Fresh water is what gives our $11 billion a year dairy industry its competitive advantage. It is pivotal to our clean, green brand and our $8 billion a year tourism industry.
Add in the contribution to our meat, horticulture, cropping, fresh water aquaculture and wine industries and we are looking at more than $30 billion a year.
Water is to New Zealand what minerals are to Australia. Managed wisely, our fresh water resource is available in
perpetuity. But our fresh water is much more than an economic resource. It is what makes our great Kiwi lifestyle.
We all have our favourite lake or river. The realisation that we are not doing as well as we should in managing this resource, has been growing.
Water quality, still amongst the best internationally, is deteriorating. The regions and communities that make up this great country are very diverse. But we do have many issues in common, especially around the way we all want to use, enjoy, benefit from and protect our natural resources, today and for future generations.
Fresh water is a key strategic and productive asset for New Zealand. Maintaining and improving our water quality is one of the Government's environmental priorities and a key objective of the current water reforms.
That's why the Government commissioned the Land and Water Forum to look into these issues. The Forum brings together a range of industry groups, environmental and recreational, non-governmental organisations, iwi, scientists and other organisations with a stake in freshwater and land management.
Two reports have been delivered to the Government, the most recent of which on fresh water governance, just this month. This second report will help establish clearer national direction on how councils set objectives and limits for fresh water quality and quantity, in line with the National Policy Statement introduced by the Government last year.
The Forum's report also considers how communities can have more say on setting those objectives through the greater use of collaborative processes. I have been impressed with the way the Forum members, who represent very diverse interests, have worked together to tackle often highly contentious issues.
There is a lot to consider in this report, including how the recommendations could be progressed within the wider work the Government is doing to reform the resource management system. The Forum will prepare a third report later in the year. The Government will then be in a position to develop durable policies on fresh water management, based on the complete package of recommendations.
Another rural issue dear to my heart is the Government's Rural Broadband Initiative. Currently, only 20 percent of customers in rural New Zealand can access peak internet speeds of at least 5 Mbps. This will rise to 86 percent of rural households and businesses under our current initiatives.
As many of you will know first-hand, there are remote towns all over New Zealand that struggle with basic internet
connections. But the initiatives of our Government will help these rural communities connect to 21st century technology.
Faster broadband will be a gamechanger for farmers who are, of course, some of our biggest exporters. As a farmer myself, I know that realtime information is increasingly critical to the on-farm decision making process, and igh-speed broadband is key to that.
Farmers are collecting more and more data about their animals and their land every day, and the vast majority of this is recorded electronically. Access to that farm information at the right time and the right place is imperative for making the right decisions.
Information and communications technology can be used to monitor milk production and record data, including culling, calving and health treatments. GPS technology embedded in farm machinery means absolute precision in
cultivation and fertiliser use, lowering costs and minimising the environmental impact.
Systems are being developed that use pond and soil monitors to help farmers manage their effluent and water use,
while satellite mapping technology can show pasture growth, allowing for maximised production and animal welfare.
Rural schools will also reap the benefits of faster broadband. Improving broadband for rural schools will break down the barriers imposed by distance and isolation.
Many rural schools have relied on using satellite broadband and have had to manage with small data caps and slow
speeds. This project will make a big difference for students and teachers. The schools will have access to the best online resources from anywhere in the world.
The National-led Government wants a strong and growing economy that provides more opportunities and better
wages. That's exactly what our current water reforms and Rural Broadband Initiative are focused on delivering.