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English - Farmers easy target for Government

Bill English Speech: Farmers easy target for Government

I represent the Clutha Southland electorate, the largest rural electorate in the country.

My first farm mortgage was at 17%. The accountant said to me "Sonny, don't worry inflation is 18%!"

Six months later SMPs were abolished. It was a shock. A few years later, I was sitting in Roger Douglas' office as a Treasury official listening to talk of farming as a sunset industry.

One of the first big public meetings I attended as the local MP was when the Wool Board came to explain why it had abolished the price support scheme in 1991.

At the tail end of the National Government, we saw the end of the Dairy Board, and just a few weeks ago, I spoke on legislation abolishing the Wool Board.

There has been a sea change in attitudes in farming in just a decade and a half.

There has been so much change in agriculture we can forget how much there has been.

I am proud of the way farmers have changed. I am proud of the leadership which has taken farming through these changes, and new generation of emerging leaders. I am proud of what my industry has contributed to the nation. Performance and productivity has increased twice as fast as the rest of the economy. Production per hectare is higher and more profitable, management is more professional and more efficient; everything is done better than when I was actively farming 13 years ago.

The New Zealand economy is more dependent on agriculture now than it was 15 years ago when it was famously described as a sunset industry by a Labour Prime Minister.

The New Zealand farming industry is so strong because it has had to work up hill against the headwind all the time - no level playing field. And when you thought it was getting tougher - they came up with the flatulence tax.

New Zealand signed the Kyoto agreement before our trading partners and without understanding the costs.

The Government's duplicity in this is appalling. Labour is going down the same path as the Europeans - lecturing everybody about the morality of reducing emissions when as one report put it in The New Zealand Herald "It's been abundantly clear from the start that most European countries don't have a snowball's chance in hell of meeting their own Kyoto targets."

New Zealand is going the same way.

For New Zealand to meet the targets by 2012, it's estimated we would have to give up at least one third of our energy use. The only country that hasn't had higher emissions is France - because they have nuclear power.

This is a diversion from the real Kyoto problem. Over the next five to six years, New Zealand will have to burn a lot more coal to fill its energy gap - there is no other way. Labour have taken the carbon credits, a majority from private landowners - to help them offset the increase in CO2 emissions from electricity generation. They don't want to be responsible for big hikes in electricity prices.

So, you, the farmers, are an easy target. Global warming is your fault. And you are also now the bleeding edge.

We have a tiny, fraction of the world's livestock.

There is no international experience on dealing with methane emissions.

No one has a clue where to start reducing emissions - in fact we can hardly even measure them.

It's all pie in the sky.

This tax is the thin end of the wedge - it's the mechanism that will be used to collect the emissions tax itself. By Jim Sutton's own logic in his speech to you, a tax on emissions seems inevitable.

The flatulence tax is the producer board levy par excellence - millions of dollars, no accountability, and no clear objectives: You are already paying a prudent amount for research. If the Government wants more, the taxpayer should pay.

Farmers must continue to oppose the flatulence tax and if you're unsuccessful stopping this absurdity National will make it a priority when it becomes Government.

I also want to raise a red, warning flag over statements made by Labour on Maori claims to the seabed and foreshore.

The Government should be introducing legislation to do what Helen Clark said it would do - to confirm that ownership of the seabed and foreshore lies with the Crown, and because of that ownership, New Zealanders are guaranteed access and use.

But Labour has spent three weeks backing down, doing secret deals behind closed doors. Now, things have taken a turn for the worse.

Helen Clark has caved in to the most radical views.

After last weekend's hui, Maori issued a declaration that they owned title to the seabed and foreshore and a claim on the resources beneath them.

Yesterday, the Government said they would allow Maori to establish private title.

So Helen Clark has backed down.

She cannot be trusted to protect the rights of every new Zealander against the claims of a few. And our brave Prime Minister Helen Clark made sure she is out of the country while the Labour cave in continues.

Labour plans to allow Maori to gain private title to beaches and our foreshore.

Farmers should watch very carefully any legislation relating to access to these areas, because the same law could be used to gain access over your land.

These current issues are just a few rocks in an avalanche of costs being thrown on farmers.

Labour has introduced 15 new taxes and levies. These have contributed to the 20% increase in farming costs.

OSH, the RMA, ACC all generate costs you have to meet.

I must compliment Federated Farmers on their relentless advocacy of farmers' interests around Parliament on these issues.

We have had the benefit of the Federation's input on our changes to the RMA, and we are keen to have your views on whether and how to bring competition back to ACC. It worked for farmers last time.

National will reverse the nonsense in the OSH laws.

Here's another gripe.

The 4.5-cent petrol tax to pay for Auckland's roads.

What did farmers get from that? Labour are now talking about another 10c petrol tax.

Then there was the 30% increase in road user charges and increases in vehicle registration.

All these have added to your costs for no tangible gain.

This year ACC levies increased by 12.4% on the back of a 15% increase last year.

The Government had no justification for this increase.

