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.
A long-awaited decision to cull cattle infected with the Mycoplasma Bovis disease will bring some welcome relief to affected farmers but questions remain whether the Government is fully committed to eradication, National’s Primary Industries spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“Yesterday the Minister, Damien O’Connor, told Parliament that Cabinet is still to decide if eradication is possible – or if it’s even economically viable – which is nothing but a ‘get out of jail free’ card so the Government doesn’t have to commit to any further funding.
“The $85 million package - that includes $11 million from industry - will go some way toward culling the 22 herds but it’s also needed to cover ongoing operational costs, including some feed and compensation costs.
“While this gives certainty to those individual farmers, this is going to be a stressful time as they see their animals trucked off for slaughter, and I feel for them.
“Many will have spent a lifetime investing in the best animal genetics and also have a stand down period before they can purchase replacement stock and get back farming again.
“I acknowledge the work of the Rural Support Trust and banks, who will play a very important role in supporting these farmers through this soul-destroying period.
“Because of a lack of funding, the Government has been too slow to compensate farmers to date and my challenge to the Minister and his officials is be fair and fast with future compensation claims.
“I’m also calling on the Minister to release the tracing report that is currently sitting on his desk. My pick is that it will be inconclusive as to how Micoplasma Bovis got here – tracing the origins of this disease will be a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” Mr Guy says.
Otaki MP Nathan Guy says Air New Zealand has robbed the Kapiti community by withdrawing its Auckland to Kapiti Coast air service, with just three weeks’ notice.
“The route has proved popular and profitable for the national carrier. It’s hard to believe that the reason Air New Zealand is giving – a lack of pilots – has just crept up on them. It stinks,” Mr Guy says.
“I also find it hypocritical of Air New Zealand to have been promoting flights from Kapiti Coast as recently as last weekend when they held an open day at the airport. They have deceived the community.”
Mr Guy says Air New Zealand is displaying a lack of foresight.
“Our region is benefiting hugely by the massive investment taking place with the construction of Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressways. It’s making us one of the fastest growing regions in the country.
“It is also disappointing that Air New Zealand has given the community insufficient time to come up with another option, so a similar service could continue.”
Mr Guy is calling a meeting of representatives from the Kapiti Coast District Council, Air Chathams, Todd Property Group and the Kapiti Chamber of Commerce next week.
“The meeting aims to encourage a new carrier to take on the service and Air Chathams has already expressed an interest to me in doing so, but they won’t be able to deliver a service in just three weeks.
“I’ll certainly be doing all I can by working with interested groups to fight the decision.”
Mr Guy successfully lobbied to get Air New Zealand to begin flights from Kapiti Coast in 2011.
“Air New Zealand has invested in the service and it is now performing well, which makes this knee-jerk decision all the more disappointing for regular users and our community.”
Long-awaited funding to fight the outbreak of the cattle disease Mycoplasma Bovis will be welcome news to affected farmers, but it remains to be seen how quickly compensation will be paid out, National’s Primary Industries spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“The Government’s announced funding of $85 million for operational and compensation costs but it looks like they’ve included $10 million previously set aside, and the $11 million that industry has been asked to stump up.
“It’s highly likely the Government’s contribution has been reprioritised from other funds that have been shelved. We know that irrigation projects have been put on ice – and the Primary Growth Partnership’s R&D funding has been raided to rebrand MPI.
“Given the massive spending pressures the Coalition is already under I can’t imagine the Finance Minister Grant Robertson writing out a new cheque for Damien O’Connor.
Bio-security spokesperson Barbara Kuriger says she hopes that the funding will at least mean the compensation process for affected farmers can move at pace.
“I’m pleased there is finally some relief and certainty for our farmers and rural communities. The sector has been crying out for this support for a long time now.
“The overall response has been too slow and the incursion has spread.
“It is imperative that farmers lodge a claim for compensation. So far it seems that just 51 have made claims for compensation out of 1500 that have potentially been affected.
“Of those 51, just 10 have been paid in full or in part so I’m urging all affected farmers to lodge a claim and get themselves in the system,” Mrs Kuriger says.
The Government is going cap-in-hand to the primary sector seeking support to help eradicate the rapidly-spreading cattle disease Mycoplasma Bovis, National’s Primary Industries spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“It’s my understanding that the Ministry for Primary Industries is canvassing the dairy and red meat industry for contributions to fund the response and eradication of this disease.
“In Parliament yesterday the Minister Damien O’Connor couldn’t say how much money the Government is prepared to contribute to fully eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis.
