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Pedersen: Address to the Annual Conference

Charlie Pedersen
President, Federated Farmers of New Zealand (Inc)
Address to the
61st Annual Conference
18 July 2006
The Rutherford Hotel, Trafalgar Square, Nelson

Good morning, and welcome to the 61st annual conference of Federated Farmers of New Zealand.

I want to begin with a thank you to council members from our 24 provinces and seven industry groups of Federated Farmers who are here in Nelson today. I also welcome observers, partners and friends attending the most important event in our national organisation’s annual calendar.

Thank you to our business partners, who help us fund this event. In particular I acknowledge Telecom, our first gold business partner. Our other valued sponsors are Rural Post, Ravensdown, and the National Bank.

In a week I will be celebrating my first anniversary as President of Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s premier and most effective industry association. Have no doubt of the pride and responsibility I have in carrying out this role.

As the effective ‘chairman of the board’ I can assure you that you have a cohesive and hard-working board, which is committed to making Federated Farmers an even more effective organisation in the year ahead.

Speaking on behalf of the board I would like to thank you for the enormous support you have given over the past year.

Your backing, advice and direction allows the board to work with management to ensure the Federation is on the right track, is outcome focused, and sets clear strategies in line with our mission statement – “adding value to the business of farming for our members”.

You will know that there have been some governance and organisational improvements to the Federation over the past two years. The benefits of these changes are beginning to show.

That said, I believe we have more work ahead before we see all the benefits of change.

Turning now to the theme of this conference – water.

Water sustains the earth. It makes up about two-thirds of our body’s weight. It is valuable and at the same time indestructible. The exact same amount of water, to the last drop, is here on earth as it was in the beginning.

The government’s Sustainable Water Programme of Action is underway. The details of its plans have yet to be decided.

Nevertheless, the catch cry is that we have a water shortage. I hear people say “we are running out of water”.

Such a statement is a bit like a child taking a bath and complaining about the lack of water, with both taps on full and no plug in sight.

If you want water, you have to set about to capture it – it is ridiculous to expect to have enough water, where you want it, when you want it, without planning to capture and save some.

Federated Farmers supports the commitment to help regional councils to resolve difficult water management challenges, to build on proven industry-led initiatives, and strongly supports a move to better align the taxpayer-funded science programme with national and industry priorities.

The Federation also welcomes the government’s intention to work in partnership with industry.

Tomorrow we have a 90 minute session on water, kicking off with a presentation on the Sustainable Water Programme of Action. We will then have an opportunity to debate water allocation and quality.

We have had huge amounts of water falling from the sky over the past two months. And yet we are told that we don’t have enough water.

Our previous generation carried out important projects to create water storage to reap Nature’s blessing of high rainfall. Their wisdom and hard work has brought all New Zealanders a better standard of living through agricultural irrigation and hydro-electricity power generation. These great works make the cities and industries that generate our standard of living possible.

There is no shortage of water in this country, there is only a shortage of the commitment, wisdom and dedication required to harvest water in times of plenty, for times of shortage.

Nature has a cycle, but humanity has a constant demand. Early humans learnt to harvest food and store it for the winter. So do clever animals. But modern man is being told to ignore these lessons from nature.

Environmentalists are not interested in storage. They want to ignore the lessons from nature, and instead cap water use at summer’s low rain falls and flows.

Where would we be if our ancestors had shown such a degree of high-minded arrogance in the name of environmentalism.

Environmentalism threatens to be the new century’s politics of envy – the politics that seek to reduce the brightest and hardest working, the committed, to the level of the ordinary, the uninspired.

Environmentalists are correct. We do need to protect our country, our planet, our children’s’ future and their children’s’ future, but not with fear.

We must encourage innovation, science and our own good scientists to uncover the solutions to our problems. Locking in yesterday’s answers from yesterday’s science is no solution – it is the road to definite ruin – a road that will lead to the capping of food producers’ productive capacity. If food production cannot grow, then our population cannot grow. Or, as is more likely, there will be less food for the poorest people.

I am yet to hear any environmentalist admit that rolling back agriculture’s intensification would have to be matched by worldwide starvation or a matching reduction in population.

A good comparison is the minerals industry. Unlike our neighbours in Australia, the mineral bounty of our nation is largely in the DoC estate – riches locked away from contributing to the betterment of the lives of ordinary New Zealanders, locked away in the name of environmentalism in the misguided belief that every square metre of flora and fauna are more valuable than the potential its mineral wealth could unleash for our children.

I say shame on the people who elevate environmentalism to a religious status, shame on you for your arrogance, shame on all of us for allowing the environmentalists’ war against the human race to begin, and take hold.

It seems to me the once common practice of Christian public worship and young folk performing Christian missionary work now competes with the new religious status of environmentalism. Some may think that statement as a step too far, so let me explore the logic.

