The Government needs to stop blaming farmers for the ongoing spread of the cattle disease Mycoplasma Bovis and get on with the response, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“Mr O’Connor has been in the job for nine 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.
“Now he’s taking aim at stock agents and blaming them - next it will be truckies - despite MPI officials telling the select committee that compliance with the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) system had been very good on recent Cook Strait ferry checks.
“Farmers are looking for certainty as the new dairy season begins in a couple of weeks and thousands of dairy cattle are moved around the country. Many are now wondering whether eradication is feasible.
“The cattle industry is preparing for a show down next week with the Minister where he’ll pressure them to fund well over and above the agreed cost share outlined in the existing Government Industry Agreement (GIA).
“It’s clear the Minister hasn’t yet got Budget funding confirmed because his mates around the Cabinet table are looking to him to heavy the industry for upwards of 40 per cent of the costs.
“This is despite the Ardern-Peters Government’s coffers sloshing around with $34 billion to spend in the next four years.
“What’s becoming apparent is this Cabinet’s hostile attitude towards farmers. They seem to forget that some farmers are at financial and emotional breaking point dealing with this disease, and compensation payments have been occurring at a snail’s pace.
“The clock is ticking and the Minister needs to show farmers whose livelihoods have been trashed by this disease some respect by better communicating his plans for the response and ordering his officials to ensure compensation payments are full, fair and fast,” Mr Guy says.
Confirmation from the Minister for Agriculture today that he’s going to force the cattle industry outside of an agreed mandate to pay to eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis is chilling, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“In 2013 the National Government established the Government Industry Agreement (GIA) to set out a framework for cost-sharing between the Government of the day and 16 primary sector organisations as and when bio-security incursions arise.
“That framework sets out that the industry should meet about 12 per cent of the cost to eradicate this disease.
“However, Damien O’Connor has confirmed publicly today that he wants the industry to stump up 40 per cent to 50 per cent of a bill that’s estimated to cost between $500 million and $870 million.
“The Minister justified this in a radio interview this morning by effectively saying that the agriculture industry earns a lot of money and can afford it.
“This attitude, from a minister who calls himself a farmer and who should therefore understand the stresses and pressures of the industry, is staggering.
“He is attempting to defend the indefensible.
“This Government inherited one of the fastest growing economies in the OECD. Treasury is projecting rising surpluses and Government coffers are awash in cash.
“That Damien O’Connor is forcing farmers outside of an agreed mandate to pay for an incursion that the Government can easily cover – while they’re having to destroy their cattle herds and the banks are knocking on their doors – is disgraceful,” Mr Guy says.
Reports from the cattle industry that the Government is effectively forcing it outside its mandate to contribute towards biosecurity incursions are extremely concerning, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“The Government Industry Agreement (GIA) that the National Government established in 2013 set out a framework for cost-sharing between the Government of the day and various industry groups as and when biosecurity incursions arise,” Mr Guy says.
“The cost-share for any particular incursion – whether it’s fruit fly or Mycoplasma Bovis – is agreed between MPI and the signatories to the deed. So far 16 primary sector organisations have signed up to the GIA, and it is endorsed by farmers and growers around the country.
“However, I am extremely concerned to hear that in a recent meeting with the Minister Damien O’Connor he was pressuring industry to make contributions of up to 50 per cent.
“Even more concerning are the projected cost ranges industry has been given. They’ve been told by the Minister that $450 million is needed for a ‘phased eradication’, $500 million for ‘rapid eradication’, $570 million for ‘long term management’ or a whopping $870 million to close out the response.
“When the cattle industries confirmed initial funding of $11.2 million they did so without precedence but in the understanding the GIA is the current model for cost sharing.
“Once again this big-spending Coalition Government has its begging bowl out and is going cap in hand to farmers around the country asking them to stump up and pay for response costs when a formula already exists in the GIA agreement.
“Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters inherited one of the fastest growing economies in the OECD. Yet they have signalled they’re going to borrow an extra $10 billion to pay for things like free tertiary education, rather than helping protect our rural economy.
