Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor confirmed in Parliament yesterday that there have been no detector dogs working at Auckland International Airport between 2-5am for nine months, National Biosecurity Spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“This is shocking and making matters worse over 7560 passengers have wandered through the green lane without being adequately checked. On average every passenger carries two bags, so over 15,000 items bearing potential biosecurity risk have gone through without screening.
“With the height of fruit fly and stink bug season approaching this is embarrassing for Mr O’Connor as his Government talked tough on biosecurity but have left farmers and growers livelihoods at risk.
“The irony is that today the Government has launched a social media campaign about the importance of biosecurity for 4.7 million New Zealanders – yet they can’t even staff Auckland International Airport properly with detector dogs to stop pests arriving in the first place.
“The dog detector unit is a small, close-knit team who typically take their role of protecting New Zealand’s borders very seriously. However, they have been undermined by a toxic work culture and poor management.
“These issues have led to a huge amount of resignations, and now the dogs are left to snooze while pests flood into New Zealand in the early hours of the morning which has created a ticking time bomb.”
Revelations that detector dogs have been snoozing while thousands of passengers stroll through Auckland International Airport unchecked by biosecurity sniffer dogs is very concerning, National’s Biosecurity spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“I’m shocked to hear of workforce issues and allegations of bullying and a toxic culture within management overseeing the team.
“It beggars belief that MPI intentionally have no dogs working on the green lane at Auckland Airport, between 2-5am - so dog handlers can sleep in.
“This lax approach is a real concern especially as spring and summer are the highest risk period for stink bugs and fruit flies. These incursions would hammer the horticulture industry and have broader implications for New Zealanders.
“It has become clear that Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor is not across the detail on his biosecurity portfolio. He admitted in Parliament yesterday that he didn’t even know that this was an issue until that morning. This is unbelievable.
“Despite Mr O’Connor talking tough on biosecurity during the election campaign, the Minister has confirmed that no new money has been invested into airport biosecurity since he has been Minister.
“National funded an extra 20 dogs, taking the number to 60 - but Mr O’Connor has left them in the kennel. He will have to take responsibility for the next big incursion via the passenger pathway which is just around the corner.”
The Government’s Tax Working Group has today suggested a capital gains tax on the sale of farms, National’s Agriculture Spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“Sir Michael Cullen spent years as a Labour Party Minister of Finance unsuccessfully trying to introduce a Capital Gains Tax on the family farm.
“Today’s report confirms that Sir Michael has not given up his crusade against New Zealand farmers. And this Government is going to let him.
“Farmers and growers will also be concerned that Labour’s water tax is back on the agenda and is being actively considered by the Tax Working Group.
“Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor has confirmed that when it comes to soaring costs and taxes on farmers that there are more coming. The Minister arrogantly told farmers that they needed to ‘get used to it!’
“Mr O’Connor has previously signalled that a climate tax for farmers was coming, he has slashed the Primary Growth Partnership fund and the Government is refusing to fund any new water storage projects.
“The Minister has already stated being the ‘friend of the farmer’ isn’t necessarily his Government’s objective. Today’s Tax Working Group confirm that this is indeed the case.
“Food producers are the backbone of the New Zealand’s economy. They expect better from the Government. I challenge Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern to confirm whether a Capital Gains Tax will be imposed on future farms sales.”
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor has finally accepted that the Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) is a valuable initiative for the primary sector, National‘s Agriculture spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“Despite previously labelling it a ‘slush fund for National’s mates,’ Mr O’Connor has finally discovered the value of the PGP after spending $100,000 to have it reviewed.
“He was hoping the review he kicked off last summer would give him his much wanted justification to destroy it, but instead the review revealed how essential it was.
“Industry and producers knew all along that PGP was the right approach as it was turbocharging much-needed R&D in the primary sector.
“Mr O’Connor clearly knows he got it wrong, telling the recent Red Meat conference he was going to ‘swallow a small mouse’ in reference to the positive appraisal provided by his reviewer.
“This Government has established 150-odd working groups and reviews. When one reports back saying a programme is working well and delivering for New Zealand, the Minister tries to hide it.
