National vows to 'repeal or review' freshwater regulations if elected

National says it will repeal or review the Government's freshwater regulations if voted into power later this year, saying the rules are impractical and lack a basis in science. 

Their promise comes after Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor announced on Wednesday some adjustments to the rules would be made, particularly around winter grazing.

Farmers have been vocal in their criticism of the new regulations, which were signed off earlier this month, with some in Southland threatening to boycott rules around winter grazing in a bid to send a message to the Government. 

Although Environment Minister Daivd Parker warned those farmers "no one is above the law", it appears the message did get through, at least in part, with O'Connor saying on Wednesday that Cabinet had adjusted rules regarding the definition of pugging - when the hooves of livestock penetrate the soil - and clarifying the 20cm pugging depth does not apply around fixed structures.

"It became apparent that some of the regulations within the freshwater standards – including ones around winter grazing – need to be adjusted, so we've done that," O'Connor said.

But Scott Simpson, National's spokesperson for the environment, says the changes show Parker and the Government got it wrong to begin with.

"The minister has developed a policy based on ideological notions and once again he has had to back down after realising it isn’t practical or based in science," Simpson said.

He said many of the Government's freshwater proposals would have "perverse effects" on the primary sector and wider economy.

In a joint statement, Simpson and the party's agriculture spokesperson David Bennett said National would "repeal or review the nine regulations announced on 5 August" if voted in to Government later this year.

Bennett said the regulations were "rushed through" with no consideration for regional variances".

The party said it would review or repeal the following rules:

  • Standards for intensive winter grazing
  • Mandatory Freshwater Farm Plans
  • Resource consents for stock holding areas (feed pads, winter pads, standoff
  • pads, loafing pads)
  • Stricter stock exclusion and fencing of waterways
  • Removal of stock from natural wetlands
  • Nitrate toxicity levels
  • No further intensification
  • Establishing a cap on nitrogen fertiliser use
  • Electronic measuring and reporting on water usage

On Thursday, Liam Kernaghan, National Party Candidate for Taieri, in Otago, told Dominic George on Magic Talk's Rural Today many farmers in his constituency felt they weren't being listened to by lawmakers in Wellington.

He said the message from farmers was "just listen to us".

"Just actually negotiate and have a chat to us about what's going to work. Everybody recognises there has to be rules around this stuff but when they're unworkable and particularly when the rules don't seem to be taking into account any Otago/Southland specifics we need to be listened to," he said.

"While it's good to see some movement from the Government I think we need to see a bit more action and actually get Fed Farmers and a number of other industry groups around the table to have a bit of a yarn and fix this."

National's view was echoed by the ACT party, which said the reforms "should be gone by lunchtime".

"The economy is in recession. Now is the worst possible time to be creating new uncertainty for the rural sector," ACT's rural spokesperson Mark Cameron said on Wednesday. 

"The RMA and new freshwater rules are being used as blunt tools to force farmers and landowners to abandon farm environmental plans and submit to a government plan which sidelines the wishes of local communities and the businesses."

National's proposal was sharply criticised by a number of environmental groups however, which said scrapping the freshwater reforms "is a licence to intensive agriculture to do what they want when they want".

"By removing the standards for intensive winter grazing means National wants the environmental damage caused by intensive winter feeding of stock to continue," Greenpeace, Forest & Bird, Fish & Game, Choose Clean Water and Environmental Defence Society said in a joint statement.

"Winter grazing is not only damaging our rivers and streams, but also the reputations of both farming and New Zealand. Kiwis don't want stock meandering through our precious streams and rivers.

"Political parties should listen to the evidence on freshwater, plan ahead and put us on the path now to protecting water for the long-term health and well-being of all New Zealanders."