Saturday, April 13, 2024

Nats’ new ag spokesperson’s keen to service rural

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Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger has been appointed National Party spokesperson for agriculture. Colin Williscroft reports. Barbara Kuriger can’t wait for the country to get out of lockdown so she can get stuck into her new role.
National Party agriculture spokesperson Barbara Kuriger says she is disappointed the Climate Change Commission is recommending the removal of carbon sequestration by farm vegetation from He Waka Eke Noa.
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Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger has been appointed National Party spokesperson for agriculture. Colin Williscroft reports.

Barbara Kuriger can’t wait for the country to get out of lockdown so she can get stuck into her new role.

The third-term MP was recently given responsibility as the party’s agriculture spokesperson, something she is extremely happy about.

“When you go into Parliament you know there’s a range of jobs and a range of skills amongst your caucus but when you go in as a farmer, I guess every farmer who goes in there thinks ‘one day I could be the spokesperson for agriculture’,” Kuriger said.

“I’ve been very happy with what I’ve had to date (portfolios) and I’ve retained energy, which is great, but look, I’d call it (agriculture spokesperson) the dream job.”

As part of National’s portfolio reshuffle, Kuriger’s former rural communities spokesperson role has gone to Southland MP Joseph Mooney. She retains energy and natural resources, as well as food safety. Former agriculture spokesperson David Bennett has picked up the transport portfolio. He is also the party’s spokesperson for horticulture and biosecurity.

Kuriger grew up on a farm at Ōpunake, in coastal Taranaki.

Although one of her goals as a child was not to marry a farmer, she did (Louis), and has not looked back since.

“It’s led me to some of the most amazing things that I never would have envisaged myself doing,” she said.

Along with her career in dairy farming, she is a former board member of DairyNZ, Primary ITO, Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, Dairy Women’s Network and NZ Young Farmers.

Kuriger, the 2012 NZ Dairy Woman of the Year, was made a Fellow of the NZ Institute of Directors in 2014, has a MBA in strategic leadership and is a past scholarship recipient of the Food & Agribusiness Market Experience, along with being a judge of the NZ Rural Games Trust awards.

She plans to use the experience provided by those opportunities in her new role.

“One of my goals when I went to Parliament was to take rural into Wellington, to make sure rural people are understood,” she said.

“Now I’ve got my biggest opportunity so far to do that.”

She says there are some big challenges facing the agriculture sector, including issues around environmental impact and climate change.

“There’s a lot of high-level stuff coming down on farmers,” she said.

“Labour has drafted a raft of regulations, altered others and enacted unintended uses of various bits of legislation, leading to the enormous pressure on the agricultural sector.

“And farmers have had a gutsful. It’s too much, too fast.

“We’ve seen people getting rarked up about that recently, which resulted in the Groundswell protest.”

Kuriger says part of her new role is to hold the Government to account, part of which is highlighting what she sees as the problems created by a top-down approach to change, rather than getting the grassroots involved early on.

“Working from the grassroots up rather than the top-down is how I’ll be tackling my new responsibility as National’s spokesperson for agriculture,” she said.

“What I want to do is try and take some of these high-level, top-down ideas and flip it on its head.

“Everyone wants to do the right things in terms of environment and climate and everything else that we need to do.

“I want to see if we can get some ground-up things going because that’s when people understand them.

“If you put the tools in their hands, if they know where they are and where they need to go, what it’s going to cost and how long it’s going to take, then you can start putting steps in place to achieve the sort of things that we need to achieve as an industry.”

Kuriger used the initial proposed winter grazing regulations as an example of how the top-down approach does not work.

She says the early proposals were unworkable, yet there were people like Southland Federated Farmers vice president Bernadette Hunt, who if asked could have provided knowledge early-on in the process that could have saved a lot of angst for farmers during the past year.

“So, let’s have a look at what will work first and then see how we can progress that,” she said.

Kuriger is also concerned about the stress many farmers are under at present through being short-staffed.

She says covid has made it difficult for them to get employees in from overseas.

“It’s made life quite difficult for farmers because we’ve got an unemployment level now where we don’t seem to have a whole lot of people available to come out and work on farms,” she said.

“But farmers can’t turn the lights off at 5 o’clock and go home. They stay until the job’s finished, the animals are fed and milked and the lambs are all taken care of.

“They will work until the job’s done, so I do worry about the level of stress out there due to staffing levels.”

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