By Andrew Hoggard, President Federated Farmers of NZ
OPINION: It has come to light in the last week or so that MPI’s advice to cabinet around the Essential Freshwater legislation included reservations around the nitrate bottom line and the impact on agriculture. Of course this drew much faux shock and horror from the environmental NGO quarter, a la ‘how dare they not put the environment first’.
Well, because they are not the Ministry FOR the Environment, they are the Ministry FOR Primary Industries. The hint is in the name. Their job is to provide the decision makers – the minister, and then cabinet – with information around how proposed legislation or actions will impact upon primary production in New Zealand. The Ministry for the Environment presents the environmental impacts.
One would hope that Treasury would then expand on the impacts to primary production, environmental outcomes, and provide analysis on what this will mean for the economy, for jobs, etc. The aim is that our decision makers in cabinet are armed with a comprehensive understanding of the issue from all angles and are then able to make a balanced decision for the country.
There have been recent calls for a review of the political decisions around the nitrate rules in the essential freshwater legislation and how they were arrived at. At Federated Farmers we 100% agree with that.
Why was a nitrate toxicity figure settled on, with no knowledge around what that number would mean for farming in many catchments? In fact this work is only occurring now, despite the fact it underpins understanding of the economic costs of new rules, what this would mean to jobs, and tax revenue, thus the government’s ability to fund social services. Surely there should have been a number of government ministers asking those questions before agreeing to any legislation. The Minister of Finance for one.
But let’s not just stop at reviewing that one component. Surely we should be also be asking some questions around the intensive winter grazing rules. How do you have a situation where you pass some rules and then barely one week later change a few of them because it becomes very obvious they are impractical, and with hopefully more changes to come. Did no one designing these rules actually head down to Southland, put a pair of gumboots on and get out to take a look from a practical standpoint of what is realistic and what isn’t.
How do we have a situation with the stock exclusion rules where the ministry has grossly underestimated the area of land captured, underestimated the costs to the sector and not looked into what their new regulations might mean. Did they even look at the farms they own, like Molesworth Station, which will now have to build and maintain an estimated 300 km of fencing \costing in the order of $6 to $7 million. That’s just alongside the Awatere river; it doesn’t include the cost of stock water reticulation or if any of this is in fact possible. Did anyone in Cabinet then question what water quality outcome will be gained in the Awatere river for all that cost and whether it’s worth it.
Did the Minister of Local Government questions the implications for communities of meeting the costs of every council having to redo its regional water plans to make them compliant with the new NPS for Freshwater, (conservatively estimated by officials to be $1.5 billion) This at a time when up and down the length of the country ratepayers are facing eye-watering rates increases to fund long overdue improvements to critical water infrastructure
So yes, let’s have a review, because if there was ever an example of poor process leading to poor decisions then the Essential Freshwater legislation is the case study in it.