“I’m calling on Damien O’Connor to stand up for our rural communities and fairly fund the Government’s response without passing the buck to farmers,” Mr Guy says.
For the second time in the last few weeks the Agriculture Minister has had to correct an answer he has given to Parliament, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“Just last month Damien O’Connor had to correct the record and admit that he never met with Crown Irrigation Investments Limited (CIIL) officials ahead of blind-siding them with his decision to cancel a number of Crown funded irrigation schemes around the country.
“He also said that no meetings had been requested.
“Despite the Prime Minister proclaiming this would be the most ‘open and transparent’ Government, it now transpires these officials requested at least three times to meet with the Minister - but were ignored.
“Instead of showing them the respect and courtesy they were due, his office palmed them off to MPI on two occasions before declining a third request to meet him personally.
“This is shocking behaviour by the Minister in charge of this Crown entity and shows quite a degree of arrogance.
“Because he knew he had to deliver on the coalition agreement with the Greens to halt irrigation projects, he couldn’t do the decent thing and eyeball CIIL officials trying to get clarity on their future direction.
“Mr O’Connor is obviously under enormous pressure from a cash-strapped Finance Minister to claw back $100 million from regional irrigation projects – but that’s come at the expense of farmers across the country being able to future-proof themselves against droughts.
“Damien O’Connor needs to take a real lesson from this – not just to stay on top of his paperwork – but also to ensure ongoing transparency with an industry crying out for some certainty,” Mr Guy says.
The announcement of a Primary Sector Council to provide advice to the Government on issues confronting the primary industry will amount to nothing more than lip-service to one of the most important sectors in our economy, National’s spokesperson for Agriculture Nathan Guy says.
“The Minister for Agriculture has convened a group of well-intentioned individuals to map out the future direction of primary industries in New Zealand but it seems that no matter what they ultimately recommend, the Coalition Government will be held to ransom by the demands of the Greens.
“Farmers and growers already fear this Government hasn’t got their backs and are getting ready for more red tape and more rules and regulations that will increase costs and put a handbrake on our competitiveness in world markets.
“At the end of the day this group is not going to have any power to influence change within the Coalition and, therefore, on the front line.
“The Council doesn’t include a heavy hitter from the dairy industry, which is a real concern, given the Government is currently conducting a year-long, wide-ranging review of this sector.
“Dairy farmers and industry leaders will see this as another sign they are going to get dealt to by this Government.
“A cynic would question why the Minister hasn’t released any terms of reference, riding instructions or how much the Council will cost – the public is being asked to pay for a committee that nobody knows what it is trying to achieve.
“For the Minister to have to convene such a group simply proves he hasn’t done any policy planning during the nine years he sat in Opposition and now needs a committee to dream ideas up for him.
“With any luck their recommendations will be better than his – in the short six months he’s held this portfolio he has killed Government funding for water storage projects, signed-off a costly rebranding exercise of MPI, robbed $17 million from research and developments programmes, cut funding to rural mental health support and already appears to be rolling over to the Greens and hauling agriculture into the ETS,” Mr Guy says.
The Government’s raid on regional New Zealand is ramping up, with Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor telling farmers they’ll be taxed thousands for carbon emissions, National’s Nathan Guy and Todd Muller say.
“Mr O’Connor has reportedly told East Coast farmers they’ll be taxed around $5000 to offset their carbon emissions,” National’s Agriculture spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“He’s pulling numbers out of the air before the interim Climate Change Committee even begins its work.
“This will rip millions of dollars out of regional economies, leaving farmers with less to spend in their local communities, or for environmental initiatives like riparian planting along their waterways.
“It does nothing but place more pressure on farmers who are already feeling under attack by this Coalition Government. Farmers are already battling with increasing compliance costs and finding skilled labour, and are now facing paying more for carbon emissions and fuel, while getting fewer new roads, as well as having $100 million for irrigation projects ripped from their communities.
“This decision should be about investing wisely in technology not tax. That means partnering with farmers to help provide the ‘tools in the toolbox’ with scientific solutions,” Mr Guy says.
