National promises to support farmers, growers by 'reining in bureaucracy' if elected

National has announced its "Getting back to Farming" package, promising to "rein in" what the party calls "bureaucracy" put in place by the Government. 

The package includes 19 changes to the 20 laws and regulations Labour has introduced or changed since it came to power in 2017.

National says this isn't an exhaustive list of the announcements it will make on agriculture and is promising further policy on emissions pricing, research and development, water and more.

National's policy also includes a "2-for-1" rule, which means for every new agriculture regulation, two must be removed. It also includes a ban on foreign investment in farms to convert to forestry for carbon farming.

National Leader Christopher Luxon told AM the party would also double the recognised seasonal employer (RSE) worker cap to 38,000.

"When you actually look at what's going on in our economy at the moment, we've got this current account deficit - the biggest in the OECD - we've got this recession that's coming and it's going to be here for longer… so the big issue is, we have to grow our economy," he said.  

"We can't just write off huge sectors of our economy and optimise the potential that they have.

"Over the next five years, this is a sector that wants to grow and should be able to grow, and we don't want to have labour shortages. There's a reason why we can't optimise the economic growth that we need to see."

National would also include a path to residency for agricultural workers coming into New Zealand under the Accredited Employer Worker Visa programme. The median wage requirement for those workers would be abolished so their wages are in line with local workers.

The Government last year extended the cap on RSE workers by 3000 to 19,000, while also giving the workers sick leave entitlement. 

The scheme had been under scrutiny after stories emerged of workers being treated poorly. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner has said some workers have been exploited and have had their rights violated.

National said it supports strengthened rules on working conditions for migrant workers.

Christopher Luxon.
Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: AM

On foreign investment in farms to convert to forestry for carbon farming, Luxon said it was a "big problem" which was why the party would opt for a ban.

He said large foreign investment for carbon farming was "changing the nature of rural communities".

"When you lose huge farms like that… it's changing the nature and we're going to regret that big time about 30 years from now.

"We have to put a stop to that… if you're a foreigner and you want to buy a sheep or beef farm and convert it into forestry for carbon farming, that's what we want to stop."

National is also recommitting to scrapping what it calls the "ute tax" (the tax component of the Clean Car Discount), restarting live exports of cattle with "gold standard rules set in regulation to protect animal welfare and safety", and repealing Labour's water reform scheme.

The party's environment spokesperson Scott Simpson said National would promote "targeted rules with clear environmental limits so farmers can work with confidence".

"National is committed to this country’s climate change goals. We know shutting down some of the world’s most carbon efficient farmers only sends production to less efficient farms overseas and could raise global emissions," Simpson said.

“We can protect the environment and allow farmers to get on with business by reining in the bureaucracy and using clear, well-targeted rules instead."

The full list of 19 changes:

  1. Introduce a 2-for-1 rule for the next three years: for every new regulation that central or local government wants to introduce on the rural sector they must take away two.
  2. Require local and central government to assess the costs of all new rules on the rural sector and publish the findings.
  3. Establish a permanent Rural Regulation Review Panel to consider every local and central government regulation affecting farmers and advise the central Government on solutions.
  4. Introduce a no duplication rule – the Government cannot ask farmers for the same information twice. It is up to officials to share supplied information where appropriate within the system.
  5. Make appointments to reference and advisory groups based on skills and experience not politics.
  6. Commit to real consultation – officials must consult in a genuine, open and transparent basis and respect differing views.
  7. Double the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) worker cap over five years to 38,000 per year and explore other countries entering the RSE scheme.[1]
  8. Change Accredited Employer Work Visas for agriculture to create a path to residency and eliminate the median wage requirement to allow wages in line with local workers.[2]
  9. Ban foreign direct investment for the purpose of converting farms to forestry to collect carbon credits.
  10. Focus the definition of Significant Natural Areas on areas that are significant by making the rules workable and clear for landowners and councils.
  11. Change the National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land to allow a broader range of productive rural activities such as on-farm storage ponds and sheds and off-farm dairy factories and vegetable processing.
  12. Scrap the ute tax.
  13. Change rules for culverts and how wetlands are defined in legislation to only cover actual wetlands, rather than areas with limited environmental value.
  14. Make stock exclusion rules more practical to protect critical source areas while avoiding unintended consequences like unnecessarily large exclusion zones for small water bodies.
  15. Amend the proposed National Environmental Standard for drinking water to avoid excessive compliance requirements for small providers of 30 connections or fewer and return autonomy to small rural communities.
  16. Defer central government rules requiring resource consents for winter grazing until freshwater farm plans are in place, with freshwater plans to become risk- and outcomes-based.
  17. Replace the winter grazing low slope map and low slope rules for stock exclusion with more effective catchment-level rules to accommodate regional differences.
  18. Restart the live exports of cattle with gold standard rules set in regulation to protect animal welfare and safety. National will require purpose-built ships and introduce a certification regime for the importers of destination countries to ensure animals live in conditions at the same standards required in New Zealand.
  19. Repeal Labour’s rebranded Three Waters and replace it with Local Water Done Well – National’s plan to restore council ownership and control of water assets while ensuring water services are financially sustainable.

Full details about the package can be found here.