Water protesters target National's 'bluegreens' conference

Protesters are planning to gatecrash National's 'bluegreens' conference on Saturday, accusing the party of failing to stop water pollution and invest in water infrastructure when it was last in power.

National leader Simon Bridges and more than 100 other party members are gathering in Nelson this weekend, with environmental groups and experts such as Climate Commission chief executive Jo Hendy to discuss climate, water and waste issues.

It's the 22nd year the 'bluegreens' forum has taken place. It has nothing to do with the Green Party - it's a National Party group which believes environmental issues "are too important to be left to the fringe of politics and should be a mainstream issue for all New Zealanders". Members include Bridges, deputy Paula Bennett, former Environment Minister Nick Smith and others.

"In these years environmental issues have become mainstream, and no party has a monopoly on environmental policy," said National Party environment spokesperson Scott Simpson, also a member.

But environmental activists Bung the Bore say they're going to show up too, to remind National of its "dirty rivers record".

"We must hold parties to account for their actions," spokesperson Jen Branje said.

"The National Party must not use their 'BlueGreens' conference to pretend that they have a record of protecting water when in fact they have a history of polluting it...National seems to think that our rivers and aquifers can continue to take all our pollution and be used for more irrigation and water bottling without our people's health and our beautiful country suffering.

"National appears to have an irresponsible fantasy about how we should use water that would destroy what we love about our country."

New Zealand's reliance on agriculture has put pressure on its waterways. In a Newshub investigation into the state of our rivers in 2017, scientists said there were many reasons for plummeting water quality, but largely placed the blame on dairy intensification and policies that encouraged it. 

"It's not dairy farming per se, it's just the intensity of what we do it in because we subsidise it through allowing pollution, and we add so much to it by bringing in millions of tonnes of palm kernel and subsidising it with fossil-based nitrogen fertiliser and increase the stocking rates," said ecologist Mike Joy.

Water quality was a massive issue at the 2017 election. Since then, despite the change of Government, there have been mixed reports on whether it's gotten any better. 

National has long sided itself with the farming community.

"National has a good track record of environmental leadership in Government - we're the party of practical environmentalism," said National Party environment spokesperson Scott Simpson.

"Our focus is on sensible, useful and real environmental action, rather than the talk big - do little approach taken by the current Ardern-Peters led Government.

Bung the Bore says it will also be "watching the current Government very closely to make sure they deliver on their promises of 'tough new rules' in their freshwater policy this year". 

The Greens have regularly either ruled out or been incredibly sceptical of ever working with a National-led Government. An attempt by a former member to set up a more centrist environmental party that could work with National - Sustainable NZ - appears to be in tatters, with leader Vernon Tava recently admitting to floating the idea of doctoring party records