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Lambie Speech to Federated Farmers Conference

FEDERATED FARMERS OF NEW ZEALAND (INC)

President's Address- Tom Lambie Speech opening 59th Annual Conference Hotel Grand Chancellor, Christchurch


Welcome to the 59th annual conference of Federated Farmers of New Zealand and a particular welcome to our delegates from Northland.

It is my pleasure as president to open the conference.

Just 12 months ago we came together under the glare of spotlights and surrounded by TV cameras. This was the start of a campaign that demonstrated the strength of the federation and resulted in commonsense prevailing.

Our strength and the value of the federation's network were seen again just a few short months later when our elected leaders and members pulled together to assist colleagues facing the devastating effects in the February storms.

We recognise our chosen profession means constantly adapting our business to deal with risk and uncertainty.

But we see no reason for our task to be made more difficult by capricious government policies. We look to government to deliver a stable policy environment -- one that enables us to respond quickly to market changes and not paralyse with the iron grip of prescriptive rules and regulation.

This is an important year. It is both an election year for local government and the year when all political parties decide on policies to take into the 2005 elections. This is a crucial year for the federation to be the effective "voice of farming".

We must deliver clear messages to those putting themselves up for election and make sure those messages are acted upon. Politicians dream of a miraculous new economy based on arts, film, eco-tourism and biotechnology. Through determined advocacy we must remind those who seek power that for the foreseeable future New Zealand depends on farm business remaining strong, viable and market focussed.

There is no doubt that farming in general has enjoyed four good years but this has come after nearly 20 years of tough adjustment. We can not allow the benefits of that adjustment to be whittled away.

Our key messages must continue to revolve around not three but four R's: remaining competitive; retaining responsiveness; reinforcing the confidence to invest, and; rural representation.

REMAINING COMPETITIVE Trade Access Without access to world consumers and markets we cannot compete. The current raft of bilateral trade agreements, while helpful, are just a small part of the picture. Thus we will be looking for a clear commitment for open multilateral trading.

I must acknowledge upfront the government’s unwavering commitment to breaking down barriers to trade. It is not easy demonstrating that increased wealth and improved environment comes from allowing farmers in each country to produce to their natural advantage.

I acknowledge the tireless work of the Minister of Trade Negotiations, Hon Jim Sutton. Promoting free trade in the current WTO round is an excruciatingly slow and thankless task. Yet it is a task that must be done.

Federated Farmers is doing its bit at the international level. In late May and early June I attended the International Federation of Agricultural Producers congress in Washington DC with the vice president and chief executive. The vice president and I were honoured to be elected to senior positions.

Our appointments to IFAP provide an opportunity to progress trade reform and show other members that it is possible to be a successful agricultural producer without the assistance of subsidies.

Biosecurity

Retaining competitiveness is not limited to what we do on farm. The country’s unique biosecurity status offers opportunities.

All aspiring politicians must understand this.

This government has adopted a biosecurity strategy and commenced a massive change in the way biosecurity will be managed. This strategy must be enhanced and adequately resourced. Lose the advantages that our biosecurity status bestows and the consequences to the nation could be devastating.

Despite these positive initiatives there is much to criticise. Growth in government intervention through monopoly charges and new taxes is eroding our competitiveness.

We cannot pass these costs onto consumers. Neither can we easily absorb them.

Electricity Take electricity. The government's electricity commission has announced, for 2004, a 20% budget increase to almost $60 million. All electricity users will pay this on top of the government imposed $25 million per year levy to fund dry year reserve generation.

Roads The piecemeal approach to roads and transport has seen a massive diversion of funds to the largest cities and the promotion of uneconomic public transport, non-existent in most of rural New Zealand.

New fuel taxes of around 5 cents a litre will be added to the $1.3 billion dollars already collected through excise taxes and road user charges. Farmers have to contribute to this as well as meet an unbalanced share of local government rates.

Yet the road funding problem could be fixed overnight.

The message is simple: Allocating funds to local roads on the same basis as the funding of Transit roads would remove the need for any ratepayer contribution.

HSNO To remain competitive, regulation must work with business, not against it.

Take hazardous substances. The result of moving chemicals and fuel from old legislation into new could require every farmer to produce a 19 page document saying what they will do to manage these chemicals. Not because there is a proven problem but to make enforcement easier.

HSNO makes it likely that every farmer will need an approved handler certificate even though many farmers may use just one product requiring an approved handler certificate just once a year. This one aspect of HSNO could collectively cost farmers $30 million every five years.

Taken individually many of these interventions seem to amount to just $30 million here or $40 million there. But multiplied by 22 they seriously undermine our competitiveness.

RETAINING RESPONSIVENESS

Farmers know survival in the international marketplace means constantly adapting to market conditions and consumer preferences.

Our success depends on responding to market signals undistorted by government intervention.

But it seems that government wants to get involved in every aspect of New Zealanders lives and to take over individual responsibility.

Take the latest drinking water proposals. The Government wants to impose certain standards on individuals and communities even where no problems have been shown and to use standards which may not be the most cost effective way to manage risk.

Communities may well be forced to pay for expensive reticulated water schemes even though as little as 1% of the water ends up as drinking water.

