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$80 million handout “well-deserved”?!

$80 million handout “well-deserved”?!

Wed, Jan 23 2013

The National Business Review trumpeted Government’s announcement of a $80 million commitment to irrigation schemes in the next Budget with this headline:

‘Well-deserved’ $80m for irrigation

The “well-deserved” quote was from Irrigation NZ chairman, John Donkers. The article continued: “The money will pave the way for dams on main rivers in Canterbury, Hawke’s Bay, Tasman, and Otago.”

And here all this time we thought a rather important resource consent still needed to be submitted and approved for the CHB dam to proceed. Of course the decision on whether or not to approve will be made by a Government (i.e., politically)-appointed Board of Inquiry. Perhaps the Board won’t yet have heard that Hawke’s Bay is already on the approved Government subsidy list.

The HBRC’s shonky process throughout its dam advocacy is a story that builds by the day. Indeed, the word today in Hawke’s Bay was that HBRC senior players were huddling to come up with a way to force farmers in CHB to take up the dam scheme. It gets increasingly embarrassing to HBRC when ungrateful CHB farmers don’t see the wisdom in the scheme.

But I digress.

In this post, I merely want to challenge the presumption that an irrigation subsidy to farmers is “well-deserved”.

Why do they say “well-deserved”? Presumably because it will magically create jobs (mostly for Filipinos; Maori job creation as promised by HBRC is a myth) and economic growth in Hawke’s Bay.
This is the claim governments — large and small, national and local, all over the world — make whenever they want to justify a corporate hand-out. But the hand-outs fail to deliver more often than not. The claimed pay-offs are always inflated, and the political/bureaucratic perpetrators are long gone by the time the day of reckoning arrives.

So, why a water subsidy for farmers?

Why not subsidise electricity for Watties or PanPac or Cranford or Bay Espresso?

Why not subsidise aluminium and plastic for Furnware or bottles for Wineworks?

Why not subsidise free shipping through the port of Napier?

Why not subsidise fertiliser for farmers while we’re at it? How about canvas for artists?

Why not subsidise fuel for all of us so we can drive more cheaply to our jobs, be in a better mood when we got there, and work more productively as a result? Or give petrol to Nimon’s so they can lower fares to achieve the same benefit?
All of these would reduce the costs of doing business in Hawke’s Bay, paving the way for incalculable prosperity. Why not get everyone — everyone who says they will create jobs, that is — on the government subsidy teat?

Most businesses and sectors must survive after paying for all of their inputs — from their paper clips to their labour, from their energy and other raw materials to their transport costs. But apparently not farmers.

Nevertheless, business leaders generally keep damn quiet about subsidies outside their sector … sort of a brotherhood of silence. Why? They fear that some day their need for the subsidy teat will come. The subsidy wheel turns … rolling over the taxpayer and ratepayer.

Incidentally, the same NBR article today reported that 42% of farmers in Canterbury have not installed water meters to measure their use of irrigation water, as required by law.

How does that behaviour support a “well-deserved” handout?!

The irrigation lobby could at least pretend to earn its subsidy by backing tough environmental measures to curb the polluting effects of irrigation-intensified farming. But that won’t happen. Certainly not here in Hawke’s Bay as long as the current regime of councillors handles the spigot.

Let’s be honest about this dam.

As it stands, it’s an outright subsidy for a small group of farmers, many of whom think it’s not worth their own investment.

Meanwhile, the claimed ‘public good’ — improving water quality — used to justify any possible public subsidy has been steadily diluted by HBRC managers.

That’s collaboration … HBRC-style.

Tom Belford

Related Stories
Do the headlines say it all?
CHB dam moves to next stage
Why the dam(n) hurry, Tim?

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