The public is getting a raw deal through the Government's massive South Island high country land-swap process, according to a top American scholar.
Farmers were getting a majority of the land with a $15.5 million sweetener while the public were losing out, said Dr Ann Brower, who studied New Zealand's land tenure review system as a Fulbright Scholar. She is now lecturing in public policy at Lincoln University.
Her report found that farmers have so far gained 58 per cent of land up for negotiation through tenure review while the Department of Conservation got 42 per cent.
But the biggest surprise was that leaseholders had paid $10.8 million to the Crown while the Crown had paid them $26.28 million.
"That is surprising because the leaseholder is gaining a lot of property rights with freehold title like subdivision or being able to grow grapes," Dr Brower said.
"You would have expected to find the opposite."
Land tenure review, set up in 1998 though there was a trial period from 1992, allows South Island pastoral leaseholders to give up land with conservation value in return for being able to freehold land that is more valuable for farming or businesses such as viticulture or eco-tourism.
Around 2.4 million hectares, or a tenth of New Zealand's land area, is potentially involved in the tenure review process. Of a total of 273 pastoral leases, 66 have gone through tenure review, 154 are somewhere within the process and 119 leaseholders have chosen not to do a deal.
Long-time deerstalking advocate Dr Hugh Barr has been a vocal critic of the system.
"The public is being ripped off," he said.
Today he was visiting Conservation Minister Chris Carter to voice concerns over Mesopotamia Station at the head of South Canterbury's Rangitata River valley.
Of the station's 26,000ha of leased land, the leaseholder had agreed to hand back 21,000ha but wanted 3500ha to remain under his control for an exclusive hunting operation.
"Only fee-paying hunters will be allowed in there and while the public is not necessarily excluded, they're not going to want to get in the way of a bunch of playboy safari hunters," Dr Barr said.
The deal would create a dangerous precedent whereby the public were excluded from Crown-owned land. New Zealanders having to pay to hunt on Crown-owned land was a travesty, he said.
Laurie Prouting of Mesopotamia Station said the public would have access to the area on the eastern slopes of the Sinclair Range but the station would decide who could hunt there.