Government interventions that are ill thought out risk developing "Hothouse Kiwis" ever dependent on tax payer subsidies and handouts. As the world market changes, our carefully sheltered and cosseted "Hothouse Kiwis" may not be able to adapt.

We want policies that acknowledge and bolster our smart thinking, creativity and innovation.

REINFORCING CONFIDENCE TO INVEST

RMA Secure property rights are fundamental to investment. Yet our property rights and our ability to optimally manage our farms have never been more uncertain. The RMA has allowed local government to prevent our normal ability to farm by simply declaring a rule in the national interest so as to keep the landscape looking as it is, or to force some of your land to regenerate to indigenous species.

The RMA does not hold local government, the community or the nation accountable for the impact of such rules even though they make our business unviable.

Under the RMA review we are promised improvement but fear the fundamental problems will not be addressed. The desire seems to simply make it easier for a wide range of nationally important projects. Emphasis is placed on serving the national interest. No mention is made of protecting private interest.

Fix this fundamental flaw in part two of the RMA by requiring councils, the community or the nation to face the costs of their demands. This will unleash the growth and innovation the government so urgently seeks.

Water

Other ad hoc approaches to important issues like water allocation also stifle investment and undermine confidence to invest.

Access Our ability to farm is under severe attack as the government flirts with the idea of giving as of right foot access along any named water way.

The government seems to think future New Zealanders should have certainty of access regardless of the impact on private land.

Such a policy gives no regard to the uncertainty it imposes on landowners. No regard is given to the risk to personal security, food safety, animal health or the security of our homes and businesses.

There is no proven access problem. Our surveys show that over 92% of farmers allow access if asked.

When access is denied it is normally because it is unsafe for animals or because of bad experiences.

Our message is clear. Any attempt to legislate public access over our land will be vehemently fought.

Federated Farmers has been pro-active. We have developed a voluntary code and promoted the formation of a trust that can help fund the provision of access where there may be a problem. We have come up with these positive initiatives. We look to the government to run with them.

REPRESENTATION

As New Zealand becomes more and more urbanised, rural representation gets harder and harder.

Local government and district health board elections will be held in a few short months.

Previous health board elections have shown the key to success is to be well known. Thus television and sports personalities who are known to both rural and urban voters have a head start. The reality is that it will be extremely difficult for rural candidates to get elected.

Achieving profile through leadership in Federated Farmers is likely to be the minimum needed.

Getting elected on district and regional councils is also going to become a whole lot harder.

Unless we can achieve changes this is the last time we can expect to see good numbers of rural people being elected to councils. Come 2006 many rural wards will be removed as the new Electoral Act takes effect.

Farmers are moving to an era of taxation without representation. Because of this, we launched the 10K Rates Club. We wanted to get good examples of the unfairness of the rating system on a confidential basis.

General rates are a problem for every property owner, but the problem discriminates against land intensive businesses and produces huge anomalies that many councils are not willing to fix.

But it's not just farmers. Pensioners living in sought-after areas, and rate payers on low incomes are all hurt by this antiquated system.

We are talking about "general" rates used to fund the cost of councillors, parks, roads, public toilets, libraries, community development and other general services. We are not talking about rates that target specific services, such as water, sewage, and flood control.

It is urgent that the way we fund local government is changed.

It is a serious problem that must be genuinely debated. We can no longer be fobbed off with simplistic arguments.

Given the changes to the electoral act, a fundamental review of how local government is funded is urgent. We want all political parties to commit to such a review.

These two days provide us an opportunity to discuss the issues, refine our messages and reflect on the way we can work together to best represent the farmers’ voice. Just twice a year we come together. We do this with the generous support of The National Bank of New Zealand, ACC, Telecom, FMG, Ravensdown Fertiliser Co operative and New Zealand Post.

With their support, conference allows us to develop a collective vision, plan our strategies and learn from each other.

Federated Farmers is not solely about farm politics. It is about providing a support network. As I prepared this speech many of our Bay of Plenty members were battling to cope with serious flooding.

I know all of us, including those still coping with the aftermath of the February floods, are poised to get in behind local and national initiatives and ready to help those in the Bay of Plenty.

This government has shown its generosity when it comes to helping those struggling with extreme weather. It has shown leadership, and made sure every government department does its bit in overcoming any obstacles. In these situations government has a clear role and we congratulate the government for showing that it is fully prepared to accept this.

59 years of Federated Farmers has delivered a strong rural network. With the return of Northland representatives we make a linked and united team of 24 provinces.

Our membership continues to grow and new and different groups look to join our structure.

One of the reasons we are in such a strong position has been the outstanding contribution of our Chief Executive Tony St. Clair. Tony has decided that at the end of 2004 and after almost eight years to step down from his role. Tony has been a very successful and effective chief executive. His expertise will be difficult to match.

Tony motivated an excellent team of professional staff throughout New Zealand who hold him in the highest regard.

Next year, a new chief executive will be at this conference, which coincidentally will be the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Federated Farmers.

The 60th anniversary will provide past and present members opportunity to celebrate our achievements and reflect on what we can achieve in the next 60 years.

Tom Lambie President

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