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Mixed reaction to RMA proposals

The Coalition Government’s Resource Management [Freshwater and Other Matters] Amendment Bill has received mixed reactions. The bill aims to reduce the regulatory burden on farming, mining, and other primary industries.

The bill, introduced to parliament on May 23, is the second stage in a three-phase reform of the Resource Management Act [RMA] to “slash the tangle of red and green tape throttling some of New Zealand’s key sectors”, Minister for RMA Reform Chris Bishop said.

Proposals include repealing the “contentious” low slope map from stock exclusion regulations, repealing some intensive winter grazing and intensification regulations, and excluding the “hierarchy of obligations” – which prioritises the health of freshwater – from resource consent decision-making processes.

“On some matters, we don’t believe [the bill] goes far enough,” Federated Farmers national board member and resource management spokesperson Mark Hooper said in a statement to the Times-Age.

Hooper estimates the capital cost of compliance with the previous government’s stock exclusion regulations was between $185,000 for a mixed cropping farm and $680,000 for a hill country sheep and beef farm, with annual compliance costs ranging between $35,000 and $80,000.

“These annual costs comprise 5.4 per cent to 30 per cent of these properties’ respective Earnings before Interest, Tax, Rent and Manager’s Salary [EBITRm],” Hooper said.

“We would consider that any annual cost greater than 10 per cent of annual EBITRm is unsustainable.”

Federated Farmers has also welcomed the proposed repeal of some of the intensive winter grazing regulations, Hooper said.

“They would have required over 10,000 farmers around the country to get a resource consent just to feed a winter crop to their stock.”

Farmers have already “significantly stepped up their game on winter feed best practice”, he said.

On the issue of freshwater quality, Hooper said New Zealand is “on the right track” and doesn’t believe the “hierarchy of obligations” would have resulted in better outcomes.

Advocating instead for “tailored, streamlined, and cost-effective farm plans for individual properties”, Hooper argued that “You can’t have a sustainable model of environmental improvement if the economic wellbeing of the landowners and others adjacent to and utilising those waterways falters.”

Wairarapa farmer Jamie Falloon was “frustrated” with “the constant changes” to farming regulations over the past 12 years but acknowledged that regulation introduced under Labour has brought about behavioural change.

“It has made people think about the winter grazing more than they probably were in the past.”

But, like Hooper, he is unconvinced regulation is essential.

“Generally, with farm assurance programmes, you’ve got to have winter grazing plans,” Falloon said.

“That’s a good example of where changes are needed, but we found a reasonably pragmatic, non-regulatory way of implementing the change.

“We’ve all got to follow continuous improvement, and ideally, there’s a farming reason and environmental reason for it.”

Beef and Lamb NZ [B+L NZ] broadly supports the bill, particularly the stock exclusion components, on the basis it “should allow a tailored and catchment-focused solution through the freshwater farm plans”, principal environmental policy advisor Paul Le Miere said.

“A lot of catchment groups have sprung up over the past few years that [B+L] has been helping with,” including through water quality monitoring, workshops, good management practice, and freshwater farm plans, Le Miere said, and money to implement previous freshwater policy can now “be spent on other mitigations that are probably more effective than just blanket stock exclusion everywhere”.

Forest and Bird freshwater advocate Tom Kay is not so optimistic, calling the bill a “regressive policy, cutting back on decade’s worth of advocacy for environmental protection”.

He described it as a backward step from the previous government’s “world-leading” freshwater policy – the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

“We realised that healthy, clean rivers and safe drinking water should be prioritised over private profit,” he said. “And we got that policy, and we were so close to starting to implement it. And now this government has come in and taken that away.”

The bill contributed to what Kay called “a missed opportunity to put up a vision for what landscapes could look like in New Zealand, and farmers can be the heroes in that story”, Kay said.

“There are Wairarapa farmers out there who are pushing hard against this [government’s] environmental policy.”

Submissions on the bill close on June 30; if passed, it will become law by the end of the year.

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