The Government's Essential Freshwater policy has been causing concern among Kiwi farmers since its release earlier this month. The Country's Jamie Mackay has spoken to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the National Party's spokesman for primary industries Todd Muller, and Opposition Leader Simon Bridges on the subject.
Today Mackay caught up with acting Prime Minister Winston Peters to get his take on the freshwater argument, and found Peters wanted farmers to know the truth of a situation he believes has become clouded with "rumours and humbug".
Mackay: Mr Peters, welcome back to The Country after a bit of a break. You've lost a bit of weight, you're looking good!
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Peters: Thank you very much. I think I'll go down like a boxer. I'll go down a couple of divisions to get myself ready for the next fellow.
Mackay: The good news about your lighter weight now, Winston, is that when you ride into town on that horse to save us from the freshwater reforms it's going to be easier. You'll be carrying less weight - or the horse will be.
Peters: Well, first of all we've got the plan to save you from that, we always have had and if you and your farmer listeners would be a bit more patient you'll see that the one party prepared to defend provincial rural agricultural New Zealand's interests is going to make sure you get a fair go.
Mackay: What are you going to do about it?
Peters: What we're going to do about it is what we promised to do about it. To ensure that we cannot go on with polluted and despoiled rivers and that this is capable of being fixed up, but we have to use farmers as our first line in the army, or the military of a counterattack so to speak, supported by public money and by public assistance and by science - to win this battle for us.
We always believed that from the word go. It's not a them-and-us situation. Whether it's in the country or the city, everybody's going to have to pitch in to clean this country up.
Mackay: But it appears to me that you're acting a bit like English generals at Gallipoli. You're sending the foot soldiers out the front, the Kiwi farmers. Sending them off to slaughter - there you go - some imagery on the show today.
Peters: Now, we're going to get nowhere, if irresponsible farming comment like that becomes the model for the day.
Here's the rub. The only way the farming community in this country is going to survive economically and internationally is by having respectability of their production.
If they don't, they'll be shut out by other world markets who are playing the game and who'll look at us and say 'no, no, you guys are not clean and green, are not pure like you say, and we don't want your product'. And every farming person who knows anything about international marketing knows that.
So having grasped that, let's steer the march on where we were - doing nothing - to start doing something dramatic.
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Mackay: No other major agricultural nation in the world is going to ask of their farmers to have freshwater standards like you are. OK, we're setting the standard but ...
Peters: Who on Earth wants that?
Mackay: Well - are we at the leading edge or the bleeding edge?
Peters: No, no, who on Earth told you that? Go to the Nordic countries. Go to Scandinavia. You can't see a river or a stream without a bank of trees on both sides of it, without all sorts of measures taking place.
The difference between us and them - they're selling their prices at the top of the added value market, where we've had farming leaders, and dare I say it, [The Country] praising Fonterra while they've just about destroyed the greatest industry this country's got.
Mackay: You're singing the praises of the Nordic countries. These are countries that make a living out of selling fossil fuels.
Peters: Did you hear me complaining about that?
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Mackay: No I didn't, but you're holding them up as some sort of paragon of virtue when it comes to low carbon footprint.
Peters: Where New Zealand First is different, and we have said time and time again, that the Nordic countries are lightyears ahead of the Greens and one of the reasons why they are, is they believe in extraction. Because you can't have the modern, environmentally safe and secure, sustainable economy without extraction. That's the reality.
Mackay: Mr Peters, I reckon New Zealand farmers are on board with this. They're just disagreeing on the timeframe and certainly the submission process. You would have to admit ... that it was an insult to throw out a six-week submission period at the height of lambing and calving and getting crop into the ground. It was just an insult. This was David Parker bulldozing this through.
Peters: Oh now give me a break. I'm off a dairy farm. You know what it's like - 24/7 you used to be busy. Here comes the winter time, the cows are out. So you're doing all the repair work, all the maintenance work until the cows come back in.
Mackay: You know as well as I do that the busiest time of the year on a dairy farm is right now - calving and heading in to mating - so don't give me ...
Peters: OK Mum's not out doing the calving, or if she is, Dad's not out doing the calving. Maybe one of the couple can start writing the darn submission.
And just to make sure you get a fairer go, I've made sure you get two more extra weeks to put in submissions.
It's not a them-and-us situation. Whether it's in the country or the city, everybody's going to have to pitch in to clean this country up.
So the submissions date will close, well we'll take submission dates two weeks beyond that. That gives you two months.
And - if you were prepared for this issue which you knew was inevitable to come - surely your submission was already ready?
Mackay: Well, I don't think some of those Canterbury farmers were aware that pastoral farming - worst-case scenario admittedly under economic modelling by an environmental consultant - that pastoral farming could be off the cards on the Canterbury Plains. No one was prepared for that level of change.
Peters: And no one's going to be prepared for it, because it ain't true.
Mackay: Well I'm pleased to hear that.
Peters: No, no, no, see that's the kind of extremism thing I've been hearing. Down in Otago it'll all be trees from here on in. That sort of extremist nonsense just won't wash.
And if everybody's so busy - how come they've got record attendances at these meetings?
With the greatest respect you can't have it both ways, mate. They're at the meetings because they're going to find out in time the truth - not the scaremongering, of the hopelessly useless downtown beacon of capital, banker-dominated National Party.
Mackay: I knew it was the National Party's fault. Have you ever considered they turned up to the meeting as a farmer protest?
No. They turn up to hear the truth, and the truth, as the Bible says, will set them free.
Mackay: Damien O'Connor to his credit, fronted up last night, but where were him and David Parker earlier in the piece?
Peters: Well, I'll tell you what, Shane and I are fronting up up North very shortly. If I was you I'd come up and see a meeting. And they're going to hear the truth and facts and a wise, smart political entity called New Zealand First - who when we went into coalition negotiations on climate change and on water - had your back covered.
We're going to do all this together and we're going to make sure everybody in New Zealand - everybody - pays the cost ... not just one industry.
Mackay: Winston Peters, acting Prime Minister, always good on The Country to lose an argument to you, thanks for your time.
Peters: I just want to remind you all out there. I know in my absence, you've heard a plethora of rumours and humbug and nonsense, but the simple message that your farming community should know is that New Zealand First is a party with a lot of people with farming backgrounds in it.
You've got Mark Patterson down there in the South Island, Shane and I are off dairy farms, we've spent more than our fair share of doing that, so are others.
And when it comes to farming? Hang on, because help is on its way.
Also in today's interview: Peters discussed work visa changes and the "incorrect" terminology around the word migrant, and whether he will attend the Rugby World Cup.