Wednesday, 02 September 2020 08:48

The putting right that counts — Editorial

Written by  Peter Burke

OPINION: It could be argued that consultation was a meaningless exercise when the Government asked for submissions last year on its major water reforms.

Farmers perhaps naively believed they would be listened to, as they and their industry-good organisations put forward positive and well thought out scientifically-based proposals. There was no outright opposition from them to the concept that water quality needed to be improved.

But it was clear the government proposals were based on hard-line doctrinaire and prescriptive rules that bore no relationship to what is possible on farm. Even worse, they made no allowance for diverse climatic conditions in the country. Do policy wonks and government ministers seriously believe that farming systems are the same in the far north and the far south? If they do, they need to see their doctor and get some more appropriate drugs because such an attitude is delusional at best, and stupid in the extreme.

Why did government ignore the measured approach of say DairyNZ to put the onus on farmers to solve the winter grazing issues through environmental farm plans and set outcomes – not the prescriptive drivel in the legislation? Interestingly, Ireland, which has similar issues to NZ in terms of water quality, has gone the outcomes way, working with farmers to clean up waterways, and it is working. Has David Parker and his coterie of evangelical environmentalists been to Ireland or talked to NZ scientists who are collaborating with the Irish on such matters?

One can forgive the primary sector for bitterly complaining that they are unwanted and perhaps even hated by the Government – and certainly not trusted. The present row in Southland was easily avoidable if the diehard policy wonks and unbending government greens had one atom of common sense. This silly notion that farmers are serial polluters needs to be dispelled and ‘gone by lunchtime’. Farmers do way more for the environment and spend more to enhance it than the average townie, yet certain politicians and their advisors seem perpetually blind to the realities that happen 10km outside of Wellington. 

A recent survey by DairyNZ showed that 62% of dairy farmers or their staff were affected by mental health issues in the past year and that one of the major stress factors was new regulations. 

The situation in Southland is unnecessary and the government should be big enough to admit it’s wrong and do the right thing and accept the common-sense advice of farmers. After all, isn’t it ‘the putting right that counts’.

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Restoring our freshwater systems

OPINION: When I started writing this piece, I was sitting in my Kaiapoi office on a sweltering 30-degree summer’s day, and I could hear faint “plops” as youngsters pulled “phat manus” and “bombs” off the bridge into the Kaiapoi River as generations before them have done.

Do they know that the river is deemed “unsuitable” for swimming with E. coli levels of up to 2,420 per 100ml? This information is available on LAWA’s website, Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) - Can I swim here? It makes for sobering reading. With levels this high, we should supply these youngsters with full PPE gear to wear over their shorts. The saddest fact is that this story is repeating itself from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

We are witnessing the systemic collapse of New Zealand’s freshwater systems as our environment can no longer handle the extreme pressure we have placed on it through decades of urban and rural intensification. We have taken too much from our environment and we must start giving back.

Change is coming with a renewed focus on healthy waterways through the National Policy for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), which the Government announced in August 2020, as well as Plan Change 7 to the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan (PC7), which progressed through submissions and a hearing in front of independent hearing commissioners last year.

I attended the PC7 hearing in December and it boosted my spirits to observe the passion our community has for improving Waimakariri’s waterways. I hope the changes that come out of PC7 will be bold and far reaching.

The concept of Te Mana o te Wai underpins the NPS-FM and places the highest value on the health of freshwater systems. This philosophy is the new basis for how we, as a society, interact with our environment. The NPS-FM creates a framework for change, but we must also change how we think as council bodies, as communities, as businesses, and as individuals about how our systems/practices must shift from productive growth mode to sustainability mode, and how we can live within an acceptable environmental footprint. On an individual level, we need to realise how, over the long term, that wet paddock or riverbed block would benefit the planet if it were left to revert to a wetland or a more natural state.

This year the Waimakariri Water Zone Committee will focus on priority areas and working with the community to improve our waterways.

We will support change through three newlyformed catchment groups – the Sefton Saltwater Creek Catchment Group, the Landcare Working Group, and the Biodiversity Group.

We are ahead of the curve in Waimakariri in terms of engaging with farmers, waterway conservation groups and the wider community, but we still have a long journey ahead to restore our rivers and streams.

We must work together in a united way to leave our land and water for future generations to inherit in a better state than when we found it.

Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua - As man disappears from sight, the land remains.

Michael Blackwellis is chair of Waimakariri Water Zone Committee.

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