GUEST BLOG: David Parker – Flammable rivers – Smith’s swimmable river con ignites outrage


National’s announcement last week on water quality was con job which will not clean up our polluted rivers.

The most important river to most people is the one they live closest to and use. If your local river and my local river are clean enough to swim in, then all our rivers will be clean. This is not too much to ask.

There are many layers of crap in Nick Smith’s announcement, which is why water scientists are outraged. I swim and fish in our beautiful rivers, and I’m outraged too.

For 8 years National have overseen increasing pollution of many rivers and lakes, adopting the pathetic “wadeable” standard while allowing pollution to get worse in many parts of the country. We now live in a country where some aquifers have such high nitrate levels that water from bores cannot be safely drunk by babies. Dogs running along rivers can die ingesting water with poisonous algae.

National’s latest attempt to classify dirty rivers as swimmable should be scorned. They say a river which can sometimes have a 5% risk of illness because of E.coli levels can still be classified as “good” for swimming. This is wrong. We deserve a higher level of confidence that you won’t get crook if you put your head under.

It gets worse. Pages 11 and 39 of National’s document say the new swimmable definition applies where the river “meets the guidelines 80% of the time”. The 80% figure means that for up to 20% of the year the standard does not have to be met.

What a fraud. A river can exceed National’s E.coli limit up to 20 per cent of the time and still be graded as swimmable. 20% is 2.4 months a year. This really irks me. From Christmas until the end of February is less than 20% of the year! River quality generally gets worse in summer when flows are lower and water temperatures are higher. Summertime is also when most people swim in our rivers. It is especially important that our rivers be swimmable then. Any standard which ignores that reality is rubbish. Other rules show this is deliberate.

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Take the rule relating to Periphyton – a.k.a slime. Run off from fertiliser and animal excrement causes slime growth. Again this is worst in summer, when flows are low and water temperatures high. National’s proposed rules allow “periodic short-duration nuisance blooms reflecting moderate nutrient enrichment and/or alteration of the natural flow …”. This is deliberately phrased to allow rivers sucked low by irrigation in summer to continue to be used as farm drains growing slime.

Dissolved oxygen levels are also set at levels to enable the farm practice ruining our rivers to be largely unaffected. National’s bottom line on nitrates is also set to protect farming rather than ecosystem health – the bottom line is so low fish-growth is hindered.

After coming into government National spiked the National Policy Statement recommended by former head Environment Court Judge Sheppard after the full RMA process. The core provision of the Sheppard NPS was that increases in farming intensity (more livestock, irrigation or fertiliser per hectare) would no longer be a permitted activity. National hated this core provision, and so ignored it. Their weak substitute NPS has allowed many rivers to degrade further. Their pathetic wadeable standard was rightly ridiculed, as is averaging within catchments.

National caved into their farming backers. For 8 years they have overseen increasing pollution. Poor farm practice has been allowed to get worse. Worse still, they enabled some regional councils to legitimise forms of intensive land use causing pollution that used to be illegal. Diffuse pollution on land polluting waterways has always been illegal unless authorised by an RMA plan rule or resource consent. There is no common law right to pollute. There is no existing use right to pollute under the RMA.

Some farm practices which National has enabled are truly disgusting. It started with dairying, but some of the worst current examples are now atrocious beef feedlots. Beef is booming, like dairying before. Hundreds of cattle in small paddocks are pugging soils, with cattle in mud up to their knees and not a blade of grass in sight. Nutrients are leaching into acquifers below, and tonnes of soil and effluent are getting into rivers and estuaries.

Other poor practices include “spray and pray” in hill country – steep country pasture is killed by aerial spraying, and oversown with brassicas. These steep hills are then heavily grazed over winter, with erosion and effluent clogging our rivers and estuaries. As well, thousands of kilometres of rivers still don’t have fences set-back from the river or lake edge.

If elected, Labour will reissue an NPS on fresh water quality without the trickery. Labour will return to the principles of the Sheppard NPS. This will immediately stop more farm intensification making things worse. It will also require all rivers to be cleaned up to a swimmable standard – measured in summer when people swim.

