Thursday, 21 May 2020 12:27

COVID-19: Trusting business to work

Written by  Todd Muller, National’s agriculture spokesman
Todd Muller. Todd Muller.

National’s agriculture spokesman, Todd Muller on the role the Government needs to play for agriculture businesses.

As we continue to grapple with the repercussions of COVID-19, we must look at what’s working and use that as a template for other business sectors.

The kiwifruit industry has been a shining example of how it is possible to continue operating at a high capacity, while adjusting to the restrictions of COVID-19. It has completely re-engineered its systems from harvesting the fruit, to picking the fruit, to packing the fruit and we’ve seen a bumper season with record amounts of NZ kiwifruit making their way across the world as a result.

This has also meant the industry has been able to keep 28,000 seasonal workers in employment, while recording no COVID-19 incidents. This is the sort of leadership that shows how we can keep people safe and keep the economy moving at the same time. 

This illustrates the opportunity that sits in front of us as a country. Industries like kiwifruit have shown that they have the attitude, innovation and ability to change the way they work to keep operating. It’s time the Government let more businesses do this. 

At the end of the day, it will be creative people who can fuse protecting people with their product and service that rebuild our economy, not bureaucrats in Wellington.

The role government needs to play in this is encouraging and incentivising business investment. That means cash flow and support, not more debt that will constrain businesses from growing. 

New Zealand’s 23,000 farming families have been – and are continuing – to play a big role in our rebuild. Data from Stats NZ has shown that the primary sector continues to lead the way for New Zealand in exports and will be essential for rebuilding our economy. 

Sadly, I think there’s a perception from some in government that farmers haven’t been affected by COVID-19. That somehow their more isolated lifestyle compared to urban New Zealand, meant our national challenge has somewhat passed them by. 

I completely disagree with this assessment. Our farmers are doing it tough and now more than ever we should be supporting our farmers to help lead us out of what is a once in a generation challenge.    

There have been many changes that farmers have had to adjust to – whether it be restrictions on contractors’ farm movements, meat processors’ capacity being dramatically reduced – and the ramifications of a very fierce drought and M Bovis are still very much present. I can only hope that rain is on the way for farmers in Hawke’s Bay as I write this. 

The Government could show some support for farmers by looking at their planned suite of ill-thought-out and costly policies like the Essential Freshwater reforms, proposed biodiversity changes, and significant amount of regional council plan changes. 

The world has changed, so they need to re-examine their approach. 

These issues need ongoing work and improvement, but this government needs to start engaging with farmers from a position of respect and reciprocity rather than disconnection and borderline distain. 

Bluntly, it just doesn’t stack up for these to still be on the agenda with the ferocity the Government is pursuing them. They have an ideological blind spot that middle New Zealand has no appetite for in the current financial climate. 

• Todd Muller is National’s agriculture spokesman

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