Damian O’Conner has badly let down rural New Zealand by not requesting economic and social analysis on his Government’s freshwater proposals, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller says.
“Ministry for Primary Industries officials revealed today in Select Committee that they did not conduct any economic or social modelling prior to the release of the proposals, nor did the Agriculture Minister ask them to.
“It is Damien O’Connor’s responsibility to look out for rural communities and make sure the facts are laid out before hammering them with the most significant policy proposal farmers have faced in years.
“His ministry printed in its 2019 Annual Review that ‘prosperity’ is its number one value, yet officials don’t appear to have thought of the prosperity of rural communities in this instance.
“Organisations such as Dairy NZ, Local Government New Zealand, AgFirst and others have been forced to pick up the slack and provide their own analysis, which paints a picture of huge costs and enormous land use change.
“Tens of thousands of farmers have provided detailed submissions to the Government because they’re concerned about the impact these proposals will have on their businesses.
“The Minister has failed them by not asking for detailed analysis from his ministry and making the data available for consideration. No wonder farmers’ confidence is at all-time lows.”
NZQA needs to front up to concern that has been created by questions in their exams painting a one-sided picture of New Zealand’s farmers, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller says.
“Students who sat their NCEA level three English exam were tasked with a question that described waterways as being ravaged by farmers and spoke of a ‘town vs country’ divide.
“There needs to be some balance in how our education system portrays farmers. We have the most sustainable farmers in the world but this rarely gets mentioned.
“Coupled with our national museum Te Papa advising our children they should be giving up meat and dairy for the sake of the environment, there is a concern our kids are being convinced that farming drives environmental degradation.
“Farmers’ confidence is at all-time lows, and this just adds to the pressure that is being heaped onto them by Government policy. They feel that anti-farming sentiment is becoming insidious in this country.
“We should be encouraging young Kiwis to be New Zealand’s next sustainable food producers, rather than pushing them away from the industry.
“New Zealand farmers have made massive gains over recent decades and continue to stay ahead of the pack in terms of efficiency and sustainability. Over the last five years dairy farmers have fenced off over 98 per cent of waterways and spent over $1 billion in environmental investment.
“NZQA need to ensure they’re teaching this side of the story as well.”
National MPs have joined hundreds of farmers who arrived at Parliament today to express how disillusioned they are with this Government’s anti-farming policies, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller says.
“Farmers used to say there are three things they needed to worry about; interest rates, commodity prices and the weather. It now appears the list has four things on it, with the Coalition Government’s policies belonging at the top.
“The Coalition Government’s disdain for farmers was made apparent when Minister of Forestry Shane Jones labelled those attending ‘rednecks’. While the Minister for Agriculture Damien O’Connor inferred that their points were ‘fiction’ and didn’t even stay to hear what they had to say.
“This is a remarkable show of disrespect to hundreds of farmers who travelled a long way to have their say, and Minister Jones should apologise.
“One of the major concerns voiced by those attending was the many hectares of pastoral farmland being converted to pine trees. Amazingly the Minister of Agriculture has no idea how much has been converted, and continues to tell farmers that they’re wrong and spreading ‘misinformation’.
“This is despite there being 12,000 hectares sold for forestry in the Wairarapa in the past 12 months alone.
“Farmers’ confidence is at all-time lows, and as well as grappling with the effect of land-use changes they’ve put up with a plethora of Government policies and proposals that have only added to uncertainty around the future of their businesses.
“There has been the Tax Working Group report and the subsequent uncertainty of a Capital Gains Tax campaign, a proposed water tax, a proposal for agriculture entering the Emissions Trading Scheme and now the Freshwater proposals and cynical consultation process surrounding them.
“Farmers are rightfully sick of this Government and good on them for speaking up today. It’s just a shame the Government continues refusing to listen.”
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller’s Members’ Bill giving clarity around dividend rules has passed its final reading in Parliament with unanimous support.
“My Members’ Bill, the Companies (Clarification of Dividend Rules in Companies) Amendment Bill, will amend the Companies Act 1993 to provide legal certainty around dividend rules,” Mr Muller says.
“I’m delighted this simple amendment, which received cross-party support as well as the support of Cooperative Business New Zealand and Zespri, has passed.
