Saturday, December 2, 2023

Sector groups burn the midnight oil to cope with regulatory onslaught

Neal Wallace
Adding to the pressure is the perception the government does very little consultation as it formulates ideas and before it prepares bills.
Dr David Burger, DairyNZ’s general manager sustainable dairy, says farmers have been dealing with ‘an unprecedented level of regulatory change’ over the past six years.
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The deluge of new government regulations in the past five years has seen the Environment Policy team at Beef + Lamb New Zealand more than triple in size to 10.

Dave Harrison, the organisation’s policy and advocacy manager, said especially in the past three years, the government has sought to install once-in-a-generation policies on the primary sector, the impact of which have been accentuated by the short consultation periods.

For example, just four weeks over Christmas were allowed for consultation on changes to the Resource Management Act, Harrison said.

“The RMA is not perfect and needs reform,” he said, but “the government needs to be talking to people about making reforms”.

“Wellington and ministries do not have a monopoly of good ideas. They need to take a breath.”

Adding to the pressure is the impressions the government does very little consultation as it formulates ideas and before it prepares bills.

“Instead of working with people to drive change, they dump it on them.”

Harrison said the freshwater reforms were equally significant and also had a short consultation period.

He said this was due in part to a desire by Environment Minister David Parker to have policy introduced during his tenure as minister.

Equally, the final shape of indigenous biodiversity policy had inadequate input from farmers, despite their owning land on which 25% of NZ biodiversity resides.

“We wanted to sit at the table and help formulate ideas because there as an opportunity to be involved as ideas were happening that involved farmer’s land,” Harrison said.

The offer was rejected and the subsequent policy has shortcomings and lacks clarity.

Rural organisations generally have a solid working relationship with government officials, Harrison said, but there is a feeling they are not able to share and discuss ideas being considered by politicians until those plans are embedded and start becoming policy.

Dr David Burger, DairyNZ’s general manager sustainable dairy, said that over the past six years, farmers have been dealing with what he called “an unprecedented level of regulatory change” that has huge implications for farming businesses. 

“The projected pace and scale of change required has been overwhelming for many farmers, who have been frustrated with the short time frames, lack of certainty and impracticality of some of the regulations proposed.” 

While supportive of reform that enables innovation and balances economic viability and sustainable environmental management, Burger said DairyNZ has consistently told the government that there is too much change at once and it’s happening too quickly.

“This is causing significant pressure in rural communities and negatively impacting farmer wellbeing.” 

Burger said there is uncertainty and confusion about what farmers have to do and when, as a lot of the implementation detail and guidance was missing when the policies were announced.

“We have also communicated our concern about consultation on major reforms being carried out during calving and mating, when farmers rightly have other priorities and particularly when they have been short-staffed.” 

By not engaging meaningfully through consultation and sharing knowledge, Burger said, there is a heightened risk of substandard and impractical regulations that are unworkable. 

Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard said the workload for his organisation has been “crazy”.

Hoggard said he spends about 30 hours a week on federation business.

He said government departments handle the extra workload by employing more staff, often lured from the private sector by higher salaries, a luxury not available to sector groups.

In 2017-18 the Ministry for the Environment employed 370 full-time equivalent staff but expected to reach 860 at the end of last financial year.