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Leferink: Death by a thousand regulations

26 February 2013

Death by a thousand regulations

Speech by Willy Leferink, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson, to Federated Farmers 2013 Dairy Council at the Copthorne Bay of Islands Hotel, Paihia on 20 February 2013

I would first like to thank the farms we have visited this week and the fantastic hospitality afforded by Federated Farmers Northland.

I know all farmers, not just dairy, are struggling right here in Northland and in other areas due to the lack of rain.

That is why it amazes me the environmental NGO’s aren’t more enthusiastic backers for water storage. South Canterbury’s Opuha Dam wins recreationally, environmentally and agriculturally.

And if you want to slash nutrient loss from farms, it is as simple as keeping pasture growing.

But we need water for grass and crops to grow.

We are also being told to prepare for climate change so water storage is our number one adaption tool as well as an environmental one.

That’s why, on 31 May 2014, when we look back on the 2013/14 season, 90 percent of New Zealand’s dairy cattle will have been excluded from waterways and 100 percent excluded from wetlands.

We are so close to 100 percent exclusion of dairy cattle. I say dairy cattle because not all cattle are dairy, especially the ones you see walking in streams on television.

The Sustainable Dairying Water Accord, released yesterday [19 February], picks up on this and takes into account the irrigation and fertiliser sectors too.

I am proud of the progress dairy farmers have made and the next step will be common standards for industry good practice.

My question is if we are doing that, what are the rule makers doing about deficient town sewerage schemes?

One danger we have is creating the impression through the media that it is all down to dairy. It isn’t. We need councils to step up and improve waste water plants struggling to meet the demands of 1.6 million households and almost 500,000 businesses.

Given urban wastewater mostly ends up in rivers or the sea, we need the whole community to take ownership with us.

We also need our non-dairy colleagues in the primary industries to step up too.

And if you want results Lake Rotorua provides it. This is the ‘third way’ to improve water quality and it works.

Lake Rotorua’s improvement was in part due to farmers fencing and planting. This was dairy and drystock aided by expert advice from the likes of DairyNZ. The Lake’s improvement was in part due to councils getting on top of sewerage and partly due to the whole community taking ownership.

It was basically due to every one.

My challenge to the mainstream media is to use that “see it for yourself” skill I know you have and get out on-farm to talk to us.

Do not talk to someone who ‘thinks they know what we do’, but talk to real dairy farmers who do. We will help you so just pick up the phone.

Aside from the odd rat bag you will find we are good people who care for the land because this is where we and our kids live.

That “see it for yourself” applies to those creating rules. Last year I told you the starting point for water quality benchmarks was pre-human New Zealand.

I was wrong. I have to admit that I made a mistake.

You see ‘our’ water quality standards aren’t ours they are Canada’s.

Yes that is right, Canada. The fresh water standards Canada has for its native fish and wildlife is ours too. We seem to care more for Rainbow Trout than for our own native fish, which seem to be viewed as a source of food for introduced trout.

The silence from some fresh water ecologists on this is deafening.

We have Canada’s standards because it was thought developing New Zealand standards would be too expensive. It also seems to assume water is water but is it?

They seem to be figuring things out in the Hawke’s Bay where the council there is doing fantastic core council work.

From what I have heard it has the potential to turn our entire conversation on water and properly focus things on the protection of our native fish and not something that isn’t even native to our Hemisphere.

All water is not the same because our water is not Canada’s or even Australia’s. New Zealand water needs New Zealand standards.

You see Canada’s standards impact water quality and quantity here; both big parts of the regulation industry.

The regulators say themselves that they are charged by law to do this. The regulation industry is one of the fastest growing in New Zealand but doesn’t create a lot of value, solutions or exports.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for sensible regulation. I want to ensure the car I drive is safe and that the food I eat won’t put me into hospital. I also want to make sure my community will still be there in 100 years time.

It is the weight, depth and the lack of cohesion around regulation I am talking about.

New Zealand has the dubious distinction of being the fastest regulator in the west. We fail to think issues through properly. Maybe we are lacking an upper house or maybe we need Parliament to sit for four years instead of three.

Whatever it is, upwards of 9,000 pages of new legislation are created each year meaning Parliament passes six pieces of legislation in an average ‘sitting week.’

We are being hammered by bureaucrats.

I mentioned Rotorua a few minutes ago because the media coverage has missed its real improvement. We hear about job losses but we never hear about jobs created. We hear about poor water but we never hear or see of water quality improvements.

Last year, water testing by Bay of Plenty Regional Council returned average water quality for Lake Rotorua.

In the time it has taken to get there average means excellent.

But here’s the rub. The original modelling said getting Lake Rotorua to “average” would take decades but it got there last year. That was thanks to farmers, councils, communities and especially, DairyNZ.

Rotorua makes me leery when in the South Island I know of a lake, Te Waihora, where the Selwyn Waihora zone committee is moving to restrict farming but improvements won’t be measurable until 2072.

There are primary school students now who will later graduate from university, have a career and retire well before then. Where is the money back guarantee or the money to pay for its improvement? We are talking inter-generational timeframes.

There was a time, not long ago, when bank managers would not lend money to farmers above the main road in the Selwyn Waihora zone. This may soon be repeated as farming to the new regulation is nearly impossible and does not attract the confidence needed to be bankable.

Regional council work around the NPS on fresh water management is like putting the cart before the horse. Kneejerk interim measures risks screwing up the economy, so those young people water is supposedly being improved for may swim in it ‘one day,’ while on holiday from Australia.

