Will the government listen to farmers now?

Will the government listen to farmers now?
A little over a week ago, Farmers across the country took part in ‘The Mother of all Protests.’ Utes, 4WDs, and tractors descended on the cities so farmers could get their voices heard.

And this isn’t the first time this has happened. This protest was a follow-up of the ‘Howl of a Protest’ that happened earlier this year. In this email I want to quickly cover why farmers are protesting and what this means for the country.

It was around July this year when farmers across the country first got in their tractors and utes and headed into the towns and cities to protest.

Right away that tells you that something is wrong. Farmers, probably the most overworked group of people in New Zealand, taking a day off to drive into town. Even when there was heaps of work to be done at home, thousands of farmers all over New Zealand came together.

The ‘Howl of a Protest,’ happened in 55 towns and cities across New Zealand. In Auckland, tractors and utes roared down the motorway, heading for the centre of the city. I bet that it had been years since some of those Aucklanders had even seen a tractor up close!

It wasn’t just the big cities that saw the action. The town of Gore became gridlocked because there were around 600 tractors and 1200 utes on the road. It was the same in many of the other town centres. No matter what your opinion is on the protest, you can’t dispute that farmers made sure their voices were heard.
But what were these farmers protesting?

There are people in the media and government who want to paint this protest as a sort of ‘redneck rebellion.’ They want to pretend that the farmers were out there because they don’t believe in climate change and they want to pollute rivers and waterways without repercussions.

Well, that’s not the truth. Not even close.

It’s a standard tactic to portray farmers as backwards or conspiracy theorists, because that way people won’t take the time to actually listen to what’s going on.
Groundswell, the organiser, had a list of points behind the protest. Here are the key ones:

1. Seeking a halt to, and rewrite of, unworkable regulations – freshwater, indigenous biodiversity, climate change and Crown Pastoral Land Reform bill (new regulation affecting high country farmers).
2. A stronger advocacy voice on behalf of farmers and rural communities.
3. Seeking solutions to environmental issues that are tailored to regional/district differences.
4. Supporting the hundreds of grassroots initiatives like Catchment and Landcare groups, QEII covenants, and biodiversity and conservation trusts.

That’s why farmers were protesting. Not because they want to turn New Zealand into a landfill, but because the environmental regulations are becoming unworkable.

I wrote earlier about the waterways issues, about how unclear the government has been, how expensive it is all going to be, and how aggressive the government is with their timeline.

It’s not that farmers don’t want New Zealand’s waterways to be clean – the problem is the supposed ‘solution.’

The national president of Federated Farmers, Andrew Hoggard, said that, “Everyone agrees with the big picture direction, but these policies, regulations and legislation are coming out in random orders. It's like there's not a work plan behind it.” He also says that maybe that Federated Farmers has been a bit too polite and now it might be time to get blunter with the government.
It’s not about the Ute Tax – that’s just one more thing on the list of farmer’s problems.

Some people in the media characterised the recent protests as a backlash against the government’s ute tax. This is part of the government’s Clean Car Discount package, which puts a tax on vehicles with higher emissions and gives subsidies on vehicles with lower emissions.

Right now, there’s no sort of ‘eco-friendly’ alternative for farmers on the market, which means that this ute tax is guaranteed to hurt farmers.

Even so, this policy wasn’t the main reason behind the protest. It was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

So, what is the solution?

Groundswell gave the government a month to respond, or else more protests would be planned - and that’s how ‘The Mother of all Protests” happened. There’s likely going to be more of them unless the government makes some serious changes.

Honestly, I think it is sad that things have gotten to this point. The agriculture industry is the backbone of our country, yet somehow farmers' serious concerns and needs are getting disregarded by the government.

The leader of the Green Party, James Shaw, said that the first protest was "a group of Pākehā farmers from down south who have always pushed back against the idea that they should observe any kind of regulation about what they can do to protect the environmental conditions on their land.” How many others in positions of power think this way about our farmers?

Again, the issue isn’t the end goal. Who doesn’t want a more sustainable New Zealand? The problem is how bullish the government is about enforcing their policies. Instead of finding workable solutions or taking things gradually, farmers are being forced to change quick – even when they don’t have adequate information, support, or clarity.

I hope things start to change as a result of this protest. Without our farmers, New Zealand would be in a real mess.