Election 2014

28 Oct 2008

Ticks for National's agriculture policy

6:19 pm on 28 October 2008

The Veterinary Association has welcomed the National Party's strategy for dealing with shortages of rural vets, including a voluntary bonding scheme. It has also received approved from high country and horticultural interests.

The association says some areas are experiencing severe shortages.

It says the East Coast of the North Island, for example, has no veterinary presence for some distance and animal welfare is a growing concern.

National's agriculture spokesperson David Carter says students who voluntarily work in rural areas after they graduate would have their student loan reduced.

Mr Carter says National has been in talks with the association and Massey University Veterinary School, where there are real concerns about rural vet shortages.

Association chief executive Julie Hood says there is anecdotal evidence as well as research to show that it is difficult to keep graduates in rural practices.

National is also proposing voluntary bonding and student loan debt write-offs for doctors and other health professionals working in hard-to-staff rural areas.

High country tenures

Elsewhere in its agricultural policy, National is proposing to take a new approach to high country tenure review to restore leaseholders' confidence in the process.

High Country Accord chair Ben Todhunter says the high country policy would be good for the environment, farmers and taxpayers.

Mr Todhunter says the party's promise to ensure that the setting of high country rentals is tied to the earning capacity of each property is critical to the continued survival of traditional high country farming.

He says such an approach has the potential to provide positive outcomes for all who have an interest in the high country, and he would welcome similar policies from other parties.

Horticultural workers

For the horticulture sector, National says it would broaden the scope of the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, which allows workers to be hired from some Pacific countries to help with harvesting and pruning work.

It would reduce the barriers to hiring people from other countries, when needed, and also reintroduce temporary work visas for visitors to supplement the seasonal workforce.

Horticulture New Zealand's chairman Andrew Fenton says those measures would help growers to deal with seasonal labour shortages.

But Andrew Fenton also delivered a brick-bat to all political parties, saying with only two weeks of the election campaign left, the horticulture sector was still waiting to hear any of the parties outline their biosecurity policies.

He says it should be a priority issue for politicians because a biosecurity breakdown could be the biggest threat to the country's economy.

Greens, Labour reaction

The Greens, who have included biosecurity in their agricultural policy, are calling on National to get its head out of the sand on organics, saying National's policy has nothing about organics in it.

"Our best hope for future prosperity is to treat our land as the precious source of our national wealth, instead of seeing the land as a cash cow, to be force-fed and milked until it drops dead from exhaustion," Greens co-leader Russel Norman says.

Labour's rural affairs spokesperson Damien O'Connor says the policy is piecemeal and shows no sign of a coherent plan to see New Zealand through the difficult times ahead.

Mr O'Connor says the most disappointing part of National's policy is its refusal to drop plans to axe the Labour government's Fast Forward Fund and slash Research and Development tax credits.

He says this shows just how out of touch the National Party is with rural New Zealand and the primary sector.