The Minister of Agriculture, Damien O’Connor, is under pressure on many fronts and his recent quote to the media that his Government “isn’t going to be a friend of the farmer” is already playing out, National’s spokesperson for Primary Industries Nathan Guy says.

The Primary Production Select Committee yesterday heard from NIWA and the Met Service that many parts of New Zealand are quickly approaching drought conditions. The Committee also heard from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Crown Irrigation Investments Limited (CIIL) that all irrigation projects currently receiving Government support are under review, due to the coalition agreement that states no new projects will be funded.

“Parts of New Zealand are in drought-like conditions already and this underpins why water storage is crucial. The new Government has a legal and moral duty to carry on supporting schemes in good faith, not backslide out of its obligations.

“Shane Jones $1 billion regional development fund may cover localised projects, but there’s no clarification as to what is considered a ‘localised’ project. Farmers and rural communities need certainty about the progress of these schemes now - not wait for officials to report back to Ministers at the end of Summer.

“There is further uncertainty for farmers, growers and taxpayers over the cost of smashing apart MPI, not to mention the thousands of employees suddenly facing unclear futures.

“In Parliament yesterday the Minister confirmed he has received a detailed briefing paper on the costs of creating the three new MPI entities (Forestry and Fisheries, as well as Food Safety and Biosecurity), but he stated there’s “no public interest” in releasing that information.

“Damien O’Connor is using an excuse normally used for information that is commercially sensitive, private or involving national security.

“It’s likely the briefing will detail tens of millions of dollars of spending on new office space, four new chief executive salaries, new IT systems, legal advice – and so much more disruption.

“I understand there is significant push back from MPI and the State Services Commission (SSC) who oppose the plans. The advice given by them will probably show how they are suggesting a work around to avoid tipping MPI on its head.

They are likely to propose things like changing uniforms and stickers on doors to avoid the Ministers sledgehammer and help him save face when the costs and uncertainty just don’t stack up.

“Just as this new Government is talking up its capacity for transparency, Mr O’Connor is being shifty.

“It’s hard to have faith in the coalition Government when he isn’t being upfront with farmers and exporters and this sort of secrecy keeps occurring,” Mr Guy says.

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