Don't just attack farmers, say Feds after Labour reveals water charge policy
Federated Farmers says Labour's water policy puts thriving communities at risk and may jeopardise exports.
On Wednesday, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announced farmers taking water for irrigation schemes would have to pay a royalty.
The Feds water spokesman, Chris Allen, asked what problem Labour was trying to fix, since farmers used water efficiently with precision irrigators.
"They need to be consistent, and not just attack farmers. We are terrified that what happened in Australia will happen here. In the Murray-Darling catchments, the government clawed back all the water and jeopardised thriving communities.
"There's only so much money in our businesses, so we will have to go to a higher value sector like dairying. It will also make exports more expensive," Allen said.
Ardern said the money raised from the royalties would largely be returned to regional councils and would be used to clean up New Zealand's waterways.
"Clean water is the birthright of all of us. I want future generations to be able to swim in the local river, just like I did. All our children deserve to inherit swimmable lakes and rivers - and they can, if we commit ourselves as a country to cleaning up our water," Ardern said.
"We can do this. We can restore our rivers and lakes to a truly swimmable standard. If we choose it, and if we all work together. It will mean using our water more carefully, and being smarter about how we manage our pollution."
Ardern said Labour's Ready for Work programme would be used to employ young people off the dole and put them to work improving the environment - fencing waterways and riparian planting would be some of the jobs on offer.
To help set the royalty Ardern promised to hold a roundtable discussion on water at Parliament in her first 100 days in office.
"I will not set a rate until I have met with those who will be affected, this is an issue that we must tackle together."
Allen said the 10 cents a litre royalty figure some had bandied around would bankrupt farmers and cripple our export competitiveness and regional economies. Even one thousandth of that figure, if that's a level Labour has in mind, would be "eye-watering" given the volume of consumptive water use.
"With any royalty, farmers and growers would have little choice but to pass on the extra cost, if they could, meaning New Zealand consumers would pay more for food, and our products would be at a disadvantage against imports."
Horticulture New Zealand commented, "let's not do this".
"Extra costs on growers of fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables will make healthy food more expensive," Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said.
"This seems incongruous with policies around alleviating poverty and the benefits of healthy eating to reduce the economic burden of secondary health issues as a result of obesity."
Irrigation NZ chief executive Andrew Curtis said the policy was not a surprise, but he was "intrigued" it excluded hydro power generators. The Manapouri power scheme is the largest single water extractor in the country.
He had also been contacted by a builder who said that as large commercial users of water, the construction industry would be affected.
Curtis said farmers already paid for water. Irrigation New Zealand calculates the average cost of water supplied by irrigation schemes every two years, and in 2016 the average cost was $780 per hectare per year, or 14 cents for every cubic metre.
The figure included the cost of water permits and resource consents, increased rates - as irrigated land is of higher value - plus the infrastructure required to take, supply and use water.
For example, rates for a 100 hectare irrigated sheep and beef property cost between 5 and 10 times more than the equivalent dryland property.
Allen said Labour's policy would be a disincentive to farmers to spend on infrastructure, which would have an adverse impact on communities. He himself had spent about $2 million on 6 kilometres of piping on his farm.
Labour's policy comes after Prime Minister Bill English announced on Tuesday that $44 million from the Freshwater Improvement Fund would go towards various clean-up projects across the country.
More than 100 rivers and lakes had been targeted in the first round of publicly funded freshwater projects for polluted waterways.
Among them are a large dam, as well as funding for new wetlands, native plantings and fencing.
English said that Labour was being "naive" about the "expectations" Maori had around charging for water and the impact the policy would have.
"That will be one of the critical issues and Labour show no understanding of the intense focus that Maori have on this issue. It's been one of the reasons we've spent a number of years on it."
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle noted the proposed Ready to Work programme, saying the young people targeted wouldn't have a lot to do on New Zealand dairy farms.
"Labour want to employ young people to fence off waterways and plant alongside rivers and streams. They may not know this, but dairy farmers already have this work well underway.
"Dairy farmers are already voluntarily fencing waterways – amounting to almost 27,000km of fencing along 97 per cent of waterways."
*Audio courtesy of Radio NZ