatly increased administrative costs collected from users and the issuing bodies. The expense and administrative burden of the proposed new law will be borne by the premium camper market, those who already have fixed-toilets. 

In effect, the increased regulation process will only affect those campers that are not considered by the Minister to be a problem in the first place.  Small vans, poptop campers, teardrop campers and roof top tents etc. which do not have a ‘fixed toilet’ will not be eligible for, nor subject to, self-containment regulations. Currently these vehicles are eligible for and operate as self-contained, responsible travellers. 

Why the focus on fixed toilets? 

You have to wonder why the Minister is so obsessed with the “fixed toilet” issue. Perhaps he has had a bad experience. As a cyclist, he may have experienced being caught short while out on the road. Outdoorsy-types with a small camper and portable toilet at least have a toilet they can use. The Minister, out and about with his ute and his bike, perhaps (probably?) does not. 

Despite media hype there is very little verified evidence of poor toileting behaviour by freedom campers, and the Minister has not, when asked (by Official Information Request) been able to supply supporting evidence for his assertions. 

Small-camper tourists spend more 

You also have to wonder why the Minister is so obsessed with small-vehicle camping. 

The evidence supplied on his behalf by MBIE shows that tourists with small-vehicle campers spend more in NZ than their wealthier counterparts — less per day but more over their stay in NZ. 

NZ’s Leisure Camping Industry 

Made up of several different interest groups, with differing priorities, the NZ Leisure camping industry is a wide network that must work together to protect the future of recreational camping in NZ. 

Over the past 2 decades there have been considerable attacks by the media and point scoring by MP’s at the expense of NZ campers. In many cases these attacks on NZ campers have been targeted at campers who are seen to be at the ‘non premium’ end of the market. 

A perception has been created and promoted by various lobby groups and NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) that the budget camper / tourist does not contribute to our society. This could not be further from the truth.

Any individual or family, only has so much disposable income. Money comes in and it is often spent on mortgages or rent, day to day living costs, purchases, medical expenses and entertainment. While it is up to each family or individual to decide how they wish to spend their disposable income, wherever they are, home or traveling that money still gets spent.

People traveling NZ and camping continue to spend and the communities through which they travel are the beneficiaries of this spending. Whether a person spends $300 a week in their home town or $300 a week across the country, retailers, employees and government all benefit. 

A traveler in a small campervan will spend their disposable income in the communities they visit just as a traveler in a large motorhome will spend their disposable income.

It is not right for us as a society to judge people on image, what they can afford to spend, or whether they choose to stay local or travel and enjoy what the country offers. It is right for us to appreciate the contribution that each member of our community makes, even if they are just traveling through. 

The reality is that travel camping is healthy and benefits families and communities. 


In summary, Minister Stuart Nash’s proposals, should they go ahead, will not achieve the outcome he intends and they are not workable. 

There is no identified benefit to any sector of the NZ leisure camping industry or to local authorities. 

The increased compliance processes and costs would be a blatant waste of government money and a waste and burden on ordinary NZ campers as well as local councils. 

Where to from here? 

So where do we go from here? The Minister for Tourism Stuart Nash has now presented his draft bill in parliament. The supporting self-containment regulations will only be made available when the bill begins its readings in parliament. Both the bill and regulations will go to select committee, the public and industry for submissions and review. 

There is opportunity for public submissions. 

 Until legislation is passed the current ‘voluntary’ 4-year, self containment standard NZS 5465:2001 still applies. There is currently no change. If new legislation on self containment is passed there will be a transition / implementation period. New systems take time. 

Keep the issue alive 

In the meantime, we can keep the issue alive by discussion forums and making MP’s and the public aware of the failings and implications of the bill. Online discussions, petitions and public protests are all good options. 

Camping the Kiwi Way has developed ‘Proud to be a Camper’ vehicle decals.

BY: Gary Stoneley, Founder, All Points Camping Club of NZ

The bill is based on the flawed premise that travellers with a portable toilet are less responsible than those with a fixed toilet

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