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External Relations / September 9, 2020

Waikato: National: David Bennett

1.Kiwifruit is New Zealand’s largest horticultural export with New Zealand supply of kiwifruit forecast to increase from 148 million trays (2019) to nearly 190 million trays in 2027.  Do you think the government has a role in preparing for and supporting this growth, if not why?

The Government’s role is to create an economic environment where businesses are supported and growers are able to increase their productivity and expand their operations. This is especially true in a post-Covid world where strong and competent leadership in Central Government is key to our economic recovery. In providing this environment it is important that the Government does not constrain businesses. An increase in taxes would be a great danger to those in the horticultural industry, especially land-based taxes. Such a tax would disproportionately affect growers that have high asset values.

The main areas the Government can assist is through water storage, labour supply, biosecurity, and trade access. Trade policy is vital and it needs not only to be centred around access to markets but also look at issues of intellectual property such as plant varieties. We have many market opportunities with the sub-continent and South East Asia as priorities, especially when we consider Australia has already moved to gain a competitive foothold there.

2.With labour shortages and the possible continuation of border closures next year how will you support the industry to ensure there is enough labour for harvest?

With the continued closure of New Zealand’s border, farmers and growers are facing a labour shortage in roles that are usually filled by the RSE scheme, working holiday schemes, and migrant workers. It is important that we start training New Zealanders in primary industry roles immediately. Covid-19 has been devastating for communities and there is a large number of New Zealanders who have lost employment due to the effects on businesses. Horticulture, and the wider primary sector, presents an opportunity to get people back in to employment and to ensure that horticultural businesses have the labour force needed for the upcoming harvest season.

Although, there are opportunities for New Zealanders to join the Horticulture sector we need to be realistic that many production areas are some distance from population centres. This will require our businesses to maintain existing RSE workers where possible in the absence of international travel.

We also understand that there are some skilled roles, such as operating harvest machinery which can take years to gain the skill required for these roles. There are special categories for skilled migrants to gain exemptions from the border closures but we have seen a very limited number of horticultural businesses be granted exemptions and be able to access the staff they need.

To access the exemptions it is vital we have a strong and reliable border policy. National is making a strong border a priority through our Border Agency and policy. It is vital that this Border Agency is robust enough for our communities to have confidence in our immigration settings.

3.Given that Māori kiwifruit growers provide jobs and economic stability to their communities, what initiatives or support do you think the government should provide for new kiwifruit development on Māori land?

It is important we have Māori and Pacific communities involved in our primary industries Māori are significant landowners in some of the best kiwifruit growing regions in New Zealand and we need to encourage the use of Māori land for commercial investment and returns. The Te Ture Whenua Māori Bill was introduced by the previous National Government to restate and reform the law relating to Māori land. It has stalled under the current Government but if progressed it would provide great opportunity for Māori landholders to unlock the potential of their property. We also need to encourage Maori men and women to make Horticulture a career option.

4.What investment should the government make to increase the participation and capability of Māori in all areas of the kiwifruit industry? 

We believe that overall there needs to be a greater emphasis on promoting careers in the primary sector. This includes encouraging more Māori participation. We would look at initiatives designed to show the opportunities available within horticulture and the wider primary sector. There are many examples of Māori growers reaping great success and this is fantastic modelling for young Māori looking to get involved in the industry.

It is essential that Māori see viable and rewarding careers in the industry. We can achieve this by promoting careers in the primary sector at secondary school and in the family environment, showcasing the positive future of the Horticulture industry to our young people. Our education system should emphasise these career choices and the relevant trade and tertiary training needs to be available so that rangitahi Māori can become future leaders in Horticulture.

5.Access to water is critical. Would you support government led initiatives for on orchard water storage facilities?

Water storage is crucial to future productivity and growth in the Kiwifruit industry. It is very difficult to expand horticultural activity without water, especially as we continue to experience warmer temperatures and more frequent droughts. The current Government has essentially halted any major water storage projects and has only progressed token projects to serve their political purposes. Water storage is vital to achieving the most productive land use and therefore increasing returns and employment opportunities. This Labour Government has very little appetite for greater water storage and any on-farm storage applications are now governed by Labour’s stringent Essential Freshwater Regulations. Making it more difficult for growers to weather droughts and to increase productive land-use.

6.What drives you to run as a candidate in the general election? What do you hope to achieve?

I have a real interest in the performance of our primary sector as the most competitive and promising industry in New Zealand. I believe only a National Government can provide the tools for the kiwifruit industry to expand and succeed. Our plans for water storage infrastructure, approach to labour supply, commitment to biosecurity, and openness to trade will mean we can give growers the chance to develop and build their operations. We don’t want to hamstring the industry with rules, regulations and taxes. I am passionate about getting things done and want to make sure we provide water storage opportunities, enable New Zealanders to pursue careers in horticulture, and improve our growers’ access to international markets.