Labour will reverse the damage wrought under National. Unlike National, we will not subsidise this clean up through taxes paid by others. Just because polluters were allowed to pollute last year does not mean they should get away with it next year.

Fences with decent set-backs to filter sediments and nutrient run-off will be required beside all rivers close to intensive agriculture (low intensity farming without irrigation or other intensive practices in the high country is not the problem). Sustainable nutrient levels (to a swimmable standard) will be required for all catchments.

It is a New Zealand birth-right to be able to swim in our rivers. A dip in your local river on a hot day is a Kiwi tradition. Is it too much to ask that our kids can put their heads under the water without getting sick? What do people come to New Zealand for? Do farmers have the right to undermine our tourism industry?

National, including Bill English and Nick Smith, are patently out of touch. We need a change of government if you want clean rivers.

David Parker
Labour’s Water Spokesperson


  1. The main culprit in river pollution is animal farming. Dairy farmers have copped the most flack, but they are not the only ones. Greater Wellington Council for example allowed a company producing pig flesh to build a factory farm in Carterton, with the effluent of 23, 000 pigs (as much poop as the city of Rotorua) to be pumped to land. The company was later fined a pathetic amount, such fine not being enough to pay for the cost of a prosecution, let alone a clean-up. A group of Wellington activists warned the council against allowing the resource consent – during Helen Clark’s tenure, but we were shouted down.

    If the Labour Party (or any other party) is serious about cleaning up our waterways, they must do something about New Zealander’s lust for flesh. Kiwis consume more animals per person than any other country except Australia, Uruguay, US, Malaysia, South Africa and Belarus (FAO latest figures). Labour need to support initiatives such as stopping subsidies to animal producers, requiring labelling on meat products, getting the Ministry of Health guidelines changed to include non-animal products, NZQA-accredited vegan cooking courses, and abolishing factory farming for environmental and animal welfare reasons.

  2. Thanks for your commentary David and for making this pledge.

    I strongly hope that Labour listens to the Greens on this issue and works with them closely on this because Labour has a track record of not going for the Greens waterways bills in parliament on more than one occasion in the last 8 years.

    Please don’t go back on your word on this.

  3. Let’s look at the problem from National’s perspective.
    Swimmable rivers vs the aspirations of the dairy industry.
    Um, er, gee, that’s a thorny one.
    I’ve got it!
    We can redefine the word “swimmable”, like we did “affordable housing” and “unemployed”
    Won’t mean that you can actually immerse your body in it, it will mean you can stick your big toe in it without your toe turning green or falling off.
    Problem solved.
    Isn’t it great to have a National government that can create its own dictionary to solve all its problems.

  4. Well said David you cornered the issue brilliantly.

    There is a major issue of road traffic pollution runoff also that Nactional have cleverly deliberately ignored.

    Trucks carry 30 odd tyres ( tyre pollution is now a serious polluter of waterways and cause cancer>

    Tyre dust contains butadiene/styrene booth are a confirmed cancer causing and nervous system toxic components.

    Under National trucks now carry 92% of our freight now, as they closed regional rail down, and aside from the stock effluent that we always see spraying off the back off them as we are trapped behind them, diesel and tyre pollution are now big emitters of water pollutants.

    Characteristics of tyre dust in polluted air: Studies by single particle mass spectrometry (ATOFMS)

    “Labour will reverse the damage wrought under National. Unlike National, we will not subsidise this clean up through taxes paid by others. Just because polluters were allowed to pollute last year does not mean they should get away with it next year.”

  5. Best to let the free market sort out waterways.

    ACT and its coalition partners over the years have transformed the NZ economy, letting the market decide on what is valuable and what is not.

    The same applies to water. If water becomes a valuable resource, then it will surely become a trade-able commodity.

    User pays. If people want better quality water, they need to pay the price. A party vote for ACT will ensure cleaner water.

    • Thank you so much. I never realised how easy it is for the market to slve problems.
      I might even vote for ACT.
      I have a question.
      Where do I find the market?

    • we are already paying David it is because of the market the rivers are polluted in the first place. I suggest you open your ears and eyes so you can see more

    • Seems we are already paying the price.
      In a country that is marketed as clean and green, a lot of us have to buy bottles of water so we can clean water to drink because our local town reticulated supply is either polluted or dodgy.
      How does that fit with ACT philosophy?

