Because of COVID-19, The New Zealand Institute of Agricultural & Horticultural Science cancelled the Political Forum at Lincoln University early this month. Key politicians had been invited to the forum to inform our members of their party policies relevant to our science and to be questioned.
Instead, we put three questions to the politicians for written replies for publication before the general election next month.
What would you do to increase public understanding of the importance of science to the wellbeing of all New Zealanders?
The Primary Sector’s ability to adapt and grasp new opportunities has been underpinned by the robust research carried out by New Zealand scientists and the tremendous expertise that they can access from their networks. We have promoted public understanding of the importance of science to our wellbeing through many different channels. Science is a key part of the curriculum and the government supports science and research funding across the country for everyone, from pre-school to our top researchers.
The potential for science and technology to drive transformational change requires an appropriate enabling environment. This will involve regulations, infrastructure, and capability that is responsive to new research and development opportunities.
The way that this government has responded to COVID-19 shows how important science is to all of us – our well-being in many ways has depended upon it. It was scientific evidence that showed going hard and going early to protect New Zealanders from the spread of COVID-19 was the best course of action. This has not been lost on New Zealanders.
Capitalising on the current climate of awareness and unlocking further capability will depend upon building and maintaining global partnerships, with researchers, industries, businesses and government. Science and technological developments will need to flow through all parts and participants of the value chain and lead to practical benefits and opportunities. In that regard we intend to engage and increase understanding at each step of the chain. It is very much a rotational knowledge base, where each step informs the other, with the end product being to enhance well-being.
Further to this our Prime Minister has her own Chief Science Advisor and they have a forum of Chief Science Advisors across government departments to ensure that key issues and decision making can be informed by scientific evidence.
Science is critical for the wellbeing of all New Zealanders and the wellbeing of our nation as a whole. In the wake of COVID-19, science, research, and innovation is critical to economic prosperity and our recovery from the impacts of the global pandemic. To grow our economy and to grow our primary sector in particular New Zealand needs to be encouraging the best scientific practice and the most innovative use of scientific research.
Increasing public understanding can begin by acknowledging the gains that science has brought New Zealand and demonstrating the role that science plays from genetics, to harvesting, to processing. Science is fundamental to New Zealand’s food production process from seed to supermarket shelf.
It is important that we encourage the next generations of New Zealanders to take an interest in science and pursue careers in STEM subjects. We need to be showing our young people that horticultural and agricultural science offers great career opportunities. Bringing greater awareness to the gains made through agricultural and horticultural research can help young people see a new range of a career paths. It is also important to ensure that this scientific awareness reaches Māori and Pasifika communities as there is a consistent under-representation of Māori and Pasifika in science as a whole and specifically in the primary sector. Science is a career path that should be considered and encouraged for all.
Ethical, well-funded scientific research, science, and technology can help reduce our environmental impacts and improve our quality of life, and economic and social wellbeing; and help Aotearoa be a more productive country. The Green Party will strengthen science education in schools, promote greater diversity within science workforce, ensure there is a strong matauranga Māori perspective in research and science, and support and enable science communication by scientists as advocates.
We will continue to ensure that policy decisions are based on sound science. We need stronger links between researchers and society, so that research responds to community needs and results are readily available and influence policy and government programmes.
The Green Party will maintain core support facilities such as libraries and specimen collections, and promote open and shared data. We will require all results of publicly funded research to be published and held in the public domain, with proceeds from patents, licensing, etc, being reinvested.
COVID-19 has revealed primary production is critically important to the New Zealand economy – but why is the Minister/Spokesperson typically lowly ranked within your caucus?
Damien O’Connor – Labour Party
Irrespective of COVID-19, the Primary Industries have and will continue to be critical to the development of New Zealand at both a domestic and international level. COVID-19, has however, potentially highlighted, aspects of life that living in a first world country are often taken for granted.
Whilst, I appreciate the sentiment. I don’t consider myself to be in a lowly ranked position. Each Ministerial portfolio is important. The position of the Minister in regard to that portfolio, is not determinative of a lack of care, respect, or appreciation from the sitting government. Rather it reflects that we have many competent Ministers, who regardless of where they sit on a list, are capable and willing to put in the hard yards in for the portfolios they are responsible for.
