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.
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.