- Previous government blamed for access stoush over Lauer's sheep station
Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage has blamed the previous government for the messy situation over public access through the Otago property of former US news anchor Matt Lauer.
The Walking Access Commission and the Department of Conservation are seeking an easement through Lauer's 6500ha Hunter Valley Station in Upper Clutha to allow vehicle access to a road that connects to conservation land.
The lease for the station, bordering Lake Hawea, is owned by Lauer's company Orange Lakes Ltd but the Crown owns the land.
Lauer is entitled to compensation if the easement is granted.
Sage told reporters today that the previous government did not provide adequate walking access through the property at the time the sale was signed off on the recommendation of the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).
"I don't know what ministerial involvement there was but it was a decision made by ministers … and they didn't provide adequately for access. The Walking Access Commission asked for vehicle access. It's a long way along the edge of the lake," Sage told reporters today.
"The OIO recommended that there were other benefits from the application and recommended that it be approved."
Sage said an easement for public access would result in compensation "but not the millions that is now being talked about".
Easement would allow vehicle access to Hawea Conservation Park at the northeastern end of Lake Hawea.
Yesterday, Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters also laid the issue at the feet of the previous government.
"What on Earth was the National Party doing in April last year allowing that sort of sale in the way they did," he told reporters.
"The reality is they were selling it off to anyone offshore who had enough money to buy it ... in a way that they never should have been and which we will not allow now,'' he said.
"We do not envisage sales like this going on in the future, that's why the new Government has changed the policy completely. I do not envisage selling out this country like the last government did.''
Lauer's lawyer Graeme Todd told the Otago Daily Times there had been no issues over access and there was no need for such an easement.
Public access through the station was one of the stipulations of the OIO's approval of the sale, he said.
"The public have exercised such access on numerous occasions since we have purchased,'' Todd said.
"There have just been a few occasions where the access wasn't able to be granted and nobody has raised any concerns that such denial was unreasonable.''
It totalled three or four occasions out of more than 100, and was due to farming activities such as lambing or due to safety, he said.
Lauer's purchase of the station, valued at more than $13 million, was completed early last year.
Earlier this year, the OIO said it didn't have enough evidence to take action against Lauer after investigating whether he met the good character requirements to own the station following his sacking by US broadcaster NBC for inappropriate sexual behaviour towards female colleagues.