Labour plans greater primary sector leadership role

GERALD PIDDOCK
Last updated 06:00 18/06/2014
Labour's primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ
SHARED VISION: Labour's primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor says more leadership is needed across the agricultural sector.

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Labour will establish an advisory group to make recommendations directly to ministers as it seeks to play a greater leadership role in the primary sector if it is able to form a government in the next election.

This group would not be another layer of bureaucracy, Labour's primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor said at Fieldays.

"This will be a group of people that advise government directly. It will be people that share a vision of New Zealand being a leading agricultural nation."

The industry needed a shared vision of where it would be in 20 years time, not where it would be in 2015.

"In my view there's insufficient leadership across the sector."

There were numerous leaders representing different farming sectors, doing it well.

"But as a nation dependent on primary industries, we need a clear strategy."

That strategy was needed around issues including dairying on lighter soils, water quality, marketing coordination, brand building and food safety.

The group would be modelled in a similar vein to Sir Peter Gluckman's role as science adviser to government.

"In my view we need that kind of advisory role for the primary industry sector."

Once that group is formed and started delivering advice, the government would then use use it to establish where the gaps were in the sector.

O'Connor was at Fieldays on Friday, talking to farmers and visiting stands.

He said there were a huge number of stands related to farm technology and IT that were not there 15 years ago.

"Those are opportunities for manufacturing and for value added, but it all depends on farmers being able to get a decent return on their investment."

The Labour Party had yet to announce its policies for the primary industry and there were still details to be fine tuned. They had maintained many that they had campaigned in the last election, including resource rentals for water users.

O'Connor said all money raised through these rentals would go back into funding irrigation schemes.

There would be money to assist with irrigation projects and it would come from these rentals, which was a re- investment of the industry back into itself, he said.

"New schemes should be looked at and assessed on their merits, environmental sustainability and economic sustainability, and if they stack up economically, then the Labour government will support them."

They are also still committed to bringing all of the agricultural sector including sheep and beef farming into the Emissions Trading Scheme in a staged process to allow farmers to adjust to the resulting added cost.

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"You cannot just impose a huge cost across the sector, although there is still a huge amount of work to be done on what the actual effects will be across the board."

He said there were a lot of details in the policy, including costings, still to be ironed out. It was important that the sector remained focused on bigger issues rather than become distracted by "highly political" issues such as the ETS.

"There are real issues such as the level of debt across agriculture, the costs of that debt servicing, the cost of land and we have to make sure we have a viable primary sector, not one that is screwed down by any particular component."

O'Connor planned to bring back the rural affairs portfolio, which was disestablished by the National Government. He would re-implement a rural proofing policy that he said had never been followed through by the current government.

This policy ensured that any policy established by the government had to have a rural ruler run over it.

"That is to check that it can be implemented in rural communities. The MPI have acknowledged that it is in place, but we don't see it as being fully utilised."

The recent KPMG report said that industry leaders were concerned about the prospect of a change of government, but O'Connor said they had nothing to fear.

"If those leaders were to look back at history, they would see that under Labour governments, primary sectors have done very well, have been guided by better legislation and by decisions that have been in the best long-term interests of agriculture."

He said he was disappointed but not surprised that this issue was raised by KPMG.

"But it reflects on some of the leadership that we have seen across some of the sectors over the last few years. It is partisan, it is not open and it hasn't been visionary."

It was "too little, too late", for outgoing Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills to suggest a reduction of dairying on lighter soiled land.

Many people had been talking about that for some time.

He would also play a greater role in meat industry restructuring.

"It's absolutely needed. We have a sector that with venison, beef, lamb, goat meat, has huge opportunities in the international marketplace but because of the structure of the industry, they fail to build and capitalise on those opportunities."

O'Connor believed it was the responsibility of the minister to lead the industry into a better place. That meant developing an agreed strategy and driving the coordination, he said.

"A minister can't sit in the back seat of an industry that's headed nowhere."

The directors of the country's two meat cooperatives were responsible firstly to their respective companies.

That is why the minister had to intervene when necessary to allow them to better collaborate and coordinate, he said.

Labour had no amendments planned for the legislation used to create Fonterra and Trading Among Farmers.

"I think the company has the tiger by the tail and it's yet to work through its milk price manual and its setting process."

There was a review on how Fonterra sets its milk price due to take place and Labour would be watching closely.

"My interests are the long term interests of New Zealand farmers, not the investors in the units of Fonterra."

- Waikato Times

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