Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Shared views give hope for swift ag policy changes

Neal Wallace
Three coalition hopefuls agree on most things when it comes to the primary sector.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The three parties trying to negotiate a coalition government have plenty in common when it comes to agricultural policy.

An analysis of National, NZ First and ACT agricultural policies shows cross-party agreement in multiple areas affecting the primary sector, which could mean rapid policy changes once a government is formed.

In general all three parties want fewer regulations and more local decision-making on land and water management.

They are united in many aspects of climate change policy, including a more measured approach to introducing emissions pricing, separate treatment of the gases, investing in research and development and broader recognition of carbon-sequestering vegetation.

The National Party has a policy of setting an emissions price that will not send agricultural production overseas, reviewing methane targets for consistency and ensuring there is no additional warming from the sector.

ACT and NZ First both have policies of not supporting emissions pricing unless adopted by trading partners, to ensure New Zealand growers and producers remain competitive.

Federated Farmers president Wayne Langford is not surprised there is plenty of common ground between the three parties.

When comparing them the federation’s pre-election wish list, he said, National has 12 policies in common with Feds, ACT 11 and NZ First 10.

Based on the election night results 18 members of the new Parliament – 15% of the total – have direct links to farming and horticulture. Langford expects benefits from that combined knowledge.

“We’re looking forward to front-foot issues rather than being on the back foot as we have been for the last three years.”

National wants to lift the ban on genetically engineered and genetically modified organisms to acknowledge technological advances and to potentially find new tools to reduce livestock emissions.

Langford said that is one area of difference, with NZ First not as keen to look at the relevance of the current ban as the two other parties.

A doctoral supervisor in Massey University’s School of People, Environment and Planning, Grant Duncan, said it is understandable all three parties would have common agricultural policies because they were all after the same rural vote.

“Clearly there has been a lot of protest and dissatisfaction among rural voters at the previous Labour Government,” he said.

Policy positions can subtly change and which policies and in what form they get adopted comes down to negotiating power and whether parties join a coalition or sit on the cross benches, he said.

All three parties want to encourage on-farm water storage.

National plans to make water storage on farmland a permitted activity by introducing a National Environmental Standard for Water Storage and exempting farmers from resource consent for constructing dams.

Consents will still be required if wetlands or Significant Natural Areas are affected.

There is cross-party support for farm environment plans and to curb the most contentious elements of National Environment Statement on Fresh Water.

That includes simplifying the definition of wetlands, linking stock exclusion rules to local conditions, deferring intensive winter grazing rules until Freshwater Farm Plans are established and replacing low slope maps, which determine the areas cattle and deer must be excluded from if adjacent to a waterway, with catchment-level rules.

Reform of the Significant Natural Areas policy is supported by ACT and NZ First, with both wanting to strengthen property rights. NZ First wants to include them in the NZ Bill of Rights

All three parties support the resumption of live animal exports, albeit with more stringent controls, but ACT and NZ First also want to reform the membership of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee to include farmers and/or animal handlers.

Immigration could be a sticking point.

All three parties want barriers lifted to attract immigrants in areas where there are skill shortages, but National and ACT want to allow path to residency for some visas, remove median wage requirements and increase numbers of Recognised Seasonal Employees.

NZ First wants a more managed approach, one that links immigration policy with NZ’s interests and needs.

It also sees immigration as a way to boost regional populations, by introducing a Rural Visa Scheme requiring migrants to stay in their specified place of settlement until two years after they have secured permanent residency.

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