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Bill English Speech: Farmers easy target for Government

I represent the Clutha Southland electorate, the largest rural electorate in the country.

My first farm mortgage was at 17%. The accountant said to me "Sonny, don't worry inflation is 18%!" Six months later SMPs were abolished. It was a shock. A few years later, I was sitting in Roger Douglas' office as a Treasury official listening to talk of farming as a sunset industry.

One of the first big public meetings I attended as the local MP was when the Wool Board came to explain why it had abolished the price support scheme in 1991. At the tail end of the National Government, we saw the end of the Dairy Board, and just a few weeks ago, I spoke on legislation abolishing the Wool Board.

There has been a sea change in attitudes in farming in just a decade and a half. There has been so much change in agriculture we can forget how much there has been.

I am proud of the way farmers have changed. I am proud of the leadership which has taken farming through these changes, and new generation of emerging leaders. I am proud of what my industry has contributed to the nation. Performance and productivity has increased twice as fast as the rest of the economy. Production per hectare is higher and more profitable, management is more professional and more efficient; everything is done better than when I was actively farming 13 years ago.

The New Zealand economy is more dependent on agriculture now than it was 15 years ago when it was famously described as a sunset industry by a Labour Prime Minister.

The New Zealand farming industry is so strong because it has had to work up hill against the headwind all the time - no level playing field. And when you thought it was getting tougher - they came up with the flatulence tax.

New Zealand signed the Kyoto agreement before our trading partners and without understanding the costs.

The Government's duplicity in this is appalling. Labour is going down the same path as the Europeans - lecturing everybody about the morality of reducing emissions when as one report put it in The New Zealand Herald "It's been abundantly clear from the start that most European countries don't have a snowball's chance in hell of meeting their own Kyoto targets." New Zealand is going the same way.

For New Zealand to meet the targets by 2012, it's estimated we would have to give up at least one third of our energy use. The only country that hasn't had higher emissions is France - because they have nuclear power.

This is a diversion from the real Kyoto problem. Over the next five to six years, New Zealand will have to burn a lot more coal to fill its energy gap - there is no other way. Labour have taken the carbon credits, a majority from private landowners - to help them offset the increase in CO2 emissions from electricity generation. They don't want to be responsible for big hikes in electricity prices.

So, you, the farmers, are an easy target. Global warming is your fault. And you are also now the bleeding edge. We have a tiny, fraction of the world's livestock. There is no international experience on dealing with methane emissions. No one has a clue where to start reducing emissions - in fact we can hardly even measure them. It's all pie in the sky.

This tax is the thin end of the wedge - it's the mechanism that will be used to collect the emissions tax itself. By Jim Sutton's own logic in his speech to you, a tax on emissions seems inevitable.

The flatulence tax is the producer board levy par excellence - millions of dollars, no accountability, and no clear objectives: You are already paying a prudent amount for research. If the Government wants more, the taxpayer should pay.

Farmers must continue to oppose the flatulence tax and if you're unsuccessful stopping this absurdity National will make it a priority when it becomes Government.

I also want to raise a red, warning flag over statements made by Labour on Maori claims to the seabed and foreshore.

The Government should be introducing legislation to do what Helen Clark said it would do - to confirm that ownership of the seabed and foreshore lies with the Crown, and because of that ownership, New Zealanders are guaranteed access and use.

But Labour has spent three weeks backing down, doing secret deals behind closed doors. Now, things have taken a turn for the worse. Helen Clark has caved in to the most radical views. After last weekend's hui, Maori issued a declaration that they owned title to the seabed and foreshore and a claim on the resources beneath them.

Yesterday, the Government said they would allow Maori to establish private title. So Helen Clark has backed down.

She cannot be trusted to protect the rights of every new Zealander against the claims of a few. And our brave Prime Minister Helen Clark made sure she is out of the country while the Labour cave in continues. Labour plans to allow Maori to gain private title to beaches and our foreshore.

Farmers should watch very carefully any legislation relating to access to these areas, because the same law could be used to gain access over your land. These current issues are just a few rocks in an avalanche of costs being thrown on farmers.

Labour has introduced 15 new taxes and levies. These have contributed to the 20% increase in farming costs. OSH, the RMA, ACC all generate costs you have to meet.

I must compliment Federated Farmers on their relentless advocacy of farmers' interests around Parliament on these issues. We have had the benefit of the Federation's input on our changes to the RMA, and we are keen to have your views on whether and how to bring competition back to ACC. It worked for farmers last time. National will reverse the nonsense in the OSH laws.

Here's another gripe.

The 4.5-cent petrol tax to pay for Auckland's roads. What did farmers get from that? Labour are now talking about another 10c petrol tax. Then there was the 30% increase in road user charges and increases in vehicle registration. All these have added to your costs for no tangible gain.

This year ACC levies increased by 12.4% on the back of a 15% increase last year. The Government had no justification for this increase. Figures National obtained show that accidents and fatalities within the farming sector had remained stable.

When Labour renationalised accident insurance it guaranteed rates would not increase. Some farmers are now paying 60% more than they were under the previous competitive model established by National.

And the Government is planning more taxes that will impact on agriculture's profitability and competitiveness. For example, the reserve electricity generation tax, carbon taxes and the one I mentioned at the beginning, the flatulence research tax on livestock.

I believe the Federation should also pay attention to the new Local Government Act. It's expensive, it's heavily burea

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