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Fed Farmers: "2006 And Beyond" President's Address

Tuesday, November 8

"2006 And Beyond" President's Address- Charlie Pedersen Speech opening National Council Meeting James Cook, Wellington

Good morning and welcome to the National Council meeting of Federated Farmers of New Zealand.

This is one of only two meetings of the council each year. I say to you - our councillors here - that your attendance and input is very important. And I know it is seen as essential and much appreciated by the farmers you represent.

This year Federated Farmers celebrates its 60th birthday. We are an iconic organisation - easily New Zealand's most high-profile and influential lobby group. Federated Farmers has a strong and vibrant membership. We represent the most important industry sector because it is New Zealand's largest exporter.

One of the major reasons for our success is the enormous contribution made by you, our elected farmer leaders. Farmers in this country are very proud of your achievements and should be hugely appreciative of the sacrifices you make on their behalf. This council meeting is a milestone for me. After 15 years working my way up the ranks at Federated Farmers, I was elected President in July. This is my first speech as President to National Council, the Federation's top decision making forum.

This meeting is also a first in other ways. We have a new government and a new Minister of Agriculture, a new Minister of Biosecurity, and - soon - a new Minister of Trade Negotiations.

At very short notice, Jim Anderton has agreed to attend and speak to us today, his first address to New Zealand's premier rural lobby group.

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We are keen to hear his commitment to keeping New Zealand's borders safe.

I was heartened to hear Mr Anderton's comment at last week's Biosecurity Summit. I agree with him when he says that all New Zealanders must be encouraged to see biosecurity as 'their fight', not just the government or someone else's problem. As a nation we must work together to reduce risks and maximise the return on our biosecurity investment.

The National Council will also want to hear that Mr Anderton recognises that New Zealand's wealth depends in large measure on the investment decisions of 80,000 farmers and growers. Big industry players such as Fonterra and other processors are hugely important, but it must be recognised that farmers are the first and most important part of primary production and that the processors and exporters are nothing without the effort on farms.

Most of this speech is about the next three years, but I want to first touch on what Federated Farmers has been doing for members in the past year.

In a couple of weeks the entire membership will be receiving a letter from me asking them to recommit to the Federation for another year. The letter will also include some information on what we have achieved this year.

At the top of the list is our high-profile access campaign. The government spent the first half of the year saying that it would definitely legislate to allow anyone, no matter their character or intent, to walk on private land along waterways any time of the day or night.

We tried to convince them to drop this silly idea, but we got no where. The government wasn't listening and indeed was actively attacking the Federation, claiming we could not be trusted, that we were spreading misinformation, and that we were leaking to the government's political opponents.

All these claims were untrue. But we were professional. We didn't enter into those attacks and instead stayed focussed on the issue. Radical action was needed. So the National Council, National Board, and staff came up with a strategy that was well planned but most essentially well executed in one week of July.

The campaign saw the grassroots membership, branches, and provincial executives adopt many innovative ways to show their opposition to the government's access plans. The campaign was a huge success for our members. It showed that your organisation can and does influence government decisions and is able to tap into the widespread public support we have.

Other wins by the Federation include many in the area of local government and the Resource Management Act.

For example, your Federation succeeded in cutting Whakatane farm roading rates in half. And staff and elected officials frequently warded off attempts by DoC and environmental lobbyists to put impractical requirements on farmers.

Let's look forward. You will later today be considering our 2006 draft budget and, more importantly, the draft strategy for 2006 and beyond.

Over the past two years the Federation has gone through a number of reviews which have come to definite conclusions. One consistent theme has been that the Federation has to become more strategic in its approach. We must be more proactive, and less reactive.

This is not rocket science. All businesses and groups like ours should be strategically focussed. It is accepted business practice. Federated Farmers should be engaging in a positive way with decision makers to help set an agenda which is good for our farmer members.

The strategy will be discussed in detail this afternoon and I can assure you that the board and chief executive have put a lot of effort and thinking into the priorities that lie ahead.

The draft strategy has two key themes.

The first is that a larger membership is the key to enhancing our effectiveness.

Federated Farmers relies on members paying subscriptions to fund its activities. Obviously, more members paying a subscription means more income, which means we can do more for members.

Second, we must ensure that the Federation focuses on its mission to be the effective voice of farming. That means our work needs to be based on the big picture, at a high level and over the long term.

The strategy must also recognise that the Federation cannot have a role in every single issue that comes along. The council, board, and staff must prioritise, sort the wheat from the chaff. Clearly some issues arising will not be pursued.

One of the benefits of setting priorities is that it allows the Federation to throw greater resources at the really important issues. Rather than try to do everything, we have to pick our targets and focus on what is highly relevant, achievable and winnable.

For example, the Action Orange campaign was a fine example of a well-organised campaign that was highly relevant, achievable and winnable. We know that because our members told us it was relevant, we achieved it, and the government finally saw sense and abandoned legislated right of access over private land.

What will hopefully be our next success? What will be the key focus next year and beyond?

That is up to the Council to decide, but an issue that comes up time and again is the Resource Management Act.

The RMA is flawed. It must be amended.

Parliamentarians must in the first instance remove the Department of Conservation's ability to impose conservation controls on private land. DoC is given taxpayer money to look after public land. It should not be mandated to use the Resource Management Act and the Environment Court to dictate what private landowners can do with their land.

Similarly, DoC and the courts force farmers to set aside large areas of private land for conservation, scenic views and heritage reasons. Farmers are expected to wear the costs without compensation. This is an outrageous theft of property rights.

Government must fix this flaw in the Resource Management Act.

This is not an unreasonable request. I believe that fixing - not scrapping - the RMA is highly relevant, achievable and winnable.

I look forward to hearing your views on our strategy this afternoon.

But beforehand, we will be holding a panel discussion on the Resource Management Act. This will allow us to clearly identify the problems in the Act which need urgent attention from lawmakers.

The other part of our proposed strategy is building membership. There are lots of individual ways to build membership, but I'd like to talk about two of them.

It was clear from our governance, management and organisational reviews that the Presidents needed more support. So we responded to that by appointing Ali Undorf-Lay to the newly created role of provincial communications co-ordinator. The role is to help the provinces access the Federation's resources, to help set up an event, or to help in facilitating a newsletter or a press release. Some of you have already taken up the offer of this new service, and it is encouraging to see so many newsletters from provinces recently.

Another way to build membership is to give our field officers the tools to deliver the best they can. The field officers are the Federation's front line marketers, and they need good marketing support. I am very pleased to welcome Di Wyllie, who last month took over management of the field officers. We look forward to seeing the benefits of her valuable sales and management experience.

Finally, this has been a year of significant change under the stewardship of a new and dynamic chief executive. She was appointed by a board that charged her with making further improvements to an already effective organisation, setting the Federation on the path to greater success and influence. That job has begun but is still underway.

You must be in no doubt that your National Board is committed to making Federated Farmers the best it can be for our members, with a growing membership and income, and a clear focus on what we must achieve. The gains of recent changes are being bedded down and soon they will be complete, and I am sure that we will have even more reason to be proud of our Federation.

Have a good conference.


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