Figures National obtained show that accidents and fatalities within the farming sector had remained stable.

When Labour renationalised accident insurance it guaranteed rates would not increase.

Some farmers are now paying 60% more than they were under the previous competitive model established by National.

And the Government is planning more taxes that will impact on agriculture's profitability and competitiveness.

For example, the reserve electricity generation tax, carbon taxes and the one I mentioned at the beginning, the flatulence research tax on livestock.

I believe the Federation should also pay attention to the new Local Government Act.

It's expensive, it's heavily bureaucratic and it's full of the new buzz word 'consultation'.

Not only does local government have to consult everyone about everything, now they have to decide on a doubled up consultation process for Maori.

Your local council has to take into account in every decision, the special relationship of Maori with the land and water, as well as Maori ancestral land, sites, wahi tapu, valued flora and fauna and other taonga.

I have a special relationship with the land in Dipton.

I'll be buried there alongside my ancestors. I also have spiritual beliefs, but they do not have the force of law - nor should they.

That's why National is campaigning for one standard of citizenship.

Whatever our race, beliefs or economic status, we all have the benefit of citizenship in this great country.

Our rights and obligations come from our citizenship, they should not depend on our race.

Citizenship and democracy were devised to erase the prejudice and privilege that went with race, religion and money.

If the Government paid more attention to free trade and biosecurity than political correctness, then the country would be better off.

I define nationhood as a positive affirmation of what's in the best interests of this great country of ours.

Is it in New Zealand's best interests to work with our traditional allies and be a force of influence on them?

Yes.

Is it in New Zealand's best interests to be trading partners with the most powerful economy in the world?

Absolutely.

I was in Washington a few weeks ago and met with senior members of the administration, officials and politicians.

I can tell you Clark's comments during the Iraq War stung the administration.

And the sting still lingers.

Those who know about New Zealand's wish for an FTA are now opposed and no one else cares.

There will be no FTA.

Ask who's next on the list after Australia and they'll tell you Thailand.

Yet the reality is that the US could be our largest trading partner in 10 years time.

So, Australia gets an FTA with the world's wealthiest economy and we don't.

That's a huge failure of Labour's foreign and trade policy and you will carry the cost.

We need tougher biosecurity laws.

Nearly 34 tonnes of food products and 5,800 plant items were removed by quarantine officers from incoming passengers last year. But MAF estimates it only intercepts 90% of what's coming through - that means almost 3.5 tonnes of food product and over 500 plants are getting through unchecked.

What's just as worrying is that only 10% of incoming containers are internally inspected.

Not only is the Government refusing to fund MAF an extra $90 million per year to inspect all sea containers arriving in New Zealand, but it also reduced spending on biosecurity in the last Budget by $50 million or by $1 million a week.

There has been a staggering 30 biosecurity incursions over the past five years.

The Asian Gypsy Moth, the Fall Webworm, while the bungled handling of the Painted Apple Moth and the Gum Leaf Skeletoniser have left farmers justifiably worried.

The Treasury says the impact of a Foot and Mouth outbreak in New Zealand would cause GDP to drop by billions of dollars almost overnight.

Thousands of people would lose their jobs.

Jim Sutton has said he will be away for most of the remainder of the year.

But don't worry.

Biosecurity and your livelihood is in the hands of Marian Hobbs.

National would introduce tougher laws to target those people who breach our biosecurity and we would create a Biosecurity Emergency Response Fund to immediately deal with threats and stop practices that may introduce new diseases or pests.

National remains the party of private enterprise and self-reliance.

We want to end the culture of dependency.

There are 350,000 adults of working age on benefits - more than the population of Christchurch.

These dependents have 250,000 children. And Treasury predicts the numbers will rise.

Even now, every week 500 more people go onto the Invalids Benefit. That means the state has decided they will never work again.

Dependency means fewer and fewer people paying for more and more, fewer and fewer people working, raising families and creating wealth, supporting more and more people not working.

National believes everyone is capable of doing something.

We will push back the tide of dependency, because it's a burden on the economy, and it wastes the talents of so many people.

There will be support as well as sanctions. We will reintroduce work testing. We will bring back work for the dole.

We also believe in limited government, in allowing people to face the ups and downs of the market.

We believe that profit is good because profit drives investment and jobs and good ideas.

We have an instinctive grasp of the risks and commitment of farming life.

You've had better times, and you've deserved it.

In Gore, Winton, Taihape and Marton I've seen the difference it makes when the rural sector is doing well. Labour has given up on its brief love-in with farmers.

You are being taken for granted.

Wouldn't it be great to have good times and a supportive government?

Innovation, growth targets and the knowledge economy have turned out to be more about seminars and bureaucrats than growth.

I want to close the income gap between New Zealand and Australia - they can earn $200 per week more than the average New Zealand household.

You need a supportive government. We need more of a top performance from agriculture than we have seen in the last 10 years.

We are the party of national unity with one standard of citizenship, and we share a national ambition for a strong economy.

I look forward to working with you on both.

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