First-term minister Andrew Hoggard's vision for reform

The Manawatū dairy farmer was previously president of Federated Farmers.
The Manawatū dairy farmer was previously president of Federated Farmers. Photo credit: RNZ.

"This is a government that's going to try and remove that regulatory burden. But it's not an excuse for everyone to think they can just button off and do nothing" - Andrew Hoggard

Andrew Hoggard might be new to Parliament, but he's certainly not new to New Zealand's screens and airwaves.

The Manawatū dairy farmer was president of Federated Farmers from 2020 to 2023, and one of the more prominent critics of the previous government's agricultural policies.

The summary of a recent Federated Farmers confidence survey concluded confidence was no longer going backwards, but is still in the gutter.

Now, Hoggard is one of a group of ministers tasked with getting farmers back onside.

The ACT MP has been assigned the Biosecurity, Food Safety, and Associate Environment portfolios, and is one of three Associate Agriculture ministers.

It's a lot of hats for a brand new MP, which can perhaps excuse why one of the first significant announcements he made as a minister went wrong.

Last month, with his Associate Environment hat on, Hoggard announced the government was suspending requirements for councils to comply with Significant Natural Areas rules, telling councils it would be "unwise to bother."

Except the law hadn't changed, causing outcry from environmental groups, and a legal headache.

He walked it back, and learned his lesson. He says he was intending to give helpful advice, but pushed it close to the line.

"We're going to be rebuilding the foundation. We don't want all of this work happening on the roof and the first storey and the second storey that may not fit on that foundation. It's like, everyone just calm down for a minute, let's get the foundation right, and let's build up the common sense, practical thing on top of that."

So far, much of Hoggard's work is reviews and windbacks.

Last weekend, the government announced a review into New Zealand's 2050 methane targets - based around the principle of "no additional warming" from methane.  

The current target is to reduce methane by 24 to 47 percent by 2050.

The Climate Change Commission has warned there is no evidence to support weakening the target - in fact, it should be strengthened.

But Hoggard is sticking to his guns, saying efforts to cut emissions shouldn't come at the cost of a drop in agricultural production.

"The science is settled, what you get is different policy. The policy is not settled," he said.

"And so what we're saying is for that review, is we want to know the science answer, what is the actual amount that it needs to reduce to for no additional warming?"

The government's also replacing the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

The NPS set strict bottom lines for nitrogen, e.coli, phosphorus, and sediment, and required councils to create new plans giving effect to te Mana o te Wai - prioritising the health of the water.

Farmers argued it was too complex and too expensive to implement. The new government agreed, and has sent it back to the drawing board.

It's set alarm bells ringing for climate advocates, while even farmers aren't fully onboard.

First-term minister Andrew Hoggard's vision for reform
Photo credit: RNZ / Angus Dreaver.

Federated Farmers and lobby group Groundswell felt the announcement didn't go far enough, and that some councils were too far along with their plans.

But, as illustrated with his Significant Natural Areas lesson, Hoggard can't tell councils to stop.

"My hope would be that they just, again, pause. That's my hope, not my direction, that they pause, they know that the work they've done at this point won't be wasted. You know, it's consultation, it's working with communities, understanding all of these roles, getting the science and all of that in the background."

One longer-term piece of work is the reversal of the live-export ban.

The previous government wound the practice down, after a review found it could damage New Zealand's reputation regarding animal welfare.

It's not even been a year since the ban was implemented - ACT and National's committed to bringing live exports back in their coalition agreement.

But not without promising to put in place a welfare 'gold standard' first.

It's fallen on Hoggard to find out what that looks like. He says he doesn't know what it will be yet, but standards were improving during the wind-down period.

"In terms of evidence of 'why bring it back'? $300 million to $500 million of economic value to the country. Now, we are in a bit of a hole financially. And, you know, this makes sense, it's a very valuable trade.

In Biosecurity, Hoggard says he wants to strengthen plans for dealing with Foot and Mouth disesase, before it reaches our shores, and improve awareness of marine pests.

"All of the decisions around who covers what, who pays for what, who does what, that needs to be decided in peacetime, we don't want to be having these arguments while we're trying to stamp it as ease out. We need all hands on deck laser focused on achieving that."

But, true to ACT form, his big focus is on addressing what he calls an "avalanche" of regulations, drawing from some of his own farming bugbears.

That does not mean, however, that farmers can expect to slack off.

"As a sector, we still need to keep moving the dial forward and looking for ways of how farming can be done more effectively, more efficiently and more environmentally friendly. So keep looking for all of those ways because that's what needs to happen.

"If you don't want the regulations, if you don't want the heavy-handed over-the-top approaches, you've got to be taking those decisions on yourself, thinking about them, and acting them, doing it on your terms. And then you won't have to worry about Big Brother stomping down on you."

In this week's Focus on Politics, RNZ Political Reporter Giles Dexter sits down with new MP - and new minister - Andrew Hoggard, to discuss the suite of reviews and replacements he's been tasked with.