“For Mr O’Connor to stand in front of a room of East Coast farmers and send a clear signal that they will soon be paying for their carbon emissions really calls into question the integrity of the mandate of terms of reference the Interim Climate Change Committee is working to,” National’s Climate Change spokesperson Todd Muller says.
“Is the committee going to be truly free to carry out an open minded, objective assessment of the merits of including agriculture in the ETS or is it setting out to confirm a predetermined outcome for the Government? We know what the Greens want but is that in the best interests of New Zealand?
“Mr O’Connor is assuming this is a done deal which makes an absolute mockery of the consultation process that is supposedly planned.
“The Agriculture Minister is talking about the Government making ‘hard decisions’ but it’s not them that will find it hard – it’s the farmers and growers and regional communities who are being forced to pay the price of its mounting bad ideas.
“If we force agriculture into the ETS before this technology is available it will amount to nothing more than another unfair tax on farmers and regional New Zealand.”
Communities relying on regional irrigation schemes to grow their economies will be outraged to hear that some have been cancelled without the Minister for Agriculture ever meeting with Crown Irrigation Investments Limited (CIIL), National’s Agricultural spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“Following questions in Parliament yesterday the Minister, Damien O’Connor, embarrassingly has had to correct the official record.
“He has now conceded that he has never met with CIIL officials in his capacity as minister.
“I find this extraordinary, following last week’s announcement that three proposed irrigation schemes, Hunter Downs in South Canterbury, Hurunui in North Canterbury and Flaxbourne in Marlborough have had their funding cancelled.
“It’s a real shock that in the six months he has held this vital portfolio, he hasn’t bothered to invite CIIL officials to his office.
“This lack of engagement leads me to believe that the Government has been fast and loose with its judgement about whether they have honoured existing funding commitments.
“The Crown has legal and moral obligations with many of these projects – especially Hunter Downs where $40 million has been raised locally and investment term sheets had been offered by CIIL. If this isn’t a commitment then I don’t know what is.
“Damien O’Connor is obviously hamstrung by a Finance Minister who has realised Labour over-promised during the election campaign and now can’t deliver on those promises. Put simply, after splashing out billions for free tertiary education, there is no more money in the kitty for things like irrigation and water storage projects.
“That’s further evidenced by comments he made to The Country radio show that ‘we support water storage and we understand the value of water for productions systems but we're just putting a brake on this saying, no - there's other priority areas for that money at this time’.
“Farming communities are being punished by a Coalition that, in one breath, says it supports the regions but, in the next, is pandering to the Greens and their hatred of irrigation.
“National will continue to hold this wobbly Labour-Greens-New Zealand First Coalition to account and pushing it hard to treat our rural communities better,” Mr Guy says.
The Ardern-Peters Government has dealt a body-blow to farmers and growers in pandering to its mates in the Green Party and axing funding to irrigation projects, National Party spokesperson for Agriculture Nathan Guy says.
“Not only that, but it looks to me like it isn’t honouring its commitments to industries relying on these projects,” Mr Guy says.
“When they were first sworn in late last year, the new ministers received a briefing from Crown Irrigation outlining several projects that it had financial commitments to.
“While three projects - in Canterbury, Kurow and Waimea - will be completed, three projects - Hunter Downs, Hurunui and Flaxbourne - have been left high and dry.
“That’s despite the fact many farmers, growers and councils in these areas have invested their own money and time to progress these localised schemes for over a decade. They’ve bent over backwards to meet the strict environmental consent conditions required to secure government backing.
“Many of those I’ve already spoken to feel this decision by the coalition Government is not in good faith, and a real kick in the guts.
“In the case of Hunter Downs in South Canterbury, farmers have raised $40 million in capital knowing that if they met all the criteria they would secure the funding. While this scheme was going to support 21,000 hectares of irrigation it was also designed to increase flows into Wainono lagoon and supply water to Timaru and Waimate townships.
