Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Industry leaders won’t back down

Neal Wallace
Politicians and government officials will have noticed the size of Growndswell’s protests, but a primary sector leader says it will not be persuaded to back down on their reform agenda.
Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard says the public service has become more invested in ‘trying to meet party goals instead of being a public service’.
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Mike Petersen, the independent chair of the Food and Fibre Leaders Forum which meets regularly with politicians and officials, says the Government will not agree to Groundswell’s seven-point wish list.

“We have a single party majority Government with a reform agenda and to think we can convince them to change big pieces of legislation they are working on, is almost impossible to achieve,” Petersen said.

He says the Government is convinced it has an elected mandate for its policies, which it wants passed.

“They genuinely believe that this is the direction the country needs to go in and genuinely believe they were elected on that mandate,” he said.

“It is too easy to say it is ideology or all about politics.

“I take the view that the only way to get outcomes for the sector is to have a conversation with the decision-makers.”

With five large reforms under way affecting agriculture – climate change, Resource Management Act, Essential Freshwater, Indigenous Biodiversity and Three Waters – Petersen says the forum has highlighted the need for timely consultation when farming is not so busy.

On climate change it advocated for He Waka Eke Noa, an industry-wide approach to reduce emissions but was unsuccessful advocating for a similar approach for water.

The forum is seeking Government incentives for farmers to register areas of significant indigenous biodiversity to avoid the controversy that is erupting over loss of control with the significant natural areas (SNAs) approach.

Beef + Lamb NZ chair Andrew Morrison says he and fellow leaders regularly advise the Government that farmers are swamped by the volume and degree of change, a message reinforced by the size of the protest.

“I hope the Government picks up that message because it is a message we’ve been saying,” Morrison said.

DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel agrees.

“The amount of people that came out … to show their frustration was more than I expected and it will raise the level of awareness around the amount of concern out there,” Van der Poel said.

Both leaders say they are disappointed the Government will not collaborate on policies, with Morrison adding that they need to have faith in those they work with.

“The question of whether they are prepared to listen is their prerogative,” Morrison said.

Van der Poel says his organisation regularly asks the Government to ease up and look at the big picture of what farmers are currently having to deal with.

“Government needs to slow down both the pace and the scale of changes and consider regulations in a holistic way, not in isolation,” Van der Poel said.

Asked if criticism that producer boards are too placating is valid, he says it is in the interests of levy payers that they build relationships and work collaboratively with government and officials.

“We have got to act on behalf of farmers, find solutions that work, are practical and equitable and the only way to do that is to work constructively,” he said.

Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard was heartened by the support of urban people, which will highlight to politicians that it is not just a vocal minority feeling under pressure and anxious about the same issues.

“What I am getting frustrated about, the vast majority of rural NZ is getting frustrated about,” Hoggard said.

He has heard calls for the federation to become more militant, but says it is important they sit down with politicians and officials.

“The challenge we face is if we are militant all the time, then we’ll get ignored and left out of the room. They will not listen to us,” he said.

“The benefit of being in the room is sometimes they listen when we point out things that are wrong, dumb or will not work and we get to help fix them.”

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