Repealing freshwater regulations 'would take us backwards' - environmental group

An environmental group says improving New Zealand's waterways will take multi-partisan support, and recent comments from National calling for new rules to be repealed were "hyperbolic and unhelpful".

Gary Taylor, executive director of the Environmental Defence Society, says freshwater regulations signed off earlier this month come after a decade of hard work and now is not the time to get rid of them.

"A lot of effort has gone into getting the policy platform established, many people have been working on this for the thick end of 10 years and the suggestion that it could be reviewed and repealed is a worry and would take us backwards," Taylor told Dominic George on Magic Talk's Rural Today on Friday.

In a Facebook Live event earlier this week National's agriculture spokesperson David Bennett said the policy would be "gone by lunchtime" if his party is voted into power in the upcoming election.

National subsequently softened that stance, saying in a statement on Wednesday it would "repeal or review" a number of the new rules, rather than get rid of the whole policy.

But Taylor says Bennett "shouldn't have made such an extreme comment as that".

"It's very hyperbolic and unhelpful and I think he's probably regretting it now," he said.

"We do need bipartisan or multi-partisan support for freshwater reforms, this is something that goes to our brand New Zealand, it's something that goes to our sense of national identity, to see that our farming activities aren't polluting, that's all very important stuff to all of us so getting some cross-party agreement on the way forward and then hitting the challenge of implementation I think is the way that people should be thinking."

Farmers, especially in Southland, have been vocally opposed to many of the new rules, particularly those around winter grazing, which they say are "entirely impractical".

The Government seems to have realised some of the rules don't work, with Cabinet this week making a number of adjustments to winter grazing regulations and hinting more changes could be on the way.

Although National criticised that move as showing the policy is "based on ideological notions" and "isn't practical or based in science", Taylor said the Government's approach to making small adjustments as needed was better than repealing the legislation. 

"This is quite complicated stuff and I think having a willingness to adjust things when that's needed is probably a good thing rather than a bad thing."

With the legislation now signed off as law, the next challenge is implementing the new rules, Taylor said.

"We've got the policy package settled, provided National don't upset that, we now need to focus on implementation. 

"And of course getting our waterways cleaned up is going to take many years, it's not something that's going to happen overnight."