Rental car companies under fire for refusing to help clean up tourist drivers' NZ road chaos

A Kaikoura man wiped off the road by a foreign tourist wants rental car companies to be more willing to help clean up after any accidents their customers cause, after he fought a two-month battle to get compensated for his losses.

“They've got a fleet of wagons on the road, they're running a business making money out of them and they're putting these drivers in these vehicles. I think it's their problem,” Paul Gasson told Fair Go.

Paul was hit head-on near Whataroa on the West Coast by a tourist on the wrong side of the road, at the wheel of a Happy Campers van.

“It was brakes on, pulling off, but this campervan still came and hit me smack fair and square in the front of the vehicle and yeah I thought that could be it,” Paul said.

Police ticketed the tourist, 34 year-old Ludovic Le Roux from Luxembourg, for failing to keep left. Fair Go understands Mr Le Roux has left New Zealand. He has not responded to emailed requests for his insurance details, or for comment.

The crash wrote off both vehicles and endangered the lives of animal handler Paul and his highly-trained kiwi-tracking conservation dog, Dillon.

Paul Gasson has since spent two months trying to get back some of the $7000 he says the crash has cost him. Paul had his ute insured for third party damage, meaning if he had caused the crash, Happy Campers would be covered. But Happy Campers was initially refusing any responsibility to fix his loss.

“We're all in this together. We share the roads and we're sharing the conservation resource and the tourists are coming here to see our beautiful places and our wildlife. I'm doing my bit, but this seems… a little bit irresponsible, that you can put people on the roads and not take care of what happens,” Paul said.

Fair Go put that to Happy Campers’ owner Kevin Whiteside, who initially was emphatic:

“As a rental car company, we're not liable for any damage done by a person who damages someone else's car when they're hiring the van, OK?”

Mr Whiteside has a fleet of 650 vehicles across his rental companies. He told Fair Go that his agreements comply with transport regulations.

Happy Campers agreements also have insurance exclusion clauses that place all liability on the driver if the way the vehicle is used breaks any law or regulation. Mr Whiteside told Fair Go that he believes that makes their customers drive more carefully while in New Zealand.

The industry body for rental cars found this unusual.

“Most of the time unless there's a serious breach of traffic law, normal conditions of insurance coverage would apply, “said Barry Kidd, from the Rental Vehicle Association.

“Failing to give way, failing to keep left, not adjusting to the driving conditions - those things are part and parcel of driving a vehicle. It happens from time to time. People get distracted, people makes mistakes and sometimes those mistakes result in accidents, ” Mr Kidd said.

“Normally a combination of the rental vehicle company and the insurer will cover those costs,” he said

The RVA represents most major rental car brands in New Zealand, as well as Happy Campers.

Mr Whiteside has since clarified his position to Fair Go:

“While we will still hold the client liable if they have breached the exclusion clauses we acknowledge that Happy Campers still has a liability direct with owner of the vehicle the client has damaged and will deal with that in a more expedient manner.”

“We appreciate your comments that has bought this matter to our attention.”

Kevin Whiteside has paid Paul Gasson $3350 for damages - less than half what the kiwi-dog handler says he lost.

“I’m not a happy camper,” Paul said, but he added it has softened the blow and allowed him to move on and continue with his conservation work.

Happy Campers’ owner Kevin Whiteside said they're "not liable for any damage" rental drivers cause. Source: Fair Go

East Coast forestry company's illegal logging history revealed

The Malaysian owner of a forestry company blamed for tonnes of debris washing up in Tolaga Bay has been fined twice for illegal logging overseas, but it took the Overseas Investment Office nine years to realise.

The penalty could have affected Samling Group's Hikurangi Forest Farm's good character status, but the OIO decided it was too late to take any action.

Separately, a Malaysian billionaire who owns another Tolaga Bay forestry company was granted 24 consents to buy sensitive land between 2005 and 2017, even though another of his companies has faced accusations of environmental and human rights abuses overseas since 2004.

The admission of OIO's tardy response to the Samling's illegal logging fine has prompted calls for the OIO to beef up its monitoring of foreign investors and for changes to the way the good character test is applied.

Hikurangi Forest Farms, owned by Malaysia's Samling Group, was granted consent to buy 22ha of land in Gisborne in May 2007.

Five months later one of Samling's subsidiaries, Barama Company, was fined for illegal logging in Guyana. In January 2008 it was fined again.

The Norwegian Pension Fund quit all its Samling investments in 2010 because of ethical concerns about its operations in Guyana and Malaysia and Samling's palm oil operations in Myanmar were last year accused of illegal deforestation indigenous land grabs and environmental abuses by civil rights groups in that country.

The OIO said it was aware of online reports of the company's practices in Myanmar but it had not been able to verify them.

It only became aware of the illegal logging fines in 2017.

"After considering various matters, including limitation issues and the age of the fine, and how long ago Samling got OIO consent, we considered the fine was too long ago for us to act on this information alone," Land Information New Zealand's Overseas Investment Office manager Vanessa Horne said.

That action could have included forcing the sale of assets owned by Samling.