  6. Courtesy Wikipedia.

    ” Before entering politics, Parker worked as a litigation partner in the law firm Anderson Lloyd Caudwell. He later had a business career in the agri-biotechnology field, including with Blis Technologies, where he was a manager.”

    And a lawyer huh? You know what Robin Williams said about lawyers right?

    ” Scientists are using lawyers in laboratory experiments now instead of rats because they found there are some things even rats wouldn’t do.”

    Do you know the difference between a cow reared specifically for milk production and cows that are not. I.e. for ‘ beef’ production?
    Do you know the difference between, say, a cow and a sheep and a pig and a deer and a goat and fouls and Lamas and … did I forget any wee beastie that’s eaten or otherwise taken advantage of for their fur, flesh, guts, skin, blood and bones?

    I ask because you ask this

    “ Do farmers have the right to undermine our tourism industry?”

    What? Are you fucking serious? A lawyer and a manager of what ever and you ask a lame, simplistic question intended more as a statement like that? No wonder National have the farmer by the nuts. National are smarter than to bite the hand that feeds them. National just swindle farmers unapologetically and remorselessly because they know our farmers make the money we need to spend on our shit and things and exports and stuff and what’s it’s?
    “Do farmers have the right to undermine our tourism industry? “
    I’d say yes. Yes, they fucking do. Fuck tourists and fuck tourism and fuck you while I’m at it!
    Aaaah. God man. What are you asking?
    ( Calm Blue Oceans. )
    You don’t mention the Banks Mr Parker? Why is that? You will know, that it is the Banks that torment us all, but particularly the farmer. Did you know? That some tourists are also farmers? What would happen if a farmer tourist undermined a tourist tourist? Would that farmer tourist turn inside out and disappear into a parallel universe ?

    Farmers are this, since you clearly have no fucking idea.
    Farmers earn our export revenue, and you being not only a lawyer but a manager and now a $-six figures plus entitlements politician should probably be aware of that.
    You might be surprised to learn that it was not tourists who built NZ in to a First World economy. Tourists didn’t build the services, amenities and assets your 1980’s mates took from us and sold to our off-shore primary industry competitors at absurd, fire sale bargain basement prices. Telecom ring a bell? No? What about forestry then? LPG? No? You don’t mind that foreign owned companies own our hydro electricity generators with the consequential flooding of land, including, and perhaps most notably the Clutha Valley between Clyde and Cromwell? Is it true that some Corporate American fucker own our main power transmission lines all the way from the country dams to the city substations from whom we then lease that physical infrastructure back?
    Not all farmers are ‘ Farmers’.
    I’m an ‘ holistic’ farmer. I was trained by my farming mother and farming father in the ways of ‘Farming’. I’m no Dairy Farmer, a cowsploiter. A bankable commodity.
    Our farm was quite big I suppose. It was one square mile, or 1.6 km sq. then we moved to five square miles. ( 8 square K’s. ) We ‘ farmed’ sheep mostly with the odd cow to be annoying. From those sheep, we sent off to The Great Swindle 100’s of bales of wool, meat, skin, lanolin, blood and bone meal yearly and I shudder to think what became of the snouts, arseholes and entrails. Sausages for the barbi anyone?
    (When I see that photo of yankee doodle psycho jonky-stien swigging that beer with his little barbi pinny on ? Ha ! The irony. One arsehole eating another. )
    But I digress.

