Saturday, December 2, 2023

Hear our voices

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Country went to town in Wellington on Thursday with hundreds of farmers marching on Parliament to protest against what they see as increasing afforestation of productive farmland, often by overseas owners.
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However, it wasn’t the only reason people were there with others expressing disapproval of policies focusing on everything from environmental regulations to gun control.

After gathering at Civic Square the protestors, many with placards and led by a tractor carrying a sign saying “Farmers have had enough” marched down Lambton Quay to Parliament where they delivered a petition, signed by more than 11,000 people online, calling for the rejection of legislation that incentivises blanket afforestation of farmland.

A minute’s silence for rural New Zealand and the laying of a wreath made from pine trees were part of the ceremony.

Accepting the petition, National Party agriculture spokesman Todd Muller acknowledged the work of its instigator, Gisborne farmer Kerry Worsnop, who drove for eight hours to be at the protest.

Worsnop said she was very pleased with the number of rural people, mainly from the lower North Island but also from as far afield as Canterbury and Otago, who turned up.

Before the march she hoped it might attract a similar number of people to the 400 who took part in infamous fart tax march on Parliament in 2003 and that number was easily surpassed.

Muller told the crowd he and his fellow National MPs – including a few who were on the march – stand shoulder to shoulder with them, which drew a few jeers from the crowd who questioned why the party did not vote against the Zero Carbon Bill.

That was nothing to the reaction given to Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Forestry Minister Shane Jones.

O’Connor, who was often interrupted by the crowd, said he appreciates their concerns, the Government is listening and if it sees a need to step in and address afforestation of productive farmland then it will but it does not believe there is a massive shift to plantation forestry.

Jones too was heckled, which he later described as insulting before responding in kind by labelling the protestors as rednecks.

A couple of hours earlier proceedings began on a much more positive note with speakers at Civic Square including 50 Shades member Mike Butterick, Otago University law student Eve McCallum and Tauranga city councillor Andrew Hollis well received.

Most shoppers and office workers in Willis Street and Lambton Quay were positive. A shout of “get a real job” and one young woman giving them the thumbs down were more than balanced by the number of people who got their cellphones out to get a photo of a tractor in the middle of town or the huntaways near the front of the march.

Wairarapa farmer Sully Alsop said the message marchers took to Parliament was not about rural communities or urban centres.

“This is about all of NZ and protecting the way of life that we all enjoy, the way of life that the pastoral sector contributes to so significantly for all – every minute.

“And that pastoral sector, that is so much the fabric of much of our country’s identity, is confronted with unprecedented change and challenges.

“We are not here to push back against change, we are not laggards and do not have our heads buried in the sand – quite the opposite.

“Much of the change that is being proposed is not actually change at all but a continuation of the good work carried out by our sector over the past decades, well before water quality and climate change became daily talking points.”

The sector has been challenged before and risen to that challenge and adapted.

That can happen again as long as pastoral land is retained, he said.

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