Friday, April 12, 2024

Primary sector in the political pound seats

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From a farmer-friendly select committee to occupying key posts, ag has a rare legislative opportunity, says Alan Emerson.
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I recently caught up with ACT MP Mark Cameron, the chair of the Primary Production Select Committee. 

After the 2020 election I emailed the agricultural spokespeople of ACT and National, asking for any relevant information for my columns. Cameron sent me a weekly summary. I was duly ignored by the various National Party agricultural spokespeople, which was their choice.

The select committees are a vital part of our electoral system. They are where the hard work is done. After legislation is read for the first time in the House it is generally referred to the select committees, where they debate the issues. Whereas in the full Parliament political posturing seems the order of the day, in the select committees common sense generally prevails.

As well as deliberating on legislation, they receive reports from relevant government departments and are able to cross-examine. They are also able to go into much greater depth than is possible in the chamber. Individuals and organisations can make written and oral submissions to the committee. 

The Primary Production Select Committee currently has a majority of members who are either farmers themselves or have strong links to the rural sector. The one exception is Green MP Steve Abel, who is described as a climate and environmental activist with strong links to Greenpeace. The good news is that he is but a small minority in a pro-farming group.

Cameron knows what he wants from his team and it is all positive for the rural sector. He wants a collegiate approach when it comes to fresh water, Overseer and any law that affects farming.

That’s really positive.

He is committed to having local solutions to local problems. He strongly opposes the top-down approach. He points out that issues like sediment load and E coli pollution are issues for individual catchments and should not be legislated for on the basis of one size fits all.

He also believes that the job of the central government is to provide a template for the local councils to adapt for their individual challenges. That markets should create environmental requirements and not the central government.

I’ve been covering Parliament on and off for longer than I care to remember, and I was really heartened by the Cameron approach.

In Focus Podcast: Bryan catches up with ACT MP Mark Cameron, who chairs the Primary Production Select Committee.He reckons it’s easier getting things done with a committee that understands farming on a personal level. And he outlines the coalition plans to help farmers flourish this year.

I’m totally over the dictums from on high on the basis that Wellington knows best. It doesn’t. What is suitable for Southland is totally different to the issues facing Wairarapa.

I’m also totally over the current circus over Significant Natural Areas, the crass stupidity of some regional councils over wetlands and the present vagaries of the Resource Management Act. That Cameron wants to fix them in the current term was music to my ears.

I also totally agree with the industry setting scientifically based sustainability and environment goals that are appropriate to our markets. Again, I don’t want a government edict telling me what the markets want and how we need to change if we are to succeed. 

Who knows best, a civil servant behind a desk in Wellington or the industry, as Fonterra is currently doing with its environmental initiatives?

Cameron’s second-in-command is Miles Anderson, who I also rate particularly highly. He is a feet-on-the-ground, super-intelligent grassroots farmer who will represent the sector well. 

As you may have gathered I came away from the meeting in a positive frame of mind. For the first time in decades the industry has a select committee that knows what we’re about and that’s great news not just for the sector but for the country.

Our success isn’t limited to the Primary Production Select Committee. We have three associate ministers – Nicola Grigg, Mark Patterson and Andrew Hoggard – who are farmers in their own right and certainly understand grassroots issues.

We also have farmers on other important select committees. Northland’s Grant McCallum is on the Education and Workforce Select Committee along with Suze Redmayne, who is also the Junior Whip, an important position.

Of great importance is Mike Butterick being deputy chair of the Environment Select Committee. He will be able to cull the missionary zeal of the eco warriors of the Ministry for the Environment and the Environmental Protection Authority, which is vital for our sector.

Going forward under the current coalition government is positive for the sector. There are farmers in all three parties of the coalition.

I believe we can end up with a strategy that is designed by farmers with legislative support from the MPs I’ve mentioned.

The problem is the sector doesn’t have a cohesive plan to take us forward. As I’ve written at length on previous occasions, we need a single voice, a primary production hub.

We have legislative opportunities we haven’t had for a long time. A single voice would guarantee our long-term future if we can bury our differences and move ahead as one.

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