    As a farmer, I know very well that sustainability is vital. And here’s why.
    ( As a farmer, I can’t spell ‘three’ so…)
    If you run a farm at peak capacity and that peak is knocked over by the weather, by the death or infirmities of one or more family members i.e. slaves or, as is the usual case, and precluded by the darkening of the skies, the barking of dogs and the sudden spike in farmer suicides… The banks.
    When the Banks start snapping the peak becomes the eye of Mordor. I remember my first awareness of seeing the top clipped off the peak. As a kid I remember there was a little round pink girl at my country primary school. Lets call her Nancy. She was cute as a little button. She had pink cheeks and a tuft of red hair held back off her face with a plastic clip in the shape of a butterfly. She found her dad floating in the house water tank after he, a third generation Southland Farmer extended just that little bit too far for the new wool shed? Down went the price of wool, up went interest rates, no hope in sight so he tried a heart shot with a light weight .22. He missed his heart but got a lung so he gurgled his way to where there was one last chance. Head first through the hatch into the concrete tank. Down he went, a little gas build up, up he came.
    The moral of that story is simple Mr Manager and Lawyer. If one’s to be a dirty, filthy, nasty, greedy farmer? Despite the bullies at the Banks, accountants etc, never operate at peak capacity. At least a 30% margin of swindle/weather/death/suicide. That means an animal farmer must always only carry 70% capability in the best of times.
    Otherwise, you might tank.
    ( fawer right? )
    Running at peak capacity.
    What does that mean to the farmer?
    If the Bank says ‘ Borrow to develop Bitch, you gotta keep ahead of your costs and pay our interest, now borrow or we’ll fuck you up.” Of course, you borrow. And borrow and borrow and borrow and borrow. At least until the farmer’s farm’s capital value slides back to greet the upwardly mobile interest rates until the farmer is so in debt to the Banks, that their farming operation is no longer the holistic enterprise it once was and is now a machine, a factory, for churning out product for off-shore and hallowed ‘ consumers’ to ‘ consume, to, in some way create the legendary shit-bergs blocking up London’s sewers.
    Borrowing to run a farm at peak isn’t like borrowing to run at peak for any other industry. If a farmer’s forced to break that one simple rule? The entire holistic enterprise will fly to pieces at the slightest provocation. Usually as Banks increase interest rates but sometimes as a weather event etc, but it is certainly the Banks who have the most catastrophic influence on farming as we’re seeing and you so incorrectly point out.
    ( F-hive ? Bees ? F-hive bees is it ? )
    How do the banks have a catastrophic effect on farming and by association, our environment?
    If interest rates are hiked up on a holistically healthy farming enterprise there are one of three things a farmer can do.
    Thing One. ( Remember. Tax laws prohibit farmers from gathering about them cash funds. Funny that. ) Farmers must increase stock numbers to meet Bank demands. Pretty simple concept really.( Those of you on shit wages when your mortgage repayments blow out will remember reading this sentence. )
    Of course, increasing stock numbers means increasing capital spending. An increase in capital spending means fertiliser to increase grass growth to more quickly realise a desperate dollar for the Window Envelope Monsters, The Banks. Nothing like a nice white window envelope in the dusty mailbox with the spider on the hinge to make a person question their maker.
    Thing two.
    So, out you go in the absurdly over price fertiliser spreader, because, you know… accountant says you must buy something farming oriented or huge taxes and since you’re a farmer, thus the primary industry, so taxes? Ones own money doing the merry go round. But more on that later.
    The Banks shout “ Jump” the farmer says “Yessir, how high Mista Banker? How high you want this old farmer to jump? “
    So, the farmer works and works and works. Physically hard work. It’s cold, dangerous work. It’s dirty and smelly and ghastly work. It involves being brutal to little living things, it involves hefting and carrying and poisoning and murdering. Worst of all perhaps, is that farming is isolating and lonely. There’s never, or rarely an opportunity to go to a music concert or to see a film. The scope for a thinking farmer to have his or her intellect titivated by new and interesting events is all but impossible. National know that well. That’s why the nauseating Blokie-blokie bull shittery that is the MSM when directed at NZ Farmers. The Twanging guitar, the clumping, black singlet wearing stereotype that I loved John Clark for. The piss he took was the best piss ever.
    Thing three?
    You find a fucking tank. Go for a wee swim.
    ( Sick’s. Too many Speights right? )
    Meanwhile, in the leafy suburbs of No Cow Smells Remuera, no-need-to-check-the boots-before-walking-on-the-white-shag-pile country. Jonky country.
    People like you espouse blind ignorance compelling other idiots determinedly remaining ignorant to pass judgement on the very persons who supply you with the wool socks on your flat, trough wading feet as you swallow , then shit out, into your precious waterways the very produce we make for you while taking all the risk for fuck all return thrown down to us from them big city fellers. Certainly, when compared to what the liars and swindlers rort from it once it leaves the dusty track for the big, bright lights of the fast, fancy city.
    The bottom line is a simple enough one. If you don’t want cow shit/piss anywhere near the invasive, fresh water fish species you like to snag on a sharp, barbed hook for fun? Kill off the Banks. Shut them down. Empty their buildings and in their place? Bulldoze the buildings and grow fruit trees.
    And as a Labour MP, ya know? In opposition. ( Baa hahahahahaa ahaha ! ) Here’s a suggestion. Weld farmers to their down stream ( Fishing metaphor just for you ) service industry providers and create an Agricultural Finance Ministry to provide for Farmers in dire need as suspensory loans instead of pushing them overboard to the Bankster sharks. Remember? Primary Industry ? So, their own money anyway?
    Of course you won’t though. And most reading this will be bored at best. Some will think I’m on the drugs I’d love to be on but we live in a civilised country don’t we so none of that malarky? Stone, cold sober in Gods Own Mate. That’s us. God bless peter dunne aye?

