O’Connor falls foul of farm folk over border rules – maybe he will find favour with new pugging rules

Latest from the Beehive

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, the subject of critical headlines in the rural press after saying no special accommodation will be made for overseas agriculture contractor workers to help fill critical jobs, perhaps will be regarded kindlier today.  Perhaps.

He has announced that Cabinet this week agreed to make some adjustments to regulations within the new National Environmental Standards for Freshwater to make them clearer.

“It became apparent that some of the regulations within the Freshwater standards – including ones around winter grazing – need to be adjusted, so we’ve done that,” Damien O’Connor said.

The regulations in question – governing pugging depths around fixed water troughs and gateways – weren’t practical, he acknowledges.

“So we have made some adjustments to make them more realistic”.

The amendments to be gazetted today will

  • Change the definition of pugging to penetration of soil of more than 5cm.
  • Make clear that the 20cm pugging depth limit does not apply around fixed structures.

The effect is to exempt discrete areas around fixed water troughs and gateways clarify the definition of “pugging”.

More changes are in the offing, according to O’Connor:

“For example, Minister Parker and I are aware of issues with the maps. We’ve both met about it and officials from the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries are working on making the mapping data more accurate.

“The intent is very clear – to clean up our waterways. We’ve made real progress in the area of winter grazing. There are some challenges ahead of us but I’m confident we’ll get this right. Where the regulations are impractical or unclear we will continue to make adjustments.”      

Let’s see if O’Connor can recover some of the brownie points he has lost (as reflected in the Rural News headline “Government refuses to act on workers”) as agricultural contractors struggle to find enough workers.

Rural Contractors of NZ (RCNZ) in the past has had government approval to bring in 300 experienced machinery operators from Ireland, the UK, Europe, Canada and the US every year. Many other machinery operators come under the working holiday visa scheme.

Not this year, thanks to Covid-19 border restrictions. Not unless help is required for really essential industries such as the film business, horse racing and the America’s Cup.

RCNZ chief executive Roger Parton told Rural News an RCNZ delegation arranged an urgent meeting with O’Connor in late June to set out a growing concern among members about their staffing problems.

He pointed the delegation to the closed border and encouraged it to strive to find New Zealanders.

Parton said:

“Our members have responded magnificently. We’ve managed to find 300 people who either have the capacity to operate complex machinery or sufficient existing skills to upgrade.  

“We are now down to needing around 400 imports to work alongside the 4000 New Zealanders our members employ.”

That number includes more than 500 recruited in the last year.

It gives new meaning to “essential”, eh?

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage, meanwhile, was announcing a $36.7 million of funding to upgrade  seven high-tech recycling plants from Northland to Canterbury.

Farmers – we suspect – will already be musing on how much pugging they could prevent with that sort of money.

Sage also welcomed the recommendations in a just-released report entitled Standardising kerbside collections in Aotearoa.   We trust this becomes a sell-out and not too many copies finish up in    recycling bins around the country.   

New Zealand’s recycling system relies on a lot of manual sorting of materials (“not pleasant work”) so they can be reprocessed, Sage said.

The $36.7 million is part of the $124 million the Government previously announced it is investing from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF) in a number of significant waste infrastructure initiatives across the country.

The report, by the way, was prepared for the Ministry for the Environment by WasteMINZ and Sunshine Yates Consulting.  It was released this week and recommends that:

  • Materials collected are standardised for domestic kerbside recycling collections across the country (e.g. plastics 1, 2, 5; metal, glass, cardboard and paper)
  • Local authorities are incentivised to collect food waste for composting or anaerobic digestion
  • Local authorities are incentivised to collect glass separately to other recyclable materials
  • Best practice is promoted for food waste, recycling, and residual rubbish collections to increase consistency across the country.

Here are the latest announcements from the Beehive since we last reported:

26 AUGUST 2020

Changes made to winter grazing regs to make implementation more practical

Cabinet this week agreed to make some adjustments to regulations within the new National Environmental Standards for Freshwater to make them clearer,  Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced today.

 More action on waste – Government funds recycling infrastructure, moves to standardise kerbside collections

As part of a wider plan to reduce the amount of rubbish ending up in New Zealand’s landfills, the Government is to fund the upgrading of seven high-tech recycling plants from Northland to Canterbury announced Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage today.

 25 AUGUST 2020

Extra Government support for Pacific communities at forefront of Covid-19 fight

The Government is prioritising support for Pacific families and communities with the announcement today that $19.5m will go towards increasing the resourcing and capacity of those working to combat this virus, Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa says.

 Foreign Minister lauds talented diplomat Jeff Langley

Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters has lauded Jeff Langley, a senior New Zealand diplomat who passed away yesterday.

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