Compensation, fuel tax of major concern

Hamish Walker
Hamish Walker
Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker looks back on six months in office and identifies the issues facing constituents.

It's been a busy six months for me, representing the people of Clutha-Southland and taking on the role of National's associate spokesperson for agriculture, adding my voice and support to the agricultural sector and rural communities across the country.

In this regard, I have a number of concerns regarding recent policy announcements by the new Government which are going to have a severe and detrimental impact on the rural communities in Clutha-Southland that I represent.

I was disappointed to hear the Government's plans to increase fuel tax of up to 12c a litre, costing the average motorist $10 to $15 more each time they fill up the tank.

This is a huge blow for our rural communities, especially in keeping our farmers and producers connected to major centres.

In Otago and Southland, we rely on our roads to get milk from our cows and meat from our farms to international markets. Without access to public transport, we have no choice but to drive.

We're being told to accept it - as well as the big decrease in regional highway investment - all to pay for new trams in Auckland.

The biggest issue facing Clutha-Southland is the long-awaited decision by the Government to cull cattle infected with the Mycoplasma bovis disease.

This brought some welcome relief to affected farmers but I am continuing to hear from some who are fighting for compensation.

The Government has been too slow to compensate farmers and my challenge to the minister is, be fair and fast with future compensation claims.

This has been a difficult time for farmers while they have waited for critical decisions to be made about managing and controlling this disease.

I am also hearing reports from the cattle industry that the Government is forcing them to contribute close to 50% of response costs which are outside of the current government mandate when biosecurity incursions occur.

The Government Industry Agreement (GIA) was established in 2013 and sets out a framework for cost-sharing between the Government and various industry groups as and when biosecurity incursions arise.

The cost-share for any particular incursion - whether it's fruit fly or Mycoplasma bovis, was agreed between Government, 16 primary sector organisations and endorsed by farmers and growers around the country in 2013.

It concerns me that at a meeting this week between the minister, Damien O'Connor, and industry, he was pressuring industry to make contributions of up to 50%.

The minister told them projected cost ranges in the industry are: $450million for a ``phased eradication'', $500million for ``rapid eradication'', $570million for ``long-term management'' or $870million to close out the response.

A few months ago, the cattle industries confirmed initial funding of $11.2million. They did so without precedence but on the understanding the GIA is the current model for cost-sharing.

I'm calling on Damien O'Connor to stand up for our rural communities and fairly fund the Government's response without passing the buck to farmers.

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