12 Apr 2018

National takes swipe at govt over axeing irrigation schemes

9:19 pm on 12 April 2018

The National Party has taken a swipe at Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor for not consulting properly before axeing several large irrigation schemes.

Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor.

Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The comments followed moves last week to begin winding down public funding for large-scale irrigation through the state agency, Crown Irrigation Investments Limited.

The government said at the time that big private irrigation schemes had to be be self-financing.

But National's Agricultural spokesman Nathan Guy has since said Mr O'Connor did not consult Crown Irrigation Investments Limited before the decision was made.

Mr O'Connor told Parliament earlier that he had met staff from Crown Irrigation Investments.

But he yesterday corrected this statement, saying he had not met them since becoming Minister.

"I confirmed that I had met with Crown Irrigation officials during my time as the current Minister of Agriculture," Mr O'Connor said.

"I wish to correct this to [the following]: I met with Crown Irrigation Ltd officials in my time prior to becoming the current Minister of Agriculture and I have met with officials from Irrigation New Zealand during my time as the current Minister of Agriculture.

However it has since emerged that part of that correction was itself incorrect.

Mr O'Connor said he had met another branch of the irrigation business, Irrigation New Zealand.

But chief executive Andrew Curtis said he had not yet met the Minister and was looking forward to doing so.

Mr O'Connor could not be reached for comment.

Crown Irrigation head Murray Gribbon confirmed there was no contact with the Minister.

However, his organisation was told consultation would be undertaken by MPI and Treasury officials to understand existing commitments and arrangements.

Meanwhile, Mr Guy has climbed into the Minister's record on irrigation, calling it a kick in the guts for rural New Zealand.

"Farmers and growers and councils have been investing a huge amount of money to get these irrigation schemes running," he said.

"The (previous) government has been co-investing and supporting them because they realise this is an important part of climate change mitigation and food security.

"The (current) government has made this decision without the Minister even sitting down and meeting Crown Irrigation offficials.

"I find it outrageous that the Minister in six months has not bothered to engage with officials to get the real story."