National right behind farmers
Hon David Carter MP
National Party Agriculture Spokesman
6 May 2006
National right behind farmers
Speech to National Party Canterbury-Westland Regional Conference
New Zealand agriculture and horticulture is under severe economic pressure.
This has been brought about by export prices, the majority of which have clearly peaked, and by a cost structure that risks the very international competitiveness that has made New Zealand the country it is today.
New Zealand’s economy has been founded on the efforts of our farmers, our orchardists, our foresters and our fishers. As a relatively small country isolated from world markets, our future for as far out as I can see, is exporting products we produce well, and at a price that at least matches the prices our many competitors can put their products on overseas supermarket shelves for.
Today I want to concentrate on where I see National is positioned in rural New Zealand, and the issues that will be of interest to rural New Zealand in the lead-up to the next election.
I want to promote the message that when it comes to rural New Zealand, we’re back!
I say that because there was in a time during National’s last term in Government in the 1990s when we did not pay as much attention as we should have to the rural constituency. Issues such as our response to dramatic climatic events were, in my opinion, too flinty.
Rural voting trends reflected that perception. In 1996 National’s average in Rural Electorates was 35.57 per cent of the party vote; in 1999 it was 33.62 per cent; 2002 produced 26.05 per cent; and in the last election we got the agriculture policy right and that is reflected in the figure of 46.5 per cent.
Going into the next election, National has to develop policy that will allow us to at the very least lock in that figure, and hopefully do even better. Last year’s election result showed rural people, including farmers, have put their faith in us.
So, while farmers and rural people have put their faith in us, they have had no reason at all to think that Labour had any better appreciation of their issues, as has been borne out by the way Labour has treated rural New Zealand for the past 6 years.
There should be no surprise in this. Labour’s attitude goes back to the Fourth Labour Government, which never recognised the value of agriculture. Labour, afterall, was the party that in the late 80’s declared agriculture was a “sunset industry”. This wasn’t a throw-away line.
It was a comment that came direct from the Labour Prime Minister, David Lange.
The performance of New Zealand farmers since Lange’s famous words is a credit to the tenacity of our rural sector.
Following the huge restructuring that occurred with the removal of subsidies New Zealand agriculture had to become more productive.
And the productivity gains that have been achieved are nothing short of stunning.
For example, in 1985 the average lamb carcass weight was 12.58kg. By 2005 that had risen to 17.39kg - a remarkable 38 per cent jump.
But productivity increases such as these will NOT ensure that we can adequately compete with other farmers around the world, while we have a Government that is determined to impose a legislative and cost structure that strangles our primary industry.
This Labour Government is totally out of touch with rural New Zealand. From the Prime Minister down there is a culture of envy that sees primary production as a bastion of entrepreneurial expertise and capitalism, and therefore one that needs to be dealt to.
The past 6 years have seen the gulf between rural New Zealand and the Labour Party expand hugely as Labour hit it with such stupid notions as a Fart Tax, dog chipping and the appointment of a city slicker, Jim Anderton, as our Minister of Agriculture. I got rid of his predecessor, Jim Sutton, who was hopeless, and now Jim Anderton is in my sights.
Let me now comment on the issues of concern to our primary industries.
Dog microchipping is a huge issue, not because of its cost, at an estimated $3m per year, but because the stupidity of the legislation is evident to all but 50 Labour Members of Parliament, the Minister of Agriculture himself and now, 3 United Future MPs.
A microchip in a dog’s neck will not stop one dog attack, and anyone who argues to the contrary is a fool.
What is also relevant is that if the legislation remains as it is then farmers, on mass, are going to refuse to obey the law. Even farmers who have always registered all their dogs are now saying they won’t even comply with that.
In other words, Labour’s measures will actually be counterproductive to dog control!
But all is not yet lost.
I have two amendments before Parliament. One will exempt all farm working dogs from the requirement to microchip. The other will exempt all dogs from being microchipped. These amendments will have to be voted on before 1 July this year.
Labour may well lose this vote. It is at this stage dependant on United Future, who, if they vote with us, can deliver an embarrassing defeat for the Labour Government.
It is worth noting that the 8 New Zealand First MPs, in the true style to which they have become accustomed, will vote as poodles with the Labour Government, a point worth making if you happen across any of the endangered species who still express electoral support for the New Zealand First Party.
If I don’t manage to muster support and votes when the issue reaches Parliament, all is still not lost. Many councils have effectively said they will make no effort to enforce this law.
The issue that was of most significance to rural New Zealand at the last election was Helen Clark’s wish to give public the right to access privately owned farmland.
For any of you who think this issue is now off her political agenda, think again.