“It clears up long-standing doubt around the ability of a company’s constitution to provide for ‘dry shares’, which do not carry a right to receive dividends in certain circumstances and are typically used in cooperatives.
“Most of my professional career has been spent in New Zealand’s agricultural sector, where cooperatives flourish, and I know first-hand the issues that have arisen as a result of the confusion previously inherent in the Companies Act 1993.
“Previously, conflicting interpretations of sections 36 and 53 of the Act called the provision of dry shares into question, creating challenges for a number of businesses.
“Now, companies can confidently provide a class of shares that does not confer the right to receive dividends in circumstances specified by their constitution.
“This law will give much-needed clarity to companies and shareholders and builds on the work the previous National Government did to make doing business easier.”
Dairy NZ’s economic modelling of the Government’s freshwater package shows the enormous cost the proposed regulations will have on the farming sector, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller says.
“The Government failed to provide any economic analysis in their discussion document, which has meant organisations such as Dairy NZ have been forced to do their work for them.
“Dairy NZ’s analysis shows a potential annual $6 billion hit to our GDP by 2050, due to an estimated 24 per cent drop in milk production and 5.2 per cent drop in national exports. As well as 15 – 20 per cent fewer jobs in the dairy industry.
“Farmers’ confidence has been plummeting recently as a result of this Government’s policies, and the scale of these economic projections will only cause it to drop even further.
“The Government should have provided national level analysis showing what the proposals will do to New Zealand’s economy and regional level analysis that considers what they will mean for rural communities.
“Organisations such as Dairy NZ, Local Government New Zealand, AgFirst and others have conducted good work into the proposals and provided key economic analysis where the Government has failed to.
“Farmers who will be affected by these proposals deserve to have the facts in front of them and the Government should have been providing them from the start.”
Rabobank’s latest survey shows farmers' confidence is continuing to drop and they remain concerned about the future of their industry, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller says.
“Rabobank’s data released this morning shows that farmers are becoming increasingly concerned about the primary sector, with the Government’s policies highlighted as the key concern.
“The survey shows that 68 per cent of farmers holding a negative outlook cite the Government as the main reason.
“It’s not surprising considering the continued onslaught of uncertainty and costs that farmers have seen since this Government came to power, whether it be the Tax Working Group report and subsequent Capital Gains Tax campaign, a proposed water tax, a proposal for agriculture entering the Emissions Trading Scheme, onerous methane targets in the Zero Carbon Bill and now the Freshwater proposals and cynical consultation process surrounding them.
“New Zealand’s farmers produce enough food to feed 40 million people globally and account for 60 per cent of our goods exports, all while being the most carbon efficient food producer in the world, this appears to be lost on the Government.
“Farmers used to say there were three things they needed to worry about; interest rates, commodity prices and the weather. Interest rates are at record lows, most commodity prices are above historical averages, and the weather has been pretty good. The Government is now the biggest headache for farmers and they must recognise this and finally start supporting our primary sector.”
When the Prime Minister told the United Nations (UN) she was determined for New Zealand to be the most sustainable food producer in the world, she should have realised that we already are, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller says.
“The Prime Minister told the UN Climate Summit that ‘We are determined to show that New Zealand can and will be the most sustainable food producer in the world.’ When really she should have been promoting the fact that our primary sector is already the most sustainable food producer by some margin.
“New Zealand farmers have made massive gains over recent decades and continue to stay ahead of the pack in terms of efficiency and sustainability. In the last 30 years we’ve managed to produce more sheep meat from 32 per cent fewer sheep due to improvements with enhanced breeding mixes and enhanced lambing percentages.
“Our dairy products are so much more sustainable that a litre of New Zealand milk shipped to Ireland, the next most efficient producer, would still have a lower emissions profile than Irish milk produced locally.
“If the Prime Minister supported lowering emissions she would be promoting our primary sector on the world stage, and encouraging people to eat New Zealand produced food.”
The Government is struggling to justify its water policy as its guesses around costs are increasingly at odds with expert estimates, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller and Environment spokesperson Scott Simpson say.
“While Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor stated in Parliament the cost to farmers of meeting the Government’s proposed new water policies would be just one to two per cent, LandCare has estimated the drop in farm revenue for a case study catchment would be more likely to fall between seven and 46 per cent,” Mr Muller says.