David Bennett – National Party
The primary sector has been critically important to the New Zealand since well before COVID -19 came along and National has always recognised its significance. As the agriculture spokesperson I am proud to have a place on National’s front bench, and in Government National’s Agriculture Minister has always been placed on the front bench.
Eugenie Sage – Green Party
As the Green Party’s agriculture portfolio I am the fourth-ranked MP in the Green Party caucus. This is higher than any of the other major parties’ agriculture spokespeople (Labour #12, National #11, NZF #8). Our primary sector has always been hugely important to the Green Party. The Green Party envisions a strong, healthy and diverse agricultural sector that is an important part of an economically viable and environmentally sustainable Aotearoa New Zealand. We will be announcing our full agriculture policy before the election. Key points are here: https://www.greens.org.nz/agriculture_and_food_production_2020
Do you think the Billion Trees initiative is appropriate in the context of valuable class 5 and 6 land being planted in exotic plantations and the on-going issue with accumulation of forestry slash on the beaches of the East Coast?
Damien O’Connor – Labour Party
While we will continue to plant the right tree in the right place to meet our climate change challenges, our food producing soil will be our number one priority. Within the first six months of Government (subject to a second term) we will revise the National Environment Standards for Plantation Forestry to enable councils to once again determine what classes of land can be used for plantation and carbon forests. Resource consent would be required for plantation or carbon forests on land use capability classes 1-5 often known as elite soils, above a threshold of 50 hectares per farm to allow farmers flexibility in creating small plantations to support environmental goals.
90% of forestry planning for ETS purposes happens on less productive soils in classes 6-8, we want to ensure all planting happens away from our most valuable soils 1-5. Communities know best about their local sectors and should be able to determine whether forestry should be happening on their productive pastoral land.
David Bennett – National Party
Forestry is a valuable industry and should be encouraged. However, the Billion Trees programme is a political promise rather than a genuine attempt to reduce emissions responsibly. It is not operating on a principle of right tree, right place and we are seeing perverse outcomes as a result.
The distortion in the Overseas Investment Office’s rules for land purchases and the role of planting to meet carbon offset targets has led to some productive sheep and beef farms being purchased for forestry.
Rural communities are concerned about some of these rules and we believe they need to be re-examined. It is concerning to see prime farmland being converted at an accelerated rate and once this conversion has occurred we are unlikely to see this land return to farming.
The Government has indicated that they may require a consent process to plant on certain land but this would exclude class 5 land and above. This RMA process is therefore ineffective and merely a political stunt to try and appease the rural communities.
The reality is that most of these conversions are happening on class 5 and above land, so the exemption in the policy effectively renders this RMA consent requirement redundant.
Eugenie Sage – Green Party
Forests are vital to Aotearoa New Zealand. They store carbon, and expanding the area of land in forest can help Aotearoa New Zealand meet its international climate commitments in the short term.
While the Green Party supports the Government’s One Billion Trees programme for its climate and economic benefits, we believe that all rural production land must be managed in ways that are environmentally and ecologically sustainable and preferably regenerative. Planting efforts must be diversified into different species including native plantation timbers.
In Government the Green Party has achieved a commitment to review the National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry to ensure the standards better address issues such as species diversity; protection of productive, food producing land; and wilding conifer spread. The easier test under the Overseas Investment Act when overseas investors seek to buy farmland for forestry needs to change.
Poor management of forest planting and harvesting which results in large volumes of forestry slash, erosion, topsoil loss highlight the need for change and much improved land and forest management. The plantation forestry sector must move away from pine monocultures, to include more diverse species including more planted native forests.
With the Green Party in government we are funding through the $1.3 billion Jobs for Nature programme the re-establishment and maintenance of wetlands, pest and weed control, riparian planting and wilding conifer control.
The Green Party will provide incentives to encourage regenerative agriculture and match land use to land use capability (e.g. to encourage erosion prone hill country to be planted in suitable indigenous forest species for permanent carbon sinks, soil conservation, and biodiversity enhancement).
The Greens support land use change and a diverse mosaic of land uses so that food and fibre production operate within environmental boundaries.