Beth Houlbrooke: The rural sector is under attack from Labour

Opinion 15/11/2019
ACT Deputy Leader Beth Houlbrooke Source: Supplied

By Beth Houlbrooke, ACT Deputy Leader.

Judging by the reaction on Magic Drive with Ryan Bridge last Thursday, the Zero Carbon Bill may have been the last straw for many centre-right voters. Callers were rightly angry at a Labour-National-NZ First-Green grand coalition passing flawed legislation that effectively attacks the rural sector.

Only ACT opposed the legislation. This is a recurring theme. On free speech, the rushed firearms law, the Zero Carbon Bill and many other issues, ACT has been the lone opposition to Labour. We have been taking principled stands on the tough issues.

National has been missing in action.

People are saying that David Seymour is doing a better job than 55 National MPs. Imagine if there were more ACT MPs to hold Labour to account.

ACT was out supporting our rural sector yesterday. While David Seymour was at the Canterbury A&P Show, I was in Dargaville addressing hundreds of Northland farmers who were protesting the Zero Carbon Bill.

The message we heard was that Labour doesn’t understand the rural sector, and it is moving too far, too fast with many of its policies. We were told that farmers need time to adjust, particularly younger, indebted farmers. As a former farmer from Waipu and Ahuroa, these messages came through loud and clear.

ACT doesn’t oppose sensible environmental measures, but we do take issue with how the current left-wing Government is approaching the issue.

Take the Zero Carbon Bill. It requires emissions offsets take place only in New Zealand. That’s nuts. Why does it matter if trees are planted in Northland or in the Amazon? The New Zealand Initiative says this could add $300 billion to our emissions bill, reduce national income by 6 per cent, and lead to higher emissions as economic activity moves overseas.

The most expensive piece of legislation in our history will increase the cost of food and fuel. ACT proposed a sensible change which would have allowed us to achieve emissions reductions at the lowest possible cost by purchasing overseas units as well as domestic units, but it was opposed by all parties, including National.

The legislation also gives the Climate Change Minister unconstrained power over the New Zealand economy.

The Minister must plan how and where emissions will be reduced, in every sector of the economy, and this plan can be changed any time. This is Muldoonism in environmental drag.

The potential unintended consequence is that economic activity moves to countries with lower environmental standards and actually hurts the environment. The legislation fails to take into account the fact that New Zealand farmers are the most efficient in the world.

Ultimately, the Zero Carbon Bill is more about fundamentally transforming the economy and the way we live than it is about effectively reducing emissions. ACT could have supported a bill that allowed New Zealanders to reduce their emissions at least cost with minimal bureaucracy, but this legislation means expensive reductions with maximum bureaucracy.

Consider also Labour’s freshwater proposals. DairyNZ’s economic analysis shows the proposals could reduce GDP by $6 billion by 2050. We could see a decline in milk production of 24 per cent, in exports of $8.1 billion, in dairy sector jobs of 15 to 20 per cent.

Proposed nutrient limits would impose a significant burden on the dairy sector. These limits are not based on good science. Nor has the sector been properly consulted. ACT will oppose Labour’s unworkable freshwater proposals until proper consultation and economic analysis is done.

ACT supports practical environmental management and sensible regulation based on sound economics and science.

But we will oppose attempts to impose ideological, command and control-style policies on the economy.

Successive governments, including National governments, have introduced more and more bureaucracy, health and safety requirements, and have failed to make adjustments to the Resource Management Act. ACT has consistently pushed for lower taxes and less bureaucratic environmental, health and safety, and employment laws.

What would ACT do?

We would introduce a low, flat tax of 17.5 per cent on all income, leaving more money in famers’ pockets. This will lead to greater investment in innovation and new technology, which is the right way to deal with the challenge of emissions.

ACT has and will continue to push to replace the Resource Management Act. This would, for example, reduce red tape on farmers trying to erect buildings on their own land, while still giving adequate protection to the environment.

We would also prevent politicians from creating new red tape unless basic rights are protected and benefits outweighed costs through our proposed red tape constitution.

The only way that all of this can happen is if ACT returns to Parliament in greater numbers next year.

Beth Houldrooke is Deputy Leader of ACT.