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New laws target irresponsible freedom campers

Published: 2:40PM Sunday May 15, 2011 Source: ONE News

The government is introducing new laws to tighten up freedom camping and protect New Zealand's clean, green tourism brand.

The Environment Minister said the country cannot tolerate irresponsible campers "spoiling our most iconic areas with human waste and litter".

Nick Smith revealed the changes at the Motor Caravan Association's Annual General Meeting in Nelson today.

The minister said freedom camping is an important part of NZ's tourism industry and great Kiwi lifestyle but the number of campers has doubled over the past decade to 110,000 international visitors and more than 40,000 New Zealanders.

"The existing system where each of our 67 districts has their own bylaws is not working for the responsible freedom camper wanting to do the right thing, or for councils wanting to protect their local environment," said Smith.

Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio said currently it can cost anything from $3000 to $7000 to issue a $200 fine. And he said if the offenders actually leave the country the legal costs in their home countries can be considerable. "So a lot of councils around the country won't actually go to that bother," Miccio said.

The new Freedom Camping Bill will be introduced to parliament this month and will enable councils to determine where camping is allowed, where it is restricted to campervans with self-containment, and where it is prohibited.

The Department of Conservation will be able to make similar rules on the reserves it manages.

"We need some national consistency because most freedom campers are unaware of what district they are in one day to the next, but we also want to protect the rights of local communities to decide where freedom camping is to be allowed," said Smith.

"We also want to encourage self-contained campervans by having restricted areas that don't have toilets, as the most serious problems arise from freedom camping without sanitary facilities."

The new law will allow a $200 instant fine to be imposed for illegal camping. Fines up to $10,000 may be imposed by courts on a successful prosecution for illegally discharging a campervan's sewage.

"We will be working hard with councils to ensure these new freedom camping measures are in place for the 85,000 visitors expected for Rugby World Cup 2011," Smith said.

And the law will be able to be applied to vehicles. Smith said most of the complaints involve international visitors in vehicles that don't have self-containment.

"There are a number of companies that have almost encouraged a pretty reckless and irresponsible behaviour," he said.

But Heikki Kaariainen, author of a guide to Kiwi freedom camping, told ONE News it's his lifestyle and he thinks the changes will ruin it.

"Not everybody wants to go into the camping ground, and their prices have gone up hugely lately. I think we're just being criminalised by the actions of some few people leaving rubbish," Kaariainen said.

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