“An AgFirst report, commissioned by the Ministry for the Environment states shifting to a five metre fencing setback on a Waikato Bay of Plenty dairy farm will come at a cost of 40 per cent of earnings over a ten year period.
“Both Local Government New Zealand and LandCare report that over half of the Waikato-Waipa catchment and almost 100 per cent of the Clutha catchment would need to be converted to permanent forestry to achieve the policy’s bottom lines.”
“Environment Minister David Parker first seemed unaware of these estimates, dismissing them as nonsensical scaremongering. Today he claimed that they were wrong, despite the report being linked on the consultation website,” Mr Simpson says.
“Farmers are rightly feeling confused and worried. Mr Parker assured New Zealanders ‘Trust me, I know what I’m doing’, but he has released 2,000 pages of technical reports with various costs and impacts. The suggestion that the reports don’t all apply just adds to the confusion.
“The LandCare report clearly states that the substantial costs incurred by farmers may drive farmers to change their land use or shift their employment to non-agricultural work all together.
“Releasing 2,000 pages of material during calving and lambing is not fair on farmers. Ministers need to extend the consultation period to twelve weeks and provide clearer analysis of what the impacts of the proposals will be.”
Research published by Local Government New Zealand shows the enormous impact on land use the Government’s freshwater proposals will really have, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller says.
“If implemented, these proposals are going to see farmers in the Waikato go out of business and their land be converted into a sea of trees.
“According to the modelling, sheep and beef farming is expected to fall by 68 per cent, while dairy would be reduced by 13 per cent. Meanwhile plantation forestry would boom by an astonishing 160 per cent.
“Plantation forestry would then account for over 50 per cent of farmland in Waikato, as these onerous regulations make sheep and beef farming completely untenable.
“We can only get improved water quality and prosperous rural communities if farmers can see a way to farm their way to better environmental outcomes. These proposals take farmers’ options off the table and are a disaster for the Waikato.
“There has been huge investment made and improvements are occurring with Land, Air, Water Aotearoa’s data showing improvement in eight out of nine water quality indicators across our rivers.
“There is more to be done but these changes only take the profitability out of dairy, which therefore means there is less money for environmental investment. The farmer’s voice has to be heard in this debate or we are all in deep trouble. This goes way beyond the kitchen table of our local farmers as it will cut deep into the economy of Hamilton and surrounding towns.
“When Local Government feels the need to send a shot across the bow of Central Government the Minister must take notice. These proposals will have dire consequences for rural New Zealand.”
The Government’s cynical consultation process for their Freshwater proposals is lacking in proper process and downright disrespectful, National’s Agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller says.
“David Parker has claimed he has engaged with the sector but this is misleading. Sector representatives had to sign non-disclosure agreements and couldn’t share any pre-announcement detail with any actual farmers. Considering the breadth of the proposals this just doesn’t cut it.
“He has left rural New Zealand just six weeks to try and ascertain what the wide-ranging changes will mean for them at the busiest time of the year. It reeks of a predetermined process and heaps further pressure on to our 23,000 farming families.
“The Minister has proposed a new bottom line for nitrogen levels that will require a 27 per cent reduction on average across New Zealand with an over 80 per cent reduction in some catchments.
"These proposals are asking our agricultural sector to reduce their footprint by over a quarter, and when questioned about the potential impact of this, all the Minister could say was ‘trust me, I know what I'm doing’. This is an unacceptably cavalier approach to a sector that is responsible for 60 per cent of New Zealand's exports.
“The Minister needs to provide the consultation process with some basic assessment of what these proposals will cost New Zealand. Astonishingly the draft Regulatory Impact Statement simply says ‘the modelling to date of the economic impacts on farms has been very limited’.
“How much David Parker's proposal will cost is a basic question that the Minister has to at least attempt to answer during the consultation process.
“Damien O’Connor has been equally cavalier, at one point stating the costs would only equate to ‘one or two per cent’, while under further questioning he admitted this was simply a ‘guesstimate’.
“This Government has shown they are reckless when it comes to business confidence and New Zealand's export sector. New Zealand can't afford this Government.”