Month of Delivery
At the beginning of the year, the Government announced this would be the year of delivery. Until September, it was a quiet year but then the floodgates opened. New labour and environmental announcements have come in thick and fast, all with challenges but also with opportunities for both urban and rural New Zealand.
The temporary work visa proposals are particularly good for rural New Zealand. This is not seasonal labour, which for horticulture, is covered by the Registered Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. Temporary work visas are for permanent skilled workers where there are no New Zealanders available to undertake the job: for example, skilled machinery operators, packhouse managers and orchard / garden managers.
For the regions, the most important change is that there will be no skills lists to comply with and no labour market tests, if you pay over the median wage (currently $25 an hour). A three-year visa will be issued, which is renewable.
These changes will come into force in 2021. They answer HortNZ and other industry groups’ lobbying and submissions.
There’s also been work going on with the Government to protect high quality horticultural land from urban and lifestyle development. The Government is now consulting on a National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land, which will issue guidance to Councils when they are zoning rural land for urban development. It will not stop urban development but will require more consideration of how to protect our high quality land from being developed.
The Government is also consulting on how to improve freshwater quality, which is something we all want. The issue is how we get there. If what is proposed is adopted, both urban and rural New Zealand will be challenged to go many more steps further towards better freshwater quality.
This builds on the work many in the rural sector have already undertaken and tackles inaction in the urban sector. We are preparing submissions on what is proposed to ensure it is sensible, achievable and workable. Our focus is on the adoption of audited Farm Environment Plans, linked to good management practices, to progressively and permanently achieve freshwater quality. At the same time, it is important to balance both the need to maintain profitability to help pay for the changes and the need to grow fresh, healthy food to feed New Zealand.
The freshwater proposals are interlinked with climate change mitigation. Here our focus is to advocate strongly for healthy food production to be given a high priority. Key to meeting climate change challenges is to capture water during high rainfall. This prevents flooding and pollution of our rivers and streams. The same water can then be used in dry times to keep stream and river flows up and to provide water for plants and crops.
Taken together, all of these changes could be turned into a food security policy that enables the growing of healthy food to feed not only New Zealand but some of the world.
Consultation is running on both the highly productive land and freshwater quality proposals. We are consulting with our growers, having meetings and getting their views before putting the Horticulture New Zealand submission together. The outcome has to be something that can be achieved and can be supported by New Zealand’s growers.
None of this is easy and it will all cost a lot of money, but as a country, we need to tackle the issues and find workable and pragmatic solutions, over acceptable timeframes.
Mike Chapman, Chief Executive