Forest and Bird Post-Budget Breakfast

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[Speaking notes may vary from speech given]

Good morning, thank you for being here today.

It is always a pleasure to speak to an audience of people actively involved in caring for our environment.

I particularly want to acknowledge the members of our freshwater advisory groups – Kāhui Wai Māori, Freshwater Leaders Group, the Science and Technical Advisory Group, and Regional Councils – who are here today. They are all working very hard under tight timeframes, and are making a valuable contribution to the Government’s freshwater reform programme, Essential Freshwater.

That is complex work. I believe it is going pretty well.

Yesterday’s Wellbeing Budget included important funding announcements that will assist farmers and councils to make the improvements to land use practices needed to improve water quality.

These changes will also assist to reduce climate change emissions and protect biodiversity.

The Government is delivering on what people care about

It’s my experience that more and more New Zealanders are stepping up and acting as environmental kaitiaki, or guardians.

From the students who took to the streets over climate change, to the iwi and hapū who are managing resources in innovative and meaningful ways as part of Treaty settlements; to the farmers who are investing in measures to reduce water pollution and setting aside land to support biodiversity – all across New Zealand, people are taking action.

The momentum is growing fast.

I’m pleased to say that through the Wellbeing Budget, and our ongoing policy work, this Government is delivering on public expectations that we will protect and restore our environment for future generations.

Because we can’t carry on as we are.

Environment Aotearoa 2019 shows the need to act

It seems that every week there is more bad news internationally on environmental matters – climate change, insect and other species extinctions, water pollution, fisheries depletion, plastics.

The recently released report, Environment Aotearoa 2019, had some bad news about New Zealand too.

It showed the way we live and make a living is having a serious impact on our environment.

In New Zealand, thousands of our native species are currently threatened with, or at risk of extinction.

Waterways in urban and rural areas are polluted by excess nutrients, pathogens and sediment. 80 percent of monitored river sites in pastoral farming areas, and 90 percent in urban areas, are not suitable for swimming.

Climate change is already having an impact. Four of the past six years were among the warmest on record. The average annual temperature has not been this high in the past 10,000 years.

Coastal sea levels measured at New Zealand ports have risen 14 to 22 centimetres from 1916 to 2016, which is consistent with global trends.

Wetlands are being lost. Soils are being compacted, and highly productive soils lost to urbanisation. There is good news on air quality, but much work to be done in other domains.

The Environment Aotearoa report showed us where we should focus our efforts.

Business as usual won’t achieve what we need

We have to take a holistic view of the environment and economy as a system.

This will be good for the economy as well as the environment, because the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, not the reverse.

Wellbeing means putting the environment at the centre of our thinking

This Government’s wellbeing approach signals a fundamental shift looking beyond the economic growth rate, to measuring success by how well we improve the living standards and wellbeing of all New Zealanders.

That means putting the state of the environment at the centre of our thinking.

In water we are applying the concept of Te Mana o te Wai – the mana of the water. This says that the health of our people, our environment and our economy depends on the health of our water, and so we must put the water first in our decision making.

The importance of this to the wellbeing of New Zealanders is reflected in one of our priorities in the Wellbeing Budget – to create opportunities for productive businesses, regions, iwi and others to transition to a sustainable and low-emissions economy.

Productive and Sustainable Land Use package

The Productive and Sustainable Land Use Package is one of the key Budget initiatives. We are committing $229 million over four years.

This will help us all tackle the environmental issues that New Zealanders in rural and urban areas care about.  It will support the primary sector cornerstone of our economy to both transition and increase the value of its exports.

It will help us reverse the trend of degradation, and manage the transition as efficiently as possible.

This package provides investment in three broad areas:

  • to put the right framework in place to manage our environment in the interests of all New Zealanders;
  • to provide on the ground, practical support and advice to the land and water users who are at the forefront of this transition; and
  • to make sure all people, including farmers and councils, have the right information and tools to support informed decisions about reducing climate emissions and discharges to waterways.

Getting the framework right

Our water, our land and our climate are all under pressure.

This year the Government is making significant decisions on the framework for addressing these issues.

These decisions include:

  • establishing an independent climate change commission to help New Zealand mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change;
  • a Zero Carbon bill, which requires New Zealand to be making no contribution to global warming by 2050;
  • planned new systems and regulations to protect freshwater quality from both urban and rural pollution;
  • developing a new national biodiversity strategy; and
  • commencing a significant reform of the main law setting out how we should manage our environment, the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

The Wellbeing Budget invests in that framework.

We’re allocating $54.2 million over 4 years in climate-related measures including setting up the Climate Change Commission, preparing a national adaptation plan, and implementing legislation.

Freshwater focus

As you know, my Ministerial responsibilities include water, and I am personally committed to improving water quality and ecosystem health.  

It is more cost effective to stop catchments deteriorating than to restore them once they are degraded.  Many communities are ready to protect waterways, but some need help to make this possible.

The Wellbeing Budget invests $12 million in supporting initiatives in lakes, rivers and wetlands that are most at risk.

I want to be clear, this funding is about funding people on the ground to facilitate, leverage and accelerate community-led action.

