Newstalk ZB - Andrew Dickens: Labour and Greens painting dairy farmers with broad-brush

Andrew's editorial for the week:

So the election season rolls on, getting record attention from our country which is a good thing.  Papers are reporting that articles on the election are being devoured, meanwhile the TV ratings for the election debate were pretty big, with nearly 1.2 million of us watching.

I was one of those 1.2 million people along with my son.  I actually thought it was a pretty flat affair. Overly polite, overly vague.  It seemed tome that we have a pretty traditional contest of ideas.  A left wing block who want to spend more on social issues and a right wing block who want business as usual.

At the end of the debate there was only one issue our family debated and that was Labour's water tax and how it would affect farmers.

Now my son is studying environmental science at university and he's been talking about this for a couple of years now.  In his lectures he's learnt that sustainable rural practices are a generational issue.  There's a generation of old time farmers who believe it is their mission to screw as much out of the land as is possible. 

But he says they're being replaced by a new generation who believe in sustainability.  A generation wanting to rehabilitate the land because dirty water makes dirty milk, and a lot less of it.  He's been learning that the farming community has been fixing itself up without been hectored by a government.  He also noted that rural pollution pales into insignificance beside urban pollution.

So rather than the water tax seeming like an answer to an environmental problem it has overtones of a punishment for the behaviour of a particular sector of our society.  A sector that contributes a significant amount to all our pay packets.

And so yesterday we hear that the Greens would put a moratorium on new dairy farms operating in New Zealand and slug farmers with a nitrate pollution levy to help reduce water pollution. They want to put the brakes on dairying.  They say farmers would pay no more than 5 per cent of their pre-tax profit. The Greens say they could raise near enough $140 million with the nitrate tax to spend on rehabilitation.

This policy was greeted with disdain by farmers, just the same way they greeted the proposed water tax, and I heard something yesterday that stopped me in my tracks.

Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis says it would strip out discretionary spending on anything farmers want to do for the environment.

For instance, he says in the past five years on his Waikato farm he's planted 20,000 native trees.

He says that if this tax came on that would stop.  All the extra fencing would stop.  All the discretionary spending would stop.  Because the money is going to the government and not into the land.

And this goes back to what my son said.

Why do Labour and the Greens feel that they can spend farmers money on the environment better than the farmers themselves can? Why punish the farmers living with a tax, and then drip-feed the money back to fix what many farmers are already fixing?

It seems to me that Labour and Greens have a belief that tax is a silver bullet which they can use to attack any people doing things they don't like.  My belief is that tax is a contribution we all make fairly to fund the country we all live in and all contribute to in whatever way we can.

But Labour and the Greens think taxes are a punishment and I don't think that's right.  If the Greens want to fix the nitrate problem they should be giving farmers money to fix themselves, not taking their money away.