If a court case over our highways is anything to go by, the Government's new biodiversity corridors are liable to raise hackles.
There's an entity secretly controlling vast swathes of New Zealand, and it's not who we thought. It's not the Government, although it does have some power, and it's certainly not the councils, because their powers are diminishing. It's not even, despite what some people believe, the Masons, the United Nations, or Bill Gates with his secret-robot-impregnated Covid vaccines.
The orange cones should have given us the clue. They're everywhere. Unseen forces sometimes relocate them in the night, but they never actually retreat, they only multiply. Although they're vaguely shaped like Dr Who's Daleks, they don't have mechanisms under their skirts enabling them to chase us and shoot death rays. But all the same, we obey them.
Why? Well, it was a doughty Northlander going to the Disputes Tribunal about his damaged cars this month who inadvertently prised open this mystery. His claim was against Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, owing to the shabby state of the district's roads. But the agency said it wasn't responsible for the 878km of highway implicated in the claim. The roads were under the jurisdiction of private roading contractor Fulton Hogan, which duly offered the complainant a grand to compensate for the dings to his windscreens and paintwork.
Fulton Hogan. Aka Orange Cone Central. We knew it was ubiquitous – it's the name we curse every time a lane with absolutely no discernible work going on in it is closed – but few of us realised it was actually, formally, officially in charge of goodness knows how much of the country.
Although individual disputes rulings seldom result in legal precedents, when a Government agency confers the public highway upon a private company, it's at least time to send for Sir Geoffrey Palmer, with his ever-growing draft constitution, for a "what's what" lecture.
Iwi might also reappraise Te Tiriti, in case the initials FH have been secretly added to those of the Crown and chiefs sometime since 1840.
If nothing else, this opens a whole new theme park for conspiracy theorists. Do we question it or google for a reason later, when a high-vis stop-go person looms ahead barring our way? Do we demand to know by whose authority each battalion of mini Daleks is corralling us? To see orange is to comply unquestioningly.
As was clear from the cyclists' recent liberation of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, not even the police have this much authority over citizens. Their barricades were as wet tissue paper. The wheeled warriors would have thought twice about defying the cones. There's always the slim chance they signify hot tar or a ditch rather than vacant space, and one could damage one's pricy racing wheels.
And consider this: the Electoral Commission's motif is Orange Man. Does Fulton Hogan have secret jurisdiction over the voting system?
Before we plummet all the way down into the QAnon zone here, it's worth double-checking which end of the stick is which. As with so much duck-shoving in national and local bureaucracy, it comes down to liability, otherwise known as butt-covering. There's nothing intrinsically scary about the state outsourcing jurisdiction, but in order to ensure that power is not abused, it's often prudent to make the contractor liable for what goes wrong. It's not practical for Waka Kotahi to superintend roading contractors' everyday logistics, so it shouldn't reasonably have to accept liability for any negligence. In this case, neither it nor the contractor has accepted liability and the no-fault settlement offer was declined, so a court ruling is pending.
An interesting twist on the liability conundrum is under way in Wellington, where beleaguered Wellington Water is contemplating assigning liability for a coastal neighbourhood's leaking wastewater pipes to each household, rather than itself paying to fix the pipes for which it, hitherto, has had the responsibility.
Another example is Fonterra recently writing to tell some farmers about new rules governing how wide the entranceway to their milk tank must be. Farmers know the company's collection trucks haven't got any bigger, nor have their access ways shrunk. They've inferred that the incidence of trucks hitting gates may have increased, so here is the company providing a bit of future insurance: move your fence or next time our truck wings it, it'll be on you.
As with the dress code "togs, togs, undies", liability is an ever-moving concept.
The absolute doozy is the Government's attempt to safeguard wildlife corridors by deeming as sacrosanct a slew of natural wilderness areas within each council's jurisdiction. Oh, the power of the word "deem" to turn to "doom" in the wrong hands. Northland was agog to find more than half of its Māori-owned land was being deemed Significant Natural Areas (SNAs), meaning it could no longer be milled, farmed, developed or in any way changed. Farmers were also deemed to the eyeballs, and SNA panic spread to other districts in which deeming was nearing completion.
It transpired the deeming was being done differently from council to council, and in any case might clash with the supervening deeming power of the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Diversity, which hasn't been finalised yet. As Bruce Springsteen might say, everyone had been "deemin' in the dark".
The Government has now hit "pause", but that's not equivalent on the great dashboard of governance to "reset". A big orange cone shadow still hangs over tracts of private land. It's owned, but it's likely to become untouchable. That – cue jubilant fighting talk from National, Act and the Māori Party – is a recipe for voter rebellion.
Biodiversity corridors are essential, ever more so as we intensify food production. The horrifying consequences of monoculture and habitat loss for birds and insects is something no one could support – not least because without pollinators, we'd starve to death.
The solution is to incentivise landowners to preserve wilderness rather than ordering them. But with the Government having just shelved several longed-for infrastructure projects for lack of money, paying to stop construction that might never take place on private land seems a bit skew-whiff. Also, sticks cost nothing, but carrots are expensive. And also – shudder – orange.
Still, until and unless Fulton Hogan gets the contract to bestride the eventually-deemed wildlife corridors the way they do the highways, there is at least a limit to orange oligarchy.