This funding is not for grants to plant trees – there are other local and central government funds already available for that.  This funding is focused on trying new approaches and overcoming hurdles that are preventing action.

Supporting land use improvements

Improving the way we use land can have significant benefits for the health of our waterways and contribute to our climate change goals, while supporting our communities and businesses. Reducing polluting outputs can also reduce the waste of costly inputs.

My colleague Damien O’Connor and I agree that the future for the primary sector in New Zealand lies in more value rather than more volume.

Many in the primary sector are already responding to market signals and meeting consumer and public demand for more sustainable, high-value products.

For those progressive farmers and growers, the transition to sustainable land use is already underway.

The Wellbeing Budget provides more support to make that transition.

We are building on what we know works, and it’s not all regulation.

Farm planning

Managing the environmental impact of agriculture and horticulture requires different actions depending on the type of operation, the location and type of land, the stock and crops being grown, and other local circumstances.

Many farmers and growers, agri-businesses and primary sector industry organisations have already adopted the concept of farm environment planning as a useful way to decide what practices and changes are required in their particular circumstances.

Through the Good Farming Practice Governance Group, primary sector organisations have set their own target of every farmer and grower having a farm environment plan by 2030.

To support the farm planning approach, the Government is investing $17 million to develop good practice standards, and ensure farm advisors are trained and qualified to support effective environmental planning.

Shifting to high-value products with strong environmental credentials

We are also investing $35 million in improving advisory and ‘extension’ services to provide on the ground support for adapting farming operations, building on services and approaches that are already known to work.

This is needed to disseminate the science and farm practices we know will make a difference.

We have set aside $11.9 million for tailored services for Māori landowners and agribusinesses, recognising the challenges and opportunities in unutilised or underdeveloped Māori land.

And there is $9.8 million to invest in improving pathways to market for high-value products.

Beyond good practice

Getting every farmer and grower operating at good practice, which can be demonstrated to customers, is a major and significant step forward.

Assistance to farmers will go hand-in-hand with the new rules that will have to be met, and will be enforced.

As you all know, the Essential Freshwater package has three objectives at its core: to stop further degradation; to reverse past damage; and to address allocation issues.

And we are working on a package of national direction – updating the National Policy Statement for Freshwater and introducing a new National Environmental Standard. That package will signal clearly where improvement is needed, and over what period.

I anticipate that we will be releasing this package for consultation in the next few months, likely late July or August.  The Productive and Sustainable Land Use package will support the implementation of these stronger new rules for freshwater.

It includes $12 million investment in supporting councils to develop and implement freshwater plans to give effect to the new national direction.

Regional councils want this. One of the lessons learned by both central and local government is that implementation of national direction requires cooperation between central and local government.

This budget package will also fund ongoing policy work on nitrogen allowances and Māori rights and interest in freshwater, with $16 million set aside over four years. This is difficult, complex work. Some of it is controversial, but we are determined to see it through.

Information and tools

For us to make informed decisions, we need the right information and tools.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment reported that OVERSEER nutrient budgeting software is an imperfect tool for modelling outputs, but it is the best tool we have.

To maximise its usefulness for farmers and regulators it needs to be improved. We are investing $59.6 million over four years in strengthening decision support tools and improving environmental data and monitoring in the primary sector.

External input

As my colleague Grant Robertson has talked about, this year multiple agencies and ministers have been expected to contribute towards the Budget priorities.

The Productive and Sustainable Land Use package has seen the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry for Primary Industries working closely together. Ministers Eugenie Sage, Damien O’Connor, Shane Jones, James Shaw, Nanaia Mahuta and I worked together to develop the package.

We have all been listening to a wide range of New Zealanders about where practical interventions are working and could be further supported.

We will continue to work with representatives from across the board – the Climate Change Commission, the Freshwater Leaders Group, Kāhui Wai Māori, the Science and Technical Advisory Group, ENGOs, primary sector NGOs, scientists and councils.

We want to keep working with you all to ensure both the regulation and the transitional support are fit-for-purpose, and meet sustainability initiatives, as well as public and customer expectations.

Conservation, and other environmental priorities

While I’ve focussed on sustainable land use outside the DOC estate, that’s not the only environmental challenge facing New Zealand.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage is here today and I will leave her to talk about the gains for conservation in the Wellbeing Budget.

As an Associate Environment Minister, Eugenie Sage is also leading work to reduce waste going to landfill and the transition to a circular economy.  The Wellbeing Budget puts $4 million towards that work.

The Wellbeing Budget includes $30 million to strengthen the integrity of the environmental management system, including improving our science and data. The Environment Aotearoa 2019 report showed us the need for this investment.

The Wellbeing Budget also funds sustainable low carbon economic development via the Green Growth Fund, and a $300 million injection in early stage capital markets. These will complement the Provincial Growth Fund, which is investing in trees and many other initiatives.

Our responsibility for the future

In conclusion, environmental issues are key to the wellbeing of New Zealanders.

We were elected to do better. And we are.

The efforts are grounded in the belief that if, with all our advantages, New Zealand can’t overcome its environmental problems, then the world won’t.

I am pleased that the Wellbeing Budget takes us a further step towards showing the world that New Zealand can and will.

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