One of the reasons is perhaps size of local government. It is huge.

To service 4.4 million New Zealanders, local government employs 18,370 people in regulatory and administrative roles alone. That is up on 13,630 people in 2002.

This figure does not include the advisors or consultants working for the likes of Boffa Miskell, Opus and any number who have carved out a nice little earner in the public sector. One paid by those trying to earn a crust while trying to create real jobs.

Frankly, they need to be added to the headcount.

Being an immigrant here is New Zealand exchanging its ‘No.8 wire can do spirit’ for the RMA and its legion of lawyers, bureaucrats and consultants?

In recent times we have moved from enabling private enterprise to regulations the public sector loves with a vengeance; controlling and blocking innovators at every turn.

Central government must provide better process guidance to local government because we are being regulated out of business. It is so bad that even local officials are starting to lose the plot creating expensive legal battles at the applicant’s expense.

Yet it isn’t fair just to stick it to local government.

Our beloved Parliament creates regulations it passes down to local government to implement. Local government becomes the fall-guy without considering who created the Act or regulation in the first place.

There are no set of principles governing the allocation of regulatory functions between the various levels of government. Can I suggest that if we are to have some regulation we start right there.

As local government powers come from Parliament, it is its responsibility to ensure new powers are appropriately allocated and resourced.

Thanks to our government, Taranaki Regional Council is staring down the barrel of rates increases of up to nine percent that councillors resent through submissions as we do.

Government needs to ask first if regulation is needed because much of what we do at Federated Farmers is warding off unnecessary regulation.

Radical, eh? I say it because I am alarmed at the way regulation is the default option instead of education or voluntary means, exactly what the Sustainable Dairying Water Accord is trying to be.

We have fallen out of trusting communities but fallen in love with expensive lawyers who weave their magic needing an army of bureaucrats and consultants to interpret.

Five thousand bureaucrats in less than a decade.

All of this breeds a climate devoid of common sense. A consent hanging in a cowshed does not make a farmer better compliant than not having the most recent version up. Yet that is a matter of ‘minor non-compliance’.

This is nuts.

As is being lectured to by some council officers that we are bad, we are polluters and that we are the problem without giving us the hard evidence as to why. The problem we pointed out in one case was that their data was nine years out of date.

This is no way to make for a better environment or better relations. It is bullying. They have the power and we don’t when we need to be working together.

But thinking we can solve all environmental issues by measuring nitrates alone is dreaming when we must deal with phosphates and sediment first.

These are two things which come from our cities as well as our farms and have a huge impact on water in our steams, rivers, lakes and lagoons. Ten years ago our most polluted waterways were in the urban areas. Nothing has changed in ten years except that more voters now live in urban areas.

We are not opposed to regulation. It needs to be at the right level. It needs to be clear, realistic and achievable,

It must enable rather than stifle innovation or individuality.

We are being squashed under the weight of regulation and it is easier to do less than it is to do something. Ever increasing pressure for environmental improvement is breeding rules-based regulation that excuses deficient councils who happen to create the rules in the first place.

It is one rule for us but another for them. It would be a brave government who enters this space and admits more regulation is having less and less benefit. I have never seen it done other than in a revolution.

An economy is no paint by numbers exercise, otherwise, we would have a Steve Jobs running every corner dairy.

Federated Farmers first solution is to make sure the Resource Management Act has real economic tests in it. Thanks to our experience in Horizons on the dreadful One Plan, that work is now underway in Government. Yet the RMA desperately needs compensation provisions to ensure quality protection as opposed to quantity.

The NGO’s need to understand that if we impoverish ourselves then any attempt to improve the environment will fail. This is not some cold economic statement but realism. History shows us that when economies unwind it is the environment that suffers the most.

Perhaps the best way to wrap up is something Andrew Hoggard wrote late last year.

Philosophically, Federated Farmers wants government at all levels focused on solutions rather than finding problems to grow the regulation industry ever larger.

Andrew said the non-regulatory approach to nutrient management has not been pushed hard enough by farmers or by our industry.

He is right, so the Sustainable Dairying Water Accord is a step in the right direction. This is what we need the mainstream media to grasp and to understand.

The Clean Streams Accord was primarily about getting streams fenced and on that score it has worked with us being close to 100 percent.

This is real money, real sweat and real labour but absolutely no regulation.

The next push was for better effluent management farmers now see as recycling nutrients. Recycling, whether it is AgRecovery or nutrients, is a good thing.

To tackle non-compliance the whole industry got together and voluntarily produced Farm Dairy Effluent Design Standards and a design code of practice. The word here is voluntary.

This has been backed by industry-funded education for farmers, effluent pond designers and engineers. Something must be working because full compliance is trending upwards, despite some councils changing the rules without warning.

Andrew’s point is that these have all come from within the dairy industry and not due to council rules or government regulations.

No one in their right mind deliberately pollutes because our farms are our homes and a place for our children and hopefully, their children too.

Farmers are investing in the environment supported by DairyNZ, the dairy companies and the wider industry. If this all fails then okay, by all means, go the regulated way, but give farmers a chance first.

Farm limits should be the tool of last resort. Not the first and Lake Rotorua proves exactly what I am saying.

But better water quality is a community team effort. No one can do it individually but with the Sustainable Dairying Water Accord dairy has firmly put its arm up to be part of the collective solution

Thank you.


ENDS

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