If the cost of a regulation is greater than the perceived benefit or outcome “it’s just red tape. National will cut that,” Todd McClay says.
The MP for Rotorua was four weeks ago appointed National’s third agricultural spokesperson this triennium after the Barbara Kuriger controversy and Todd Muller’s decision to leave Parliament in October. McClay wants his hallmark in the post to be pragmatism.
“My style is about what actually works, backing rural New Zealand, talking about the great things that are happening and focusing on solutions. That means the things that we need to do, not what I think has happened over the last five years, which is dumping burden and cost upon a sector that actually always digs New Zealand out of the financial holes that Labour governments dig for us.”
As a teenager, McClay’s ambition was to be a farmer. His father was a teacher, predominantly in rural schools in the King Country and Waikato. It was at Hoe-o-Tainui, near Morrinsville, that McClay learned to milk cows at the age of about 12 at a farm up the road.
“I was very keen on it, in part because the farmer let me ride the motorbike home at night time so I could come back next morning.”
By his intermediate school years, the family had settled in the Taupo district. For two or three lessons a week he was on his own in “some small room without windows” studying School Certificate agriculture by correspondence. He passed, and persuaded his parents to let him go to Wesley College, which in those days had a working farm.
But despite working on farms for his school holidays, agricultural ambitions took a back seat when he went to cities to study.
He’s worked as a diplomat, ambassador and in business and public relations internationally, and got involved in agriculture again working for Lord Henry Plumb, former NFU President and President of the European Parliament when the UK was let into the Common Market (later the EU). Grappling with issues such as the UK’s BSE (‘mad cow disease’) outbreak and a consumer backlash against rural Europe “I suppose I learned what to do in agricultural politics, and at the European Union, what not to do”.
McClay first won the Rotorua seat in 2008 and has now served five terms.
The city is a tourism powerhouse but the Rotorua electorate is predominantly rural – big in dairy, sheep & beef, kiwifruit and forestry. Farming and forestry, McClay says, should not be at loggerheads.
“Labour, when they first came in, screwed the scrum in favour of forestry investment. Put the ETS on top of that, and it has created real challenges.
“I’m looking for solutions…for productive farming that brings returns not only for the country but for farmers themselves. But we also need a very strong forestry sector. We need to put some of the arguing aside and find good structures that allow that to happen.”
As newly-minted Ag minister, one of McClay’s first actions was to get work done on a ‘gold standard’ for live exports, both for on board and for country of destination, so the trade might be reinstituted on that basis.
“If it’s too late to make important changes based on science and good evidence, then Labour really has ruined the country. No, it’s not too late [to reverse the government’s ban],” he says.
McClay picks lightening the regulatory load as the No. 1 issue for farmers for the October election.
“We need to bring back trust in farmers, so that Wellington is no longer trying to run farms from an office in the Beehive.”