The farming Cabinet: Who you need to know

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The Primary Industries ministerial portfolio is a large, challenging one. For Horowhenua farmer and Otaki MP Nathan Guy the first few weeks on the job have been hectic, with the most severe drought since the 1940s striking the North Island and parts of the South, reports Felicity Wolfe

The January Cabinet re-shuffle by Prime Minster John Key saw a number of changes in key positions for agriculture, as well as for Primary Industries.

Taking over from new Speaker of the House David Carter, Nathan Guy already had experience as the associate Primary Industries minister and is well-known as a hard-working politician who has risen through the National Party ranks since first entering Parliament as a list MP in 2005.

Federated Farmers national president Bruce Wills says Guy's farming background and experience in both the meat-producing and dairy industries give him a broad understanding of the varied challenges faced by the different primary sectors.

"We know that as a farmer himself, Nathan will really understand and work well for agriculture and all other primary industries in this country," Wills says.

He pointed to Guy's work as Minister of Immigration, associate Primary Industries Minister and as the associate Transport Minister which showed his ability to work well with Federated Farmers in the past.

"I believe there is a good understanding between the Minister and the Federation," Wills says.

The Federation welcomes Guy's indications that water storage and resource management are areas of focus, as is making sure the sector is in a position to take advantage of new trading opportunities.

"It is a drought, so water storage is high on the agenda for everyone at the moment," Wills says.

"The Federation will be working hard to make sure it stays in politicians' consciousness well after the rain has returned."

Guy told Federated Farmers he was very supportive of irrigation projects to help mitigate future droughts.

"Done properly, this has the potential to deliver a major boost to our primary industries and support many new jobs. If current proposals are advanced, there could be another 420,000 hectares of irrigated land available over time," Guy says.

"I'm also working closely with Environment Minister Amy Adams on water reform, and recently we launched a discussion paper with ideas on improving water quality and the way freshwater is managed.

"Balancing environmental issues with economic growth will be a major challenge, but one in which New Zealand can be a world leader."

Having already visited many drought-hit areas, Guy says he is keen to meet farmers from all regions.

"I'm looking forward to getting my sleeves rolled up and stuck in."

The January Cabinet reshuffle also brought a number of other younger politicians to the top table, many of them in positions which have a direct impact on New Zealand's agricultural sector.

These included Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye in the Food Safety portfolio, Tauranga MP Simon Bridges taking on the Labour, Energy and Resources portfolio and Napier MP Chris Tremain taking on the all-important Local Government portfolio. These have joined relative newcomer, Environment and Telecommunications Minister Amy Adams in Cabinet.

"Local Government is currently undergoing some much-needed reform and, with farmers being directly impacted by the land-based rating system, this is a portfolio the Federation takes a keen interest in," Wills says.

Also back at the top table is Nelson MP Nick Smith with Conservation.

"We know Dr Smith brings a wealth of skill and knowledge to the conservation arena, having previously held this portfolio," Wills said.

"We will be working with all of these politicians to bring better policy and legislative outcomes for our farmer members and, indeed, all New Zealanders."

The farming Cabinet of 2013

Minister of Finance - Bill English (Clutha-Southland)

Cabinet Rank: 2

Political career to date: English is the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister for Infrastructure; pivotal roles for agriculture.

As the Minister of Finance and Treasury, English is responsible for the allocation of funds for government ministries and key projects such as the water storage fund, the rural broadband initiative and research. English, who hails from a Southland farming family, is very in touch with farmers' needs.

He is also highly experienced and respected, having been a Member of Parliament since 1990. He is a former National Party leader and in previous National governments has held Health, Finance and Revenue portfolios.

What farmers will like: English has brought a rural practicality and straight-talking style to some of the most important portfolios in the Cabinet. He has retained close links with agriculture and heartland New Zealand, giving English a real understanding of the sector, its importance to the country and what it needs going forward.

Challenges: The government's unwillingness to take active measures to lower the New Zealand dollar has upset some farmers and other exporters, however, Federated Farmers' opinion is that reducing government expenditure and debt is the preferable measure.

