Katie Milne: New policies need warning and robust discussion

By Katie Milne

Katie Milne says Federated Farmers' role is to make sure lawmakers understand how any legislation they may be working on will impact the primary sector.
Katie Milne says Federated Farmers' role is to make sure lawmakers understand how any legislation they may be working on will impact the primary sector.

Federated Farmers' key role is to make sure legislation affecting the business of farming is properly thought through and developed, and based on solid evidence, sound analysis and "running a rural lens" over it.

A couple of our biggest successes over the past year were around issues that never even made it into the public sphere, because they were being discussed with us long before the politicians or the government agencies took them further to the public. That's part of what being a lobbying organisation means.

Farmers - just like any other business operators – need certainty from government, not surprise announcements and policy made on the hoof. We have all heard it - fast policy can be bad policy. Without that certainty, they're reluctant to make long-term investments.

That's why the Government's recent announcement there would be no mining on DoC land caused rumbles of concern. It doesn't particularly matter whether you agree or not with mining in the conservation estate – it was the surprise factor that was resented.

There had been no signal during the election campaign such a policy was coming.

Federated Farmers has pledged to work with the new coalition in good faith, but we'll take a dim view of radical policy sprung on the sector without warning and robust discussion.

We've worked extensively in the last year with central government ministers, officials and agencies on the development of regulations around animal welfare, gun ownership, water and irrigation management, Resource Management Act reform, stock exclusion and tax calculation. Thinking on animal sentience and what it means has also just begun.

In long-running discussions with WorkSafe we finally were able to achieve a sensible outcome for the carriage of passengers on quad bikes when they're being used on farm.

We helped gain cross-party support for an amendment to telecommunications legislation that enabled installation of fibre optic cable along overhead powerlines crossing farmland, with a connection discount for the affected landowner.

That was a practical solution that will not only help extend broadband connectivity further into rural areas but will save farmers money.

If you want some evidence of our influence during the election campaign, we – and others - did a lot to highlight the pressures facing rural communities, influencing the National Government to make funding commitments for things like extra funding for tourism infrastructure to address pressures caused by tourists, including freedom camping, and the need for additional resources for biosecurity.

The National Government accepted our arguments it was illogical and unfair to put agricultural livestock emissions under the Emissions Trading Scheme when there were very limited mitigation measures farmers could take, and that our trading partners were not subject to the same imposition.

We couldn't dissuade Labour from this course but – with NZ First also pushing them – they have now wound back their initial 10 per cent ETS impost to 5 per cent.

We don't expect our approach to change much at all under a Labour-led government.

We'll engage with them in a constructive way to get the best positive outcome we can for farming families.

We know there will be changes and we'll work through those.

The journalists who sparked all this thinking about our influence asked me if Federated Farmers expected to be heard with any sympathy by a coalition that includes Labour and the Greens.

I replied that we don't ever expect to be heard "sympathetically" regardless of the government, council or court we are speaking to.

All we do is make sure the impact of any regulation, law, policy, plan, rule, bylaw - or whatever else they might be called - is fully understood by the people making them, that they understand how they will affect the primary sector, and the $40 billion in value the industry is tipped to bring into the country next year.

And we'll give praise where it's due. Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters and "Team New Zealand" did well in Vietnam and the Apec talks, helping to move TPP – or rather CPTTP – forward.

Pretty much any moves to reduce trade barriers with the significant trading partners involved in those negotiations will be applauded by New Zealand's primary producers.

Katie Milne is the President of Federated Farmers. This is an edited version of her speech to the organisation's National Council in Wellington this week. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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