Kim Reilly, Federated Farmers South Island Regional Policy Manager
Queen Elizabeth II once described 1992 as an “annus horribilis” – a horrible year. Moving forward 28 years, I’m not even sure there is a sufficient (publishable) term to sum up 2020. Let’s just say, it was a bloody shocker.
Covid19 created the perfect storm for the year’s lowlights. It impacted everyone, and not just through lockdowns and health worries. It also hit in the pocket, and in some cases, it bought the end to jobs, businesses, and livelihoods. Vaccinations may be on the horizon, but unfortunately it looks like we’re going to be dealing with the impact and fallout of Covid19 well into 2021.
Overall, the New Zealand economy in 2020 also took a hit. Although the latest Treasury update indicated that hit was less severe than initially expected, in no small part thanks to the positive contribution the primary sector continued to play.
From a farming perspective, 2020 was the year of frustrating government regulations. September saw the release of a raft of ‘one-size fits all’ freshwater regulations imposed across the sector. While some rules may ultimately be workable, others remain impractical and costly, with the only hope for common-sense relying on the Minister for the Environment acknowledging that changes need to be made, particularly in the area of wetlands, winter grazing and stock exclusion.
A positive is that we’re starting to see regional councils, stakeholders and government officials working constructively together on a pragmatic way through. Given it’s the implementation of these rules that will be key, there is hope that this solution-focussed collaboration could show how everyone can work together into the future.
All up, for many of us, 2020 is a year we’d rather leave in the rear-view mirror. But what’s coming up on the horizon?
Unfortunately, it’s probably more of the same for 2021. The intensity of central government regulation and direction forced down on local and regional councils is only going to increase, and everyone needs to sit up and pay attention to that.
Looming regulations will cover a range of topics, from biodiversity, climate change, farm plans and the protection of highly productive soil, through to a full review of the Resource Management Act, the Crown Pastoral Land system, and the three waters (drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater).
This time though, it won’t be just primary producers impacted and frustrated. Rates are going to increase, and with 2021 being a ‘long-term plan year’, close inspection of councils’ proposed costs and rates forecasts will be crucial. Unfortunately, the reality is that the more central government regulation that is released, the greater the requirements falling onto councils, and consequently, the higher the rates you’ll be expected to pay.
In Otago, we’re also facing a full review of the Regional Policy Statement (which will ultimately impact all district plans), the ongoing fast-track of the Otago Water and Land Plan review, and three different Otago plan changes will be working their way through the Environment Court system.
One thing that’s certain, 2021 won’t be dull. But one thing 2020 has shown us all is that if anyone can find the best way through obstructions and chaos, Kiwis can.