Coun­cil heads-up raises con­cerns

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery -

In­spec­tors look­ing for ev­i­dence of dirty dairy­ing are giv­ing farm­ers up to three days warn­ing of an in­spec­tion – which crit­ics say is like po­lice telling mo­torists where drink-drive check­points will be.

In­for­ma­tion ob­tained from re­gional coun­cils and uni­tary au­thor­i­ties un­der the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Of­fi­cial In­for­ma­tion and Meet­ings Act shows that eight of the 17 coun­cils give farm­ers at least 24 hours fore­warn­ing of in­spec­tions.

Fish & Game chief ex­ec­u­tive Bryce John­son said this makes ‘‘an ab­so­lute non­sense’’ of mon­i­tor­ing.

‘‘It’s akin to po­lice let­ting driv­ers know where and when they will be set­ting up drink-driv­ing check­points.’’

Other in­dus­tries, such as rest homes and pri­vate hos­pi­tals, were sub­ject to unan­nounced spot-checks and dairy farm­ing should be no dif­fer­ent, he said.

Par­lia­men­tary Com­mis­sioner for the En­vi­ron­ment Jan Wright also said coun­cils should be mak­ing unan­nounced in­spec­tions.

‘‘Let­ting farm­ers know ahead of time that an in­spec­tion is about to hap­pen would mat­ter if a sig­nif­i­cant breach can be ‘cov­ered up’ quickly,’’ she said, adding ‘‘that may sel­dom be the case’’.

Those coun­cils that pre­warn farm­ers – in­clud­ing Auck­land, Hori­zons, Hawke’s Bay, Tas­man, Nel­son and West Coast – ac­count for more than 1900 of the coun­try’s 12,126 dairy farms.

Pre-no­ti­fi­ca­tion oc­curs de­spite an agree­ment by coun­cils in 2007 that in­spec­tions should ‘‘gen­er­ally be with­out no­tice’’.

Other vari­ances be­tween coun­cils in­clude some not con­duct­ing ground in­spec­tions on ev­ery farm ev­ery year.

In Waikato, home to a third of all dairy farms, some of the 400 farms with ox­i­da­tion ponds get ad­vance warn­ing of an in­spec­tion.

The rest are in­spected by he­li­copter, but not all will have a ground in­spec­tion.

Fed­er­ated Farm­ers dairy chair­man Willy Le­ferink said most re­gional coun­cils did not pre-no­tify their in­spec­tions.

‘‘The ex­cep­tions are West Coast and Taranaki re­gional coun­cils, who do book ap­point­ments.’’

But that was news to Taranaki Re­gional Coun­cil com­pli­ance man­ager Bruce Pope, who said the coun­cil had ‘‘never booked ap­point­ments with farm­ers for dairy in­spec­tions’’.

The prac­tice of non­no­ti­fi­ca­tion ‘‘was de­vel­oped na­tion­ally by re­gional coun­cil com­pli­ance man­agers to en­sure that the sys­tem is op­er­at­ing ‘as usual’ at the time of the in­spec­tion’’, he said.

‘‘Farm­ers could ad­just their sys­tem to pre­vent non­com­pli­ance if they were given prior no­tice. For ex­am­ple, pipes can be re­con­nected, ir­ri­ga­tors can be quickly moved and a stormwa­ter by­pass can be changed over in sec­onds.’’

Mr Le­ferink said Fed­er­ated Farm­ers ‘‘favours the no­ti­fied route be­cause the in­spec­tion process should be about boost­ing good man­age­ment prac­tices’’ and was ‘‘a much more ef­fi­cient use of coun­cil and farmer time’’.

‘‘I must also say that trust will only be built up if we re­spect each other and that ex­tends to ba­sic pro­fes­sional cour­tesy.’’

Hori­zons reg­u­la­tion man­ager Richard Mun­neke said the coun­cil de­cided to no­tify farm­ers a few years ago on the back of vastly im­proved com­pli­ance rates.

A spokesman for En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Amy Adams said any de­ci­sion about no­ti­fy­ing in­spec­tions ‘‘is one for each coun­cil’’.

‘‘It is the min­is­ter’s ex­pec­ta­tion that coun­cils would ap­ply their pro­cesses con­sis­tently across all mon­i­tored con­sents in their area, re­gard­less of in­dus­try type.’’

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