Last month, Helen’s little helper, John Acland, released another discussion document on public access, which was designed to encourage another round of meetings so vested interest groups such as Forest and Bird and Fish and Game, could create the impression that all farmers are bastards who try to keep New Zealanders from accessing rivers, lakes and beaches.
Most, in fact nearly all, farmers are happy to share their land with the public. All they want is the courtesy of being asked - system that has served this country well for 150 years.
Before Helen Clark makes any further moves to forfeit private property rights, she should have a word with the Department of Conservation, which already controls nearly half of the South Island land mass, and yet continues to grab more while having a very questionable record on enabling public access.
Consider Birchwood Station in the lower Mackenzie Basin. You and I, as taxpayers, purchased this farm for $10 million in 2004.
Access to this property had previously been generously proved by the Williamson family for years.
Yet DOC’s first action was to erect a locked gate so the public could not readily access a farm which they had just paid an extraordinary price to purchase.
Related to this issue is a South Island specific issue - Tenure Review.
National passed the law in 1998 to modernise the way high country runs were farmed. Labour supported the legislation.
But the Tenure Review process has now been corrupted by the agenda of Helen Clark and DOC, who are using the opportunity to lock up a lot of the South Island high country and take it out of productive agriculture. A massive land grab is occurring. A series of up to 20 high country parks are proposed, which the high country farmers refer to as “Clark Parks”.
When the legislation went through back in 1998, it was expected that 60 per cent would remain in agriculture and 40 per cent would be in DOC hands, a balance satisfactory to all parties at that time.
Helen Clark’s agenda now means this balance has switched completely. Close to 60 per cent of the high country runs will be taken over by DOC, leaving some completely unviable.
It is not only the loss of productivity that is important - it is the fact that this land is then left for DOC to look after, and in this regard its track record is abysmal.
Under active grazing management, weeds are controlled. Remove animal grazing and introduced weeds will establish and proliferate, and for DOC to argue this will not happen shows how out of touch with reality this Government department is.
I move now to the issue of ACC and the provision of accident insurance. Following the defeat of the National Government in 1999, Labour moved to ensure that only the state could provide this insurance.
This wasn’t done for any reason, other than Labour’s philosophical dislike of private enterprise which, with a number of providers, ensured competition in delivering cost effective rates of accident insurance.
Farmers have borne the brunt of this Labour philosophy.
ACC rates for self-employed farmers are now 140 per cent higher than when competition was available to this market.
I am taking the opportunity today of reconfirming National’s policy at the 2005 election and its intention to re-establish a competitive market to provide accident insurance. This delivered cheaper rates in the 1990s, and will again deliver a cheaper rate when National is the Government after the next election.
ACC costs to farmers are typical of the myriad of costs to hit farmers over the past six and a half years.
We have seen the same sort of increases occur in the area of Local Government rating, where Labour has again changed the law via the Local Government Act in 2002.
Again, farmers have been hit heavily as city and district councils have accepted the expansion of their roles with the power of general competence, and we are seeing some massive council rate increases. Farmers pay more than 20 per cent of all local body rates collected in this country. Labour’s legislation is pushing this percentage significantly higher.
I want to conclude by noting the continued pressure on farm profitability as the world adjusts to the rising cost of fuel.
I am not a soothsayer and am not about to say when petrol will hit $2 a litre. Suffice to say, I believe it will be sooner rather than later.
For most of us, the first oil shock of 1973/74 will be a distant memory. But it doesn’t stop us recalling its effect on agriculture’s profitability at that time.
For the five years following 1979, agriculture suffered and net farm profitability fell dramatically, and it has never recovered to the same levels in real dollar terms, despite recent buoyancy in farm prices.
For everyone involved in farming, there is a lesson to be learnt from this. The primary production industry is a significant user of petrol and diesel, whether directly, like diesel in our tractors and fishing boats, or more indirectly, such as in fuelling the ships that move our product to the other side of the world.
To be able to farm profitably is the aim of every person involved in this industry. We are under enough pressure from factors outside the control of government as we strive to deliver a quality product to the supermarkets in London that will compete against similar products from Brazil or Australia or other places.
But in Labour we have a Government that seems determined to do all it can to make the lives of farmers even more difficult and challenging.
My role, in conjunction with you as members of the National Party, is to make sure we present agricultural policy at the next election that at the very least holds the 46.5 per cent of the rural vote we got at the last election.
That’s the very least we must achieve.
And I will be aiming to do better than that.
Every voter in rural New Zealand must have a very clear choice at the next election. National - the party that understands rural issues and which will deliver the solutions - or other parties that have no appreciation of the role primary production plays in the wellbeing of all New Zealanders.