With only a few weeks to go until the election, seven National Party ninjas decided to go the full headband by pledging to make all New Zealand rivers "swimmable". Not even by some far-flung, distant date.

The self-titled "Farming Leaders Group" comprise Federated Farmers president Katie Milne, former Federated Farmers president and Ravensdown director Bruce Wills, governmental agricultural trade envoy Mike Petersen, DairyNZ chairman Michael Spaans, Meat Industry Association chairman John Loughlin, and Beef + LambNZ chairman James Parsons. As I understand it, Fonterra's Director of Social Responsibility (an oxymoron, surely?) Carolyn Mortland, stood in for Fonterra chairman John Wilson for the combined photo shoot and announcement.

While they all posed awkwardly together on the banks of the Ngaruroro River, the "farming leaders" were long on the blah blah and short on the detail. As in, nobody has a clue how they'll achieve it - least of all them. They provided zero timeframe or strategy.

It's fair to say that the average punter can see it for what it is. Fear. Fear that their besties won't be re-elected, and that they might have to pay for something that has been free to their businesses since Adam. Water. The new oil. Liquid gold.


For me, their pledge assures future comedy gold. Every time any one of them opens their mouth to whinge about any plan or policy designed to clean up waterways, I'll be there.

I'll remind them of everything they've ever said and done, in the name of their purely profit-driven professions, to be exempted from the burden of user-pays and the invisible hand of the market. Because farmers do understand these financial concepts - indeed, swear by them - but only if it doesn't apply to them.

I have a feeling in my water that I'll be kept busy. When Labour takes over, along with - barring further self-immolation - a smattering of Greens, will these seven even remember their pledge? Or will it be business as usual? You know, fighting any regulation, or any attempt to make them - the polluter - pay for their contribution to the dire water situation we're all in. I think we know the answer to that.

My column length is generally 800 words. Yet, I could easily write another 100 columns and still not comprehensively cover the multitude of moves that farming groups have indulged in over the years to thwart any attempt at change.

I could provide endless details on the hundreds of thousands (more likely millions) they've collectively spent on lawyers attempting to stop regional councils putting reasonable limits on nitrate leaching, or stopping plan changes, or even the fencing off of waterways.

These are the things they don't want New Zealanders to know about - much preferring the rural/urban divide as an effective means of shutting down such inconvenient truths.

Soon, none of these tactics will matter. Soon, farmers will realise their fellow citizens are effectively forcing their hand. They will comply, or they will be out of business. Their social licence to operate has expired. They will need to earn it back. This could take time.

The mere fact that there is now overwhelming public support for a water royalty has sealed the deal.


This week's Herald-ZB Kantar TNS online survey showed that 70 per cent agree that commercial water users should pay a royalty to help fund the clean-up of waterways. Support for it is highest in Auckland, where 73 per cent of people back the move. I can hear the guttural gasps from the farming leaders from here.

The thought that townies have control over their fate must be very hard to bear. These would be the same townies whose urban waterways "are just as polluted as rural ones", I hear them cry.

Except, no matter how many times they repeat the line, the fact remains that urban waterways make up less than 1 per cent of all New Zealand waterways. This does not stop them trying to shift the blame on to those latte-sipping, farmer-hating pansies.

Because their social isolation is increasing, and the public's lenience declining, their desperation is starting to glare. My sense is that this Farming Leaders Group represents an out-of-touch industry in its death rattle.

Am I being too harsh on them? Have they changed their spots? Should I be more charitable? Sure, if they actually start living their pledge. Like serial offenders at their parole board hearing who promise to change, it's hard to trust.

I wonder what the Ngaruroro River made of The Magnificent Seven posing on its banks? Rivers speak eloquently - it's just a matter of listening. Must be hard to watch the very people, who have spent years denying you and your kind are even in trouble, swanning about pretending to care.

They also know babbling when they hear it.