“The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers” is one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines from Henry VI. If the bard were alive today, he’d probably rewrite it as, “the first thing we do, let's kill the bureaucracy”.
I chose to come to New Zealand because it was the bee’s-knees in farming circles. It had the land, the talent and plenty of opportunity to make of a go of things.
Nowadays, opportunity and creativity is being squeezed by a bureaucracy that wants to turn the clock back to a land that never was. We still hope the Land & Water Forum will be the white knight, but with Environment Canterbury (ECan) racing to put out its land and water plan, I fear it could kneecap all of that good work.
The Government has a big choice here. Does it allow regional councils to run amok setting limits under the National Policy Statement on Freshwater, or does it pull their horns in?
Right now, these council rules are putting the cart well before the horse and it will only hinder the Land & Water Forum from delivering. The Forum is the starting point for rules and solutions to balance the environment with the economy. We just need government to reinforce that.
The way ECan’s Land and Water plan is shaping up seems not to balance the values demanded in the RMA. It leaves me asking what happened to the fine values espoused in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.
If we don’t back up ECan’s bus, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how its Land and Water plan could devastate Canterbury’s rural towns. Last year, it was reported about 30 farms were converted to dairying in Mid-Canterbury.
If ECan’s Land and Water plan knocks back conversions, we estimate it will knock back $63 million from Mid-Canterbury’s economy. Some will no doubt dispute this, but we arrived at the amount by eliminating the 9000 hectares involved and the $7000 annual increase in economic activity, each dairying hectare generates.
But that is not all, not by a long chalk.
It takes on average around $1.5 million to convert a farm to dairying with it spent on contractors, builders, plumbers, irrigation companies and even IT firms. If we eliminate those 30 conversions, we lose a further $45 million from the district’s economy. It puts the cost of this tea break on Mid-Canterbury at a jaw-dropping $108 million.
Put another way, it means every man, women and child in the district will need to generate $3483 more each year just to replace what has been lost.
Oh I nearly forgot, the taxman loses out too on tax revenues as high as $75 million. It makes me wonder if cows are the new Golden-Goose.
The policy pendulum seems to be swinging away from us but not so with the public. Despite bad press, ‘farmer’ has been New Zealand’s 14th most trusted profession for two year’s running. The public know we do give a damn.
Where we are losing is a developing paramilitary mentality within some councils. High paying policing roles trump the meagre reward scientists and researchers get for trying to find solutions.
As Dr Doug Edmeades pointed out, even the engineering consultancies are following council money to help set rules against those who pay rates.
Orwell’s 1984 is not my vision of farming in the 21st Century. We simply have too much talent tied up in councils and consultancies wanting control, instead of getting the breakthroughs we want and need. Break up the bureaucracy and release that talent to find agricultural and environmental solutions.
Yet some councils break the mould and Taranaki Regional Council is one of them.
Taranaki recognises there is such a thing as an environmental private-public partnership. Taranaki looks to farmers to deliver and Taranaki’s farmers reciprocate in kind. It is so effective there, Taranaki is now down to just two bad eggs out of 1800 dairy farms.
Given expensive and acrimonious legal battles divide communities, Taranaki shows what cost-effective partnerships can achieve. Nineteen years after it started, Taranaki’s 2400+ riparian plans cover 96 percent of the region’s dairy farms and some 12,000 kilometres of stream banks.
Plan holders have fenced off 7000+ kilometres and planted 4500 kilometres more. Despite dairy intensification, last year’s auditor-general’s report found Taranaki’s water quality was not only steady but in some cases, improved.
Taranaki understands farmer psychology and success is not a paint by numbers exercise. The council has invested in seven Land Management Officers skilled in communication who can relate with farmers.
Most importantly, these officers have the ability to sell solutions instead of problems.
This is why we need to take an axe to the bureaucracy and focus upon solutions. As a Kiwi-Dutchman, I cannot understand why New Zealanders want to become the worst caricature of a rule-obsessed German.
Let’s back the bus away from ECan’s Land and Water plan and its ilk and instead, invest our full energies into getting it right by way of the Land & Water Forum.