Environment Minister David Parker has directed officials to find ways to fast-track consents for infrastructure and development projects. He says his goal is to help create a pipeline of projects so that some can start immediately once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted “so people can get back into work as fast as possible”.
Parker sees the Covid-19 pandemic as a serious global crisis that will have a wide ranging and lasting impact on almost every part of the economy for some time.
He recognises many New Zealanders have lost their jobs, or may do so in coming months, and many businesses are doing it hard.
“These are extraordinary times that need extraordinary solutions. We need to support NZers through this crisis, and position our economy for recovery”.
His aim is to short-circuit the standard Resource Management Act consenting processes and he wants Cabinet to put its stamp of approval on how to do that before the end of the lockdown period.
Many New Zealanders will say “good on him”. Those standard RMA consenting processes have turned into protracted, expensive barriers to essential projects.
But if Parker is seized with urgency to circumvent the consenting laws and find “extraordinary solutions” for constraints on the pace of recovery, why isn’t he doing the same with his new freshwater regulations which will penalise farmers, and stunt dairy production?
Under Parker’s new regime farmers will be required to have a plan to manage the risks posed to freshwater in their area. New irrigation or conversion to dairying will only be allowed where there is clear evidence it will not increase pollution.
Farmers will also have to make efforts to exclude stock from waterways through more fencing to keep them out of waterways and reduce erosion, and capture contaminants before they reach freshwater. Fertiliser application will be restricted.
It is not surprising many farmers see the freshwater action proposed by Parker as “knee-capping” their industry. Farm leaders are concerned at how some elements in the industry are reacting.
Ag Proud NZ’s Jon Pemberton is asking farmers to focus on producing food for Kiwis, rather than making ‘I told you so’ comments online.
Pemberton said a letter circulating online, addressed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, was of particular concern.
That letter was critical of the government’s high level support for tourism, its plan to convert pastoral land for tree planting and other polices aimed at farmers.
“I guess now all we have once industry shuts down and tourism crumbles completely is the farmers,” the letter said. “The same ones who your coalition called rednecks, the same ones who are committing suicide at a terrible rate, the same ones who get up at 5am to milk their cows so you have your milk and butter for breakfast.”
Stuff reported Waikato Federated Farmers president Andrew McGiven as saying there was some frustration about how quickly the government identified agriculture as an essential service, yet it still had active policies that “kneecap” agriculture in NZ.
He noted a failure to recognise some of the work farmers had done in water quality, biodiversity, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, had “sapped the morale” of the farming community.
McGiven hopes the government may now look at agriculture through a more holistic lens and realise its value to the economy and environment. He points out it is perhaps “not coincidental” that during lockdown, there were many environmental and climate benefits, yet the same number of ruminants are being milked.
Regional Development Minister Shane Jones has been a lone voice in the coalition in declaring now is not the time to introduce the freshwater regulations, saying the agricultural sector should not be “ hobbled” in this way.
But does Jones have the political clout to ensure the regulations are dropped?