    Thank you, The Daily Blog, for being just fabulous. I have a voice thanks to you guys.
    Scarlett Mod might clip my toenails but at least I feel better.

    • one question….any objection to a cap on land use by type and location?…wouldn’t solve the problem of banks and fluctuating commodity prices/exchange rates but your suggested AFM may mitigate there.

      • @ Frank. Yes. Absolutely.
        It’s one thing to be boxed in by Bankers and quite another to allow unbridled greed to trample over common sense. Each farm is a complex organism and must be managed according to location, soil type, climate etc and I don’t know that farmers would be best to self manage that when dollar signs start flashing. Farms must also be able to accumulate significant cash reserves to off set any speed bump scenarios brought about by unforeseen circumstances. Like foreign war, for example. 72 or so years ago? Leningrad? Get my drift? That cash must be held in trust in a goverment ministry. Never, never, ever in a private company. Ever. Think ACC on P?
        Tampering with the holistic ( One could argue, family…) approach to agriculture is down right scary because it could mean starvation in a worse case scenario. In NZ’s case, a financial catastrophe in the short term. In the long term, however, we Kiwis would be fine. We have vast resources on all levels. It’d be simply a question of gaining experience to take advantage of those resources to survive the speed bump period.
        The other thing, of many things, that agriculture needs, are well established satellite towns serviced by rail. We had that, but pig muldoon thought Big and pulled up the branch lines to our primary industry hinterlands which are now, insultingly, fucking dinky tourist trails.
        Why would he do that?
        Can Owens Freight, Mainfreight, Opzeeland, Freightways, Peter Baker Transport, etc answer that for me? Give me an answer as to why road freight is not only unbelievably expensive but destroys roads and us public can’t get a passenger rail service from Auckland to Invercargill anymore. Imagine a rail system that ran from those two points with sleeper carriages and one was able to take pets, as they do in Europe? I used to travel from Timaru to Invercargill quite regularly and it was fabulous. I could have a beer and a cigarette on the smoker car and watch the beaches go by. It was slow and elegant and civilised. Best of all, it was cheap as chips.
        We must, in my view, be ever vigilant for Hyper Normalisation and the way it, they, them will coerce us into believing that what we have is better than what we had it. ( Cheers @ Nitrium ) It isn’t. And I fucking want my stuff and things back and I want those fuckers who took it off us being peeled by an inquiry.
        Our primary industry is in tatters. No farmer in their right mind wants to pollute the waterways much less fuck people off. It’s awful, to know people hate you for what you try to do well. I hear what people say about our farmers and it’s vile and cruel and clearly, stupidity goes both ways. Our farmers are exhausted and anxious at the best of times and us city people are in free fall because vast fucking debt! It’s not our fault but we must act and sort it out. First order of the day? Trash the Banks. Wipe out mortgage debt. All of it. I don’t give a fuck who wins big and who wins small? All would win however.

  7. ‘Do farmers have the right to undermine our tourism industry?’

    Does the tourism industry have the right to undermine the future of every New Zealander? (the absolutely MASSIVE carbon footprint of tourists being utterly unmentionable, and the abrupt climate change that is underway also being utterly unmentionable by our bought-and-paid-for politicians, of course).

