Wednesday, December 6, 2023

ALTERNITIVE VIEW : Warning: Provinces won’t back off

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I’ve been now seen three farmer protests. The first, in 1986, was the result of the vindictive anti-farmer policies of Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble.
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Thousands marched but achieved nothing.

There was the FART Tax march of 2003 when 400 turned up to Wellington, mainly from the southern North Island. I remember the leader Bryan Hocken being concise, coherent and forceful. The FART Tax was withdrawn.

Then last Thursday there was the protest from 50 Shades of Green about good farmland being blanket planted with pines.

It was a professionally organised event attracting, by my count, 1200.

I have never seen such a committed bunch of provincial Kiwis as passionate about an issue.

Those attending were given a succinct explanation about the reason for the march, basically that provincial New Zealand can’t survive with vast tracts turned into trees and, in many cases, just left to rot.

Unlike the previous two protests it wasn’t just farmers but all the various cogs that make up the provincial NZ engine. There were farmers, shepherds, shed hands and shearers. There were stock agents, consultants, wool brokers, vets, truck drivers and local government – men and women from the provinces who aren’t farmers but are concerned about the future of their towns.

There were young mothers with children who had travelled from coastal Wairarapa to make their point along with school children.

There were those from Gisborne, Waikato, King Country, Taranaki, Canterbury, Marlborough, Otago and Southland that I was aware of. We had mayors Tracey Collis from Tararua and Craig Little from Wairoa.

There were many placards. ‘Plant a tree, grow your own coffin’, ‘milk cows not farmer’ and ‘hug a farmer they grow your food’ all appealed.

The speeches at Civic Square and Parliament were focused.

They were written and delivered by farmers and they were good. We had a 19-year-old law student who was brought up on a farm. She wants the same opportunities for the next generation of rural youngsters.

The message to politicians ‘you have a responsibility to lead us before you lead the world’ received a strong ovation.

The 50 Shades of Green people are professional, non-political and focused. They want the right tree in the right place as much as Forestry Minister Shane Jones does. They strongly oppose blanket planting of good farmland.

Chairman Andy Scott leads from the front and marketing and promotions manager Gwyn Jones is creative, energetic, professional and focused. Rural NZ needs more like her.

I thought the huntaways leading the march and the subsequent bark-up were inspirational.

Scott described the march as a massive success and said the turnout shows the level of concern in the provinces.

It’s hard for farmers to get away from the farm at this busy time and go to Wellington. It’s not like just wagging school for a day.

The march extended down Lambton Quay, encouraging considerable support from the locals.

No politician had an easy ride, irrespective of party.

National’s Todd Muller blamed the coalition Government for the problem, ignoring the fact his party voted for the legislation. The crowd knew and reacted.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor spoke well as did Jones but it was difficult to hear them.

The key issue for me is Jones doesn’t believe there is a problem. I disagree.

There’s nothing stopping me buying a farm and planting it and neither the ministry nor the minister have a clue and that is happening throughout NZ.

Last month it was reported 38,600 hectares had been sold for forestry. That’s almost 350,000 stock units gone forever. 

At Parliament last Thursday the issue came down to disagreement about the size of the problem.

It is considerable and growing massive and no-one in Wellington has a clue. Logic suggests if it isn’t an issue you wouldn’t have 50 Shades and you wouldn’t have the march numbers, the geographic spread and the diversity of provincial people attending.

What’s frustrating is that it’s easy to fix – on class five land and above plant what you like. Below that make forestry a consentable activity.

What further frustrates me is the NZ First position is against all of its principles, allowing wealthy and titled foreigners to blanket plant good farmland. The right tree in the right place has nothing to do with it. Selling the family silver does.

That attitude will cost far more NZ First votes than the Provincial Growth Fund can possibly gain.

Provincial NZ has no friends in Parliament.

What we have now is a large group of highly coherent and motivated provincial people who aren’t going to give up.

They’re passionate about their provinces and will fight to defend them.

It was worth this old bloke going to Wellington and seeing the cohesion, the commitment and the passion of our provincial people.

Politicians ignore that at their peril.

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