Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Govt promises fresh thinking on water policy

Neal Wallace
New Minister of Agriculture promises changes to water policy by Christmas.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The new coalition government will announce before Christmas the broad changes it intends making to freshwater regulations.

Newly appointed Minister of Agriculture Todd McClay said he has already met with Environment Minister Penny Simmonds and they intend signalling intended changes to the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management within the next month.

McClay said he has heard from farmers and regional councils that the December 2024 deadline for lodging land and water plans is too tight and could result in poor policy.

He has two immediate goals as agriculture minister: to enable farmers to get on with farming and to improve public recognition of the primary sector’s contribution to New Zealand.

Farmers need to have pride once again in what they do, he said.

“They should be proud of what they do, but they have had their heads hung low for a few years and it is my job to change that.”

“If you have a strong rural economy, you have a strong NZ economy.”

McClay also has the key portfolio of trade, a deliberate move by Prime Minister Christopher Luxon to recognise the two are interlinked, he said.

As well as reminding the public that 80% of containers leaving NZ contain food and fibre, McClay also wants to highlight the many environmental projects farmers and growers are involved with.

He intends to run the agriculture portfolio as a team, which is why there are three associate ministers of agriculture: Nicola Grigg (National), Mark Patterson (NZ First) and Andrew Hoggard (ACT).

Each will have areas of focus such as horticulture and workforce and training.

That partnership approach is also being adopted as McClay establishes work programme priorities, which he said will focus on the outcome not the process and will not create additional burdens on the sector.

While seeking advice from officials, McClay said he is asking farming leaders what their priorities are.

“We have clearly signalled that while it is the government’s job to make decisions and develop regulations, we shouldn’t be doing that in isolation. I want to build a true partnership with farmers and their organisations.”

In the past week he has been meeting with ministers with responsibilities that cross into the primary sector such as climate change, environment and regional development.

“I want to have a very strong collaborative approach.”

Given the likelihood of extensive changes to rules and regulations, McClay also intends meeting with non-government organisations and environmental groups.

McClay has set a target of doubling the value of exports in the next 10 years.

“It will be hard to achieve but the primary sector will be a big part of that.” 

He believes it can be done through securing new trade deals, removing non-tariff barriers, more trade missions and promoting innovation.

The planting of forests should be for production not carbon credits but forestry exporters struggle to get access to Australia for construction-grade timber.

McClay said an early project will be to align timber standards to remove any trade barriers.

Trade missions will be done differently than previously, with a greater focus on securing new business.

NZ also needs to promote exports of new innovation and technology.

He said NZ earned more from exporting apple sorting and packing machines to the United States last year than it did from apples.

Asked how he should be judged, McClay identified three policies released during the campaign, to do with getting Wellington bureaucracy out of the way, changes to agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock farms being planted in pine trees.

“Go and read them, study them and then come back and hold me to account.”

He is promising to trust farmers and be their advocate at the cabinet table and to be focused on issues facing the sector.

“I want to get to the point where farmers can stop thinking about Wellington and get on with the job of farming.”

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