By Cameron MacDuff
RMA reform, Cyclone Gabrielle recovery and pressure on the Government in the looming election are some of the priorities for the Federated Farmers policy team for the rest of the year, according to Feds’ GM Policy & Advocacy Gavin Forrest and National Manager General Policy Nick Clark.
Agricultural emissions taxes, Three Waters, carbon forestry, immigration policy as well as unworkable regulations around freshwater, winter grazing, stock exclusion and wetlands are also key agenda items.
One thing is clear, however – Cyclone Gabrielle has disrupted the state of play. It’s been a tragedy for many farmers but also one that’s cast a national spotlight on the need for resilient roads and locally led solutions to many issues – something Feds has been advocating for years. It’s seen Government backtrack on releasing an updated transport policy statement, originally intended to favour funding public transport and cycling/walking modes over maintaining road networks.
“It’s also an election year, which always brings in a different perspective to things,” Gavin adds.
“There’s that underlying inflationary pressure we haven’t seen for a long time, which puts huge pressure on farmers as interest rates go up. The best thing the Government could do for the primary sector now is to reduce compliance costs.”
“We’ve seen farmers almost scared to get their farms back on their feet after Cyclone Gabrielle because they’re worried about RMA compliance. It’s crazy,” he says.
The unexpected resignation of Jacinda Ardern, with Chris Hipkins stepping into the role, sparked a revaluation of policies by Labour.
“Various policies have been kicked to touch or placed under review,” Nick says.
Resource management reform remains the Feds’ policy team’s chief concern. The Federation believes the proposed three new Acts to replace the 30-year-old Resource Management Act will actually mean less efficiency.
“The two bills currently in the house are appallingly bad and will make the whole Resource Management system worse,” Nick says.
“We want those bills ditched.”
Second is the issue of agricultural emissions pricing, where Feds remains firm on three bottom lines: a) Feds will not consider supporting an emissions tax without a scientific target for methane deductions based on achieving no additional warming by 2050,
b) that any tax is used exclusively to incentivize the uptake of viable and cost-effective mitigation options available to New Zealand farmers, and
c) that no emissions leakage or reductions in food production occur.
Third on the list of concerns is the Three Waters reforms; Feds are opposed to the four proposed mega Water Services Entities. The Federation argues the Government has failed to take into account differences between how regions undertake water management, especially in rural areas.
“There are changes needed but not of this sort. You don’t have one single pipeline running up the whole country so the network efficiencies just aren’t there,” Nick says.
Cyclone Gabrielle has highlighted the issue of plantation forestry on erodible hill country land, and the long-term sustainability of carbon forestry. Nick says while it’s a pity it’s taken a cyclone to prompt an inquiry, Feds hopes it will result in much-needed changes.
Immigration also needs attention, Nick says. While the government has reopened borders and established an accredited employer work visa to attract migrant workers, the median wage requirement is a real problem.
“It’s simply too high for a lot of the positions farmers need. It causes huge headaches for employers, it drives up labor costs and will just drive inflation even higher,” he says.
There’s also the regulations regarding fresh water, winter grazing, stock exclusion and wetlands, which following multiple revisions still aren’t right. Simply gaining consent for essential activities under these is a drag on not only farmers, but government resources too.
When asked about common rebuttals encountered in the advocacy space, Gavin says most boil down to different outlooks.
“A counter-argument we run into often is that we need to reduce our emissions, and planting trees under a carbon offset trading scheme is the most efficient way of doing it,” he says.
“The problem is you’re slowly sucking the economy dry and you’re not thinking about what the effect is when they’ve stopped absorbing carbon and potentially start falling over – floating down rivers and blowing out bridges.”
“We should find ways to reduce emissions, not keep pumping out emissions and planting trees to offset them.”
Nick adds it’s often argued farmers should simply cut back due to being responsible for 50% of New Zealand’s total emissions.
“In terms of emissions our farmers are amongst the most efficient in the world,” he says.
“If we reduce our production it’ll be taken up by less efficient producers overseas and global emissions will actually rise.”
Dealing with cynicism from government officials and ministers is also not uncommon and widens the gap Feds needs to bridge with various legislators.
“Where officials or ministers don’t trust advocacy groups and assume that they’re trying to screw the scrum – that’s where they’ve come up short.” Gavin says.
Coinciding with the election, an updated General Election Platform will be released near the middle of the year. This is essentially Feds’ ‘wish list’ for politicians in broad terms and goes into finer detail regarding these policy areas plus what Feds thinks about them.
- To listen to Nick & Gavin’s full interview go to https://tinyurl.com/ys66nyd8