    Daily CO2
    February 26, 2017:  408.58 ppm
    February 26, 2016:  403.58 ppm

    • And who was the minister for tourism?

      Screwed the country and has run off overseas. Funnily enough, we were all warned Key would do this, screw the country and f off to Hawaii.

  8. The worst thing is that nzers will eventually become used to dirty rivers and our clean green image will become a thing of the past, much like the American Wild West of yesteryear.

    That is what haunts me.

  9. One solution. In the advent of a Green-Labour government, put a Green MP into the Environment/Conservation portfolio and double DoC’s budget. We can fund it with a capital gains tax, financial transactions tax, and raising the top tax rate for anyone earning $150,000 to 40cents in the dollar. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go take a dive into a polluted river or lake.

  10. David, it is a shame you are not the leader of Labour. You proved, especially during the deputy leader debate last election that you are intelligent and very well spoken, and left bill English looking an amateur.

    If believe if you were the leader Labour would poll significantly higher… Not something I would be overly keen on, given that I prefer the policies of the smaller progressive political parties, but would be preferable over national being in govt

  11. Unpolluted water is such a nationwide problem
    that one has to look not only at the cause and effect but deep into the hearts of those entrusted with our taxpayer funds to upgrade and maintain clean drinking water, streams, rivers and oceans which belong to all New Zealanders. For me those entrusted with this responsibility are the same ones who backed the secret signing of the TPPA. A clean sweep into the rubbish bin of many, if not all, officials and politicians throughout New Zealand seems inevitable if we are to survive in this polluted and poisoned land:
    Maybe we the people can effect these changes and maybe just maybe any party – not named National with people not already bought and compromised- can make those changes officially happen.
    Sadly, we have already allowed a deep foothold into this country by black hearted corporations and politicians are so easily threatened or bought. United as one people we cannot be defeated.

  12. Polluted water is a nationwide problem
    that one has to look not only at the cause and effect but deep into the hearts of those entrusted with our taxpayer funds to upgrade and maintain clean drinking water, streams, rivers and oceans which belong to all New Zealanders. For me those entrusted with this responsibility are the same ones who backed the secret signing of the TPPA. A clean sweep into the rubbish bin of many, if not all, officials and politicians throughout New Zealand seems inevitable if we are to survive in this polluted and poisoned land:
    Maybe we the people can effect these changes and maybe just maybe any party – not named National with people not already bought and compromised- can make those changes officially happen.
    Sadly, we have already allowed a deep foothold into this country by black hearted corporations and politicians are so easily threatened or bought. United as one people we cannot be defeated.

  13. Finally the facts emerge on Nationals shameless manipulation of the legislative frameworks that make up the RMA. Thank you David for your crystal clear analysis of the causes and environmental costs that these liars are unleashing on our precious rivers and aquifers. This is not going to be a quick fix as nitrates in water are a chronic menace once established in aquifers. Ask the Netherlands population who have been dealing with the health effects for years. As someone who grew up on a farm with a grandmother and father who were passionate environmentalists with genuine love of the animals they farmed, this factory approach is not only unnecessary it is ethically repulsive. Farming can be done organically with tree planting, herbal lea pastures and kind animal husbandry. This cuts out the oil by products such as Urea DAP etc that sterilise soil life and make animals prone to sickness that then needs antibiotics. The
    Oil Co. Corporates Have always hidden the role of chemical nitrates in polluting water beneath the falsehood that it is cow urine polluting river water. Take away forced nitrate pastures and adopt lower stocking rates and the problem is halved at once. Roll on the Election. We can be free of these corporate rapists.

  14. CB – I too want what was stolen – back!
    The small country town in which I grew up use to be a thriving community, always busy, with a ‘true’ Bank of New Zealand then, post office, shops of all kinds full of New Made products – clothes, shoes, produce. The school was booming, the surrounding farms, booming.
    Now the town has mostly closed shops, the odd takeaway, lower population, a lot unemployed, smaller school role… You get the picture.
    What happened? – stolen!
    CB please make a documentary about what you have written – it NEEDS to get out there! Mr Parker you/ the Labour Party should fund it!

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