“The Hurunui community in North Canterbury has battled through three years of continuous droughts that caused heaps of stress and anxiety.
“These farmers have persisted for over 18 years to get their water storage scheme close to design stage. It would have turbo-charged the region with 21,000 hectares of irrigatable land - most of it for sheep and beef production.
“The small Flaxbourne scheme of 2,200 hectares east of Blenheim would have turned dry hill country carrying a handful of sheep into productive vineyards and arable crops.
“While the Grant Robertson thinks he can dance through legal loopholes and ditch these three schemes, they have neglected their moral obligations.
“The dreams and aspirations farmers have had of mitigating droughts and growing high-value food have literally turned to dust.
“Damien O’Connor - who declared six regions in drought this summer - has been rolled by the Greens and will be forever remembered as a weak Minister of Agriculture for not standing up for rural communities,” Mr Guy says.
The Government’s confirmation it will axe major irrigation projects is the second major blow it’s dealt to regional New Zealand in a week, National’s Paul Goldsmith and Nathan Guy say.
“Fresh from whacking a major new fuel tax on New Zealand motorists the Government has announced it will leave regional farmers and growers at the mercy of prolonged droughts by canning support for important irrigation projects,” National’s Agriculture spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“This is a huge blow to regional New Zealand which is facing an increasingly uncertain future as a result of this Government’s raid on our regions.
“This summer alone saw six regions declared in drought as dry weather hammered primary producers right around New Zealand. These irrigation projects would have given them the certainty they could deal with future dry spells but that certainty’s now been ripped away.
“This Government claims it wants to help grow our exports and support our primary industries to add value but instead of standing behind regional New Zealand it’s taking its taxes and turning its back.
Mr Goldsmith says the Government’s regional growth strategy is a mess.
“It’s Jekyll and Hyde and seems to come down to which of Labour’s two support parties wins the day.
“One day Shane Jones sticks his finger in the air and doles out taxpayer cash for pet projects, the next day four ministers announce the Government will rip $5b out of regional road funding but tax motorists more and the next it is stripping millions out of important and demonstrably effective regional irrigation projects.
“That’s on top of seriously undermining future foreign investment, making it increasingly difficult to find staff and putting potential free trade agreements at real risk.
“It just shows the Government has no clear strategy.
“It says it supports regional New Zealand but it continues to put the boot in. Axing irrigation projects makes it harder for farmers and growers to do their jobs, harder for them to create jobs, harder to grow our exports and harder for New Zealanders to get ahead.”
The last Air New Zealand flight from the Kapiti Coast to Auckland today will be met with much disappointment MP for Otaki Nathan Guy says.
“The National carrier has let down thousands of Kapiti commuters by only giving three weeks’ notice ahead of cutting its last flight today.
“I’ve been working hard with key stakeholders to find an alternate provider since the Air New Zealand decision. Discussions with Air Chathams have been progressing well and I’m hopeful of a positive decision in the next two weeks.
“I lodged my petition in Parliament last week to save Kapiti flights after it had gathered over 8000 signatures in the short time it had been circulating. It now heads to the Finance Select Committee for consideration by MPs from across the Parliament.
“As Air New Zealand waves goodbye to Kapiti commuters, my challenge to the company is to support Air Chathams and Todd Property with the necessary ground equipment, information and expertise to ensure a seamless transition – even if it takes a couple of months for Air Chathams to commence flights.
“I am also calling on Air New Zealand to allow Air Chathams bookings to be accessed through its website – just like a code share agreement.
“It also makes logical sense for domestic bags transferring to an Air New Zealand flight to be jointly tagged to save the hassle of passengers walking to a new check-in counter.
“Frequent flyers on both Air New Zealand and Air Chathams would also appreciate having access to the Air New Zealand regional lounges.
“Since Air New Zealand has a habit of ditching regional services and leaving Air Chathams to pick up the slack, it’s about time the national carrier struck a formal agreement with Air Chathams to provide similar services for those in the regional areas they’ve deserted – and I’d expect this to be given some serious consideration,” Mr Guy says.