O’Connor dismisses flood funding criticism

Severe flooding hit the Canterbury region mid-year. Photo: George Heard
Severe flooding hit the Canterbury region mid-year. Photo: George Heard
Agricultural Minister Damien O’Connor has defended criteria for funding relief for flood-affected farmers in Canterbury.

More than $2.1 million has been approved for the flood-hit rural sector in the region, including the Ashburton district, after figures from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) were confirmed by O'Connor's office.

A total of 168 applications had been received by MPI for flood relief funding, 109 of which had been approved.

Another 35 had been declined and 24 assessments remained outstanding.

The National Party's Selwyn MP, Nicola Grigg, has criticised the Government for setting too strict a criteria for eligible flood relief.

Eligibility of the fund determines that 51% of income from a property owner comes from the primary industry, which ruled out dozens of lifestyle blocks.

In a release last week,  Grigg said that the Government set a criteria that was "very difficult for highly-stressed, overworked and exhausted farmers" to meet.

Rangitata MP Jo Luxton and Agricultural Minister Damien O'Connor visiting a flood-affected farm...
Rangitata MP Jo Luxton and Agricultural Minister Damien O'Connor visiting a flood-affected farm in Mid Canterbury in July. PHOTO: ADAM BURNS / LDR
O'Connor responded in an interview with Local Democracy Reporting, saying the criteria was predominantly driven by an independent committee that was established following the May 30-31 event.

"We knew we weren't in a position to judge who should get it (funding)," he said.

"We've been really careful not to intervene and to make sure it did go to commercial farmers who clearly got hammered.

"We felt it was important that those decisions were made at a local level by local people who were familiar with the challenges."

The committee comprised of representatives from Federated Farmers, Beef + Lamb, Dairy NZ and MPI.

He refuted the National Party's claims that only $1.5 million had been paid out.

"I don't know where she got her (Grigg's) figures from - but clearly there is some misinformation there."

O'Connor said flood relief funding for the Canterbury and the West Coast events was never going to "cover all costs".

"It's money to enable people to get through and get up and running and hopefully realise the opportunities of the next season."

Grigg doubles down on criteria concerns 

Nicola Grigg. Photo: supplied
Nicola Grigg. Photo: supplied

Nicola Grigg insists the Government needs to do more in response to the Canterbury floods, despite flood funding relief criteria being driven by rural leaders on the ground.

Grigg was asked for further comment after O'Connor dismissed criticism from the opposition that the criteria was too stringent.

"I understand the Government is a bit defensive at the moment," she said.

"Equally, I think it would show some real leadership and come up with criteria that is easier to meet."

She did, however, commend the other side for fronting.

"I get that it is totally unprecedented and good on them for being prepared to stand up - but they also need to be prepared to invest in the sector that the economy in this country so heavily relies on."

Grigg was at a loss around the $1.5 million figure approved from applications amounting to more than $8 million.

"I'm not sure why he's questioning these (numbers)," she said.

"They've come directly from his office from official parliamentary questioning channels."

- By Adam Burns
Local Democracy Reporter 

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