Explainer: Thousands of frustrated rural residents are protesting on Friday against a growing list of Government regulations and policies. Reporter Georgia Forrester looks at what these policies are, and why farmers say they have had enough.
Farmers, tradies, business people and families will be among the throngs of people tooting their ute horns and driving tractors in unified protest on Friday.
The “Howl of a Protest” event has been organised by a volunteer group of farmers and rural advocates called Groundswell NZ.
At the core of the protest are seven demands relating to specific Government policies and regulations that farmers either want scrapped or re-written. Here’s a look at what these policies are, why the Government is implementing them, and why farmers are against them:
* ‘Enough is enough’: Canterbury’s rural mayors lend support to rural protest
* Farmer frustration is boiling over after a ‘winter of discontent’ Federated Farmers president says
* Tractors, utes and dogs expected in Blenheim’s CBD for protest
* Farmers group plans more protest action as it expands into Canterbury and West Coast
What is the freshwater policy?
New rules to protect and restore New Zealand’s fresh water came into effect in September 2020. Through these rules the Government aims to improve the quality of the country’s lakes, rivers and streams within a generation.
The rules include a National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, National Environmental Standards for Freshwater, stock exclusion regulations, and updates to the regulations which cover the measurement and reporting of water takes.
Groundswell NZ’s position statement says that they want the Government’s policy on freshwater to be scrapped. They believe the setting and attaining of freshwater guidelines should fall under catchment groups, in association with regional councils.
What’s the problem with the ‘ute tax’?
The scheme aims to make lower-carbon-emitting cars more affordable with a subsidy available for those buying cleaner cars – such as electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and even low polluting ordinary internal-combustion vehicles.
While the protest movement initially began with the freshwater policy, it’s this “ute tax” that became the final straw for farmers facing increasing environmental and regulatory pressures.
The issue farmers have with the scheme is that there is currently no electric alternative available for utes in New Zealand.
“If there is no alternative, the policy is clearly unworkable and merely another financial burden,” Groundswell NZ says.
The battle for overseas workers
The Government has made some border exceptions in this area. In June, it said an additional 200 dairy workers and 50 vets would be allowed to enter the country. However, these numbers did not appear to be enough to fill the gap, with Federated Farmers previously estimating the dairy sector was short between 2000 and 4000 workers.
Groundswell NZ says the rural sector urgently needs contractors, horticulturalists, dairy farmers and fruit-pickers. It wants overseas seasonal rural workers to be given entry as “skilled manual labourers” and prioritised through MIQ to help lift the pressures on farmers and growers.
What’s the Emissions Trading Scheme?
Groundswell NZ’s position statement says: “The unworkable elements of climate-change policy which are crucifying farmers and growers must be withdrawn.”
What are Significant Natural Areas?
Significant natural areas (SNAs) are natural areas that contain indigenous vegetation, fauna or threatened species that are protected as part of ongoing biodiversity efforts.
The Resource Management Act requires that SNAs are protected on both public or private land.
SNAs have become a contentious issue because many indigenous lowland forests and wetlands are on private land, and some land owners see the mapping and identifying of these areas by councils as a “land grab”.
Groundswell NZ wants the regulations to be abandoned or re-written. It would instead like to see funding redirected to “proven systems like the QEII National Trust” – where private land can be voluntarily placed in protection by landowners in partnership with an independent trust.
What’s the issue with indigenous biodiversity?
It is mulling a proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity which would set out criteria for councils to identify and protect Significant Natural Areas on private land. This policy is still in a draft state and not yet in effect.
Groundswell NZ believes the draft policy should be scrapped. It says this policy punishes the landowners who have already been proactive in conservation, turns biodiversity “into a liability” and wastes money on box-ticking assessments.
“Councils should be able to work with and support the many landowner initiatives such as landcare and catchment groups and the QEII National Trust. It is essential to protect landowners’ private property rights,” the position statement document states.
What’s the high country legislation?
Groundswell NZ’s position statement calls this Bill “another big-stick layer of regulation” being applied to high-country farmers, over and above existing council regulations, and says the unnecessary burden “must be lifted”.