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Sutton speech to persuasive policies conference

Jim Sutton speech to persuasive policies conference

Speech Notes Persuasive Policies conference

Ladies and Gentlemen: thank you for the invitation to speak with you today. It is said that politics is the art of the possible. Getting right down to it, we can only govern sustainably by consent. As a minister, I think it is important to explore theories that might lead to a better understanding of how people act and what methods can best be used to achieve the environmental outcomes we collectively want to achieve.

The Foundation for Research, Science, and Technology funded AgResearch in the development of a human behavioural model based on cognitive social psychology theories of behaviour. This model provides a theoretical underpinning to more effective policies which rely in whole or in part on voluntary behavioural change.

This conference provides a venue for the description of theory-based approaches to the development and implementation of policy strategies for rural environmental management. These approaches can be used to create policies that are effective at regional scale, and create co-operative implementation arrangements between landowners, policy and industry.

I think it's appropriate that AgResearch have developed this model too, because environmental issues are ones where persuasive policies principles are important.

The development of persuasive policy principles in New Zealand has parallels with the history of agricultural extension.

Early agricultural policy was very dependent on encouraging landowners to act in the national interest as well as their own. Truly, successive governments believed, what was good for farming was good for New Zealand. And by and large, so it was. And so it remained for a century and a half, or so.

Quite early on, it was also discovered by newly settled farmers that this country had unique problems that needed to be addressed if agriculture was to achieve its potential.

Challenges such as "bush sickness" and "facial eczema" required that landowners, researchers, and advisors worked together to identify exactly what the problems were, what the potential solutions might be, and how they might be implemented.

That was the beginning of persuasive policy approaches as government officials worked with scientists and experienced landowners to develop educational packages for informing and encouraging other farmers in new and unfamiliar management practices.

This understanding is still required in persuasive policy approaches dealing with similarly complex issues, and where desired, outcomes depend on management options being "tailored" to suit individual farmers.

Up to and until 1984, the Government employed most of the agriculture advisors that were available to help farmers with understanding how their business interacted with the underlying biological systems, customising management changes to suit their individual properties, and bringing together experiences held by different groups of people to solve complex problems where no single group held the complete answer.

But increasingly, it became apparent that many farmers instinctively felt that you get what you pay for. This meant that advice paid for by the Government became less effective.

Since 1984, the agricultural extension role has been carried out by primary industries themselves, working with government policy agenices.

Research into ways of improving extension delivery and management continued, but the focus now has changed, For a century, the raison d'etre of the Department of Agriculture was to cause 2 blades of grass to grow where but one had grown before. About 1990, the change to a new ethic ? the promotion of the concept of sustainable land management, environmental and human health issues, and rural community enrichment and development.

Extension researchers have worked with other researchers in education, economics, psychology, and marketing to improve the development and implementation of policy through persuasive approaches that encourage voluntary change.

Of course, much of MAF's objective relates to public rather than private good. The fragmentation of the extension role among a number of agencies ? government and industry ? has meant that developing multi-agency relationships and improving the alignment between them has also been an important part of persuasive policy studies.

To address resource management issues at a regional or industry-wide level requires policies that engage people from a range of backgrounds, different levels of concern about issues, and widely ranging levels of interest in environmentalism. The complexity of developing and implementing policies to encourage change in people's behaviour across a whole region can encourage agenices to take a regulatory, rather than voluntary, approach.

Persuasive policy approaches also indicate that, at least in some circumstances, voluntary compliance might prove easier for groups to adopt than a compulsory approach?.

Taking more fully into account human behaviour might have helped the Government in a last year's handling of the furore of the proposed agricultural emissions research levy.

The Government had been involved in consulting the public on climate change for two years, and had involved a special body called the Primary Industry Council for a year on specific issues relating to rural people.

This group is made up of organisations such as Meat New Zealand, Tatua, Fonterra, and Westland dairy companies, and Federated Farmers among others.

This body's advice to the government was that we should not attempt to proceed with plans for a voluntary levy agreed to along the lines of one under the Commodity Levies Act. It would have to be compulsorily imposed.

Shortly after we acted on that advice, Federated Farmers ? a member of the Primary Industry Council ? launched its infamous fart tax campaign, and a significant amount of hot air followed.

Never mind that the Government wasn't proposing to tax sheep or cattle for their farts; never mind that we were following the advice of farming leaders; never mind that we were in the middle of a drought in areas that had never had serious drought before?. During the whole campaign the facts did not get a look in.

As luck would have it, and with the help of a few key industry groups within the Primary Industry Council, we were able to revert to Plan A ? a voluntarily-funded industry agricultural emissions research programme. It differs slightly from the original plan, but still achieves the Government's goals.

The process was a learning experience, I guess you could say.

There have been some severe and quite unexpected climatic events since then. I have encountered numerous serious comments and queries in respect of the prospects for an increasing frequency of extreme climatic events in the future. I have no doubt that a number of these people were, a few short months ago, railing against the "fart tax".

I think that we might see much more discussion of policies in this area amongst people in future, with the focus very much moving towards the challenges of mobilising the nations of the world in effective mitigation policies.

Ladies and Gentlemen: agriculture has changed since the days of where we tried to make two blades of grass grow where one did before. Sustainability is now a real touchstone for farmers and growers, and environmental concerns are something most rural people take extremely seriously. Increasingly, this is a voluntary concern.

Persuasive policy theories have something to offer, and I hope you have a useful meeting. I look forward to reports on the progress of your conference, and I expect this will include the value of drawing on theories of human behaviour to develop strategies for encouraging voluntary behavioural change to achieve measurable environmental policy outcomes.

Thank you.

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