Speech: Primary Sector Discussion Document
Simon Bridges - Leader of the Opposition
13 June 2019
Good afternoon, it’s great to be here again at Fieldays.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging ANZ’s Commercial & Agri general manager Lorraine Mapu.
It’s also great to see Nathan Guy here, Nathan has been leading an able team of rural MP’s including the likes of Barbara Kuriger, Todd Muller, Tim Van de Molen, Hamish Walker and Lawrence Yule, who are all in attendance.
Last year at Fieldays I gave a speech about climate change where I talked about taking a pragmatic, science-based approach that is in line with our global partners and doesn’t result in harming our rural communities.
At the moment I’m concerned that well-meaning incentives are driving perverse outcomes. The Government is proposing an onerous methane target with no scientific backing, and farmers are not going to be able to meet it. Hill country farmers are concerned about the One Billion Tree Programme and its impact on rural communities. The arbitrary target is overriding best land use resulting in trees being planted in the wrong place. Government needs to be cautious of subsidising forest plantings and skewing the overseas investment rules against pastoral farming.
We will not let rural NZ fade into a sea of trees.
This year, I have another important speech, this time about our Primary Sector Discussion Document. Unlike the current Government, we’ve been using our time in Opposition wisely. Last year we released our ‘Have Your Say’ Rural campaign. From this we learnt the huge concerns that our rural communities have around accessing services, attracting enough skilled workers, more taxes and excessive regulation and red tape.
We’ve used the information to feed into a discussion document which will ultimately help form our election policies.
We’re running the ruler over all of our policies. This year we are launching our discussion documents, phase two in our policy development.
We’re focused on being a constructive and hardworking Opposition, holding the Government to account and putting forward ideas to improve the lives of New Zealanders.
So today we’re launching National’s third discussion document – the Primary Sector Discussion Document.
New Zealand has natural resources that position us as efficient and sustainable producers of food and fibre products. Our hard working innovative farmers are world leading. Demand for our products is set to grow and our policies are about allowing New Zealand to make the most of these opportunities.
The primary sector contributes $45 billion in export revenue and employs over 350,000 people. We must continue to support the sectors growth and ensure our policy is fit for purpose.
We understand that farmers and growers are concerned about mounting workforce shortages, employment law reforms, climate change and environmental regulations and increasing taxes.
Rural communities deserve access to top quality education and health services, and reliable infrastructure and connectivity.
Our experienced and dedicated team of rural MP’s have worked hard to come up with a series of ideas and proposals that we think can address these issues, and we are excited to hear your feedback.
This document is part of the biggest policy development process by an Opposition in over a decade.
National holds every rural seat in Parliament except one… but I can assure that we’re coming for West Coast Tasman. Damien O’Connor, the man who said ‘The Government is no friends of farmers’ and who told farmers to ‘suck it up’ when talking about increasing costs - should look out.
We’re proud to represent rural New Zealand. We’re working hard to ensure we’re ready to govern in 2020 should we have the opportunity.
What are we proposing?
Our biosecurity system is under immense pressure with 5.5 million passengers entering the country each year, along with increasing imports.
We’ve seen the devastating effects that can happen from things like M-Bovis, the Queensland Fruit fly and the brown marmorated stink bug.
We want to toughen up on those bringing in items which could put our biosecurity at risk.
This would mean increasing fines from the current $400 to $1000 for those found to have risk materials, and giving Ministry for Primary Industry officials the power to immediately deport those who are found to knowingly conceal concerning items.
National also wants to ensure importers are held accountable for signing off Import Health Standards on goods that aren’t free of biosecurity risk items. These measures will go a long way to better protecting our border.
The National Party understands the issues that the rural community faces around worker shortages more than any other party in Parliament.
That’s why we’re proposing a Primary Sector Visa to help provide workforce certainty for employers in the primary sector.
Our primary sector is growing rapidly as we feed an increasing global population, so it’s important that we have the workforce to manage, develop and maintain New Zealand’s agricultural and horticultural businesses.
Farmers and growers are crying out for skilled labour but there isn’t enough workers to meet demand. Many are experiencing serious implications of food rotting because of a lack of labour stifling growth and will have to downsize. A solution is needed now.
The Primary Sector Visa would act as an avenue for skilled and experienced migrants to help get residence and build their futures here.
It would work alongside other National initiatives such as supporting vocational education and agricultural training, extending the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme and promoting the sector as an attractive career prospect to turn the tap on the waning workforce.
But we know we can’t rely on immigration solely. We need to train New Zealanders to work in the rural sector.
Last year the Government announced the closure of Taratahi, the leading vocational training establishment.
This will have far reaching effects on the industry. A lack of skills will mean a lack of workers. We propose to increase vocational training opportunities in the primary sector.
We also know the health pressures that are facing our rural communities. Hamish Walker has done a great job of fighting for the Lumsden Maternity Unit.
Despite how vocal he’s been, we’ve still seen women give birth on the side of the road. National will reinstate funding so services can resume in Lumsden and we’ll do it in our first hundred days.
We’re also proposing a mobile rural health clinic to administer ‘WOF’ style health check-ups in remote areas to ensure those in rural communities have easy access to quality healthcare.
More than 600,000 New Zealanders live in rural communities, and while it’s accepted not everyone in rural New Zealand can live next to a hospital, it’s important they have access to modern healthcare.
National wants to pilot some mobile health clinics serviced by health practitioners which will travel to remote rural communities on a regular basis, where they can administer general health check-ups for busy locals.
This initiative has the potential to make a tangible difference to those in isolated areas who too often simply ignore potential health warning signs because of their busy lifestyles and the lack of convenience.
These are just some of the ideas that we’re canvassing in this document. We also want your views on Landcorp, the M-Bovis response, climate change, food safety, RMA, water storage and Shane Jones’s one billion trees programme.
Today is a chance to hear your thoughts on our proposals.
What could go further, or what needs more development.
We appreciate and respect the impact our primary sector has on New Zealand.
So thank you for coming today. We’re looking forward to hearing your feedback and developing our policy further so that come election 2020, we’ll be ready.