“Knowing how tight the Government’s finances are because of its other big-spending commitments – and even with financial contributions from industry – Mr O’Connor has an uphill battle convincing his Cabinet colleagues how critical funding of over $100 million actually is,” Mr Guy says.
With the Minister confirming in Parliament that 23 properties are infected, 38 are restricted and a whopping 1500 are considered ‘trace’ properties, National’s Biosecurity Spokesperson Barbara Kuriger says New Zealand farmers deserve clarity and transparency from the Government around its plans to trace and eradicate the disease.
“Farmers are already dealing with challenging conditions, given the worsening droughts in many of our regions, now the uncertainty around the Government’s plans to contain Mycoplasma Bovis is adding unfair stress to the rural sector.
“Farmers deserve to know what plans are in place to contain the spread, and the Minister needs to be more open with the information he has received.
“Damien O’Connor has confirmed that he is regularly updated by MPI on the spread of the disease so if this Government truly believes in openness and transparency, then he should share that information with our farmers.
“It is crucial that we know what plans are in place to contain and eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis. Farmers need timelines to work with but all they have is a vague indication from the MPI that it is working towards a deadline in May. This simply isn’t good enough,” Mrs Kuriger says.
Labour’s first 100 days in Government has earnt it a dismal report card as far as farmers are concerned, National’s Primary Industries spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“The Labour-led coalition has been in government for over 100 days now, yet all they have to show for it is the announcement of a series of expensive reviews and rebrands all the while staying silent on the big issues facing the sector right now.
“The minister Damien O’Connor is raiding $17 million out of the Primary Growth Partnership fund to rebrand MPI, at the expense of vitally important research and development funding – which is now being put on hold.
“He also appears to have shelved the funding and development of any new irrigation projects, just as much of the country is gripped in drought.
“Farmers in regions around the country have all but begged him to officially declare a drought in their areas – just to access some technical and emotional support.
“And for those farmers dealing with the spread of Mycoplasma Bovis cattle disease, there’s no good news. Mr O’Connor remains silent on committing the necessary funding to eradicate it as stock culling and compensation is currently on hold.
“My fear is that any bid to Cabinet for funding for eradication and then compensation will get ignored because of other big-spending priorities outside of the Primary Sector.
“I’m calling on the Minister and the Government he represents to step up and start advocating for a sector whose hard work has helped position New Zealand into the fast-growing economy it is today.
“Any slow-down in the rural economy will be felt across the country – and the Government will only have itself to blame,” Mr Guy says.
The Government is holding back regional New Zealand through its opposition to water storage projects which help grow jobs in the regions, boost exports and provide environmental sustainability National’s Primary Industries spokesperson Nathan Guy says.
“Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor’s description of funding for irrigation projects as ‘unnecessary’ will come as a huge shock to farmers - especially when he supports the construction of the Waimea Dam in his local area.
O’Connor’s stance that the Government will leave it to farmers and growers to 100% fund these schemes on their own is just as bad.
“The dry weather conditions and drought help prove that water storage is absolutely necessary. It reduces the need for ground water extraction and can enhance the environment by guaranteeing minimum river flows during dry summers
“Crown Irrigation Investments officials only this week told Select Committee MPs that stakeholders are ‘confused and anxious’ about the Government’s priorities for water storage and irrigation projects and this confusion is adding to declining business confidence overall.
“It’s no wonder people are confused - the Labour/NZ First coalition agreement says they will honour irrigation agreements, while the Labour/Greens one says they will be winding down Government support for irrigation. NZ First have also publicly stated they will support ‘localised’ projects.
“Right now, five specific - construction ready - irrigation projects (all considered ‘localised’ by officials) are on hold while funding allocated by the previous National Government is parked up. To make matters worse, many farmers and growers and Councils have themselves invested in developing these schemes and this 45,000 hectare investment is now at real risk.
The coalition Government has a moral and legal obligation to honour existing agreements and these five schemes have taken over a decade to be bulldozer ready in 2018.
“While the Government is in Waitangi trying to convince Northland iwi they want to work with them, they are in actually holding the region back. Water storage projects for Northland could irrigate up to 92,000 hectares, and provide over 3400 jobs.
“This Government is squabbling internally while the ground dries and opportunities burn.”
The Northland Regional Council’s irrigation study can be found here.
The five irrigation projects on hold are in:
- Waimea (Tasman District)
- Kurow/Duntroon (Central Otago)
- Hurunui (North Canterbury)
- Flaxbourne (Marlborough)
- Hunter Downs (South Canterbury)