Thursday, April 25, 2024

Four farmer MPs deliver maiden speeches

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Four gumboot-wearing farmers, all with close links to Federated Farmers, have now delivered their maiden speeches in Parliament.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

These speeches are intended to canvas where politicians have come from and what they hope to achieve during their time in Parliament. Two clear themes rang true across all four speeches: a deep and authentic connection to farming and rural communities, and a determination to release the handbrake of impractical regulation that’s been holding our productive sector back.

Farmer ‘mindset shift’ deserves credit

New Zealand’s farmers aren’t resistant to change, and those who slam them on their environmental credentials need a dose of reality, Andrew Hoggard told fellow MPs.

The former Federated Farmers president, now minister, said a lot of that debate seems to be stuck in the 1990s.

“I have constantly heard over the years that we have to change our farming systems.

“Newsflash: the difference between my first year of farming and today is like night and day. Farmers are not afraid or reluctant to change; we are constantly looking for better ways to do things.

“Some things work, some don’t; we adopt, we adapt, and it’s incremental. Like all good things, they take time.”

The farmer ‘mindset shift’ has been huge. Catchment groups are mushrooming everywhere. Dairy farmers talk with pride about how much of their waterways they’ve fenced, he said. 

Hoggard recalled speaking on a farming panel at the World Dairy Summit in Rotterdam. All the other farmers spoke about what they intended to do. No doubt to grumpy looks from EU representatives, “I was able to get up and speak about what we had done – all without subsidies”. 

The biggest risk to further progress is ignoring this change. If the feeling among farmers becomes, ‘Why do I bother to do all this, because there is nothing I am doing that is being recognised?’, they may lose hope and stop doing it.

Hoggard acknowledged two great-great-great-grandfathers who were MPs, and his parents who farmed when interest rates were 20%, but still found time to serve on school boards and community groups.

He also acknowledged his wife Audra and two daughters who enabled him to get off-farm and serve on sector groups – including dealing with a 1am raid by the herd into the maize silage crop on the morning of his maiden speech.

“My time in Feds has also prepared me for this role, from gaining knowledge around a myriad of issues to trying to find compromise amongst that broad church that is the Federated Farmers National Council, to the most difficult challenge of all: presenting at a select committee and trying to understand what the hell the question they just asked me actually meant in English!”

Good luck to anyone trying to drown him out in debate in the House. “Just remember I am used to shouting instructions to people two paddocks away without a microphone.”

Farming has been given a raw deal by decision-makers

Miles Anderson said he was drawn into politics “mainly because I feel farming has been given a raw deal by decision-makers who, for the most part, don’t understand the first thing about the rural sector”.

The newly minted National MP for Waitaki brings plenty of life and business experience to the House. He grew up on the family farm his great-grandfather settled as one of 11 children – “only one channel, and black and white, I suppose” – and his parents fostered a work ethic and resilience in all of them.  

As a school leaver, and through the Rogernomics era, Anderson worked in the commercial affairs division of the Justice Department, dealing with the regulatory functions of company law and bankruptcies.  

After gaining a degree in agriculture, he worked in a livestock pregnancy-scanning business in the pioneering days of that technology. 

In 2004, he and his wife Kim took over the family farm, and after 21 seasons and scanning 4.5 million sheep, “it was time to hang up the tools”. 

Then began a long association with Federated Farmers, which culminated in him becoming national chair of the Meat & Wool Industry Group.

National MP Miles Anderson says one if his priorities is to reduce red tape and encourage investment in water storage.

Farming sentiment is the worst he’s ever seen, he said. 

“Farmers are leaving the industry due to unworkable regulations. These are costing enormous amounts of money, eroding property rights, and are ridiculously time-consuming.

“It is the family farms that have been affected the most – generally a husband-and-wife team who work long hours for not a lot because they love the land.”

To see farmers unfairly targeted by decision-makers and NGOs, and suffer vitriol from people who read unbalanced media, is disgraceful, he said.

One of his priorities is to reduce red tape and encourage investment in water storage, believing that for Waitaki and other electorates, water will power growth and provide opportunities for future generations.

“It is somewhat unsettling to note that the last major project of national significance – and not one that benefitted commuters in either Wellington or Auckland – was the Clyde Dam. 

“The dam was completed 30 years ago and, since then, we have collectively hidden behind a curtain of regulation when opportunity has knocked at our door. 

