'I feel so sad': National MP Judith Collins holds back tears in speech defending farmers

National MP Judith Collins held back tears in a speech defending farmers from proposed changes in fines over livestock polluting waterways. 

Collins described the Government as "anti-farmer" during her speech on the first reading of the Resource Management Amendment Bill in Parliament on Thursday. 

"When I hear young farmers saying to me, in their 30s, 'Look, I'm just a dairy farmer',  I feel so sad - so sad," Collins said, holding back tears. 

The National MP said she took issue with "a doubling in the fee of the fine to $2000 for any intrusion of stock into waterways". 

But it isn't quite that straightforward. 

The current maximum fine for livestock polluting waterways under the Resource Management Act (RMA) is $2000 and for all other RMA infringements, the maximum is $1000. 

The legislation proposes removing the different maximums that currently exist between infringements related to stock polluting waterways and other types of infringements. 

It includes these proposed figures:

  • $2000 maximum for individuals
  • $4000 maximum for companies or trusts

The current separate infringement maximums were established in 2017 under the Resource Legislation Amendment Act put forward by the previous National-Led Government. 

The latest legislation does not set any actual fees for specific infringements. It only increases the maximum infringements under the RMA. 

Increases for specific types of infringements would need to be set in regulations at a later date.

Environment Minister David Parker said the legislation "introduces a number of sensible amendments to existing processes". 

The legislation passed its first reading. 

Collins said National would not support the legislation as it is, but said they would "like to see if there are any improvements through the select committee process".

She was visibly upset as she opened up about her concerns over the farming community and how she feels they've been let down by the Government. 

"The only people being targeted by this anti-farmer Government are farmers - the only people; nobody else."

She said people living in urban areas "will know that our urban waterways are by far the worst in terms of cleanliness of any of our waterways". 

The National MP's comments echoed concerns raised by the farming community over the Government's proposed freshwater standards

It would restrict further intensification of land use, and from June 2020 new irrigation or conversion to dairying could only go ahead where there is evidence it will not increase pollution. 

Southland farmer Ashley Lester said in an open letter to the Prime Minister that the eight-week consultation period on the proposals fell during her farm's busiest time of year. 

"I have not been able to attend the limited meetings regarding the consultation as what little time I do have, goes to my young family," she wrote in the letter.

"I am a farmer. I am a mother. I am not a monster... suicide in the farming sector is high. It's scary. It's sad. Please don't be so ruthless with your timeframes."

Collins said she remembered a time when farmers were "respected in this country, and we now have a Government that has gone out of its way to make farmers feel that they are involved in an activity that is bad for New Zealand". 

She said she is "concerned that we now have very severe cases of depression and mental health issues in the farming community that are significantly worse than they ever used to be". 

Ministry of Justice figures at the end of last year revealed 20 farmers had taken their own lives in the year ending June 30, 2018 - 18 of them men.

The Government is currently considering how to tax farming emissions by bringing the agriculture sector into the Emissions Trading Scheme. 

A $229 million package was announced in the 2019 Budget to support farmers lift environmental sustainability.