Thursday, February 22, 2024

These double standards get right up my nose

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The fact that farmers are targeted for the very things that local councils get away with has Alan Emerson holding his nose.
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I’m confused.

In Auckland millions of litres of sewage went into the harbour. It was so bad you couldn’t swim in the sea. Did any person or organisation get fined for this major pollution? The answer was no.

In Wellington a similar incident occurred with, again, the beaches declared unsafe for swimming. Was any person or organisation held accountable? Again the answer is no.

Similar incidents occurred in Nelson, Canterbury, Otago and the North Island’s east coast to my knowledge.

In any incident was anyone fined, held accountable or publicly pilloried? Again the answer is a resounding no, which begs the question as to why farmers are being victimised by the petty bloody mindedness of local authorities. 

Those local authorities are seemingly allowed to pollute at whim, yet if a farmer’s pump breaks down and a bucket of manure goes into a stream the farmer is hit with the full might of the law and pilloried in the media to an excessive degree.

Where’s the justice in that? A regulator can pollute at whim, a farmer can’t.

Auckland was for some weeks putting 8.64 million litres of sewage a day into the harbour. Putting that figure in perspective, that is one and a half litres a day for every dairy cow in the country. It was the result, we were told, of sloppy maintenance, but was anyone brought to court? The answer again is no.

It gets back to the old do as I say not as I do regime. Further, was anyone in control even fined? Of course not. That’s for farmers.

Farmers have local government inspectors coming onto their properties, often at great expense to the farmer. Who is inspecting local government? We have Taumata Arowai as the national drinking water inspector. What about sewage and stormwater?

Some months ago I wrote about Horizons Regional Council taking forestry contractor John Turkington to court. It lost but it cost Turkington close to $1 million to clear his name. That $1m was a loss to the local community, who could certainly have used the money. Instead it fattened the already full wallets of the legal fraternity.

Where’s the justice in that?

Not to be outdone, the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) has stepped up its anti-farming activities.

Did it take action against Wellington City Council for polluting the harbour? Goodness, gracious no. Farmers were a far more attractive target.

South Wairarapa dairy farmer John Coveney is a good guy. Some years ago we served on the provincial executive of Wairarapa Federated Farmers together.

He had an environmental case brought against him by the GWRC; it was found incorrect and dismissed. It cost him a tonne of work and $70,000, which is an horrific sum in the current dairy scene.

To reiterate. The GWRC won’t pursue the Wellington City Council for proven pollution of the harbour but is happy costing a local dairy farmer $70,000. 

Additionally, Coveney was fined $25,000 by GWRC for irrigating outside of the designated hours. It was indirectly the result of electrical interference as explained to the council. A tradesperson backed Coveney. GWRC believed the offence occurred over a total of 50 hours. That’s a $500 fine for every hour that irrigation occurred due to an electrical fault.

I’d suggest that was bloodymindedness by the GWRC. Obviously no pollution occurred; it was a simple misdemeanor and not worth $500 an hour in my humble opinion.

Similarly the local South Wairarapa District Council was responsible for some sewage spilling into aquifers. Was anything done, was the council fined? Hell no.

Putting it in perspective, if a farmer can be fined $500 an hour for irrigating outside the designated time, think of how much Wellington Council should be fined for polluting a harbour. Think of how much the South Wairarapa Council could be fined for polluting an aquifer.

Another local farmer was taken to court by the GWRC, which, once again, lost. That particular embuggerance cost the farmer $80,000. 

Local farmers tell me that the GWRC is a drain on production and scientifically lacking.

The example they use is that water restrictions are determined by the flow of local streams. The issue farmers have is that a stream or river can be dry but the aquifer is full. They maintain the GWRC position is costing the local economy considerably.

Returning to the broader picture, only a few farmers are fined for any form of pollution but the fines are excessive and the offender is hung out to dry in the media. The majority of the cases I saw involved either equipment breakdown or overflowing ponds, some of them caused by heavy rainfall.

The pollution was not intentional nor was it caused by inadequate maintenance as happened with local government. Further, it was infinitesimal.

The problem is that local government is policing farmers, not itself. That needs to change.

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