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Posted on 24 Jul 2009

Speech by Federated Farmers President - Don Nicolson at the ACT Regional Conference at Bunnythorpe, Saturday, 18 July 2009

Thank you for inviting me to speak to the ACT Central North Island Conference.

Federated Farmers welcomes this opportunity to engage with all political parties and will be attending both National and Labour’s conferences later in the year.

I would like to start my speech by looking back to the mid 17th century.

Then a series of political false steps led to the most destructive war ever fought on British soil.

That being the war fought between English Parliamentarians and the Monarch, Charles I.

This Civil War broke out due to absolutism.

The European notion of the divine right of kings so desired by King Charles and his cavaliers went up against the embryonic notion of parliamentary democracy favoured by the roundheads.

The war was decided long before the Battle of Naseby in the Treasury.

The roundheads held the chequebook and the King, frankly, didn’t.

And now here we are, more than 358 years down the road and facing a similar predicament but from a whole new quarter.

The neo-Royalists now sit in their air-conditioned Wellington offices telling us what we can do, when we can do it and how we can do it.

Are we in an age of new absolutism whereby those who tax us display the same arrogance that led to the worst war on British soil?

Which brings me to an important question, who is farming exactly who in Godzone?

I’m of course referring to the massive, often negative impact that one farm in particular has on the entire economy.

This farm is among the smallest in New Zealand and is located in just one part of the country.

This 110 acre - or 45 hectare - farm has doubled its expenditure over the past ten years from around $39 billion to about $80 billion today.

That farm is called Government and it's located in Wellington. And that 110 acre block is the area of office space that Government occupies.

But when you take into account New Zealand’s 85 local authorities whose job it seems is to regulate every aspect of our lives, this farm swallows up much more than just 110 acres.

Statistics New Zealand tells us there are 57,000 people working full time in central and local government administration and thousands more in services throughout the country.

When almost the entire population of Rotorua is being employed in Government, it’s a sure sign something is out of control.

That’s exactly why Federated Farmers wants Government to move decisively on your leader, the Hon Rodney Hide's efforts on regulatory and local government reform.

However, while we truly believe changes to the Local Government Act are necessary, the key objective should be to change the way local government is funded.

At our recent National Conference in Auckland, I was pleased to hear Mr Hide say he would push to bring local government expenditure under control.

Too many farmers currently face huge rates bills even before this year's increases.

Farmers don’t bemoan paying costs where they can be absolutely defined but in most instances farmers are being farmed for their rates just because they can be.

Put plain and simple - something must be done to bring these costs under control, and it must be done now.

The total rates take across all local authorities to June 2008 was $3.5 billion.

Yet these local authorities still plan to keep increasing their take at the expense of both urban and rural ratepayers.

According to the Department of Internal Affairs, council operating expenditure is forecast to rise by 41 percent and rates revenue by 59 percent over the coming decade.

Even worse is the increase in local authorities' reliance on rates to fund more proposed spending.

Rates are forecast to rise from 55 percent of cash income to 60 percent over the next 10 years - which flies in the face of the 2007 Rates Inquiry that aimed to reduce the reliance on rates.

Farmers are telling us loud and clear that they are at their wits end.


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