Monday, February 26, 2024

Political and farming roots run deep for associate ag minister

Neal Wallace
In the first of three Associate Agriculture Minister profiles, Neal Wallace talks to Nicola Grigg.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

As if elevation to government minister is not enough, newly appointed Associate Agriculture Minister Nicola Grigg is about to become a mother for the first time too.

In mid-December, Grigg was preparing for maternity leave but not before juggling the requirements of her appointment two weeks before as associate agriculture minister with responsibility for horticulture, minister of state for trade and minister of women.

As minister of state for trade, Grigg will be involved in trade negotiations with a focus on southeast Asia and the Pacific.

In her associate agriculture role – a rank she shares with ACT’s Andrew Hoggard and NZ First’s Mark Patterson – Grigg will also deputise for Trade and Agriculture Minister Todd McClay when he is out of the country.

She says those challenges have been made easier by advice from party leader Christopher Luxon to his MPs while in opposition.

He told them to start preparing for a return to the Treasury benches, to be ready to start work as soon as they were elected.

“He came to caucus at the time when he was needed and told us all to view ourselves as leaders and chief executives, to get to know our ministries inside out, to have business cases and work plans.”

Grigg, a second-term MP and one of just five new National Party MPs elected in 2020, says her appointments are in the areas she sought.

She follows her great-grandparents Arthur and Mary Grigg, who both served as National Party MPs for Mid Canterbury.

Arthur was elected to Parliament in 1938 but killed while fighting in North Africa in World War II in 1941.

Mary had been active in community affairs and after his death was selected unopposed to stand for the party in 1942.

Subsequently elected, she became the party’s first female MP and the first woman in NZ to represent an agricultural electorate.

The daughter of a Mt Somers farming family, Nicola Grigg is proud of both her rural background and her family’s political legacy.

“My rural background gives me an innate understanding of agriculture.”

Her primary goal as a minister is to restore farmer confidence.

“I want people to jump out of bed each morning because they love their job.”

Part of that is making their job easier, and one option she is exploring is allowing farmers that border rivers to undertake some river works to compensate for what she sees as a lack of management by regional councils.

“I’m proposing we investigate resource management reform to allow farmers alongside rivers to undertake management such as removing crack willows.”

Her government has set a goal of doubling primary sector exports in 10 years and Grigg says by boosting morale, exports will grow and the sector become more resilient.

She wants to remove obstacles hindering the sector and to identify the next billion-dollar export industries.

“We have kiwifruit and apples but what are the next five or six big winners, what will be the next billion-dollar industries?”

Achieving growth will take a mix of freeing up trade, changes to Environmental Protection Agency, biosecurity and resource management legislation, whether to allow a streamlined consenting process or the importing of new cultivars.

“The gamut is very, very wide.”

Grigg says the Central Plains Water Enhancement Scheme (CPWES) in her electorate provides an example of how the primary sector can grow from utilising resources that are built on a foundation of environmental standards that users must meet.

Completed in 2018, the CPWES provides water to 401 shareholders covering 63,000 hectares between the Rakaia and Waimakariri rivers. It is currently valued at $446 million.

“Water security is food security, which is social and economic security. It’s pretty simple really,” she says.

Grigg never intended to become a politician, initially wanting to return home to the family farm.

She soon realised the economics at that time were not conducive to her favoured career so opted instead to become a journalist, eventually working for former prime minister and finance minister Bill English.

While working for English, she could see that it was a position in which a difference could be made but, just as importantly, she learnt the mechanics of government and how to drive policy and pass legislation.

She vows that the policies she promotes will include input from farmers and growers rather taking the form of decrees from on high, which she says has been the situation for the past six years.

“I’m only as good as the information they give me.

“I take the view that grassroot farmers or growers are the end users of the legislative process that needs to be logical, so they need to have input from the start.”

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