Councils have three options when it comes to doing the government's bidding. They can do as they're told, they can negotiate to tailer orders to negate the one size fits all approach that politicians inevitably adopt, or they can tell Wellington to get stuffed. When it comes to Significant Natural Areas, they should do the latter.
The protection of habitat for native flora and fauna is a worthy goal, but declaring SNAs willy nilly is not the way to go about it, not least because of the antipathy it was bound to create. Governments have never been adept at taking people with them as opposed to barking out orders, but this administration has taken that to an art form. When more than 40 per cent of Northland is apparently to be deemed SNAs, significantly more than last time this exercise was carried out, there is a clear need for discussion. Soothing reassurances from Climate Change Minister James Shaw are nowhere near enough.
Shaw says, in his usual condescending tone, that SNAs will simply be subject to a resource consent process should the land owner wish to develop them. That's alright then. But it isn't. Land owners will at least want to know what that process will involve, and the chances of persuading whatever authority needs persuading that development is to be permitted.
This government has a woeful lack of understanding of how this country functions beyond the motorways. Its unrelenting assaults on pastoral farming illustrate that. It shows no understanding of how pastoral farming, particularly dairy farming, works, or what those who produce our dairy, meat and wool are doing to reduce their impact on their and surrounding land and waterways, and their contribution to climate change. Farmers have been vilified and demonised, despite indisputable evidence that, at least in the case of dairying, they produce more and of better quality with less environmental impact than any others on the planet.
So politicians who have no idea what they are talking about dictate when farmers must re-sow crops, the contours of land that that can be cropped or grazed, even how much mud a farm may generate.
They have made ridiculous rules for the fencing of waterways that will never be polluted or contribute to the degradation of waters downstream, often at costs that will make farming impossible.
Now they are telling farmers, and all land owners, what they can and can't do with land that has been deemed significant in terms of the plants and animals it might - might being the operative word - support.
Not for the first time, the Northland and Far North councils have tugged their forelocks and are getting stuck into obeying. Only one local authority, the Grey District Council, is reportedly showing any sign of resistance. One Far North farmer told the writer last week, 'Oh that we had that sort of support here."
So what would happen if the NRC and FNDC told the government to take a running jump? Hard to say, because they've never done it. It is unlikely, however, that the government would prosecute them. Perhaps it would listen to them. Wouldn't it be nice to find out?
Years ago, when the NRC set about expanding Northland's coastal zones, as the government of the day had told it to do, Whangārei man Frank Newman earned a round of applause from a couple of hundred farmers in Kaitaia when he told the NRC that Northlanders wanted a council that would represent them in Wellington, as opposed to one that would represent Wellington in Northland. The NRC was unmoved, but a number of other councils rebelled, and a stupid idea that should never have seen the light of day quietly disappeared.
The need for disobedience has become even greater, and those who we have elected to represent us in this region and district will never have a better opportunity to show that they understand the difference.
Our Mayor, John Carter, has suggested that Far North land owners who aren't happy about SNAs tell their local MP. Fat lot of good that will do. Carter is well justified in not so subtly making the point that SNAs are not his council's idea (many people think they are), but he could go much further than that. Perhaps he could intervene with his constituents' MPs on their behalf.
Laudable as this bid to protect native flora and fauna from potential extinction might be, the process now under way has all the hallmarks of not uncharacteristic government ignorance and overkill. Something is very wrong when a solitary, unprepossessing pohutukawa tree in the Bay of Islands is declared to be a SNA, and when a farmer is told that 200ha of gumland manuka is equally deserving of protection, potentially to the point where he will have to remove his bee hives and unfortunately non-native insects that are contributing significantly to his income.
The NRC and FNDC might not be aware of those two instances of insanity, and no doubt countless more, but they should be. And they must be aware of the anger that this process is generating. Simply saying 'This is nothing to do with us,' doesn't cut the mustard. It's time Northland's councils stood up for Northland. That's what we elected them to do. They must start speaking for us.
Eric and Sandra Shackleton's Waitapu Winery has been setting up stalls at food and wine festivals around Te Hiku for some years, but those halcyon days might now be over. Waitapu seems unlikely to be at just such an event at Te Ahu next month, thanks to the increasingly ridiculous hoops through which they are reluctant to jump.
They planned to be there, selling their table wines, and offering tastings, but now the FNDC tells them they must supply a menu of three substantial meals, and low alcohol beverages, rather than just the water they had planned to provide.
The Shackletons have pointed out that a food festival will not be short of food, but that isn't enough. According to the council it's the Medical Officer of Health who isn't satisfied. Perhaps the fear is that people will guzzle so much pinot gris that they will not only endanger their livers but the wellbeing of others as they stagger around Te Ahu in a drunken stupor, attacking children and old people, smashing the furniture and abusing other patrons before falling to the floor and possibly striking their head on a sharp object, suffering irreversible brain damage, or worse, driving off and crashing into a bus full of nuns.
Not especially likely, perhaps, but better to be safe than sorry.
These people, and the rules they enforce with such alacrity, are ruining this country. Wine has been sold and tasted at festivals for years, and Eric Shackleton has an off-licence and bar manager's licence, but that isn't good enough. Nor are the 14-plus pages of the application form or the non-refundable $575 fee.
Now it's: "May I taste your Syrah Tempranillo?" "Certainly, but not until you've eaten this rare scotch fillet with mushrooms and potato gratin."
As far as the writer knows, Waitapu Estate has not been responsible for any loss of life or significant harm to civilisation. If heads aren't banged together, and soon, festivals like this will be impossible to stage. And we will all be the poorer for that.
This is surely another case where the council could take a stand on the side of sanity. But it hasn't. And clearly it does not intend to.
When are the elections?