Real farm experience? English comes from a farming family which is proudly based in the Southland town of Dipton. With family members in agribusinesses and his brother, Conor, at Federated Farmers' helm, there are bound to be plenty of agricultural anecdotes when the clan gets together for a lamb roast dinner at Christmas.

Minister for Primary Industries - Nathan Guy (Otaki)

Cabinet Rank: 16

Political career to date: After just over a year as Associate Minister for Primary Industries, Guy was promoted into the Primary Industries portfolio in the January Cabinet reshuffle, stepping into the spot left vacant by South Island sheep farmer David Carter who gained the Speaker of the House role. Guy first entered Parliament in 2005 as a list MP and won the Otaki electorate in 2008. He was given the Internal Affairs portfolio and other responsibilities in 2009.

What farmers will like: Guy has a solid farming background, which includes Young Farmer competitions, an agricultural degree from Massey University and a past recipient of a Winston Churchill Fellowship, with which he travelled to the United States to study beef exports.

He has hands-on, pan-sectorial agricultural understanding.

Challenges: Despite a solid political reputation, Guy's profile is not as prominent as some of the other new faces around the Cabinet table. Also, those looking for a new direction after David Carter are likely to be disappointed.

Guy has indicated that while he sees himself as a part of a younger political generation, he has also said he means to carry on in much the same path as Carter.

Real farm experience? Five stars. Last month Guy told Dairy Exporter that he enjoys getting back to the family farm, about an hour north of Wellington, in the weekends.

Minister for the Environment - Amy Adams (Selwyn)

Cabinet Rank: 15

When Aucklander Amy Adams moved to study at Canterbury University in 1988, she stayed, practicing law and living with her family on a 600-acre sheep farm in Aylesbury, just west of Christchurch.

After graduation with first class honours, Adams had a successful law career then was elected to Parliament in 2008.

Political career to date: Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Minster for the Environment.

What farmers will like: As Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Adams has been a supporter and ally of the roll-out of the Rural Broadband Initiative.

As Environment Minister, Adams is in the process of overhauling the Resource Management Act. It is hoped she will streamline it to reduce the huge time inefficiencies and money wastage it has become synonymous with.

Challenges: If the Resource Management Act reforms do not deliver the promised savings, it won't just be the farming community left disappointed.

Real farm experience? Although Adams was an Aucklander, she has taken to country life and is a strong advocate for her largely rural electorate and the needs of all other rural New Zealanders.

Minister of Conservation - Nick Smith (Nelson)

Cabinet Rank: 13

Nelson MP Nick Smith has been a National Party stalwart since university and has retained his seat since 1990, when it was then the Tasman seat.

Political career to date: Nick Smith first stood for political office at Rangiora District Council in 1983, while at high school. He was elected in 1986, aged 21 and has been involved in politics since.

He won the then-Tasman electorate in 1990, becoming Minister for Conservation in 1996.

He has also held portfolios for Corrections, Education, Environment, Climate Change Issues and the Accident Compensation Corporation. He was also, briefly, the deputy leader of the party under Don Brash in 2003.

The January reshuffle saw Smith return to Cabinet with the Conservation portfolio, after resigning his previous ministerial portfolios following allegations made about his conduct as the Minister for ACC in handling the case of a friend and former National Party member Bronwyn Pullar.

What farmers will like: Smith listened to Federated Farmers about the difficulties around including biological emissions in the Emissions Trading Scheme and delivered on removing them indefinitely.

Challenges: In returning to his old Conservation portfolio, the thousands of farmers who do conservation work for free - replanting, creating QEII covenants on fragile land and bush - will be looking for Smith to show a real and tangible understanding of what it really takes to protect New Zealand's unique biodiversity.

Farmers will be looking for further unity between the Department of Conservation and its rural neighbours. Farmers in bovine tuberculosis-prone areas will also be looking to see what solid government commitments are made to the Predator Free New Zealand idea, as its aims could overlap into their interests in possum control.

