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A Labour-led government would scrap new freshwater management policies that emerged from a five year consensus-building exercise, saying the government has produced a "woefully inadequate" National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, compared to the draft Labour advanced in 2008, when last in government.
The policy, announced by Labour's water spokesperson Meka Whaitiri, aligns the Labour and Green parties on a target of making all New Zealand lakes and rivers safe for swimming and fishing, compared with the government's new NPS, which sets a minimum standard for waterways of being safe for boating and wading, with a requirement only that waterways below that standard be brought up to it and that waterways of higher quality not be allowed to deteriorate.
Labour's plan has sparked alarm from farming and irrigation lobbies and muted support from environmental groups, all of whom were involved in the Land and Water Forum, an experiment in collaborative decision-making initiated by then Environment Minister Nick Smith.
The executive director of the Environmental Defence Society, Gary Taylor, welcomed what he called Labour's "aspirational" target to make freshwater bodies swimmable and fishable within a single generation, compared with the new NPS's warning that pollutants that had already entered waterways over decades of farming and industrial activity could take up to 80 years to emerge in freshwater bodies.
Taylor said Labour's target was "different to the National-led government's targets and will require a robust effort over a generation" and was "consistent with the Land and Water Forum's recommendations."
On Labour's plan to go back to the 2008 draft NPS produced by a board of inquiry chaired by Judge David Sheppard, Taylor said "that version has some merits."
"We are increasingly aware of some flaws and ambiguities in the present NPS, so this undertaking could be seen as an opportunity to 'fix' those shortcomings," said Taylor in a statement issued from EDS's influential annual conference, where Smith spoke today in his role as Conservation Minister, but steered clear of the Labour announcements. Other key advocates for freshwater and members of the LAWF, the Forest and Bird Protection Society and the Fish and Game Council, have yet to issue responses to Labour's announcements, made yesterday.
However, Environment Minister Amy Adams issued a statement saying the Labour's proposal to charge for water used to irrigate farmland was "a pointed attack on rural New Zealand and small businesses that operate there."
Labour says it would use a "fair and affordable" resource rental on water used in agricultural irrigation to pay for new irrigation schemes and scrap the government's fund of up to $400 million to subsidise major new irrigation. The tax would not apply to industrial users or to hydro-electricity generators, with power companies returning the value of water to taxpayers through the impact on power prices of Labour's Power New Zealand policy, announced last year.
The policy would encourage efficient water use and investment in best practice farming technologies.