Judith Collins hails farmers as 'climate change warriors', promises Zero Carbon Act changes

National leader Judith Collins has described farmers as "climate change warriors" and is promising to make changes to the Zero Carbon Act if she's elected Prime Minister. 

Collins was cheered by Te Awamutu locals during a Q&A session on Friday as she appealed to the rural community, but she was also challenged on the National Party voting for the Zero Carbon Bill in November 2019.  

A local told Collins it's a "betrayal" that the National Party voted for the legislation, but Collins said it wouldn't have made a difference if they didn't because Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First had the numbers. 

"The one thing you want to learn in politics, it's a bit like farming, you've got to learn how to count, and when you've lost you're going to lose that vote," Collins said. 

"But what we did do is a public statement from our then-leader Simon Bridges.... We had 10 particular points that we would change when we're in Government to make sure that it actually lessens the cost on rural New Zealand."

The Zero Carbon Act commits New Zealand to keeping global warming below 1.5degC. It includes a target of net zero emissions by 2050 and a separate reduction of between 24 and 47 percent of methane emissions. 

The law also spearheaded the creation of the Climate Change Commission to act as an independent body to advise and support governments now and in the future to reach the greenhouse gas reduction targets. 

Collins said at the time she considered "crossing the floor" after National backed the legislation, but she agreed to amendments promised by Bridges if National was voted into power again. 

National would leave it up to the Climate Change Commission to decide on a methane reduction target, because the current target of 24-47 percent biogenic methane reduction by 2050 is considered by some to be too high. 

National also promised more protections for farmers around food production - protections Collins said were included in 2016 when the National-led Government signed New Zealand up to the Paris Agreement. 

National leader Judith Collins speaking to locals in Te Awamutu.
National leader Judith Collins speaking to locals in Te Awamutu. Photo credit: Newshub

"When we signed up to the Paris Accord... that Paris Accord was very much for the proviso that agriculture as a food-producing part of the nation would not be badly affected by it at all," Collins said. 

The Opposition leader had high praise for the farming community, sharing with the Te Awamutu locals an anecdote about when she recently stood up for them against a climate change advocate. 

"I got asked the other day about farmers and climate change... I said, 'Farmers are climate change warriors', because you're the people who have to deal with it every single day, unlike the rest of us living in our air conditioned homes," she said. 

"That sort of shut them up."

The Government announced in July 2019 it had reached a consensus with the agriculture sector on the need to implement pricing on emissions from 2025. 

It was then decided in October 2019 that farmers would be given five years to develop practical ways to measure and price emissions at the farm-level, to be separate from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). 

Agriculture will be included in the ETS if an alternative isn't figured out by 2025. But either way, farmers would get a 95 percent discount - despite agriculture making up about half of New Zealand's reported emissions. 

Collins said the Government is "so far away from ordinary people" and said she's tired of the "constant bagging and dismissing" of rural New Zealand. 

"Young dairy farmers say to me 'I'm just a dairy farmer'. That is awful - makes me feel very sad that we have massive suicide issues in rural New Zealand and one of the big things we need to understand is that rural life is very stressful," she said. 

"You're on your own, there's not that many of you together, there's no one else to confide in apart from yourselves, and it's a tough business and you've got to deal with the uncertainties of weather and everything else that comes your way."