BNZ chief executive Anthony Healy has thrown his weight behind efforts to clean up New Zealand's polluted waterways in his first speech since taking the bank's helm five months ago.

Addressing a Trans-Tasman Business Circle function in Auckland this afternoon, Healy cited a recent report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that found 62 per cent of this country's lowland waterways were officially classified as being unsuitable for swimming.

He said the environmental impact of farming was not just a "farmer's issue".

"The problem is collectively owned by anyone who has eaten anything produced on a farm," Healy said. "Which pretty well covers all of us, including a banking sector with deep and abiding ties with agriculture in New Zealand."


He said the Parliamentary Commissioner's report should be of interest to everyone.

"We should also show a collective interest in the huge amount of policy thinking and action already in place around water quality, such as the Government's recently-announced initiative on the fencing of streams on farms, and the Million Metres Streams project," Healy said. "And we should show an interest in how individual businesses, in the dairy sector and elsewhere, are already responding to the challenges and opportunities, by think differently and looking for innovative ways to tackle the problem."

He said it was encouraging that voices from across the "ideological spectrum" -- including Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings and the Green Party -- were expressing similar sentiment on environmental issues.

In his own Trans-Tasman Business Circle speech last year, Spierings said Fonterra was "eight to 10 years" behind other dairy players overseas when it came to sustainability.

"In Europe we started to think about all of these things in 2003 and 2004," Spierings said. "But if we want to grow [dairy] in New Zealand we cannot grow the way we grew in the last 10 years, because we will hit the wall in terms of the environment and sustainability. We have to get our act together. That's why we're fencing off all the waterways."

Healy's speech explored a range of issues through a collection of statistics he dubbed the "Healy Index". Topics included the small and medium-sized business sector's importance to the economy, education, technology and New Zealand's ties with Asia.

Healy said he found the occasional knee jerk response to "some types of direct investment from some countries" to be "a little disheartening".

"It betrays a close-mindedness that can seem at odds with our self-image as a generally confident, connected, outward-facing and tolerant nation," Healy said.

The impact of Chinese investment on New Zealand's property market has been hotly debated topic.