Associate Conservation Minister Peter Dunne has won a decisive court battle in his quest to ban helicopter hunting on conservation land.
He wants an end to the practice of aerial assisted trophy hunting - heli-hunting - where game animals are tracked down using helicopters and hunters dropped into the wilderness for short time.
Four helicopter operators and two lodge operators sought consent in 2011 to carry out heli-hunting for 10 years, but Dunne set down conditions and limited the permits to two years.
The operators launched a court battle, seeking a judicial review. High Court Judge Stephen Kos this week dismissed their case.
Dunne says this now clears the way for him to press on with legislation implementing the ban and he hopes to introduce a bill to Parliament later this year and have a ban in place by next year.
The operators argued Dunne was biased because of his previous public statements about banning heli-hunting and that the decisions was "unreasonable".
A confidence and supply deal with National the the 2011-election allowed him to start work on the ban and he has previously said the practice was "not hunting, it is killing."
In March 2010 he said: "For years rat-bag operators got away with this inhumane, barbaric practice ... well it's time to put a stop to it."
The plaintiffs said hunters, usually from the United States, Europe and Russia, booked months or years in advance, and they needed certainty in longer-term permits.
The operators said their work created "significant" economic benefits, and said they also carried out other work including carcass recovery for meat processing, capture of live animals for farming and culling.
However, Dunne said, despite a law change, 10-year permits had never been granted before, and he questioned the economic benefits.
"A couple of hundred people come down for this each year," he said this morning.
"They are mainly wealthy Americans who stay for a few days."
Large numbers of ground and recreational hunters "deplore" the practice.
"The domestic hunters wouldn't do it, they'd go in by ground," he said.
"If you've been tracking in the bush for days in your favourite hunting spot and chopper whirs and drops someone down and 10-15 minutes later whirs back away dragging a beast behind them, you'd feel a little annoyed."
Dunne said the judge's ruling upheld his decision-making as "robust".
"It does also mean that free from this uncertainty I can now proceed with plans to honour the confidence and supply agreement," he said.
Justice Kos disagreed with operators' claims that Dunne approached the decision with a closed mind, saying that although the minister had "trenchant" views on the subject there was no evidence he acted illegally.
And he said the fact that Dunne was forming policy positions did not disqualify him in law from making decisions.
"If that were not the case, ministers could not exercise statutory decision-making powers, with delegation in areas of their ministerial responsibility," the judge said, adding Dunne's ban would not affect wild animal rescue operations or prevent operators dropping in customers to hunt for days at a time.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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