Opinion: Groundswell NZ supports environmental focus but too much time and money being spent on unworkable rules

  • 27/04/2022
New Zealanders want both a clean environment and a strong rural sector. says Groundswell NZ.
New Zealanders want both a clean environment and a strong rural sector. says Groundswell NZ. Photo credit: Getty Images

At Groundswell NZ, we are not believers in the much proclaimed rural, urban divide. Wehave been greatly heartened by the overwhelming support we have received from both farmers and city folk alike.

Where we do see a divide forming, however, is between those that support a top down, heavy handed, government-led approach to regulation, and those that feel communities should have more say in developing their own solutions.

Groundswell NZ stands firmly in support of the latter, which is why we have developed a new integrated approach to agricultural regulations. This integrated approach will empower rural communities to establish key environmental priorities and then tailor solutions towards achieving positive results.

Too much time and money are being wasted by this government on making endless unworkable rules and regulations which deliver worse outcomes for both our environment and our country. What is required are real actions on the ground, and for that you need common-sense practical policy that brings farmers on board.

New Zealanders want both a clean environment and a strong rural sector. Groundswell NZ believes these are not mutually exclusive.

Unfortunately, there remains a segment of society that seems fundamentally opposed to the existence of modern agriculture. This view was highlighted most recently in an article by Mike Joy and others, titled “Groundswell protesters claimed regulation, taxes are unfair – the economic numbers tell a different story”.

Attempting to belittle the economic importance of agriculture in a country like New Zealand defies logic. Food and fibre exports are tipped to exceed $50 billion this year - that is 64 per cent of all exports from these fair shores.

Without our primary sector underpinning our economy and providing foreign revenue, we would not be able to sustain our level of imports. Gone will be the new cars, iPhones and latest fashion items we all take for granted. To be blunt, our economy would collapse.

We also take issue with the idea we are subsidised. In fact, we are one of the few  major agricultural industries in the world that are not subsidised by their government. Mike Joy is right to claim agriculture still has work to do, which is particularly true with a small number of degraded waterways.

However, claiming as a subsidy the expense required to remediate any environmental footprint humanity has on the land betrays the meaning of subsidy. How many billions would it cost to make every urban waterway drinkable and why doesn’t this meet Dr Joy’s definition of a subsidy?

These ongoing efforts to divide - setting one segment of our population against the other - will not help fix anything. Every business in New Zealand contributes something to our collective wellbeing and economy. The us and them mentality does us all a disservice.

Mike Joy and others misrepresent the position of Groundswell NZ and, in doing so, continue to advance policies and taxes that are proving to have massive detrimental impacts, not only on farmers, but also on the environment, our landscapes, and our country. Mass planting of pines on productive food-producing farmland is one example. Another is recent research from Otago University showing the new freshwater rules could ultimately hurt and not help our environment. The controversial Significant Natural Areas policy has already proven to be counterproductive by making a liability of indigenous biodiversity for farmers, rather than an asset, and penalizing the most environmentally progressive farmers.

Similarly, taxing New Zealand farmers on emissions will cause emissions leakage (an increase in global emissions) and millions of dollars taken out of environmental spend budgets. The environment will be worse off. It is ludicrous to hobble the world’s most emissions-efficient food producers, while elsewhere around the world, farmers continue to clear millions of hectares of indigenous forest and suffer little to no emissions taxes or regulations.

Groundswell NZ supports addressing environmental issues and our members are at the forefront of environmental action on farms. Our principal concern is unworkable regulations and policies that are developed in Government silos and fail to deliver credible environmental outcomes. We would have thought that would be something that Mike  Joy, his counterparts, and all New Zealanders would share a concern about. 

Steven Cranston is a spokesperson for Groundswell NZ