Agriculture Minister hits back at critics, defends sector changes

Rural Exchange 05/05/2018

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor joins the Rural Exchange team every fortnight to discuss issues facing both the Government and the primary sector.

With Mr O’Connor’s new Primary Sector Council and rebranding plan for the Ministry of Primary Industries, politicians and farmers alike have criticised the Labour MP’s moves.

National MP Nathan Guy publicly slammed Mr O’Connor for the Minister’s rebranding of MPI, declaring that the agency has been “robbed” of $17 million from research and development programmes.

But Mr O’Connor denied such a figure as being accurate.

“MPI was thrown together, the Nats thought bigger is better, they can do all these sorts of things. We say no, we want a group particularly in biosecurity and food safety.

Nathan Guy has called out O'Connor's move to rebrand MPI.

“We want a group of people that are focused on that job because it’s so important.”

As for the $17 million, Mr O’Connor says he’s unsure where that figure came from.

“I haven’t seen that figure,” he told RadioLIVE.

“Yes, it will cost a bit of money. There will be a few new jumpers and jerseys and stuff, a bit of painting on cars.”

Mr O’Connor defended both the MPI rebranding and his Primary Sector Council, arguing that “change is needed”.

Damien O'Connor hits back at critics.

“We’ve said that we want change, that’s why we’ve gone into government. It’s not to carry on with the status quo.”

Last week, Mr O’Connor established the Primary Sector Council whose task is to help the primary sector capture more value from its work.

But the Council’s list of 15 appointees has been critiqued for lacking scientists and industry leaders.

Though Federated Farmers has backed the new council, President Katie Milne said some farmers feel they aren’t represented with the council.

But Mr O’Connor told Rural Exchange that the appointees are “business-focused” and that they understand the future.

“I’m not going to appoint, and I was never going to, a bunch of people just representing their particular sector,” he said.

The council will be chaired by former Zespri Group chief executive Lain Jager, with the first meeting to be held in late May. 

Watch the full interview with Damien O'Connor above.

Rural Exchange with Hamish McKay, Sarah Perriam and Richard Loe, 5-7am Saturday and Sunday on RadioLIVE with Carter’s Tyre Service. Click here for all the ways to watch and listen.