Thursday, April 25, 2024

Lay a bit of wool and fire on the ballot

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Two important issues are being ignored in this election, says Central Hawke’s Bay farmer Tim Gilbertson.
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By Tim Gilbertson

Two important issues appear to have escaped the notice of our provincial electoral candidates – the collapse of the wool industry and pine trees. 

From the 1850s until recently, wool was a major contributor to our prosperity. 

Wool has almost all of the advantages of its synthetic competitors and almost none of the disadvantages.

Along with hemp, wool can replace a great many plastic products with items that, unlike their polluting oil-based rivals, are recyclable and leave none or only beneficial residues. 

Extensive pine planting is out of control and a disaster, now and in the future. Unrestricted pine planting is a continuing economic, ecological and environmental horror show. 

Forestry is all about the right tree in the right place. A huge amount of the pine invasion is the wrong tree in the wrong place, and a major worry is fire. 

Successive governments have:

• Spent $1.6 billion rescuing Air New Zealand, a major polluter, from bankruptcy. 

• Granted $160 million to NZ Steel, a major polluter, owned by a very profitable billion-dollar Australian Company. 

• Given a billion-dollar tax break to the NZ film industry, a major CO2-generating industry, whose main NZ beneficiary is Sir Peter Jackson, one of our wealthiest citizens.

• Given a $146m tax break to the gaming industry to promote a pastime that encourages sedentary pursuits, which contribute to obesity and its associated health costs.

• Spent over $80m on trying to recover bodies from the Pike River Coal Mine. 

• Given tens of millions in cheap electricity to the aluminium smelter in Southland, owned by one of the richest companies on earth, Rio Tinto Zinc. 

• Spent $80m on a planned cycle way over Auckland harbour, which was scrapped.

On and on it goes, with no end in sight: $80m already spent on the Three Waters fiasco and a $15bn pumped hydro power station in Otago still to come.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has currently 17 projects to “develop high value strong wool products” with a combined budget of $15.7m. 

A further $19.5m has been granted as “co-investment to partner with existing wool industry bodies”. 

That’s a total of $35m for the wool industry compared to way over $3bn for just the few grants, subsidies and handouts listed above. 

It makes a grown man cry.

Thousands of hectares of highly productive farm are planted in pine trees. 

There is no requirement to provide fire breaks or fire-fighting water ponds. 

There is no rule ordering them to insure their forests against fire or losses caused to communities thanks to their actions. 

When the trees burn we have limited means of putting them out because our fire-fighting resources are inadequate and of little use off-road. 

Forestry owners can walk away, leaving us to pick up the pieces, saddled with a massive increase in carbon. 

The recent Canadian fires spewed 2 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – the equivalent of an entire year of Canada’s “normal” annual emissions.

Our candidates are long on theory. Three hundred and fifty more doctors and free dental care by 2030 are wonderful ideas, doomed to fail because 40% of young doctors leave NZ within seven years of registration and there is a worldwide shortage of dentists and dental technicians . 

A struggling rural economy, failing country businesses, unemployed shearers, forest fires and cyclones are the more immediate problem.

We should concentrate on creating health, wealth and happiness in the countryside. 

We have productive land that we should be nurturing. We have proven industries we should be investing in. 

Our candidates should be vocal about the need for woollen mills and fire-bombing aircraft. Not $3bn on another Auckland harbour crossing nobody needs and tens of millions on a Wellington road tunnel we can well do without. 

Our would-be MPs face a simple choice: they can serve the long-term interests of our country or the short-term agenda of their particular party. Let’s hope they choose their country. 

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