An investigation late last year by the Herald and Keith Ng showed that a number of MPs, mainly National MPs, happened to own a lot of farms. This isn’t anything new – National has always been the party that represents farmers. The head of Federated Farmers just happens to be the finance minister’s brother. However, the Minister of the Environment Amy Adams’ significant land holdings in mid-Canterbury may by affected by some of the decisions that her government has made on the environment.

Adams owns a number of properties, but the ones of most interest are in two blocks. The first is in 9 titles, at Charing Cross. It totals 1,992,440m2, and has a rateable value of $4,700,000. The second is at Darfield, is in one title of 502,154m2, and has a rateable value of $1,050,000. What is interesting about these two blocks is that they are both within the area to be covered by the Central Plains Water (CPW) scheme. This is a controversial project that will take water from the Rakaia River and use it to irrigate an area of the Canterbury Plains between the Rakaia and Hororata Rivers.

Water has been a controversial issue in Canterbury for most of the last decade, due to the rapid expansion of dairying, and the pressure this has placed on limited water resources. This of course boiled over when the newly-elected National government sacked the democratically elected ECan (Canterbury Regional Council) in 2010. The reasons given for this were that it was “dysfunctional”, but documents obtained under the Official Information Act by the Press show that this wasn’t about so-called dysfunction, but vested interests lobbying for greater access to water.

Further to this, when the bill went to parliament to replace the ECan council with commissioners, it also made it much easier for the Minister to amend a Water Conservation Order (WCO) in Canterbury. A WCO is often compared to a “national park” for a water way – it recognises the environmental, cultural and recreational significance of the body of water, and makes it more difficult for it to be exploited. WCOs are the domain of the Ministry of the Environment – not the regional council; by tacking this clause onto the bill which was nominally designed to resolve the “dysfunction” at ECan, the government showed what they were really trying to do. A WCO was placed on the Rakaia River in 1988 – the river which CPW needed to draw from to ensure the viability of their scheme. This was lifted in 2013.

Work on the CPW scheme is only just about to begin. One of the problems getting the scheme off the ground has been a lack of funding – this is a very expensive project. Luckily, the government decided to take $400 million from the “Future Investment Fund” (aka asset sales) and put it into an Irrigation Acceleration Fund, administered by the Ministry of Primary Industries. Crown Irrigation was launched by the former Minister, David Carter. The MPI says that Crown Irrigation was set up to fund “community irrigation”. Central Plains describes itself as “community irrigation” – despite it having a $375 million price tag. It’s also worth noting the similarities between the CPW and CII websites.

crown irrigation central plains

In September 2012, David Carter (Minister of Local Government) and Amy Adams (Minister of the Environment) fronted the press to explain that they were extending the reign of the ECan commissioners until 2016 (the 2010 bill said that there would be elections in 2013). They argued that it was needed because of the earthquakes, but Adams went on to talk about freshwater management:

”It is critical for New Zealand that the planning governance structure for Environment Canterbury is stable, effective and efficient. To keep the freshwater management work on track, we intend to retain the limited appeal rights on decisions made by Environment Canterbury on plans and policy statements relating to freshwater management.”

The 2010 share register of Central Plains Water Limited shows that a company called AMDON Farms Limited owned 801 shares in CPW, doubling to 1602 shares in 2011. Amy Adams is a director and co-owner of AMDON, along with her husband Robert “Don” Donald Adams. The CPWL register also shows that there are 7 other people with the surname Adams who have shares in the scheme and live in and around Greendale, some of whom are related to Amy and Don.

The Central Plains Water scheme would not have been viable if the National government had not passed the ECan bill in 2010. The value of land with access to water for irrigation is greater than land which does not. Adams owns a large amount of land which is within the CPW water scheme, and also owns shares in the scheme itself. It is difficult not to conclude that the actions of this government, including Adams and Carter, have benefitted their farming portfolios.

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