Labour's Napier spokesman Stuart Nash has hit back at a claim the party is withdrawing support for the Ruataniwha water storage scheme and that it was a "slap in the face for farmers in Hawke's Bay".
Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy made the comment this week, saying the proposed Ruataniwha scheme had the potential to irrigate an extra 25,000ha in Hawke's Bay, providing a major boost to exports, jobs and growth in the region.
"In October last year Labour MPs Shane Jones and Damien O'Connor visited the site and said it made a 'very good case' and that 'it is an obscure part of the country that [will cope] with such a large structure'," he said.
"Now they have been overruled by Stuart Nash, a rejected ex-MP who says Labour will not be funding water storage schemes if elected in 2014."
Mr Guy said the severe drought during the recent summer had made the need for such a project even more obvious.
"The drought has highlighted that we don't have a water shortage in New Zealand, but a shortage of storage options," he said.
"We only capture two per cent of the rainfall that falls on New Zealand with the rest running out to sea.
"Water storage can have real environmental benefits. Increased river flows means more water for recreational users in summer, and improved habitats for fish and birdlife."
Mr Nash disputed Mr Guy's claims, saying he had got the wrong end of the stick. "While Labour is not opposed to water storage schemes, it has never ever committed to fund dams anywhere - let alone the Ruataniwha water storage project."
Mr Nash said that he had "definitely not overruled Damien O'Connor or Shane Jones" and he had immense respect and a great relationship with both Labour MPs, saying they all shared a common view on the philosophy behind water storage.
"For Minister Guy to say that Labour's stance is a slap in the face for Hawke's Bay farmers shows a total lack of understanding of the dynamics of the scheme," said Mr Nash.
"This is another example of a National minister who has removed all doubt about the fact that he is out of touch with provincial communities he purports to represent, and the only way to cover up his lack of consultation is to lie."
Mr Nash said not one farmer had committed to the scheme, proving it was not seen as the "great hope".
"Mr Guy seems to believe it is - from the heights of his Beehive office. Quite the opposite, in fact, with many farmers expressing concerns over the Hawke's Bay Regional Council's rushed process and lack of transparency.
"Someone's got to stand up for the people of Napier - the local National MP certainly isn't - and I am passionate about ensuring the long-term future for our region."
Mr Nash said Mr Guy would do well to follow Abraham Lincoln's advice that it was "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt".