Are NZ Politicians playing their own Trump cards?

A monthly Wanaka Sun column by Kim Reilly, Federated Farmers South Island regional policy manager, on issues affecting the Upper Clutha’s rural community.

Who would have thought New Zealand would be able to foot it on the world stage of utterly unpredictable elections?

We’ve had not one, but a staggering three political party leaders hit the ropes and call it a day.

Meanwhile, Labour, National and NZ First jostle each other for the centre voters, and out on the periphery Gareth Morgan has turned his attention from plotting the demise of cats to opining about pigs in lipstick.

So in this game of high stakes poker where the win is there for the taking, has the ante just been raised?

We expected the anti-immigration issue to rise to the surface, but Labour has just doubled down and played the Water card, through its proposed irrigation tax.  

Is this fair? Well, the New Zealand public will have to decide whether this is a big play for the emotions of voters, or a sound policy based on solid ground.  

In the view of those in the primary industries, the proposed policy will gather a lot of money but won’t necessarily direct the funding to where it is needed the most; and it will hit consumers in the pocket or otherwise force them towards cheaper imported products.

But putting aside the merits (or otherwise) of an irrigation tax, it is essential for those of us in the industry to continue to emphasise, whenever we get a chance, that farmers are already on board with the goal of ensuring our rivers are swimmable.

This is not only a desire that urban people hold for future generations; all New Zealanders want and demand the same, and that applies to all waterways, whether urban, rural, beach or coast. Jacinda Ardern is absolutely correct that this is our birth-right as New Zealanders.

Farmers are already investing heavily and changing practices to meet stricter requirements around water quality and water takes, this work is happening out there and no-one denies that it needs to continue.

However, my frustration is that political parties seldom acknowledge the good work that farmers are already doing in this space. It is clearly way easier for politicians to show a few photos of the minority carrying out unacceptable practices (that none of us would condone) to reinforce the stereotype that all farmers are to blame.  

The National Party is no different if it releases its proposed stock exclusion regulations in a way that placates the masses, but potentially adds unnecessary costs and resource-requirements on hill and high country farmers with no additional benefit to the environment.

All that said, come September, the government will look different to how it does now; and regardless of where your personal views lie or who you’ll ultimately vote for, my deep concern lies at the increasing rift between urban and rural New Zealanders.

Regardless of who is in power, success into the future will depend on New Zealanders coming together, not replicating the deep divides happening elsewhere in the world.

Kim Reilly, Regional Policy Manager - South Island - kreilly@fedfarm.org.nz

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