Water tax still on the table, but detail still missing

14 Sep 2017

While Labour has released some more detail about its tax plans today, water tax remains on the table to be introduced in its first term in Government and critical detail around that remains missing, Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says.

“We have been dismissed with suggestions that it will be ‘one or two cents per 1000 litres’, which may sound like nothing to people who don’t understand how growing healthy food works,” Chapman says. “There has been no definite figure, and no detail of how the tax will be applied.

“Up and down the country, farmers and growers have come out and said that the water tax proposed by Labour will be costly not just for them, but also for the communities they support with jobs and discretionary spending, and ultimately food consumers. A number of these people have contacted the Labour leader directly and suggested she visit them so they can explain to her the impacts of this tax. One example is this letter from the presidents of the Central Otago Fruit Growers Association and the Ettrick Fruit Growers Association.

“And even though water tax supporters keep denying it, there will be an extra cost for consumers buying healthy fruit and vegetables. Again this has been dismissed as ‘one or two cents’, but that will be per item, not on the total weekly food bill.

“No one is more aware than our growers that environmental sustainability is paramount as it relates to freshwater and horticulture. Our growers are mainly intergenerational family businesses with a lot of collective knowledge about cropping systems and the environment. Some of them have been keeping records for more than a century. So working with them, rather than punishing them with taxes that are not even related to good environmental outcomes, will have the most positive impact on reaching whatever targets a new government sets.

“Horticulture New Zealand contends that using science and technology to inform sustainable farming practices and reduce environmental impacts will have better outcomes than arbitrary taxes will. That is, if we are actually looking to solve water quality issues in perpetuity.

“We note the opening line of Labour’s Water policy says, ‘freshwater is a precious and finite public resource’, this is simply not true. Water falls from the sky and recently, there has been more water coming from the sky than we know what to do with.

“We need to work with government in partnership so they can fully understand how food is grown, why it is important to collect water when it is plentiful, and when it is necessary to irrigate crops to deliver healthy food to the shops.”