“We have gone from a nation that undertook projects like the Waitaki hydro scheme to a nation that kowtows to activist pressure groups and gives up,” he said.

Provincial NZ deserves to be heard

Provincial New Zealand needs to be listened to and trusted, National’s new MP for Wairarapa, Mike Butterick, said in his maiden speech.

“What bought me, a sheep and beef farmer from the hills of the Wairarapa, to politics and to this House?

“It was a deep despair at the direction we were heading in as a country, and the need for our provincial communities to be heard. 

“You’re either at the table or you’re on it, and it’s never much fun being part of the menu.”

More people need to understand that, despite all the rhetoric, rural people are environmentalists, Butterick said.

“Why don’t we talk about the 25,000 kilometres of waterways fenced off, over 36,000 culverts or bridges over waterway crossings by the dairy industry alone?

“Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on effluent systems per family farm, the country’s 5000th QEII covenant that was registered in the Wairarapa in 2022, the community catchment groups, the millions of trees planted, the 2.8 million hectares of woody vegetation that’s already on our farmland?”

Primary producers may not always get it right, ‘but we are certainly trying’, says National MP Mike Butterick.

Those who live in a rural community have likely spent more on the environment than those who criticise them: “Those who flush the dunny without a thought about where it goes, in their plastic clothes, standing on their plastic carpet, that ignore their own impacts on the environment, and would rather point the finger.” 

Primary producers may not always get it right, “but we are certainly trying,” Butterick said.

“Passion is what motivates the rural sector to do what they do, and it’s the avalanche of previous rushed legislation that’s eroding away the passion. 

“That’s not a great outcome.”

As farmers, all we ask for is a clear direction of travel

Watching his father work tirelessly for 13 years as Kaipara electorate chair for Lockwood Smith, and then for John Banks in the Whangarei seat, instilled in Grant McCallum respect for democracy and the political process.

“I salute all the volunteers who, like dad, work hard for the causes they believe in,” he said in his maiden speech.

McCallum’s own experiences in politics include time as a member of the Young Nats, environmental debates as a Bluegreen – “a forum where all sides of the political and environmental spectrum can meet” – and a stint with Northland Federated Farmers. 

During the 2017 election, farmers became the punching bags of the campaign, he said.

“We were threatened with a water tax, blamed for all the water-quality issues in New Zealand, and were continuously used as a pincushion by the left.”

National’s Grant McCallum sees untapped potential in Northland that can be realised if there is investment in water storage and better roading infrastructure.

McCallum organised a protest in Morrinsville with the help of Lloyd Downing, “who did a great job of fronting it”. 

The stress and worry flowing through the rural community at that time reminded him of the mid 1980s, when Rogernomics was in full swing, the sharemarket was booming, “and agriculture was being called a sunset industry”.

These experiences taught him that while change is inevitable, “it’s the job of leaders to take people with them during periods of change and to help cushion the effects on society”.

Another lesson is the need to reach cross-parliamentary consensus on long-term issues like water quality. 

“As farmers, all we ask for is a clear direction of travel that is achievable while maintaining a profitable business. Having the pendulum swing wildly every time there is a change of Government is not good for anyone, and it is certainly not good for the environment.”

In his electorate of Northland, he sees incredible untapped potential that can be realised if there is investment in water storage and better roading infrastructure.

“It’s time all members of this House release the handbrake on Northland’s prosperity and back the four-lane highway. It is a vital part of lifting families out of poverty, by enabling businesses to invest, creating jobs and opportunities across a range of sectors. 

“Northland will not prosper by increasing the size of the welfare cheque.”

Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.

In Focus Podcast: 16 February

Farmers are often told that they need to tell their story better in order to gain more value from the food and fibre they produce. But what should that story be and how should they tell it?

This week Bryan talks with David Downs who heads up NZ Story – an organisation funded by various government departments – which carries out market research in key markets. He has some insights into what the world thinks of us and how we can use that information to tailor a food story that might finally bring better returns to farmers.

Then, Bryan catches up with Chris Dillon from Federated Farmers in Southland. He‘s got a bone to pick with Fish and Game, which he says is blocking plans to remove gravel from rivers that would make them more resilient to flooding.

Senior reporter Richard Rennie also wraps up some of the stories he’s been working on this week.

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