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Eugenie Sage speaks about climate and water on Vote Primary Industries and Vote Environment in Budget 2017

EUGENIE SAGE (Green): E Te Māngai o Te Whare, tēnā koe. This Budget lacks vision. It lacks ambition to solve the major challenges of our time. I would like to comment briefly on some of those issues in relation to Vote Environment and Vote Primary Industries. We have seen that failure to deal with the really hard issues, in question time today and in terms of what happened with the action outside Parliament in response to Secretary of State Tillerson's visit. The Minister for Climate Change Issues would not give any assurances, would not make any commitments to help those councils and communities that are crying out for Government leadership on sea-level rise. They want leadership, they want support to adapt to climate change. The Government has promised for several years now that there would be updated guidance and that councils would not have to rely on 9-year-old guidance about how councils should plan to address sea-level rise, yet that can has been kicked down the road once again because the Government is reluctant to tackle that hard issue in election year. That is just typical of this Government.

The Government has committed, through the Paris Agreement, to reduce our climate emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, yet it has no plan to do that. You would expect, with the fact that it has failed to bring agriculture within the emissions trading scheme and will not put a price on biological emissions, that we would see something in Vote Primary Industries that actually tries to address the issues around climate change and the way it affects the primary sector, because 48 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture—methane from cows and nitrous oxide from fertilisers and animal effluent.

Mr Doocey said that we were the envy of most OECD countries. I do not agree. We have got the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in the OECD, yet National is just failing to deal with that. When it is not putting any regulatory tools in place, when it is not putting a price on carbon, in terms of agriculture, you would expect that there would be substantial funding in Vote Primary Industries for research on biological emissions. But do we have? We have $3.1 million for climate change research, for science research and capability, and we have another $11 million for the Global Research Alliance. There is $13 million in Vote Primary Industries for climate change work. National is spending more than five times that amount in this vote for administering and managing our forestry assets.

That shows what this Budget is about. It is about wrong priorities and not tackling the important issues. Yet it is a change in climate that is going to put major stress on our primary sector. Increased drought; increased intense rainfall events, like the one in Whanganui that caused such major erosion and distress and flooding to farmers there; more intense westerly winds—we have got the Minister saying that myrtle rust came in on the wind. Those intense winds that are coming with climate change are likely to bring more pests to New Zealand, so increased biosecurity costs. Yet in this Budget the Government is not tackling that, in terms of the primary sector.

We cannot trust National to deal with the hard issues like climate change, yet we have had the OECD report highlighting that we are reaching our environmental limits in New Zealand, both in terms of water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. It called, in its third and comprehensive review of New Zealand's environmental performance, for the Government to get serious about some pricing measures and some stronger regulation on both climate change and water pollution.

But this Government does not recognise that we have reached our limits, in terms of intensive dairy. The Minister certainly said that dairy cow numbers cannot double in New Zealand, but we are already at the limit of dairy cow numbers. But what does this Budget do? It hands out another $63 million to the Crown's irrigation company, Crown Irrigation Investments, so that it can continue to subsidise more intensive agriculture and irrigation development. That is on top of the $120 million that Crown Irrigation Investments got last year and the $25 million extra that the Irrigation Acceleration Fund got.

What are the priorities again? There is only $1 million extra to help clean up waterways. So the OECD is saying that we are approaching our environmental limits, yet the Government continues to invest more money in intensive agriculture. What does that mean for our rivers? What is happening with the Hurunui River is just one example of why National has got its spending priorities so wrong.

Crown Irrigation Investments recently handed out $3.4 million to the proposed $200 million Hurunui water project. It is going to reduce the flow in both the Hurunui and the Waitohi rivers. It wants to irrigate 21,000 hectares on the south bank of the Hurunui River, yet that river is already under major stress and showing significant signs of being in a really bad state. It used to be graded fair for contact recreation—you could go swimming at the State Highway 1 bridge with some risk before 2011—now that has gone down to poor. The nitrogen pollution loads in the Hurunui catchment have increased from a 6-yearly average between 2006 and 2011 of 761 tonnes each year, to 900 tonnes. There are high nitrogen levels in a number of the streams that feed into the Hurunui River. There have been cyanobacteria outbreaks at State Highway 1 in four of the last 5 years. There was another outbreak at the Balmoral camping ground area.

This is a river under stress, and it is typical of what is happening with rivers around New Zealand because this Government is spending more money on irrigation and more money on intensive agriculture, when the OECD has clearly shown that we are at the environmental limits. Yet the Budget does not change the spending priorities. It does not invest very much more in improving clean water, but it does invest in spending more on intensive agriculture.

Again, with the Primary Growth Partnership—that has been funded to the tune of $352 million over 5 years, and this Budget puts another $244 million into the Primary Growth Partnership. But we have not seen that major boost in GDP from agriculture that you would expect with those hundreds of millions. It is just becoming a giant slush fund, with a lack of detail around what the objectives for the fund are and where that money will go.

We need to be investing in climate-friendly farming. That requires a major change in land use and a commitment to more sustainable farming. Yet again, Budget 2017 does not deliver. The Sustainable Farming Fund is stuck on $9 million, where it has been for some time. This Government is not interested in the land-use changes that we need to make to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, to improve water quality, and to protect our primary sector for the future. We need more diverse land use. We need to bring cow numbers down. We need more horticulture. We need more forestry. Yet we do not see the commitment, in this Budget, to making that change. It is more irrigation, more cows, and more water pollution.

This Government is afraid to tackle the hard issues. It only wants to continue with business as usual, and that is a recipe for more pollution, increased emissions, more inequality, and not tackling those environmental challenges that we need to prioritise. We have a biodiversity crisis. Again, this Budget cut funding for conservation. This Government is interested in coalmining on conservation land rather than protecting the environment, which we all know is the basis of a healthy economy and a healthy society. The Budget is all wrong in terms of priorities. It is a Government that cannot be trusted to tackle the hard issues.