$1.5 million is owed just in freedom camping fines

Ah yes.  The NZ disease strikes again – lack of enforcement.

Currently many overseas drivers leave the country without paying fines.

Local councils say that over $1.5 million is owed just in freedom camping fines and the Ministry of Justice estimates that the total amount of fines owed by people who are now overseas could total up to $30m, including New Zealanders who have left the country.

For councils the fact that overseas tourists often ignore fines means that enforcement is becoming increasingly difficult.

In Queenstown, the council is issuing up to 50 freedom camping fines every night but the lack of an effective fine collection system means the problem continues to get worse. The council’s response has been to start clamping vehicles.

That’s one way around it.  

The RVA has sent a letter to the government saying that they would cooperate with a new system which could debit fines straight from the drivers’ credit card details.

Local Government Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga said that he was ready to consult with the association on its suggestion and also to involve other government ministries in finding better ways to enforce and collect fines involving overseas drivers.

The Ministry of Justice denies that the current system is archaic and said that there had been a move away from paper-based systems.

But a ministry spokesperson told RNZ that infringement fines could not be referred to them until 57 days after being issued and then there was another 28 days before enforcement action could start.

Over 70 agencies in New Zealand have the power to issue fines, something the RVA said proved the need for a better, tougher and faster enforcement and fine collection system for visiting tourists.

We clearly need to tweak the law to ensure we don’t get taken advantage of tourists that come here to act outside the law and then fly back home before our systems are even ready to declare it all overdue.

My idea would be to place a flag against these people’s travel documentation so when they get to the airport to fly out, they can either pay up right there and then, or they don’t get past customs.  I can assure you that after one or two highly publicised cases of people missing their flights and then having to try and find money to pay for their fines and new tickets, the problem will disappear overnight.




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  • JustAnotherLurker

    Try getting out of Croatia without paying the parking fine on the rental car. Not a chance! If they can do it – NZ must be able to as well.

    • Red_NZ

      I got out of Italy perfectly fine, always worried about the next owners of our van showing up in cinque terre and getting in trouble. not our fault the camper area was filled with vans selling lemons etc

  • willtin

    It’s way too obvious a solution and I bet Angry Little and his crew will argue against any such punitive measures for all those ‘honest’ travellers, fleeing the country leaving outstanding fines.

  • MaryLou

    I like that idea of auto-debiting the credit card. Why complicate things or leave it till the end of their holiday when they’ve likely spent everything? Save that as last resort for those who pay cash for cheap vehicles (ie no credit card in evidence).

    • Because credit card charges are easily reversed. Trust me, as a merchant since the mid-90’s I know that merchants are placed in a position where they have to prove the charge to be valid. The card companies take the side of the card holder.

      You to your bank in France and say “the NZ government put this charge on my card, and I think it must be someone else. I should not have to pay that”.

      Yet if you have them at customs, get them to go to the Bureau de Excgange and rustle up some hard cash…

      Anyway, the point is to hit a few of them really hard and publicly. The problem will go away after that.

  • JLS

    Was down in the SI recently and this was a topic which came up as we constantly saw them over nighting in locations in which they were prohibited. Upon approach some were very defensive, self righteous, and aggressive, and it seemed fully aware they were not playing by the rules. Our solution was for the fines to be made to the rental car company via the registration number. When the car is returned the fines are sitting waiting for them, or the company has to pay up if it is too late. Puts the responsibility on them to ensure their customers play the game, and no different to a speed camera fine which also goes to the owner rather than the driver.

    • Mighty1

      That would work for campers with a vehicle, what if they just have a tent and a backpack?

      • JLS

        I’d wager they are in the minority as all of the ones we saw were in vehicles- mostly rented. Aim for the largest offending group with the simplest effective penalty system and go on from there. The mechanism is already in place.

  • Keanne Lawrence

    Time to increase the cross channel chatter between the debtors and the Immigration Dept to stop this at the departure gate.
    Going soft on freedom campers is the biggest part of the problem since it has been well publicised that they leave a lot more behind than unpaid fines.

  • Sagacious Blonde

    A Gendarme in France insisted my daughter and son-in-law follow him to the nearest ATM to withdraw the cash for their speeding fine.

    • Usaywot

      Hm. Not sure about this. How would you know he didn’t pocket it. I’d prefer a border control or electronic payment.

  • Oh wah bloody wah!
    Define freedom camping? God I’m sick and tired of people (socialists as a rule) attempting to find ways to extort money off people that are actually doing what a truly free society should do and that is live free!

    By all means fine the scum bags that dump the contents of a septic tank into the nearest reserve or take a dump in the car park but for crying out loud people that are pitching a tent for a night or parking a camper van on a reserve and using the local cafes and shops, maybe going to the local pool for a cold shower or whatever…so what? They add to the flavour not subtract.

    My mates and I used to love freedom camping, we went wherever, we cleaned up our mess…AND we always did at least one thing to make wherever we stayed a little bit better (we’d clean a toilet block, stack some firewood, collect litter…something), and then move on.
    I miss that stuff. And I miss my free country!

    This is nothing to do with Godzone and everything to do with making sure camp ground and motel operators get their (fair…ha bloody ha) share!

    • Steve kay

      I live in Queenstown. If people were defecating in every available layby on a nightly basis around your house, would you be happy taking the kids out for a bike ride? Until you’ve witnessed the detritus for yourself, you’ll never get it.

      • Mighty1

        What I wonder is why assume it’s the campers – the guys with the gear onboard – that are messing your place? Could it be car travellers or hikers doing it? Why pick on the camper people?

        • Steve kay

          Because I drive past them every morning.

      • As I already said. Go hard on the scum that want to treat the country as a toilet.
        Given that Queenstown’s entire economy is based on tourism I’m surprised a few bucks isn’t being put towards making public toilets more available.
        Plenty of them in Auckland and cold showers too.

        • Steve kay

          We have toilets. Just not where they sleep on the side of the road.

          • Yep. And so do people that aren’t freedom camping. It’s why despite the myth, urinating in public is not illegal.
            Even the cops recognise if ya gotta go ya gotta go. As I said…take a tough line on those that are taking the …errrr…piss.

    • Red_NZ

      When you freedom camp with other kiwis and aussies in europe, you realise that the freedom campers who visit NZ do little compared with what our fellow countrymen got up to. I found it was the kids from Rural NZ who were more than happy to use Europe as their rubbish bin and toilet. The little issue we’re having at the moment is nothing compared to what i witnessed.

      Funny thing is I always felt safer Freedom camping all through Europe, than I ever would here.

  • Larry

    We earn more out of tourism than dairy and less damage to the environment It’s about time central government spent some or the tax (GST) they collect on infrastructure to support this industry. Build some toilets and provide some rubbish bins.

  • Toby

    It’s easy. Don’t fine the driver. Fine the vehicle. If it’s a rented vehicle the fine will go to the rental company and be charged to the hirers. Why aren’t they doing this now?