Labour's water tax wrong to target irrigators, says lobby group

The Labour Party's proposal to tax water used for irrigation will fail because lakes and rivers most in need of freshwater clean-ups have low levels of irrigation, says Irrigation New Zealand.

The lobby group's chair, Nicky Hyslop, and chief executive Andrew Curtis met Labour water spokesman David Parker at Parliament today to argue Labour's plan to funnel funds raised from water levies back to the regions where the water came from simply would not work.

"They say the tax collected in the region would be used in that region," said Curtis. "That means about $1 million for Northland", which had some of the most polluted rivers but very little irrigation. "It (the water tax revenue) is not correlated to the size of the issue, so will it achieve anything? We need to get back to polluter pays, bringing towns and other land users into the mix."

Labour's plan is to hold a national conference on becoming government to establish a new regime for freshwater allocation, including settling Maori claims and imposing a royalty at around 2 cents per cubic metre of water used for industrial and farming purposes, unless it's taken from a town supply. Based on an annual 5 billion litres of water used for irrigation, that would cost farmers around $100 million a year.

Hyslop said the levy would add around $22,500 to the annual running costs of her family farm and that those funds would be better applied to improved farming methods.

Irrigation NZ produced graphs that compared Ministry for the Environment statistics for dirty rivers with its own figures showing most of the country's irrigation takes place. The graphs show the most heavily irrigated parts of the country - Canterbury, Otago and Marlborough - were amongst the least likely to have rivers graded as 'poor' quality for swimming.

Relatively lightly irrigated areas such as Auckland, Waikato and Northland had high levels of contaminated rivers unfit for swimming.

"This tax doesn't bring in all the other influences and other users," said Hyslop. "Irrigators represent 6 percent of farmed land in New Zealand. They are targeting a very small group of farmers to fix a widespread problem."


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