Good afternoon, it’s great to be back here again in Hawke’s Bay. I’d like to acknowledge Tukituki MP Lawrence Yule and MPs Scott Simpson, Ian McKelvie, Barbara Kuriger, Alastair Scott, Parmjeet Parmar and Hamish Walker who are also here with me today.
National holds every rural seat in New Zealand with the exception of one, but I can assure we’re planning to have the West Coast Tasman seat by the end of next year. Labour MP Damien O’Connor, the man who has been telling farmers to ‘get over it’ and ‘suck it up’ when they ask about increasing costs at public meetings over the last couple months should look out.
When I came here and spoke to farmers last year I got a sense of growing concern within the primary sector. This year I can see that this feeling has swelled, and it’s because of this Government’s policies.
Farmers have put up with a lot since this Government came to power, whether it be the Tax Working Group report and the uncertainty of the Capital Gains Tax campaign which included proposals for a water tax, nitrogen tax and fertiliser tax, good pastoral farm land being converted to forestry due to what is effectively subsidisation, onerous methane targets in the Zero Carbon Bill that aren’t even in line with science, and now the Freshwater proposals and cynical consultation process surrounding them.
National has and is continuing to stand up to the Government on these issues, unlike NZ First who pretend to walk the walk but have sidled up with the Greens and Labour to produce the most anti-farmer sentiment we have seen since Helen Clark said it was a ‘sunset industry’.
Quite frankly, this Government just doesn’t understand rural communities, and it’s been tremendously short-sighted in its approach. While a lot of these have been thrown to the scrapheap once the Government has realised the implications of its proposals, it still amounts to months and months of waiting and indecision for those of you who have to mitigate costs and are unsure about what your bottom line is going to be by the end of the year, all because there might be a new tax waiting for you soon.
We are concerned about the Government’s so-called consultation process around Fresh Water reforms. We are particularly concerned about the pace of change and the lack of flexibility of land use and the significant costs that it will impose on farmers. I know it has left with you with questions about your future and whether the banks will stand by you through all of this.
All of this is why confidence is at record lows. Just look at the anxiety and uncertainty the Government is causing.
Given that, I’d like to also take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the Rural Support Trust for the work that they do. We know the struggles faced by some in rural New Zealand with mental health. I know what a great job the rural support trust does working with you and supporting you.
If there’s one saving grace of this Government, it’s that it is so incompetent that it very rarely gets to implement these dangerous policies. But make no mistake - David Parker, Damien O’Connor and James Shaw have you in their sights.
This sort of kneejerk politics is detrimental to our country as a whole, just look at the oil and gas ban that was implemented despite the Government’s own advice telling it that emissions and fossil fuel usage would actually rise, and lo and behold, we’re now burning the most coal that we have in years.
The irony of this is that the more taxes and limitations that are placed on farmers, the less there is for farmers to spend on on-farm improvements that improve their sustainability. New Zealand farmers have shown time and time again their ability to farm their ways to improved outcomes, and increased taxation and regulation for little gain only limits this.
While it’s good to see ag leaders working with the Government on lowering emissions through their climate change commitment, it’s concerning to see the Government has given themselves a backstop to bring agriculture into the ETS as early as 2022. National has been very clear that we’re not comfortable with agriculture entering the ETS unless farmers have the tools to lower emissions in a way that doesn’t lead to herd culling and decreased food production. Anything less and we put ourselves at a disadvantage to our international competitors and risk losing our valuable market share.
National is doing the hard work in Opposition to ensure we’re prepared with well thought out policies if we have the privilege to Govern next year. Earlier this year we released a discussion document with a series of policy proposals such as a primary sector visa and improved vocational education to strengthen our workforce, stricter biosecurity laws to deter shortcuts, and a mobile rural health clinic to ensure our isolated communities are experiencing the healthcare they deserve. We’re currently going through the feedback to this document and it will help inform our policy for next year.
The Primary Sector Visa would act as an avenue for skilled and experienced migrants to help get residence and build their futures here. Our primary sector is diversifying so we can try and feed an increasing global population, which is why it’s important we have the workforce to manage, develop and maintain New Zealand’s agricultural and horticultural businesses. It would work alongside other National initiatives such as supporting vocational education and agricultural training, extending the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme and promoting the sector as an attractive career prospect for young people.
National hasn’t changed its position on water storage. When we were in Government we put around $280m into irrigation and water storage projects. We only collect 2 per cent of the rainfall in New Zealand – the rest flows out to sea. More water security means farmers and growers have more certainty about the amount and kinds of food they can grow. Not only do these projects help the sector grow, they also have environmental benefits such as better summer river flows and flushing out algae. Irrigation and water storage could return $2.2b a year to our economy.
I know that farmers are working hard to protect their natural environment. An environmentally sustainable farming operation is not just a source of pride within the community, it’s an asset to pass down to future generations.
We produce enough food to feed around 40 million people worldwide, and it’s our reputation as a safe producer of food underpinned by sustainable farming practises that is paramount to international consumers and to our reputation.
We’re the most sustainable farmers in the world, and should be telling the world this. New Zealand farmers have made enormous sustainability gains over recent decades and continue to stay ahead of the pack in terms of efficiency and sustainability. In the past 30 years we’ve managed to produce more sheep meat from a third fewer sheep due to improvements with enhanced breeding mixes and enhanced lambing percentages.
I’m not saying we should rest on our laurels here either. I’m simply saying that we should be proud of what we’ve achieved so far, while striving to continue improving in a similar manner – through practical, science-based advances in technology and practice.
There is plenty to be excited about on the horizon as well. Research being led by animal scientists in Palmerston North is proving that boluses and vaccines will be a breakthrough for biological emissions. AgResearch is conducting Biotechnology research on a type of Ryegrass that would lower animal emissions 23 per cent, while also being more drought resistant.
We should be showing the world just how innovative and world-leading our agriculture sector is, and as we further develop these technologies then we can export them and show the rest of the world how they can lower their emissions. This is what I think leadership around emissions looks like - not endless speeches and meaningless rhetoric.
The Primary Sector is facing significant challenges with emissions, environment, water use, and water quality. Thankfully there are great advances being made and lots of work being done to continue improving. I’m confident that thanks to our farmers we will continue to be the most sustainable producer of food in the world. And it’s important that we keep pushing the stories that show just how important the primary sector is.
Should National win the election and form the Government next year our policy in regards to the Primary Sector will be very different to the current Government’s.
Instead of forcing more taxes, more regulations, and less support like this Government. We will focus on what matters for rural New Zealand;
- Stronger workforce
- More rural health services
- Better biosecurity
And pragmatic, sensible initiatives and investment that allows farmers to farm your way to the better outcomes that you have consistently shown you’re capable of.
Thank you for having me here today and thank you for everything you do. We appreciate you and what you’re doing for New Zealand and we want you to have certainty so you can keep being world leaders.