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What Threatens the Good Life in Rural New Zealand?

What Threatens the Good Life in Rural New Zealand?

Thursday 18 Jul 2002

SPEECH FOR FEDERATED FARMERS ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Christchurch Owen Jennings , ACT spokesman on Rural Issues:

Once upon a time we all looked on farming as a way of life. Our city cousins were envious of the great lifestyle weren't they? Yeah right!! During the 80's we became much more sophisticated. We decided that farming was a business. We started worrying about rates of return, gross margins, E.B.I.T., dry matter yields and other gobble de gook.

It was all very impressive.

I was part of the speech making at this conference over 10 years ago threatening my fellow farmers that they would become extinct if they didn't quickly adapt to the harsh, cold, commercial world.

Like the story of the old bull and the young bull you get a little more cunning, maybe even wiser as the years go by.

Farming is a way of life and it's a darn good way of life. We live in an amazingly beautiful country where living and working in the great outdoors is both a privilege and a source of enjoyment. Well at least it is when you aren't rescuing ewes from a snowdrift, trying to calve a cow on wet, cold spring day or survive a drought.

It is a great way of life because you can still leave school in New Zealand, get your degree, go farming and own your own property before you are 40. It is still possible to be your own boss, make your own decisions about what you do, where and how. You can still choose one type of farming over another, to be organic or not, what tractor to buy. "Sure, it's a good life".

The question today is "what threatens the good life in rural New Zealand?' Last week I had occasion to fly from Hong Kong to Frankfurt. For 4 or 5 hours we flew over Eastern Europe. This giant food basket is re-awakening. Poland with its rich Chernozem soils once fed all of Europe on it's own. Millions of hectares of highly productive land badly farmed and heavily mismanaged by socialist regimes is being transformed into modern, high output agriculture. The unit costs are low. Out of sheer political necessity the European Union is ploughing billions of Euros into redeveloping farms and processing plants.

That represents a major threat to New Zealand exports. It means we must be even more vigilant in protecting our competitive position on the one hand and more committed to reducing due exposure to commodity prices on the other.

The Government's role in that effort is to improve business conditions and the investment climate. ACT New Zealand is the only political party putting forward proven, practical policies that can create such a climate. ACT is an unashamed pro-business party. ACT believes that when business is doing well we are all doing well.

New Zealand has had a taste of what it might be like. Rural New Zealand has had two good years and the whole country benefited. ACT wants to have every year like that and even better so we can achieve at least a 4% growth rate. What a tragedy that when the country's largest and most successful businesses have had their best years we could barely muster 2% growth.

The problem lies in the burden of cost that our productive sector carries. We take 40% of what our businesses earn and wonder why they don't employ more people, grow exports faster, invest more in research and development and lift our standard of living more quickly.

ACT has a simple, proven answer. The Labour Government's own special investigation into taxes, the McLeod Report, said we could immediately reduce the corporate and top personal tax rates to 28 cents without having to cut spending in health and education. His calculations also made it clear that if we stopped the disastrous super-annuation scheme payments, stopped paying outrageous money for Maori TV, setting up state owned banks and got rid of some bureaucratic waste we could give all New Zealander workers a tax break of over $600 per year. That is ACT's policy.

It is not only the tax burden. We have a layer of compliance costs that is expensive, frustrating and delaying.

ACT will tackle the Resource Management Act giving it a massive overhaul. We can have high environmental standards and outcomes without the draconian, delaying and expensive process involved in plan development and consent applications. It is not just a matter of poor quality administration as some assert. It is bad law. There is too little regard for private property rights, something ACT would rectify urgently.

Removing the 'immeasurables' is another priority. Cultural, spiritual, aesthetic values etc. would be removed. The Act should only cover the physical and natural realm. Standing would be reinstated. The community should have its say in the planning stage not during a consent unless a person has an interest greater than the public interest.

Section 32 of the Act needs turning on its head. There should be a presumption in favour of voluntarism, tradable rights, industry codes, encouragement and education, rather than rules and regulations. Best practise systems should be used to prevent costly duplication in plans.

ACT would immediately re-privatise ACC. We know the benefits. It is disgusting that Labour is prepared to let ideology stand in the way of common sense and proven gains.

Local Government needs constraining. ACT does not support granting local authorities powers of general competence. Does it presume they currently have powers of general incompetence? The proper role of local government is to see that the community has access to good quality, cost effective public services - the services the private sector does not provide.

Rates are too high. Those farmers near to centres particularly are paying outrageously high rates compared to some town ratepayers who use the services much more often. A stronger relationship between costs and benefits should be established with a greater use of user pays.

ACT does not support the signing of the Kyoto Agreement. The science is questionable, the affect on our international competitiveness disastrous and the gains illusory. This is a few politicians grandstanding on the international stage putting recognition ahead of the nation's best interest. The so-called advantages to New Zealand are fictitious.

The current pre-occupation with GE is senseless. Labour's spin-doctors thought it was an ideal way of keeping the media and the public away from much more important issues like crime, taxation, health and education. We have conducted an exhaustive and professional Royal Commission investigation into the GE issues - more than any other country has done - and we have in place the most difficult and cumbersome approval processes yet the Luddites in the Greens are prepared to subvert the MMP system and hold the country to ransom. For goodness sake let's get on with the job.

ACT is also keen to see a bigger and more focused effort in trade liberalisation. The present Government has turned Foreign Affairs and Trade into a pursuit of politically correct agendas. We need to strengthen our commitment to improving the international trade environment in a partnership between the private sector and the Government.

A further vital policy change ACT would engineer in favour of rural New Zealand involves re-directing research and development resources into primary industry. Too much of our precious Public Good funding ends up in low priority areas like social sciences, Antarctic, etc again motivated by political correctness and socialist elitism.

Being safe and secure is a government's top priority. ACT wants to see New Zealand assume its regional responsibility as a defence power. We should re-join ANZUS and re-build our air strike capability.

At home ACT will tackle crime by toughening up on criminals and the causes of crime. It is ACT who has led the call for truth in sentencing over the last six years and in this campaign. Others have jumped on the bandwagon. ACT will respond to the Wither's petition and the call for no parole. We will also concentrate on a zero tolerance approach to minor crime. Health and education services to rural New Zealand are vital to the quality of life that you all enjoy. Our education standards are slipping and the centralised, bureaucratic system is failing. It is time to return external exams and greater parental choice. Good teachers should be paid more and excellence should be rewarded.

ACT will support isolated rural GP's and see that provincial health clinics have the resources to offer a full range of services. By dropping the senseless ideology that resists the use of private facilities we can maximise our hospital resources and help lower the waiting list.

These are practical policies. They are the fresh ideas from a team of experienced and hardworking MP's. They have been the effective opposition for three years. Now is the time to put them in a place of influence. You can do that by giving ACT your party list vote on the 27th.


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