National’s “freshwater fund” a cynical waste of time

National has announced that it will set up a $100 million fund to buy and retire farmland next to important waterways. The idea is that it will create an environmental buffer to improve water quality. Further, by July 2017 it will be illegal not to have waterways fenced off.

On the face of it, it’s a good policy. Why wouldn’t you want to improve water quality by setting up buffer zones to keep cattle out? What could be wrong with fencing off paddocks from the river?

Well, even Amy Adams, National’s Environment Minister admits that 90% of waterways next to farms are already fenced off, and as Andrew Hoggard, the Federated Farmers dairy chairman, says, a ban was effectively already in place:

“It’s in our conditions to supply to Fonterra. If you don’t meet the conditions of supply, they won’t pick your milk up, and you’ll be out of business. That’s a scarier prospect than breaking [a compulsory ban].”

Add to that, National’s ban comes into place two months after the farming community’s voluntary target of 100% fencing off of waterways.

So why is National bothering? One can only assume that the Greens have been getting traction with their attacks on National’s river water standards policy. Lines like “a one in twenty chance of getting sick just by wading” and “National’s pollution economy” must be getting cut-through, according to National’s polling. This “freshwater fund” and 2017 ban is an inexpensive way of being seen to do something by simply coat-tailing on what the farming community is already doing. $100 million over 10 years is pocket change for the Government, and the reason the cost is so little is that the job is already 90% complete, and farmers are working toward the last 10%.

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