What’s in a name?

Let's hope the name change is more substantial than a silly stunt a la Prince's re-branding in the 1990s

News that MAF will change its name at the end of April and be known as the Ministry for Primary Industries reminds me of the talented, but weird singer and musician Prince.
Back in 1993, Prince had ‘an artistic difference’ with his record label and got his revenge by changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol. Due to the symbol having no stated pronunciation, he was referred to as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.”
Hopefully, the soon to be Ministry for Primary Industries morphs into something more than just a quirky anecdote about the “Ministry formerly known as MAF”.
It has to be a ministry that will be of benefit for the whole primary sector and not just a cunning way for the Government to meet its ever-growing target of culling swags of walk sock-wearing public bureaucrats and antagonising shrill officials at the PSA. Mind you, the latter is enough motivation for the Nat’s to slash the public service to the bone!
The new Ministry for Primary Industries is to encompass all Government work in the agricultural, horticultural, fisheries and aquaculture, forestry and food sectors, as well as biosecurity and animal welfare.
The new entity will come into effect on 30 April
Former Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson has been a long-time proponent of the move – advocating for the change as far back as 2008. In fact, in his penultimate speech as president in October last year Nicolson said:
“The final area is an impending Ministry that ought to be for Primary Industries… but we stress again the need for the word “for” to be in its title …”
Nicolson has always been adamant that it should be a Ministry ‘for’ rather than ‘of’ Primary Industries.
But, isn’t this just semantics?
In a word: no!
Nicolson’s successor Bruce Wills – who is also happy with the rebrand – says MAF becoming the Ministry for Primary Industries is incredibly positive.
“Whether it is aquaculture, dairy, forestry or wine, we have many issues that are common. We can get a lot more synergies from being joined up instead of silos defined by food, agriculture, forestry, horticulture and fisheries. We are all part of one big industry.”
Wills is right.
New Zealand’s primary industries account for more than 70 per cent of this country’s exports, earn five times the foreign exchange earnings of tourism sector, and employ around 90,000 people. So it makes absolute sense that our economy’s most important sector is joined up and represented by one governmental organisation that is working ‘for’ it.
Primary Industries Minister David Carter – the man formerly known as the Minister of Agriculture – says the name change is a logical move. [Another quirky anecdote from the late 1990s is the agriculture portfolio was briefly titled “Minister of Food, Fibre and Biosecurity”, but quickly returned to “Minister of Agriculture” a short time later.]
“It recognises the broad role the Ministry has of growing and protecting the primary sector, the powerhouse of New Zealand’s economy. Importantly it provides the different parts of the organisation with a single unifying identity to champion the sector.”
It is hard to disagree with Carter’s sentiment.
However, is it not time for the rest of the primary sector get its act together as well? I’ve advocated this before and at risk of becoming boring and repetitive (not much of a stretch, I realise).
However, New Zealand’s agribusiness sector is still unable to speak as one, unified voice on industry matters as it is currently served by a wide and diverse group of organisations and lobby groups. Despite the sector’s size, resources and undoubted importance to the country’s economic well-being, it almost impossible for a clear, united and unambiguous agribusiness sector view to be expressed – making it much easier for critics and opponents to pick on different parts of the sector.
Government has led with its move to the Ministry for Primary Industries, now the rest of the primary sector should follow suit and establish a unified, sector advocate organisation.