Jacinda Ardern says Government open to making freshwater regulations more 'workable'

Jacinda Ardern spoke at this year's Primary Industries Summit in Wellington.
Jacinda Ardern spoke at this year's Primary Industries Summit in Wellington. Photo credit: File / Getty

The Prime Minister addressed the subject of controversial freshwater regulations in a speech at this year's Primary Industries Summit, hinting the Government was open to making some of the rules more workable for farmers.

The new regulations, introduced earlier this year, have been heavily criticised by farmers, with some saying they aren't "fit for purpose" and even threatening to boycott them.

The Government made a number of adjustments to the regulations in August, soon after they were introduced, tweaking some rules around pugging and winter grazing. However, farmers - particularly in Southland - say more needs to be done. Some are even calling for them to be "rebuilt from the ground up".

Speaking in Wellington on Tuesday, Jacinda Ardern said the freshwater regulations were vital to "immediately stop further degradation to our freshwater".

However, she did acknowledge there might be room to move on some of the rules.

"As we get further into implementation of this package, if some aspects are found to be impractical on the ground, or unclear, ministers will receive that advice with the view to making the regulations workable," she said. 

"That's in everyone's best interest. And I thank everyone who is working with us to achieve what I believed to be a common goal.

Her comments echoed those of Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor last week. He said work was already underway to make sure the new regulations were practical to implement but said it could be months before any changes were finalised.

The Prime Minister said although the Government's freshwater goals were "ambitious...we believe it's achievable".

"Many in the food and fibres sector are already well on their way and operate at best practice, and most I have met take great pride in taking care of their land, water and animals. We have work to do, but let's keep talking."

Ardern's speech also acknowledged the worker shortage seen in some primary industries. However, there were no indications that the Government was looking to move to let in more foreign workers to fill these gaps.

"Some industries that rely heavily on seasonal labour, such as the horticulture industry, have struggled due to border closures," Ardern said. 

"However, many parts of the industry have taken innovative steps to encourage more New Zealanders into their sectors. This has been a lifeline for many redeployed workers from industries such as tourism and hospitality."

Ardern also said she was "humbled" by the "very strong mandate" Labour had received in the recent general election, adding that she had made it very clear to all her party's MPs that the primary sector was a "key partner and stakeholder for this Government".