There is perhaps one positive trickling from the Government's aim to have 90 per cent of the country's lakes and rivers meeting swimmable water quality standards by 2040.

Environment Minister Nick Smith seems to have borrowed President Trump's idea for a Mexican border wall.

Both focus on exclusion, illegal immigrants there and livestock here, but Mr Smith needs to explain how his fences can cover an area almost 18 times longer than Mr Trump's wall, but come in at a 14th of its projected cost. This from a minister and a government who cannot even get Auckland's housing right.

This "swimmable water" announcement was awash with new policy, regulations, information maps and funding promises, which even if met, will leave 10 per cent of rivers "unswimmable".


The Government's spouting is discoloured by other hokum. What once were "wadable rivers" bewilderingly have become swimmable overnight. Big deal.

This means many of us won't be around to plunge into these cleansed waterways or hear National's triumphal ballyhoo if things go to plan.

It all becomes water under the bridge along with this Government's increasing drum-beat of nauseating targets like becoming smokefree, road death-free, workplace death-free and predator-free.

As one saying goes: "Words are free. It's how you use them that may cost you."

National puts the estimated cost to "the Government, farmers and councils" at $2 billion over the next 23 years.

That's a massive understatement because even a cursory glance at any typographical map for hillier farms and stations reveals streams, creeks and drains by the buckets-load.

Most have no name but they're there and National says they must be fenced off by 2022.

Fencing 56,000km of rivers is massive and this brings me to the solitary good point. It has potential to solve unemployment. Thousands of kilometres of fences lining the banks of braided rivers will need replacement every spring after winter floods wipe them out.

But then there's this gem: "[Unsupervised] stock crossings used once or more per week, must be bridged or culverted by July 1, 2019." How will tourists react to the visual pollution of fences tracing around any creek wider than a metre, especially on iconic stations? Imagine a WWI battlefield punctuated by bridges and culverts and you'll get the picture.

Mr Smith says that it "is about improving the frequency that we can swim in our lakes and rivers, noting that even our cleanest rivers breach swimming water quality standards during storms". Perhaps he can explain why the worst swimming spot in Northland is in a forested area near to a Department of Conservation campsite? And just where are the provisions for better biosecurity because didymo or "rock snot" came courtesy of tourism and we have tourism to thank for the waterborne disease giardia.

If the last Labour government had come up with this plan in 2008, National would have labelled it the nanny-state gone mad. Nine years on and the irony is that National now requires that nanny goats be excluded from waterways.

- Winston Peters is Northland MP and the leader of New Zealand First