Review of the Walking Access Act


Administration of the Act

Feedback indicated a lack of certain or strong views about administration of the Act. Largely, submitters agreed that MPI was not an obvious fit. However, it was also widely acknowledged that there is no complete or neat fit in terms or portfolio responsibilities, functions (policy or operational focus), and experience or capacity to monitor Crown entities.

This uncertainty was reflected in the responses received through the online feedback form to the question ‘do you think MPI should remain the administrator of the Act?’. Of the 278 responses, 35 percent answered ‘yes’, 23 percent answered ‘no’ and the majority, 42 percent, answered ‘don’t know’.

Potential alternative administrators of the Act included DOC, LINZ, MBIE, MCH, MfE, MoT, and the Department of Internal Affairs. Some submitters also noted that the Commission should be connected to sport and recreation portfolio responsibilities, or that a new ministry could be created with responsibility for walking, cycling and outdoor recreation. This was countered by a smaller number of submitters who noted that MPI was a neutral choice in terms of its representation of interests relevant to public access, and remains a good option for administration of the Act.

A key message was that wherever the Commission is finally located, its independence and impartiality, including its ability to represent all interests in public access disputes, must be maintained. Submitters noted that administration of the Act by DOC, in particular, could jeopardise this.

Feedback also urged the review to carefully consider what would be achieved by moving administration of the Act away from MPI, for example, the relationships that would be established, or the portfolio responsibility efficiencies and links that could be made.

Discussions with the Commission and across government canvassed opportunities to generally improve the ways in which the Commission is involved with relevant cross-government work. Regardless of the Commission’s final resting place within government, this issue needs to be addressed (see Partnerships).

Recommendation 24: That responsibility for administration of the Walking Access Act 2008 remain with the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Commission entity type

Little feedback was received on the appropriateness of the Commission’s status as a Crown entity (Crown agent). A small number of submitters called for greater independence for the Commission, by moving away from Government administration and towards a trust model (similar to QEII National Trust). This was countered by submitters who emphasised that government responsibility and funding for public access was appropriate, given its significant national benefits.

A similarly small number of submitters called for the Commission to remain a Crown entity but to become an autonomous Crown entity, or independent Crown entity. This was largely proposed as a means of giving more gravitas to the advice and recommendations provided by the Commission, particularly in cross-government processes.

As noted in the preceding section, feedback largely reflected the wider issue of the processes and opportunities through which the Commission is involved with relevant cross-government work. While entity type may play some role in addressing this, the issue may be sufficiently addressed by: providing statutory acknowledgement of the Commission’s role across government (see Functions of the Commission); improving processes for the Commission’s involvement across government (see Partnerships); and increasing the profile of the Commission, which is likely to be a flow-on effect from many of the recommendations made in this report.

Further, it is unlikely that a change to entity type alone would resolve the issues identified.

Recommendation 25: That the Commission remain a Crown entity (Crown agent).

Board requirements

Board numbers

Limited feedback was received on the appropriateness of the current number of Commission board members allowed by the Act. This was reflected in responses received through the online feedback form to the question ‘is the required number of board members (5-8) for the Walking Access Commission right?’. Of the 268 responses, 47 percent answered ‘yes’, 9 percent answered ‘no’ and 44 percent answered ‘don’t know’.

However, a number of submitters, across government and the general public, flagged the benefits of a small increase to the number of board members. On average, the suggestion was that six to ten members would be a good number, with less than five being too small. The primary reasons cited were that a larger board would allow for a greater range of skills, experience and knowledge, as well as greater representation of different interest groups and geographic locations.

While generally, engagement feedback supported an increase in the number of board members, this review finds that such an increase is inappropriate given the size of the Commission. Instead, it is recommended that the current range of five to eight members be retained. It is considered that having five to eight members is sufficient to encompass the skills, experience and knowledge identified later in this section (see Board skills, experience and knowledge). The review panel holds a different view, and considers that the number of board members should be limited to five only. See the review panel’s Foreword for the reasoning behind this view.

Recommendation 26: That the current range of between five and eight Commission board members indicated in section 8 of the Walking Access Act 2008 be retained.

Board skills, experience and knowledge 

Submitters held stronger views on the skills, experience and knowledge required of board members. Further, responses received through the online feedback form indicated submitters’ clear support for specifying these within the Act. Of the 275 responses received through the online feedback form to the question ‘should the Act specify the spread of background, skills and knowledge that board members should have?’, 67 percent answered ‘yes’, 13 percent answering ‘no’ and 21 percent answered ‘don’t know’.

