By Gavin Forrest, Federated Farmers GM Policy & Advocacy
Let’s be clear up front – it was hard and sound policy work and persistent advocacy that won the day on sensible and practical winter grazing rules, not howls of protests or tooting horns.
The decision to withdraw and review the winter grazing requirements was made in March 2021 following strong and consistent pressure from Federated Farmers and farmer levy organisations. The excellent work of the Southland Winter Grazing Advisory Group, in which Feds and others took a leading role, was key. The report the Advisory Group presented to Ministers in December 2020 has formed the basis of what officials worked on and released for further input on 26 August 2021.
Don’t get me wrong. Protests have their time and place – particularly when central or local governments stop listening – or more importantly stop taking notice of their officials and the people, as they did with the Essential Freshwater regulations. If I thought protests alone would win the day my job of managing Feds’ 30 strong policy team would be an easy task. If I thought getting my policy experts to toot outside Parliament, Council Chambers and the Courts was enough on its own then Feds would purchase a fleet of utes.
But when it comes to getting results on a wide number of fronts it is the tireless work of Federated Farmers’ elected leaders and staff and of those of Beef+Lamb NZ and DairyNZ that ultimately wins the day. This will definitely be the case with the large number of unworkable parts of the Government’s Essential Freshwater/Action for Healthy Waterways regulations that are gradually collapsing under their own weight.
The government is starting to do what it should have done in the first place – taken their fingers out of their ears.
The winter grazing regulations are just one of these unworkable regulations where a fix has been found through hard work and persistence. If only Government had continued to engage in 2019 a fix would not have been required. Up until 29 May 2019 Federated Farmers and the farmer levy organisations were working closely with MfE and MPI officials on the freshwater package, which included the winter grazing and stock exclusion regulations. This is what we do on a wide range of issues at both the national and local government level.
Unfortunately, this collaborative process was stopped dead in its tracks when environmental NGOs asked the government why they were not consulting with them as well. Instead of opening up the process to genuine consultation, Ministers shut the process down using the groundless accusation that Feds leaked confidential information as a means to an end. This was a major reason why we have ended up with so many unworkable parts of what they eventually came out with.
When the next version of the regulations were made public on 5 September 2019, Feds was the first, (and for a while until others also looked at the regs in detail, the only) organisation that called the government out. While there were some improvements based on our input the regulations were still riddled with problems. On 5 September 2019 Feds stated that the government had thrown farmers under the tractor and that the Essential Freshwater proposals would result in large parts of rural New Zealand having to abandon their reliance on the pastoral sector.
The Prime Minister contacted the Feds President and asked “were we serious?” – Katie Milne simply replied, Yes.
After more advocacy work by Federated Farmers and others the intensive winter grazing regulations were put on hold in March 2021 following on from the presentation of the Southland Winter Grazing Advisory Group’s report to Ministers in December 2020. This report was key to achieving the proposed changes announced last month.Federated Farmers was an integral part of the Advisory group (represented by Feds Southland VP, Bernadette Hunt) along with Beef+Lamb NZ, DairyNZ, Environment Southland and Fish and Game.
In addition, after concerted effort and solid analysis by Feds, the Government admitted in late 2020 that the Stock Exclusion regulations “low slope map” was also unworkable and on 14 July 2021 announced proposed changes.
These issues, along with a long list of other problems with the regulations, were raised in a comprehensive Feds report to Government in November 2020.
Arguably Feds won the day the regulations were passed as they were so poorly drafted that many of them will not last as they are unworkable. Two changes were made to the regulations in the few days between when they were passed (3 September 2020) and when they took effect. Many more changes will be required.
Achieving good environmental outcomes are a little like achieving good road safety outcomes. Rules are required for the transport network to operate safety and efficiently, but these rules must be practical and gain the support of road users. In the end the Police need to have the social licence to enforce the rules. It could be argued that the Government is close to losing its social licence to regulate the environment as it risks failing to take the people with them.