Meanwhile, a second Malaysian-owned company also implicated in the Tolaga Bay flooding, has continued to buy sensitive land in New Zealand despite its owners facing allegations of human rights and environmental abuses abroad.

Ernslaw One, owned by Malaysia's Tiong family, is one of the three companies whose activities are being investigated by the Gisborne District Council after the June floods.

Its founder Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King made his fortune in forestry and palm oil plantations and his assets here included New Zealand King Salmon, Winstone Pulp and Neil Group.

One of his logging companies Rimbunan Hijau faces accusations of illegal operations and human rights and environmental abuses in Papua New Guinea and Malaysia, first documented by Greenpeace in 2004, and more recently this month by the Oakland Institute.

But it hasn't affected his business in New Zealand with 24 consents to buy sensitive land being granted since 2005.

The Tiong family has been investing in New Zealand for more than 20 years, with more than 90 approved consents to the companies controlled by the family, OIO's Vanessa Horne said.

"For the OIO to take enforcement action after consent has been granted for any breach of a good character condition, it would need to prove that a person is not fit to hold an asset.

"We need to consider the nature of the allegation, the evidence of the allegation and the public interest in taking action, such as the impact on New Zealanders from taking action. The commission of an offence by a person may provide evidence as to whether they are fit to hold an asset. But this is not the only matter the OIO would need to consider," she said.

Both Samling and the Tiong family's Rimbunan Hijau were yesterday named as irresponsible palm oil producers in a report published by Greenpeace.

Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) said the OIO's good character test was not rigorous enough.

"To prove companies are of good character representative of the company usually a New Zealand lawyer has to sign a bit of paper certifying they're of good character - that's it," CAFCA spokesperson Murray Horton said.

Council of Trade Unions policy director Bill Rosenberg said the test also only applied to individuals, not the company itself. But he would like to see that changed.

"If you have companies with a consistent poor record of ignoring good environmental practice, no action can be taken under the current law."

East Coast environmental and indigenous rights advocate Tina Ngata said she was "appalled" to learn of the actions that Hikurangi Forest Farms and Ernslaw One's parent companies were accused of in other countries.

It was up to the OIO to monitor foreign investors more stringently and take action if necessary, she said.

"The OIO need to be taking a better role in monitoring the behaviour of these companies if they allow them into our economy so they don't make these kinds of impacts on our landscape."

It was especially important where public money was used to clean up environments impacted by companies failing to follow good practices, she said.

The OIO had nine permanent staff, up from just two in 2015, so it had more capacity to monitor and enforce consent conditions, including good character requirements, Vanessa Horne said.

Oregon Group declined to comment, and several attempts to contact its Malaysian owner were unsuccessful. Hikurangi Forest Farms and its owner Samling could also not be reached for comment.

By Anusha Bradley

Slash debris after flooding in Tolaga Bay. (Emma Hatton) Source:


Hamilton shooting which left man in hospital was 'targeted attack'

Police say the shooting of a man in Hamilton last night was a "targeted attack".

The incident occurred on Derby Street at approximately 10:25pm yesterday, leaving a 35-year-old man in Waikato Hospital with moderate but not life-threatening injuries.

The man is in a stable condition in a high dependency unit.

Hamilton City Area Commander Inspector Freda Grace said a group was involved in the attack.

"Investigations so far have established a group of offenders arrived at Derby Street and approached a house they believed belonged to the target of their attack and knocked on the door," she said.

"A man who lived at the address opened the door and an altercation occurred. He was uninjured but understandably shaken by the event.

"Following this, the group of offenders went to the house next door. A number of shots were fired and the 35-year-old man they were targeting was hit inside his address.

"The group have then fled the scene in vehicles."

Police are continuing a scene investigation today but it is not yet known whether the incident involves members of organised crime groups.

Inspector Grace says there is nothing to suggest the shooting is connected to a number of serious incidents involving people being harmed across Waikato in recent months.

Police are keen to talk to anyone who was in the area around 10:25pm yesterday who may have witnessed anything suspicious or have information of interest to the investigation.

People can contact Hamilton Police on 07 858 6200 or call Crimestoppers anonymously via 0800 555 111.

The incident took place in Nawton at 10.25pm yesterday – the offender fled the scene by car. Source: Breakfast


Pet food company fined $90k over employee's ill-treatment of bobby calves

The owner of a pet food plant has been sentenced for allowing one of his employees to ill-treat bobby calves.

Alan Cleaver from Te Kauwhata has been sentenced in the Hamilton District Court to six months community detention and 180 hours community work.

His company, Down Cow Limited was fined $90,000 dollars.

Mr Cleaver has also been banned for five years from having anything to do with the ownership or care of farm animals.

Charges were laid against Mr Cleaver, the company and an employee following secret video taken by the animal rights group, Farmwatch in 2015.

The employee, Noel Erickson was originally sentenced in 2016 to home detention but this was reduced on appeal by two years in prison.

Noel Erickson's actions were exposed by TVNZ's Sunday programme and caused widespread anger and disgust. Source: 1 NEWS

Calf. Source: 1 NEWS

Fine weather for most of the country today, a few scattered clouds otherwise clear

TVNZ weather presenter Dan Corbett gives the latest update. Source: 1 NEWS