Having a dip at your local river or lake to cool down in summer is a cherished Kiwi tradition. My childhood was spent swimming in the Waiwhakaiho River in New Plymouth. It's a tradition our kids should get to share in too.

Today, many of our rivers are too dirty to swim in safely. I wouldn't want my son swimming in water that could make him sick. What parent would? Clearly, we need to clean up our rivers and lakes. We need to cut the pollution getting into them from our farms and our urban areas. For years, the Government has been promising a plan to do that.

But when is a clean water plan not a clean water plan? Evidently, when it's announced by Bill English and Nick Smith. We all know now that National's commitment to make 90% of our rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040 has turned out to be a con job.

They want to get to that target by weakening the definition of 'swimmable'. They want to increase the amount of E. coli - the bug that gets into water from animal waste and causes serious illnesses like campylobacter - that can be in water that's graded as safe to swim in.


That would mean water so filthy has a one in 20 chance of making you sick would be labelled swimmable.

Nick Smith says these rivers would be safe. The experts disagree. Water scientists, outdoors groups, and tourism representatives are all saying this plan is bad for New Zealand. Some of the rivers and lakes Nick Smith has deemed swimmable are absolutely filthy.

When you dig into National's plans many of Kiwis' favourite rivers would be highly polluted during summer, the peak swimming season, but still be called 'swimmable' because their pollution levels are lower in winter.

Here's the truth: a vote for National this year is a vote for more polluted rivers.

That's not the New Zealand we cherish. That's not the New Zealand we ask the world to come and visit.

It's time to cut the crap.

How do we do that? We start by fighting mad National's plan.

In 2010, National wanted to open up our most highly-protected National Parks to rampant mining. The huge public backlash, including tens of thousands of Kiwis taking to the streets in mass protest marches, forced them to drop the idea. People power works.

It's people power that will put paid to National's idea of putting more muck in our rivers.

Labour will be working with groups up and down New Zealand to build a movement to stand up for clean rivers. Bill English and Nick Smith are completely out of touch with New Zealanders' values on water, but they'll back down if they have no choice.

The next stage will be a real plan to clean up our rivers.

Labour's already got a good start with our Ready to Work policy. This programme will employ young people who are stuck on the dole to do valuable, paid work and get some job experience. I want to see those young people out helping to build the fences that will keep livestock out of the water and doing riparian planting - restoring wetlands and growing native plants on the edges of waterways to filter the run-off from farms.

Alongside that practical work, we'll need proper standards without the trickery, better monitoring, and accountability for polluters. We'll need to empower every community - because when my local river is swimmable and yours is too, the whole of New Zealand has clean water.

Our rivers are part of our culture, part of our heritage and identity. We need to get them back to a fit state so we, and future generations, can enjoy them. The first step is stopping National's plan to pollute our rivers.

Andrew Little is Leader of the Opposition and Labour Party Leader. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.