A local Labour MP says it is "alarming" that the Minister of Conservation has decided to use the public purse to seek leave to appeal a Court of Appeal decision on the Ruataniwha Dam land exchange deal.

Earlier this week, the Department of Conservation, joined by the Hawke's Bay Regional Council-owned investment company HBRIC, sought leave to appeal a Court of Appeal decision with the Supreme Court.

The Labour Party MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti, Meka Whaitiri has called on people to join her in holding the government to account for "using public money" in support of the dam.

"It's alarming that the Minister of Conservation, Maggie Barry, has decided to use the public purse to help HBRIC challenge a major Court of Appeal decision in support of a large -scale private irrigation scheme," Ms Whaitiri said.

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"Is this kind of action what we expect of our Conservation Minister?

HBRIC also told a regional council meeting this week that, as another option, it will also seek to acquire the land for the dam under the Public Works Act. The council wants to swap 22 hectares of previously-protected land, flood it and in return give the department 170ha of nearby farmland.

The Court of Appeal ruled last month the deal was unlawful and ordered the Director-General of Conservation to reconsider the decision.

The ruling came after Forest & Bird appealed a High Court decision upholding the swap.
Ms Whaitiri said: "Kiwis will also be watching closely to see whether Environment Minister Nick Smith signs off HBRIC's application to become a 'requiring authority', paving the way for the land to be acquired under the Public Works Act.

"Concerned New Zealanders should make their views known and write to Maggie Barry for challenging the Court of Appeal decision, and to Nick Smith to ensure he opposes HBRIC's application to become a requiring authority.

She said that putting "political pressure on government ministers may be the public's best response".

When contacted yesterday, the Minister declined to comment because the matter was before the courts. However, she repeated an earlier statement saying the appeal was being made because the effect of the decision on the management of public conservation land was a matter of public importance.

"DoC needs absolute clarity on whether it can consider the broader conservation picture in decisions about the management of public conservation land, or not," Ms Barry said.