Monday, April 22, 2024

Alternative View: A great injustice to ag education

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Reading the article by Colin Williscroft on the Taihape school farm saga had me wondering whether we lived in a democratic society or not. Simply speaking, a local offered Taihape school the opportunity to purchase a small farm in 1990 for about half the going rate so that local youngsters could learn firsthand about farming. The community got behind the initiative and raised the necessary funds.
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Reading the article by Colin Williscroft on the Taihape school farm saga had me wondering whether we lived in a democratic society or not.

Simply speaking, a local offered Taihape school the opportunity to purchase a small farm in 1990 for about half the going rate so that local youngsters could learn firsthand about farming. The community got behind the initiative and raised the necessary funds.

The farm was used to introduce pupils to agriculture. It was most successful doing just that.

The school had its structure changed and the Ministry of Education (MoE) confiscated the land, putting it into the land bank for Treaty settlements. The Ministry then offered the Taihape school a three-year lease.

The land should never have been put in the land bank.

The residents of Taihape understandably want the land returned to its rightful owners who paid for it. The Government has basically told them to get stuffed.

Can you believe it?

Taihape farmer and recent school board member Andy Law is enraged and rightfully so. He believes the land was stolen and should be returned. He’s not interested in the lease option and wants any profits returned to the school.

“We’re decile four, a deprived community. The Taihape farming community is crying out for farm workers. The school helped us get them,” Law said.

Ann Abernethy used to teach agriculture at Taihape and is currently chair of the community board. She is proud of what the school achieved with the farm.

“From junior classes upwards the courses were really popular. We had a structured system that taught pupils a full range of practical skills from safely riding farm bikes and being responsible with a chainsaw to shearing and fencing,” Abernethy said.

“When the farm originally came onto the market the entire community came behind it, whether they had children at the school or not.”

Enter Andrew Little, the minister responsible for Treaty Settlements.

In the past I’ve had a lot of respect for the minister but in this instance I believe he is totally wrong.

His statement that “I have no intention of taking the piece of land out of the land bank and making it available to any other party” is in my view extremely arrogant. The land should never have been put there in the first place. The people of Taihape raised the money to purchase the property.

In June last year Taihape had a total population of just 1790 people, so raising $45,000 would have been a monumental effort.

As the result of a change in school classification the MoE simply confiscated the land. They didn’t bother to check or consult; they effectively stole it from the Taihape locals on behalf of the Government.

As the frustrated locals were getting absolutely nowhere with the MoE an approach was made to the Ombudsman who demanded an apology. Sadly the Ombudsman doesn’t have any power to award compensation.

The MoE said they’d apologised and were waiting for a response from the school board. Understandably the school board rejected the Ministry’s apology saying they wanted their land back.

That is exactly what should happen except for the intransigence of Little.

Let’s look at it another way.

A school, in this case the Taihape school, owns a small farm. They paid for it.

The school farm achieved two aims: it taught pupils about farming and returned any profits to the school.

Anyone listening or reading news will be aware of the dire shortage of agricultural workers here in New Zealand. The Taihape school was doing its bit.

Then the school was reclassified. That was a bureaucratic decision. The locals then wanted to put the land into a trust but were advised, by a government agency, against doing so.

The MoE then confiscated the land. According to the Ombudsman and the locals they just took it with no consultation.

Another description for confiscation like that is government-sponsored theft.

The Ministry was totally unapologetic and put the property in the land bank. Again, with no discussion. It should never have been put there.

Despite protestations by locals the Minister responsible, in this case Andrew Little has effectively told the Taihape locals to get lost. The land was being reserved for Treaty settlements even though it shouldn’t have been banked in the first place.

Just think of the iniquity of that entire exercise.

Taihape school is decile four. It is not a wealthy institution. Around two-thirds of the pupils are Māori. At a time when there is a high level of unemployment amongst Māori the Taihape school was doing its bit to train them for work in the district.

Little has effectively told the local population, including Māori, that despite the land being stolen they can’t have it back.

Democracy, justice and fair play at its best! I think not.

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