“Mr O’Connor has already raided $17 million from the PGP to rebrand MPI, and now he’s at it again - rebranding PGP as ‘Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures programme.’
“What he’s forgotten to tell farmers, growers and processors is that he’s slashed the funding by nearly half.
“National was investing $78 million a year for PGP and the Sustainable Farming Fund. This is now reduced to just $40 million a year and makes a mockery of adding value to what we produce in partnership, by using science, research and innovation.
“Mr O’Connor needs to explain why he has halved the funding and what message this sends to our most important export sector.”
While some changes to the National Animal Identification and Tracking Act (NAIT) are needed, Parliament has been denied the opportunity to properly scrutinise Government amendments which may not be in the best interests of farmers, National’s Agriculture Spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor has had months to introduce this Bill into Parliament, but instead he expanded wide-ranging search powers under urgency.
“Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) will be able to turn up to farmers’ properties without getting a warrant and seize anything they want, unannounced and without cause.
“National asked Mr O’Connor to send the Bill to select committee during the two-week recess to allow public input and ensure there are no unintended consequences for farmers, but the Minister refused.
“National proposed amendments during the debate that an officer needs reasonable cause to suspect non-compliance with NAIT before entering the property.
“We also proposed that these wide-ranging warrantless powers being curtailed, so a NAIT officer can't seize property without obtaining a warrant.
“Unfortunately, both of these safeguard amendments were voted down by the Government.
“However, National did successfully move an amendment that requires the Minister to report to Parliament next year on how these expanded powers are being used. We will await this review with a great deal of interest.
“National reluctantly supported the legislation to improve NAIT’s performance but remain gravely concerned about the process and invasion of farmer’s privacy.”
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor confirmed in Parliament’s Question Time today that farmers will face ‘additional costs’ under his Government, National’s Agriculture Spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“Mr O’Connor has previously signalled a climate tax for farmers, slashed the Primary Growth Partnership fund and won’t fund any new water storage projects,” Mr Guy says.
“This is on top of the Government’s other policies that are already adding thousands of dollars a year in costs to Kiwi households through cancelled tax cuts, higher rents, slower GDP growth and the cost of fuel.
“Mr O’Connor has already stated being the ‘friend of the farmer’ isn’t necessarily his Government’s objective and therefore he should be upfront with farmers and outline what extra costs he’s anticipating.
“The Minister’s $500,000-a-year Primary Sector Advisory Council should be focused on keeping a lid on these creeping costs rather than having a strategy talkfest.
“Meanwhile, the Rural Proofing policy announced at Fieldays hasn’t even begun and isn’t mandatory for Government departments to adopt.
“Rural Proofing is only for guidance and will easily be ignored by bureaucrats at a time when farmers are petrified of costs coming out of the Beehive.
“It seems the Primary sector – which is New Zealand’s biggest export earner – turns out to be the biggest loser under this Government. The Primary Sector is being punished by this Government’s policies and farmers have every right to be in fear.”
The Government needs to shrink their ownership of farms through Landcorp and use them to give young Kiwi farmers the opportunity to lease and ultimately own some of these farms, National Party spokesperson for Agriculture Nathan Guy says.
“The Government owns massive tracts of productive land through Landcorp, 385,503 hectares – or around six times the size of Lake Tāupo, even though there is little public good from Crown ownership.
“Landcorp not only provides a poor financial return to taxpayers but the Governments’ ownership of these farms is keeping Kiwi farmers out of the market.
“The state-owned organisation’s assets are valued at over $1.7 billion across almost 150 farms yet they struggle to return a dividend to the crown. In the last two years there was no dividend paid at all.
“This proves the Government is not a great farmer and the time is right to give some young farmers lease opportunities. Successful operators could be offered the option to buy them at market rates when they have built up enough equity.
“A handful of farms could remain as lease farms so young farmers can build up equity in livestock which can be used as a deposit to buy their first farm.
“Landcorp is the custodian of land that may be subject to outstanding Treaty settlements. Because the National Government was so efficient at settling claims, it makes sense to ring-fence a small number of farms that may be required in the future and lease out the remainder.
“There is no clear reason for taxpayers to own massive tracts of farmland which is struggling to make a return when highly educated, young and sophisticated farmers will do a better job.
