What can agriculture expect?
All three political parties that make up the governing coalition campaigned on the premise that agriculture is the backbone of New Zealand’s economy. Each party stated that the rural sector should be supported, rather than what they saw as being hindered by government, particularly in the areas of regulation, red tape and climate policy.
In this edition, we cover the proposed repeal of the Three Waters and resource management replacement legislation in the next article, but what else are we likely to see from this government?
The parties’ agreements
There are two separate agreements between the coalition partners – the National-ACT Coalition Agreement and the National-New Zealand First Coalition Agreement. Both agreements should be read in conjunction with the other and, in the agriculture area, are quite similar in their aims. Both agreements contain commitments to:
- Reduce red tape and regulatory blocks
- Reverse the ban on live animal exports while still ensuring high standards of animal welfare
- Reform the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee
- Improve farm environment plans so they are more cost-effective and pragmatic for farmers, and to be administered by regional councils and targeted at a catchment level
- Replace the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management to better reflect the interests of all water users, and
- Liberalise genetic engineering laws.
Some differences in approach
There are some areas, however, where the coalition agreements aren’t exactly the same, but look to achieve similar outcomes. For example, in the National-ACT agreement, the parties agree to maintain a split-gas approach to methane and carbon-dioxide through to 2050, and to review the methane science and targets in 2024 for consistency, with no additional warming from agricultural methane emissions.
The National-ACT coalition agreement also contains a commitment to amend the Overseas Investment Act 2005 to limit ministerial decisions to national security concerns (to keep politics out of it as much as possible) and to make decision making more timely. The National-New Zealand First agreement commits to incentivise the uptake of emissions reduction mitigations such as low methane genetics and low methane producing animal feed.
In addition, that document also contains an agreement to amend the National Environmental Standards for Commercial Forestry regulations to place a duty upon harvesters to contain and remove post-harvest slash. Much of the regulation and red tape that has been criticised by the three coalition parties comes from a need to comply with international obligations. A change of government does not mean a change of those obligations and, for example, just in the last week or so the New Zealand government has signed up to the COP28 Declaration on Food Production and Sustainable Agricultural Adaptations. The Declaration seeks to protect the livelihoods of farmers while, at the same time, recognises that agriculture and food production has to ‘urgently adapt to respond to climate change.’
The UAE Climate Change and Environment Minister, Mariam Almheiri, said, “Countries must put food systems and agriculture at the heart of their climate ambitions, addressing both global emissions and protecting the lives and livelihoods of farmers living on the front line of climate change.” Somewhat predictably, Greenpeace New Zealand responded by saying that this country needs to transition to a more organic farming system and that the New Zealand government should introduce policies that bring us into line with global commitments.
While the three coalition partners are indicating a new support for agriculture, and with the two associate Ministers of Agriculture both being farmers, a more practical approach to deal with climate and water issues is being signalled. New Zealand has international commitments that it must fulfil, as well as already recognised issues of water quality. These issues will not go away.
It will be interesting to see, in practical terms, what is likely to happen in the agriculture sector over the course of this administration. In terms of the immediate changes or focus on specific issues that are likely to arise, the government’s 49-point 100-day plan includes the repeal of the Water Services Entities Act 2022, the Spatial Planning Act 2023 and Natural and Built Environment Act 2023. The only other items that directly relate to agriculture are the government’s commitment to improve the quality of regulation, to cease implementation of new Significant Natural Areas and to seek advice on the operation of the existing areas.
Apart from those issues, there is a commitment to meet with councils and communities to establish reasonable requirements for the recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle and other major recent flooding events that have had a severe impact on some rural communities, particularly on the East Coast, Hawke’s Bay and the greater Auckland area. As much as anything, we can expect to see a more collaborative approach to issues such as climate change and protecting the natural environment that, in the eyes of many in the agricultural sector, gives the sector (as one of the main drivers of our economy) the respect it deserves.
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Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022. Editor: Adrienne Olsen. E-mail: [email protected]. Ph: 029 286 3650