Real farm experience? Smith is a career politician, but grew up in an agricultural service town and has successfully ingrained himself in the Nelson electorate, which runs on the primary industries, including agriculture.

Minister of Trade and Minister for Climate Change Issues - Tim Groser

Cabinet Rank: 14

As the Minister of Trade and Climate Change Issues, and previously holding the Conservation portfolio, Tim Groser has held a great deal of influence over New Zealand agricultural sectors since 2008.

He is a former ambassador to Indonesia and the World Trade Organisation. As such, Groser has been a firm supporter of free-trade agreements and multi-lateral agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership.

At present Groser is a contender for the director-generalship of the World Trade Organisation which will become vacant after May.

Groser has been deeply involved in facilitating international climate change negotiations and has been part of many climate change forums and conferences.

Political career to date: Between 2008 and 2010, Groser was the Minister for Conservation and is the Minister for Trade.

What farmers will like: Groser is seen globally as a leading proponent for free trade and is widely respected on the international stage. He has been very active in opening new trade opportunities for New Zealand's agricultural products.

Challenges: If he secures the director-generalship of the World Trade Organisation Groser will leave his role as Minister of Trade and Climate Change Issues. Even if he does not, it is likely he will be looking at his career prospects on the world stage.

Real farm experience? With agriculture playing a huge role in New Zealand trade, Groser has worked on agricultural negotiations over the years, including a stint chairing World Trade Organisation's agricultural negotiations.

Minister of Local Government - Chris Tremain (Napier)

Cabinet rank: 18

Chris Tremain has been given the Local Government portfolio at a crucial time. Federated Farmers is encouraged by many of the initiatives outlined under the Local Government Reform Bill, but hopes Tremain will have the courage to look at the biggest issue, the funding mechanisms available to councils.

Tremain has been in Parliament since 2005 when he won the Napier seat. A successful Hawke's Bay businessman, Tremain should have some previous dealings with local government as a private citizen - a perspective the Federation hopes he retains.

Political career to date: Minister of Internal Affairs and Associate Minister of Tourism; Local Government

What farmers will like: As a businessman from a regional, agriculture-dependant centre, Tremain should have a good understanding of the demands on small to medium-sized business owners.

Challenges: It remains to be seen if Tremain will look seriously at the problems with purely land-based rating systems.

Real farm experience? Hailing from Hawke's Bay, Tremain is never far away from a primary producer - including the Federation's own president, Bruce Wills.

Minister of Labour - Simon Bridges (Tauranga)

Cabinet Rank: 19

Originally from Auckland, Bridges completed a BA and LLB (Hons) at Auckland University, before further studies at Oxford University and the London School of Economics.

He also worked as an intern at the British House of Commons. After a period as a litigation lawyer in Auckland, Bridges moved to Tauranga where he became senior Crown Prosecutor.

He was elected as Tauranga's MP in 2008 and has risen quickly up the National Party lists in that time.

Political career to date: Minister of Energy and Resources, Minister of Labour, and Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues.

What farmers will like: Coming from a legal background, Bridges is known as an active and skilful debater and also as an intelligent politician.

Challenges: Farmers could be sceptical about Bridges' background as a litigation lawyer, but will appreciate his rhetorical skills in Parliamentary debate.

Real farm experience? Moving from the rat-race in Auckland to the Bay of Plenty was a good start.

Minister for Food safety - Nikki Kaye (Auckland Central)

Cabinet rank: 20

Kaye was elected for the Auckland Central seat in 2008 and has proven a committed constituency MP.

Political career to date: Minister for Food Safety, Minister for Civil Defence and Minister for Youth Affairs.

What farmers will like: Kaye is seen as a determined MP who is not afraid to speak her mind - even when that does not quite fit the National Party line.

Challenges: Kaye is the youngest Cabinet Minister in history and as such is a bit of an unknown quantity.

Real farm experience? Kaye is an Aucklander through and through, but has shown an awareness of urban environmental issues.


- Hamilton News

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