14 Mar 2024

Christopher Luxon defends more funding for Ruapehu ski fields

1:26 pm on 14 March 2024

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and other government politicians have sought to defend their decision to extend further funding for Ruapehu ski fields, during a visit to the Central Districts Field Days in Feilding.

Luxon engaged in a range of activities onThursday morning - including a ride-on lawnmower race, and trying his hand on a few diggers - using one to shovel some dirt and another to play a large game of Connect 4.

Attending with his Agriculture Minister Todd McClay, the pair announced moves to support the rural sector including a joint fund for animal facial eczema research, and classifying the dry spell in the top of the South Island as a medium scale adverse event, which unlocks support.

Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard, of the ACT Party, also announced the government was suspending the requirement for councils to comply with the Significant Natural Areas.

The government had also announced a $7m bailout for Ruapehu Alpine Lifts on Wednesday and $3.05m in equity and loan funding to support the sale of Tūroa ski field on the other side of the mountain the previous day.

The funding received criticism from a local business owner who said it was sending good money after bad. The district mayor said it would provide some certainty ahead of the ski season - but time and goodwill for Whakapapa ski field were running out.

Christopher Luxon at a government health announcement in Whangarei

Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

Luxon said it was a situation the government had inherited from the previous administration.

"Well, what we're doing is we're being very pragmatic. We're saying we're going to work towards getting a commercial solution for one of the fields -but that's obviously reliant upon a DOC concession happening as well.

"All of us are very united on the fact of we can't carry on subsidising ski fields. It's not the business that we're in, it should be a commercial enterprise. It should stand on its own two feet.

"We recognise that there's a [ski] season coming, we're going to support that season. But beyond that there is no further funding coming this way."

"We've inherited a situation, that's actually a conversation that was started under the previous government. We're cleaning it up, we're sorting it out."

ACT leader David Seymour had previously criticised the "gravy train" of funding, saying taxing successful businesses and giving the money to an unsuccessful one only made New Zealand poorer.

On Thursday, he argued it was a problem of the previous government's making.

"The fundamental problem at Ruapehu was that the previous government did not sort out the relationships with iwi, with DOC and with local councils, to make it a stable and viable business to run skiing at Ruapehu.

"We've said, last chance saloon, we're sorry the last government didn't fix the underlying problems - you've now got one year to do it."

The roughly $10.5m across the two ski fields is the fifth instalment of funding in the 18 months since Ruapehu Alpine Lifts went into voluntary administration in October 2022.

The coalition government's statements had made clear this would be the last time, Seymour said.

"If you look at what's been reported in the last 24 hours, every single person - whether it's the local council, the operators, or the politicians - are crystal clear that this is the end of the line for government handouts to Ruapehu lifts.

"You know, sometimes if you need to be credible you got to burn the bridges behind you so you're not tempted to go back.

"I don't think you've seen it [previously] with the level of clarity and being repeated back by the people - even those receiving the money, and those who are responsible representatives in the district - very clear the boats are burned on the beach here."