We all have a gag reflex. For me, it’s triggered by trying to swallow uncoated aspirin. I really struggle with that.

For the HB Regional Councillors, their gag reflex is triggered by the very thought of needing to “regulate” what farmers do on their land.

In a meeting yesterday full of promising aspirations to clean up the Tukituki and allocate its water, to rescue the Taharua River from nutrient overload, and to “engage” dairy farmers in the Bay, our Regional Councillors just couldn’t bring themselves to utter the word “regulate” … as in require land use practices that would mitigate unacceptable water pollution. Even when posed as a “last resort” option to deal with the hard cases.

Haven’t we learned?

If we don’t regulate builders, we get water-logged homes.

If we don’t regulate financial institutions, we get fleeced.

If we don’t regulate medical practitioners, we get maimed or worse.

In each of these cases, we legislate formal standards and then enforce them.

But farmers are a special privileged class. Our Regional Councillors merely want to educate and cajole them. All in a friendly spirit of “build trust” and “win/win” and “plus/plus” … how about “jabber/jabber”?

Councillor Liz Remmerswaal, concerned about the Mohaka River, attempted to add a provision to a list of measures the Council was considering to address serious pollution of its upper (Taharua) catchment. She offered this motion yesterday (in part):

“Investigate means to maintain and enhance the quality of water in the Taharua/Mohaka Rivers, as is our duty under Section 30 of the RMA, through control of land use … ”

This heretical proposal left most Councillors aghast. It was roundly defeated (supported only by Morry Black, representing the Maori Committee and Tim Gilbertson, apparently because the language merely said “investigate”). This outcome even after staff noted that, under the RMA, if any program was developed by Council to address pollution of the Mohaka, the Council would be required (under Section 32) to consider all alternatives … including land use regulation.

To be sure, the Regional Council is pointing in some right directions with regard to water management … polite applause, please. But they just ……..can’t ……..quite ……..come to grips with the “stick” part of “carrot and stick.” Too many of the Councillors still seem to see their jobs as protecting farmers as opposed to protecting the broad public interest in clean, sustainably managed water.

We’re admonished not to overreact to a few bad apples … the standard camouflage of Federated Farmers and the irrigation lobby as they oppose “sticks”. Yet as even Councillor McGregor pointed out, the Taharua catchment problem is caused by three dairy farms and everybody knows it … let’s just get it fixed. The Council’s approach: Let’s study it another year or two, and give them counseling and lollies.

At the same meeting, a “Dissenting Opinion” was filed by Simon Lusk, a member of a stakeholders group advising the HBRC on the Tukituki issues. Said Lusk: “Councillors should be aware that the interests of a limited few to make a profit out of a public good is not a platform that has lead to enduring electability. Voters in NZ and overseas have taken direct action at the ballot box to protect water.”

And John Scott, another member of the stakeholders group observed: “The public is aroused and the goalposts have shifted.”

Amen to both comments!

Tom Belford

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2 Comments

  1. This reminds me of a submission I made about four years ago regarding pollution and compliance, thinking at the time more of industrial non compliance – that standards be set where if new operators were seeking consents, they had to prove they were compliant to a specific set of standards before consents were granted. Existing operators who were non compliant should be consulted with to negotiate a workable plan and a specific timeline, possibly in a series of steps. If the agreed timeline is not met they would loose their consents and be shut down. We now have a number of National Standards being set up which if National don't interfere with, will give more teeth to local bodies but the tools are there now for more stringent local regulation. Sitting back awaiting results of endless investigations is a waste of precious time and of ratepayer's money – we already have enough evidence of the causes and consequences of current land use practices by some – many of them foreign corporate operators who have no interest in the long term sustainability of our resources, and should not be allowed to buy up our land and use our water in the first place!!! When they have depleted the land they move elsewhere. Haven't we seen this scenario repeated around the world over the centuries? Africa, India and so on? Even in ancient times the Macedonians pillaged and plundered the land of others for their own gain.

  2. Well what does one expect from the Regional Councillors? Unlike their counterparts in the Napier City and Hastings District Councils they seem quite happy in preserving a culture of indifference to what is best for Hawkes Bay.

    If there is any aspect of Mayor Yule's proposal for amalgamation that I'd encourage people to support, it would be the disolution of the Regional Council whose sole focus it would seem is to protect the interests of the landed gentry, to everyone else's cost.

    Farming sould be treated like any other business, they must conform to 'best practice' and that includes environmental standards or consider their future in an alternative industry.

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