Farmers would pay to irrigate under Labour's freshwater policy video

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern is yet to set the royalty rate for commerical water users as part of a new freshwater policy.
CHRIS SKELTON/STUFF

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern is yet to set the royalty rate for commerical water users as part of a new freshwater policy.

Water bottling companies and farmers operating irrigation schemes will pay royalties under Labour's new freshwater policy announced in Auckland on Wednesday.

Newly-minted Labour leader Jacinda Ardern set out the plan that would "differentiate" water use based on the source, quantity, whether it's being "used for export off-shore versus whether or not it's being used in a domestic commercial sense".

But National has hit back at a lack of detail about how much royalty charges would be and who would get the money, saying Labour likely already knew, it just didn't want to reveal the full extent of its plans before the election. 

At a press conference, Ardern said she would "liken it to the difference between a royalty on gold and gravel".

The policy would be flexible around drought or very wet areas but a rate won't be set until Ardern has an opportunity to consult on the issue, if in government after September 23.

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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 birth-right 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.

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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."

"Labour believes when water is exported for profit, private companies should also pay a royalty.

"Labour will work with iwi to resolve Treaty water claims in a manner that respects iwis' mana, and restores the mauri of our rivers and lakes," Ardern said.

Her message to farmers who might be concerned about the ramifications of the policy is that she comes from a "farming family" - "they are top of my mind but so is making sure we have a royalty on water bottling".

"I reject any suggestions we have to trade-off environmental concern against the economy.

"In fact our economy will benefit when we improve our environment," she said.

National campaign manager and Finance Minister Steven Joyce said Labour's policy was likely fully formed, they just did not want to reveal the full extent of their intentions before the election. 

"I think the code-name for the summit should be 'we're too afraid to tell people what we're actually going to do, so we'll just pretend we're not going to decide before the election."

Labour had held the policy, largely untouched, since before the 2014 election. 

"Weirdly, they haven't had time to develop that any further since then. Which leads me to believe that actually they just don't want tell anybody what they want to do." 

Joyce said the farmers, and horticulturalists and winemakers would "like to know this side of the election, how much Labour plans to sting them for water in their regions". 

"These guys have not given anyone enough information; they basically won't tell them who gets to charge, how much they get to charge and who gets the money, all those sorts of things." 

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 on Wednesday that Labour were being "naive" about the "expectations" Maori have around charging for water and the impact their 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."

He said everyone agreed the country needed a better allocation system but the government is yet to work out the best way to price it.

"Everyone thinks we should move on from first come first served, but it's a pretty challenging issue. It's not as simple as saying we'll put on a new tax and we'll let you know in a few months what it is," he said.

The Government announced in February a plan to make all rivers swimmable by 2040.

At the time Environment Minister Nick Smith denied the definition of swimmable had been loosened to make it easier for the target to be reached.

Ardern dismissed Smith's comments on Tuesday that a levy on water would cost the economy $600 billion.

"What Nick Smith has said is absolutely ludicrous. It's scaremongering and unfair."

She said Smith's comments would "petrify" farmers but they simply weren't true.

"New Zealander's have spoken loud and clearly on this issue and we've shown leadership on it," she said.

The Green Party has thrown its support behind Labour's policy and its commitment to "take action for clean water".

"Our parties share a great deal of common ground on cleaning up our rivers and ensuring clean drinking water for all New Zealanders, and we're excited to work on these issues together in Government," said Green Party water spokesperson Catherine Delahunty.

"Labour's announcement supports the decades long efforts by the Green Party to force real action on the pollution of our waterways and drinking water that is making us sick.

 - Stuff

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