A number of submitters noted concerns with the collective skills, experience and knowledge of the current Commission board. In particular, submitters felt that members did not adequately represent diversity of access users, or public interests in access more broadly.

Submitters identified a broad range of skills, experience and knowledge as important to be reflected in the Commission’s board members. The primary categories identified were:

  • recreation – an understanding of the diversity of access user groups, knowledge of or experience with the tourism sector, and experience with outdoors recreation;

  • landowners – experience with and knowledge of the farming sector and rural issues;

  • Māori representation;

  • local government – experience with resource management and urban planning (supported in territorial authority submissions); and

  • central government – knowledge of government processes, and senior public service experience.

Other categories of valuable skills, experience and knowledge identified by submitters included conservation and environmental knowledge, and legal and surveying experience. Some feedback emphasised the importance of broader management, leadership and government experience, as well as problem-solving and negotiation skills.

Whatever the requirements of board members, submitters noted that maintenance of the Commission’s independence was key, and that its governance arrangements should support it to be well connected and networked, including across government. Submitters also noted the importance of sufficient resourcing to the effective functioning of the board and the Commission.

Currently, the Act requires the Minister, after consultation with the Minister of Māori Affairs, to appoint at least one board member with knowledge of tikanga Māori. However, the need for greater Māori representation was a central issue raised in feedback. To address this, suggestions were made not only in terms of the board member skills, experience and knowledge but also in the context of board member appointment processes (see Board appointment process later in this section). However, given the limited nature of engagement with Māori through the review process, it is difficult to determine the appropriate level of Māori representation on the Commission board at this stage. Further consultation is required before any changes to section 8(3) could be recommended.

Inclusion of a short but broad list of board member requirements in the Act would ensure core skills, experience and knowledge were captured while also allowing sufficient flexibility to appoint members based on emerging needs. This could include, for example, changing access needs or particular regional focuses being taken by the Commission.

Recommendation 27: That amendments be made to section 8 of the Walking Access Act 2008 to include a list of core skills, experience and knowledge that the board as a collective would need to encompass. At a minimum, these should include skills, experience and knowledge relevant to outdoor recreation, landowner and rural interests, tikanga Māori, local government, and central government, noting further consultation should be undertaken to determine the appropriate level of Māori representation on the board.

Board appointment process

Currently, the appointment process for the board is that set out under the Crown Entities Act 2004. Members are appointed by the responsible Minister and may only be appointed if, in the responsible Minister’s opinion, they have the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience to assist the statutory entity to achieve its objectives and perform its functions. The responsible Minister must also take into account the desirability of promoting diversity in board membership. Members are appointed for a term of three years, or less where specified in the notice of appointment, and can be reappointed.

There was a small amount of engagement feedback relating to the board appointment process, focusing on three key areas.

The first was the need to align appointment terms to ensure consistency and continuity between new and old members. Submitters noted that an increase in the number of members would go some way towards achieving this, allowing new members to be appointed while retaining a sufficient amount of the existing experience and corporate knowledge. However, including this as a part of the appointment process would ensure terms were aligned to facilitate smooth transitions between old and new members.

Second, submitters called for greater scope for public nomination. This suggestion ranged from nominations from the general public or individuals, to nominations from a defined list of organisations directly involved in outdoor recreation or public access issues. Submitters argued that this would ensure sufficient representation of the diversity of public access interests and forge ‘tangible paths back into the community’. While members are appointed by the responsible Minister, current practice includes the preparation of a shortlist by MPI, in consultation with the Commission. The Act, as it currently stands, does not prohibit this consultation process being widened and could incorporate public nominations as part of the shortlist. The responsible Minister would continue to make appointments based on the shortlist provided.

Third, some submitters called for changes to the appointment process to ensure greater representation of Māori interests. Given the limited nature of engagement with Māori through the review process, it is difficult to determine what would be the most appropriate mechanism to achieve adequate representation of Māori interests on the board.

Recommendation 28: That:

  1. the Ministry for Primary Industries widen its current consultation process when preparing a shortlist of potential Commission board members for decision by the responsible Minister; and

  2. consistency and continuity in membership is considered when deciding appointment terms for Commission board members; and

  3. further investigation is undertaken on how appointment processes could most appropriately ensure adequate representation of Māori interests.