Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Election ’23: Looking beyond the talk and headlines

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Alan Emerson slows down the political spin long enough to interrogate the voting options.
Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard says the latest survey shows a ‘huge drop’ in sentiment in just six months.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’m not looking forward to the upcoming election with the claims, counterclaims and general bluff and bluster. I’m going to vote on policy, not on personalities or debating points.

I wasn’t ragingly smitten with the National Party’s recently announced agriculture policy. Yes, everyone wants a trade agreement with India, but National couldn’t achieve anything when it was in government. 

I’d also politely suggest that Damien O’Connor’s success as trade minister has been considerable.

I’d love to see less regulation, but cutting two old regs for every new one reminded me of Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s great Quango hunt of times past. Lots of talk and headlines, and that was it.

Yes, I want live animal shipments to resume, but ACT’s Mark Cameron already has a Private Members Bill wanting just that.

Banning foreigners buying farmland to plant trees for carbon farming won’t achieve much. It’s not foreigners who are buying all the land for carbon farming.

I do agree with National’s Significant Natural Areas policy. I also totally agree with Judith Collins’ policy on genetic engineering.

I’m surprised at plans for a minister of hunting and fishing and would ask why, especially as National voted for the current, repressive firearms laws.

National has regularly changed its agricultural spokesperson and I’m unaware of any of them achieving much.

With Labour, I don’t agree with the taking of GST off fruit and vegetables as it seems an administrative nightmare. I’m no fan of co-governance or of taxing belching ruminants. I also believe the so-called reform of the Resource Management Act is a shower.

I don’t agree with the roading/transport policies of either National or Labour.

What will be interesting is what comes out of any coalition agreements.

National is a party of the centre, as is Labour. At the end of the day I’d argue there’s not a lot of difference between the two.

Correspondingly, National’s likely coalition partner is ACT, which will make life interesting as ACT is unashamedly on the liberal right.

For example, National voted with Labour for the zero-carbon legislation. ACT didn’t. National voted with Labour over gun control. ACT didn’t. 

ACT’s primary industry policy is enlightened and supportive. ACT’s firearms policy is workable, whereas I’d argue that the current Labour-National policy isn’t.

Labour’s likely coalition partner is the Greens, and their agricultural policy is totally unworkable in my view. 

That leaves New Zealand First, the Opportunities Party and the Māori Party somewhere in the middle of the scrum. NZ First has a track record of supporting agriculture, the Māori Party I find difficult to take seriously, and I was pleasantly surprised by the policies of the Opportunities Party.

There are two other issues, and they are the agricultural expertise in our political parties and the threat that is Auckland.

That threat is real but, judging by their local government, Auckland is largely dysfunctional.

Almost one in three voters live in the Auckland area, which is incredibly significant as if you win Auckland, odds on you win the election and that is a real problem for the provinces.

As we can’t do anything about the foibles of the Queen City, I believe we should be reminding our major parties about the relevance of the provinces to NZ’s wellbeing. 

That involves promoting and working with those in the established parties who understand agriculture and the importance of the provinces.

For a start, I wouldn’t argue about the passion Agriculture Minister O’Connor has for the primary sector, and his efforts over Mycoplasma bovis demonstrate that. While I don’t agree with everything he does, I would never argue his commitment or that of the other rural MPs,  Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty and Customs Minister Jo Luxton.

National has retired Feds board member Miles Anderson as a candidate; I rate him extremely highly. Hopefully he will bring a greater provincial focus to that party. He is joined by farmers Suze Redmayne and Mike Butterick.

ACT has Mark Cameron, who has been the one effective opposition voice supporting the rural sector. Go to the ACT website. He is solid, energetic and focused. Cameron now has Andrew Hoggard in the ACT camp. They will be an effective team. ACT leader David Seymour is also a passionate supporter of the provinces, as is Nicole McKee.

Mark Patterson was NZ First’s agricultural spokesperson and is solid and knows the sector well. He is standing for NZ First again and has done a great job chairing Otago Feds.

My point is that our main political parties will have a strong agricultural presence after the election no matter who forms the government. To me that is extremely positive and long overdue.

Finally, I have no idea what the composition of Parliament will be after the election. I think it’s far too early to tell and the coalition options are, well, mind-blowing.

It’s also important to remember that the pre-election posturing and the post-election reality could be quite different.

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