Followers of Christianity throughout the centuries have had a fervent belief in their faith and believed that through the adoption of that faith, that others would become better human beings and the world a better place.

Over centuries young missionaries have left their native lands and travelled to the far flung corners of the world on crusades to convert the population of the world to their ideals.

While I largely follow Christian principles I do have a problem with the idea that humans are basically bad and without a doctrine to guide them, individuals and humanity would fall and fail.

Now I draw the similarities with the Environmental movement of today.

Environmentalism does not speak about the good of man and what mankind has achieved. Like missionaries it talks of man’s work as negatives to the natural environment.

Environmentalists and historic missionaries both look upon mankind and our achievements as a negative that needs to be curbed and defeated.

Environmentalism talks of humans failings and is scathing of its influences and the changes made to the “natural world”, and seeks to wind the clock back.

Young people around the world are enlisted and travel overseas as missionaries for Greenpeace – they stop street-goers and seek to influence and convert them to their cause. Environmentalism, the cause of winding back the clock, capping and reducing are their ethos.

Environmentalism has captured the attention of a great many people. Citizens across the spectrum have bought into the environmental teachings that the world is on the road to ruin, and with it, mankind.

Many are adopting these teachings without proper scrutiny because of the momentum the movement has, supported by experts who too often owe their livelihood to the environmental business. Even in this country, thousands now owe their living and personal prosperity to continued development of environmental controls. Those controls in turn are reducing the development and productivity of the nation and its ability to increase the standard of living of the New Zealand people.

I ask all Kiwis to think more deeply before supporting environmental causes. I believe they often give support to relieve themselves of any guilt about their lifestyle. Kiwis must understand that ill thought out environmental controls based on emotion rather than science will inevitably lead to a reduced standard of living.

Finally, I want to talk about another handbrake on economic prosperity. The Resource Management Act. In November, this council kicked off a priority project. We want to deliver benefits to members by driving changes to the RMA and the way it is implemented.

These benefits could take a long time to occur. Indeed, many people say that we are on a fool’s mission. We’ve heard that sort of talk before.

Later today, you will hear more about the beginning of this long term project.

But now I want to make a public overture to the government: Work with us to improve the RMA and its processes.

Federated Farmers is often criticised by MPs and government officials for being too reactive, rather than pro-active. We are accused of jumping on political bandwagons. We are accused of being the National Party in gumboots. The single most significant criticism of Federated Farmers is that, too often and too early, we adopt a position of opposition, rather than one of constructive engagement.

There is a sense that Federated Farmers’ default position tends to be one of disagreement with the government. Some critics say that Federated Farmers does not always pick its fights strategically and might usefully adopt a more constructive approach to finding solutions on some occasions.

I am going to answer these unjustified criticisms by saying to the government – both central government and local government – that the Federation wants to work with you on finding solutions to the problems caused by the RMA.

To an extent we are already doing this. Our RMA project is proactive. In recent months we have twice hosted the Minister for the Environment, the Minister responsible for the RMA. We have taken the Minister on field trips so he and his officials can hear and see the problems caused by the RMA. Many of these problems are caused by processes administered by councils under the RMA, which are not just the fault of the RMA itself.

However, it is not just the councils which need to improve. The Act itself is flawed. I stress the word flawed. We do not believe the Act should be scrapped, at it is based on the ethic of sustainable management, which is what the majority of our members practice every day on their farms.

But we do believe it needs improvements in key areas. So let me say to government that we are willing to work with you on solutions. Engage with us and other groups who have issues with the RMA. There have been 15 amendments to the RMA in 15 years. It is not good enough to point to the most recent amendment, and say that everything has been fixed. It hasn’t.

I say to Government, if you don’t want to engage on the RMA, then let it be known on the public record we have held out our hand. We want to work proactively to find solutions.

If there is no attempt to work with us, then this Federation will inevitably look at other options for getting our message across. The RMA, in its current form, is stifling innovation and investment in this country. That must change for the sake of the New Zealand people.

A recent headline in The Press newspaper said “3-nil to farmers”. It referred to the Federation’s success in forcing the abandonment of the FART tax and legislated right of access over private land and, most recently, gaining an exemption so that working dogs do not need to be micro-chipped.

We prefer not to run these sorts of campaigns. These campaigns are expensive in time and money, they create divisions, and they use up our political capital. But, in each of these three cases, we were forced to do them as a last resort when the government would not listen to not only us but also to the majority of New Zealanders.

Looking ahead, I would rather we did not resort to high profile actions on the RMA. We would rather work on finding solutions in a positive working environment. Fixing the RMA’s legislative and process problems presents a good opportunity to work constructively.

So, hear our plea. Help us fix the RMA. Our door is open to constructive engagement. Let us expand our cooperation and improve this necessary legislation.

Thank you for listening. Have a good conference.


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