Our previous generations went to war to protect the democratic process in New Zealand, but this Government believes that it can ignore this process.
The proposed Action on Freshwater regulations will impose significant changes and financial burdens on all New Zealanders — predominantly targeted at agriculture but also at every district and regional council. It has been quoted by the ministers as being the biggest shakeup of agriculture since the 1980s.
Farmers and their representative bodies were excluded from the working groups that have written the proposed regulations. The hand-picked working group had a very slanted view of farming, had no appreciation of the good work already being done, had no skin in the game. Most do not live in the rural communities that this regulation will severely impact.
By calling these changes regulations rather than legislation, the Government intends to avoid the select committee process. This is where clunky ideals are usually refined into workable rules that can achieve meaningful change. Instead, agriculture was initially given four weeks to submit on these proposals, which agreed to extend to six weeks.
Another hand-picked panel will consider the submissions, before making a recommendation to the Ministry for Environment and David Parker. There is no opportunity to see or consult on this amended regulation before it is discussed and agreed on by Cabinet ministers.
Is this a fair process, enacting significant restrictions on farmers and provincial New Zealand?
Farmers absolutely agree with the goal of healthy freshwater and much of the required change is already happening. Farmers have not buried their heads in the sand, the majority are not the laggards that they have been unfairly labelled.
Farmers do, however, oppose the regulatory process that the Government believes is necessary and the nationwide broad-brush rules that are being proposed. Money will be taken away from achieving positive environmental outcomes on farms, and be spent on accredited consultants in a box-ticking exercise.
Different regions have different water-quality challenges. Therefore, communities should be able to focus on their local water quality issues and on what is going to make a positive difference to their swimming spots.
There is real momentum of farmers actively reducing their environmental impact. More than 100,000km of fences have been erected protecting waterways and native bush, and millions of trees have been planted; whether they are native riparian plantings or poplar tress to help prevent erosion.
Dairy farmers have collectively invested hundred of millions on modern effluent systems. Farmers are proud that a quarter of this country's native bush is on their land, the weed and pest control funded from their farming business.
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Celebrity chef Al Brown correctly pointed out that farmers are being unfairly vilified, that we are making much faster progress than the urban centres.
Farmers do feel snubbed by their exclusion from initial consultation and many of the 17,500 submissions received will be from individual farmers. Federated Farmers and the industry organisations have invested huge resources into making detailed and constructive submissions. The Government has not done any economic impact analysis, whether at farm level or how it will affect provincial towns, not to mention the national economy. Their own Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, has criticised the proposed regulations as being "not founded on robust, consistent and reliable national data" and that this will be "costing us dearly in poorly designed policy".
Individual ministers do not have all the answers. Our future prosperity relies on good robust legislation, not rushed "quick fixes".
For all the blood, sweat and tears previous generations have given to moulding New Zealand, we should be able to expect that this Government follows fair and proper process when making decisions about our future.
*Mike Cranstone is president of Whanganui Federated Farmers