Saturday, April 20, 2024

Big win for Federated Farmers’ advocacy

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Big win for Federated Farmers advocacy as SNA rules will be suspended.
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Federated Farmers are applauding the new Government for confirming it is kicking another unworkable and confusing farming rule into touch.  

Suspending the Significant Natural Areas (SNA) rules will be a positive step forward for both farmers and New Zealand’s biodiversity, Federated Farmers biodiversity spokesperson Mark Hooper says.

“We’ve been extremely concerned about the unworkability of these rules since they were introduced last year.

“That’s why we made simplifying the SNA provisions one of our 12 policy priorities for the new Government to restore farmer confidence, and it’s good to see our strong advocacy paying off for farmers.

“This is what’s needed to help get our rural sector confident and thriving again.”

The Government announced on March 14 that Cabinet has agreed to suspend the requirement for councils to comply with the SNA provisions of the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity for three years, while it replaces the Resource Management Act. 

A bill will soon be introduced to the House to do this. 

Hooper says farmers nationwide will be glad to see the back of SNAs put in place by the previous Government.

“These unworkable rules were widely despised by farmers because they infringed on our property rights and added endless layers of unnecessary complexity, compliance and cost – for very little environmental gain.

“The rules risked driving perverse outcomes where farmers actively choose to plant exotic species instead of natives because the Government have just made everything too hard.”

Federated Farmers will continue to advocate for practical biodiversity rules that are clear, pragmatic, and properly define areas of significant native vegetation, Hooper says. 

“Only truly significant areas should be captured – not every small plot of cabbage trees somewhere down the back paddock. 

“Biodiversity rules shouldn’t create barriers for people who actually want to protect and enhance native vegetation on their farms. 

“Farmers would be less likely to do this if they fear it will create a rod for their own backs.” 

Hooper says farmers are arguably New Zealand’s leading conservationists. 

“I can’t think of any group of people who are doing more to protect and enhance our country’s biodiversity.

“We need to be empowering farmers and supporting them to make further improvements on their properties instead of tying them up in needless red tape.

”The Government’s SNA announcement came from former Federated Farmers president, now Associate Environment Minister, Andrew Hoggard. 

He said, as it stands, SNAs identified on private property limit new activities and development that can take place on that property. 

“In their current form they represent a confiscation of property rights and undermine conservation efforts by the people who care most about the environment: the people who make a living from it,” Hoggard said in his statement.

“For now, the Government has agreed to suspend the obligation for councils to impose SNAs under the NPS Indigenous Biodiversity, and we’re sending a clear message that it would be unwise to bother.”

While the Government has announced it plans to introduce a bill to change the current law on SNAs, until this is done, councils still technically face a legal obligation to move as soon as practicable. 

In reality, it would be pretty unwise for councils to rush changes through when they know a law change is coming, Hooper says. 

He strongly agrees that councils should down their tools when it comes to new SNAs while the rules are reviewed.

“We all know councils are struggling to balance their books right now and that they’re coming to Kiwis all over the country for some big rates rises this year. 

It makes absolutely no sense to sink a whole lot of money into a new plan change that will become redundant once the Government develops a new RMA anyway. 

“The best thing to do right now is to pause and wait for some clarity around RMA reform and SNAs, and then develop those plans.” 

Hooper says councils should be wary of the sunk-cost fallacy. 

“We know some councils have spent a lot of money on this process already, but that’s not a reason to keep charging ahead. 

“In fact, it’s better to stop wasting ratepayers’ money while you still can.”

Hoggard said the Government is proposing to make changes as quickly as possible to ensure councils and communities don’t waste resources and effort implementing national direction requirements that may change following a review.

“I have also asked for a review of the operation of existing SNAs more broadly, including those implemented under the powers that councils have in the RMA. This review is being scoped now.”

Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.

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