Parker’s readiness to relax the RMA rules should be extended to freshwater constraints on farmers

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?

2 thoughts on “Parker’s readiness to relax the RMA rules should be extended to freshwater constraints on farmers

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