“National had a policy prior to the election to direct Landcorp to lease these farms to young farmers, and give them the opportunity to buy them at market rates when they have built up enough capital – the Government should pursue this policy.”
Today’s decision of phased eradication over two years of the cattle disease Mycoplasma Bovis will bring a significant level of certainty to the farmers around the country, National’s Agriculture Spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“I’m pleased a decision has finally been made and that an agreement has also been struck to share the costs of this response between industry and Government,” Mr Guy says.
“This disease has caused enormous stress and anxiety for farming families. The financial and emotional toll on farmers has been significant and the Rural Support Trust has done an outstanding job supporting those in need.
“I’m pleased that everyone now has a clear pathway forward on an issue that is now bigger than politics.
“I know that some farmers would prefer to be left to manage this disease rather than having their animals culled. Industry and Government must have a high degree of confidence from international scientists that eradication is both feasible and practical.
“It’s also pleasing to see the Government has responded to pressure to speed up the compensation process and will now make interim payments within two weeks of stock being culled.
“It’s my hope and expectation that banks are supportive of farmers whose cash flow has been impacted by this disease.
“While we still don’t know how Mycoplasma Bovis arrived in New Zealand, I like many farmers look forward to getting an update on MPI’s ongoing investigation. I expect them to use the full force of the law if anyone has knowingly been involved in the disease arriving here.”
For a Government that has been running around telling anyone who will listen that Biosecurity is underfunded, it has allocated an extraordinarily small sum to strengthen the system, National’s spokesperson for Agriculture Nathan Guy says.
“Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor has announced a paltry increase of just $9.3 million for Biosecurity which is half of what National invested in Budget17 at $18.4 million.
“This is a 50 percent reduction and makes a mockery of the Government’s recent rhetoric.
“If they truly believed in what they’ve been saying lately, they could have injected hundreds of millions of dollars into further strengthening the Biosecurity system - but in yesterday’s Budget they showed this isn’t really a priority.
“Farmers and growers haven’t forgotten Labour and NZ First’s track record on Biosecurity – they voted against National’s border clearance levy a few years ago – which has proved a great success in generating more funding for Biosecurity.
“To make matters worse, Damien O’Connor has raided $100 million from regional irrigation projects - and slashed the Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) funding which adds value to primary products.
“All this is occurring in an environment of Government ministers shooting from the hip and making up policy on the fly, which is causing massive uncertainty for the primary industries sector.
“It’s no surprise business confidence has been driven down 23 percent when Damien O’Connor is signalling a climate tax for farmers, significant cost recovery for Mycoplasma Bovis, a slashing of the PGP fund and the announcement the Government will no longer support large scale irrigation projects.
“Ironically, it seems the Primary sector – which is New Zealand’s biggest export earner – turns out to be the Budget’s biggest loser,” Mr Guy says.
The Government’s claims the Ministry for Primary Industries was under-resourced to handle the Mycoplasma Bovis incursion are patently untrue, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“First they blamed the farmers, now they’re blaming National - the Government needs to stop the blame game and get on with the response - because that’s what Governments do, and that’s what true leadership is about,” Mr Guy says.
“The line Jacinda Ardern and Damien O’Connor are peddling that MPI has been under resourced is ridiculous.
“In last year’s Budget alone, MPI received $248 million in funding – that’s the highest level it has ever received and was a boost of $18 million on the year before.
“MPI’s Chief Operating Officer said publicly last week that his Ministry was more than prepared for an incursion of this scale.
“Farmers are getting fed up with this tired blame game that Jacinda Ardern and Damien O’Connor are playing.
“Mr O’Connor has been in the job for seven months yet, instead of taking ownership of the response and rapid spread of the disease, he’s labelling farmers as greedy and blaming them for spreading it by not complying with the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) system.
“Farmers are looking for certainty around the response – will it be full eradication or will it be long term management?
“I hope that this afternoon’s meeting between the Minister and industry representatives will give Mr O’Connor much-needed motivation to push hard for the necessary funds to be included in this week’s Budget, and will give farmers the much-needed answers they deserve,” Mr Guy says.