Water policy will hurt us all

A strong New Zealand economy relies on a healthy primary sector. If the farmers and growers who produce our food and related primary products are doing well, that positively impacts the whole economy. That includes those in the road freight business of moving those goods around New Zealand and to ports and airports for export, as well as all the goods down the track made from all those primary products.

Conversely, if farmers are feeling pain, that ripples far beyond the farm gate and will hurt us all – prices go up and jobs get scarce.

This Government’s ideologically driven environmental policies are costing and hurting farmers and growers who are not solely responsible for all New Zealand’s environmental ills. So last week, the Road Transport Forum joined about 17,500 others and submitted on the Action for healthy waterways – A discussion document on national direction for our essential freshwater.

Unlike the Government, we have been listening to farmers and growers, who are the customers of transport operators. And transport operators are concerned that if business dries up in rural and provincial communities, we are all going to be in trouble. This is why business and farmer confidence is so low – no business owner likes uncertainty and New Zealand’s competitors in export markets are clapping their hands as they watch our businesses get priced off the global market with expensive rules that don’t apply anywhere else.

This is not to say we are against changes to improve our environment. And while we are not experts in water, we very generally support the Government’s intent to improve water quality on the grounds of benefits to all New Zealanders.

However, we have an issue with the process this water reform is taking, the rapid timeframe, and the lack of robust economic analysis that has been applied to a policy direction that will have long-standing and detrimental impacts on our whole economy. It is on that basis we have submitted.

We contend that the Government has not considered how its proposals will affect whole communities and we believe that the trade-offs that will be needed will have to be well understood by all New Zealanders before proposed changes in land use practices are implemented.

We believe the Government has taken a very narrow focus and has not applied its own economic measure of the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework, to fully explore the four capitals – natural, social, human, and financial and physical – collectively to this policy.

There’s a lot of environmental science, and a lot of talk of returning New Zealand waterways to a state that existed when there were hardly any people here, but not a lot of consideration of how the way of life for all New Zealanders will change when our food producers take such a massive hit – to the point they are saying they will no longer be able to produce food and they won’t be able to sell their land, losing all their equity.

In the documentation supporting this policy is it concerning to see this objective in the Draft National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management:

The objective of this National Policy Statement is to ensure that resources are managed in a way that prioritises:

first, the health and wellbeing of waterbodies and freshwater ecosystems; and

second, the essential health needs of people; and

third, the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural wellbeing, now and in the future.

This can only be interpreted as suggesting that the essential health needs of people are secondary to the health and wellbeing of waterbodies and freshwater ecosystems, and that the wellbeing of communities is a distant third.

If this is the Government’s view, in order of priority, we suggest it is likely that the economic activity that keeps New Zealand operating will be seriously compromised, with untenable flow-on impacts in terms of employment, productivity, and community health and wellbeing across the rural, provincial and urban communities. This is pure “planet over people” ideology.

Regarding the process, we are not confident all 17,500-odd submissions will be read and considered. There is now no opportunity to have any further input. A small group selected by the Government will summarise the submissions and then it is straight to Cabinet for decision making.

We would like to see more breadth in the process that gives consideration to the social, human and financial impacts beyond the farm gate, region-by-region, with an over-arching analysis of economic impact to New Zealand as a whole.

A report released yesterday (Thursday 7 November) further illustrates our concerns about an ideological approach. Environment Commissioner Simon Upton said in his report, ‘huge’ gaps in data and knowledge leave an unclear picture of the state of our environment and whether it’s getting better or worse. He said this could be costing us in the form of poorly designed policies or irreversible damage.

“Further, the costs are not just environmental – they have real consequences for the economy, society and our wellbeing,” Upton says.

“We can’t make economically efficient or socially fair environmental rules if we can’t measure authoritatively what’s happening to the physical resource base on which our wellbeing ultimately depends.”

You can find our submission here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Strong economy good for wellbeing

It would be a heartless person who didn’t commend the Government for the commitment it showed to New Zealand’s most disadvantaged people in announcing its Wellbeing Budget yesterday.

It would be good to get to the bottom of why this country needs to spend so much on mental health care and why many of our young people don’t seem to have much hope. When you look at the Scandinavian countries that always score so highly on global “happiness” surveys, it seems that at least one factor contributing to a nation’s wellbeing is a strong economy that offers hope of a good, balanced lifestyle. Yesterday’s budget was not one that will transform our economy.

As a trading nation that is moving goods around 24 hours a day, seven days a week, road transport is the lifeblood of our economy. Currently trucks transport around 90 percent of New Zealand’s total freight by weight, with seven percent going by rail and the rest by air and coastal shipping. Your food, clothes, furniture, cars, whiteware and appliances, office products, technology, and pretty much everything else, has travelled via truck at some point to get to you.

So, it is concerning to see so much money being pumped into rail – $1.41 billion allocated to KiwiRail over the next two years in yesterday’s budget – without an equivalent investment in roads. And it was disappointing to hear Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her Budget speech at Parliament yesterday shout, “If you want to talk about safety on our roads, get freight off it and get it on to rail.” Incidentally, we would like to see the evidence behind this call. Also, how will the big investment in rail take freight off trucks specifically? The truth is that there is a lot of money going into rail that will probably not shift the freight task in any measurable direction away from roading.

This push to revive a rail freight network that has essentially failed in the past and as a consequence, has become run-down, at the expense of the already functioning road freight network, doesn’t feel visionary. If ever, it will be a long time before there is any evidence of more freight being moved by rail and fewer heavy trucks on the road. In the meantime, road conditions will worsen without investment and that will impact road safety and the economy. It all feels fine when we have a strong economy, but we require the Government to be investing now in modes that will carry and build our nation when things slow.

With the budget also pouring more money into forestry, it seems extraordinary that the Government hasn’t considered what happens to all those trees when they are harvested. They go off shore, to boost our export earnings, and they get from the forest via logging trucks – heavy vehicles that need good roads.

Anyone who spent budget night in Wellington’s wild weather trying to get home to the suburbs out of the city, by car and public transport – a two-hour journey for many that would normally be 20-40 minutes – will be aware of how lacking in resilience our infrastructure is. They might have spent some of that time grid-locked on both State Highway 1 and 2 contemplating the value of maybe some budget dollars going to securing our economy and productivity with good, resilient infrastructure.

As politicians were in the Beehive clinking their glasses of pinot noir and congratulating themselves on their citizens’ wellbeing, on the dark, wet, windy streets beyond their windows it felt like the economy was slowing even more and its vitality – our extensive roading network that needs to be resilient in a country plagued by natural disasters – was being ignored. The budget didn’t feel very strategic, or like there was big-picture future planning; more like doling out money to the pet projects of coalition partners.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum