National farming policy: Resume live animal exports, cut red tape, scrap migrant worker median wage

National farming policy: Resume live animal exports, cut red tape, scrap migrant worker median wage

National leader Christopher Luxon has released the party’s policy for the farming sector, taking aim at what it calls “red tape” around an increase in regulations such as for water quality and emissions, while also proposing to restart live exports of cattle with strict animal welfare rules around it.

The Government has hit back, with Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor saying National’s policy “lacks leadership” on environmental issues and animal welfare, while also calling plans to ban foreign investment in carbon farming “redundant” as the rules had last year already been tightened.

National’s proposals would also scrap the current median wage requirements to bring in migrant workers, but give those workers a path to residency.

Luxon released the full policy in Whitford this morning, saying farmers had had enough of often unworkable and ill-defined rules from the Labour Government.


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It would give migrants brought into the rural sector under the Accredited Employers scheme a path to residency – and scrap the requirement to pay those workers the median wage of $30 an hour, saying the industry average, which took into account skills and experience, was preferred.

It will also double the allocation under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme (RSE) to 38,000 over the next five years.

On the red tape front, it proposes requiring both local and central government to scrap two existing regulations if they intend to introduce a new one – and setting up a review body to advise on regulations.

It would also resume live exports of cattle, saying it could be done well with “gold standard rules set in regulation to protect animal welfare and safety”.


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“National will require purpose-built ships and introduce a certification regime for the importers of destination countries to ensure animals live in conditions at the same standards required in New Zealand,” Luxon said.

Luxon said Labour had introduced or changed more than 20 laws and regulations for farmers, adding extra costs, often without any environmental gain.

“I want world-class regulation for our world-class farmers. Regulation has a role to play, but rules should avoid prescription, target outcomes, minimise compliance, and be clear to provide certainty.”

Its policy proposes banning foreign investors from buying farms to turn into carbon farming, saying that in 2021, foreign investors bought 20,000 hectares of farms to convert to forestry for carbon farming.

Its ban would include foreign investment in existing farms which will be converted to forestry to earn ETS carbon credits.

And it will overhaul rules on stock exclusion and defer the new winter grazing rules, tighten the definition of Significant Natural Areas to make the rules clearer, and change the National Policy Statement for highly productive land to allow a broader range of activities such as on-farm storage ponds and sheds and off-farm dairy factories and vegetable processing.

The policy did not cover emissions pricing – that would come later.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the plan was “uninspiring” and “lacks leadership”.

“Most of the regulations that have been brought in were because [the previous National Government] was not prepared to step up and take leadership.

“With water quality, intensive winter grazing rules, banning exports of livestock, emissions, it is all to uphold and enhance New Zealand’s international reputation to produce the world’s best animal protein. This will take us backwards.”


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On National’s carbon farming plans, O’Connor said it was “redundant” as the rules had already been tightened.

“We had concerns about the sell-off of farms and made adjustments. It is now very difficult for a foreigner to buy a farm for productive purposes and it is not possible to buy .”

According to Land Information New Zealand, 31 applications were approved last year, covering more than 26,000 hectares – a dramatic increase in recent years.

The Government changed the rules for overseas investments in forestry last year, with a stricter “benefit to New Zealand test” meaning benefits must be “significantly higher than the current state”.

While they can earn carbon credits, investments are also measured against factors such as how it benefits the economy and natural environment, plus gives decision-makers discretion to consider factors including the land’s environmental features and how productive it is.

O’Connor said most investments made in farm conversions were by New Zealanders.


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“Their plan won’t make any difference.”

Lobby group 50 Shades of Green spokesman Andy Scott said National’s approach differed from the Government’s in that it effectively banned any foreign investment in forestry – even if they said it would be productive.

But he said he didn’t think National’s policy would have much of an impact as most conversions were made by New Zealanders.

National’s agriculture spokesman Todd McClay said National was banning foreign investment in farm conversions to carbon farming in all forms, both production and permanent forestry.

“It is a blanket ban which avoids the risk of foreign buyers saying it’s a production forest, only to never harvest and simply collect ETS credits.”

National said it supported some form of emissions trading, but not at the level proposed by the Government, saying that risked closing down too many sheep and beef farms.


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National’s environment spokesman Scott Simpson said National was committed to climate change goals, but New Zealand farmers were already among the most carbon-efficient in the world.

“Shutting down some of the world’s most carbon-efficient farmers only sends production to less-efficient farms overseas and could raise global emissions.

“We can protect the environment and allow farmers to get on with business by reining in the bureaucracy and using clear, well-targeted rules instead.”

National has also stuck to its policy to keep agriculture out of the emissions trading scheme, saying a split gas approach was preferred for agricultural emissions.

Other policies still to come include research and development, water (including nutrient caps and storage) and a wider primary industries policy.

The policies have been welcomed by the farming lobby group Groundswell, which said the current Government needed to review all existing regulations.


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Act Party primary industries spokesman Mark Cameron said the proposals were a good start but needed to go further. Act would remove the cap on RSE workers and immediately scrap regulations around intensive winter grazing and protecting significant natural areas, and remove agriculture from current emissions reduction requirements and instead peg them to major trading partners.

Green Party immigration spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March said doubling the RSE scheme without committing to improving conditions for workers, while also removing median wage requirements for other temporary migrant workers, was “trying to prop up the agriculture industry through exploitation”.

Menéndez March said the Government should explore pathways to residency for RSE workers, something Australia has brought in and some Pacific island nations have been calling for.

For more political news and views, listen to On the Tiles, the Herald’s politics podcast

National farming policy: Resume live animal exports, cut red tape, scrap migrant worker median wage

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