Jamie Mackay has written an open letter to the PM with a plea that she learns from her party’s history:
I’m writing on behalf of New Zealand farmers. . .
Like you, I was sceptical about the Groundswell protests. But perhaps unlike you, I was taken aback by the scale and unity on show, by the noise made by the silent majority.
Farmers are sometimes chastised for claiming to be the backbone of the economy. I would argue that, these days as our biggest export earner by a country mile, that’s a fair claim, especially with the demise of tourism in the short-to-medium term.
But in reality farmers are a subset of the SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) that are the engine of our economy. And that could be the small engineering business employing a dozen workers or your local cafe owner working 70 hours a week.
And the problems that threaten to handicap farmers will have an adverse impact on all those other SMEs that service and supply them.
Groundswell targeted seven pillars of protest. The ute tax was seventh on that list and a convenient calling card to hang a protest hat on. In reality Groundswell was all about the pace of change and the tsunami of regulation hitting, not only farmers, but all SMEs and the productive sector.
So Jacinda, what I’m asking on behalf of farmers is that you look to history for a solution to getting farmers on board to combat the undeniable (sorry CC deniers) threat GHG emissions pose to our planet.
As a keen student of politics, and the history of your own political party, you’ll know all about the biggest economic reforms this country has ever undertaken.
While Michael Joseph Savage and his 1930s formation of the welfare state was right up there, I would argue that the transformative 1980s David Lange-Roger Douglas Government takes the cake. That was until Lange lost his nerve, stopped for a cup of tea, and choked on the cake.
Rogernomics gutted provincial New Zealand. Farming was seen as a sunset industry. Who needed pitch-fork wielding hayseeds on the land when you could invest in Brierley shares? I don’t need to remind you how that ended in tears.
Yet history proves Douglas was a visionary and the man most responsible for where New Zealand agriculture finds itself now – as the most sustainable farming nation on Earth.
Rob Muldoon had taken our country into a death-spiral of interventionism and unsustainable subsidies.
The seeds of the problems that Douglas had to solve were planted over several years. The current government is replanting some of those bad seeds.
Douglas could see there was no future in farm subsidies. So we went cold turkey, almost overnight. Too hard, too early! The collateral damage was huge and the cost horrendous to provincial New Zealand. The cure was worse than the disease. Yet Douglas was right. Only his timeframe was wrong.
And herein, Jacinda, lies the history lesson. Transformation is like Rachel Hunter’s hair. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
It is already happening but problems which developed over years can’t be solved overnight.
By all means, incentivise a transformation to lower emission vehicles. But don’t penalise the productive sector, until you have a realistic, practical and “legitimate” alternative.
By all means, incentivise cleaning up our waterways. But recognise farmers who have spent hundreds of thousands of their own money on fencing off waterways, riparian planting and restoring wetlands. And hold urban New Zealand to equal account.
By all means, incentivise the reduction of methane emissions from ruminant livestock. But let’s look to science for the answer such as methane vaccines and new pasture species rather than the sledgehammer of an arbitrary 15 per cent reduction in livestock numbers.
And by all means, use your undeniable profile on the world stage to petition the world’s worst emitters, China, the USA and India to get their collective [green]houses in order. Don’t sacrifice New Zealand and its economy on the altar of climate change.
So Jacinda, to quote from that iconic Aussie movie The Castle, it’s all about the “vibe”. Farmers get the vibe, agree on the end-point but would question the timeframe as to how we get there.
Learn from Rogernomics. Be on the right side of history on this one. Take farmers with you. Be kind. Our collective provincial plea to our PM is; we want Ohakune carrot, not Wellington stick!
Most agree with the goals but many disagree not just with the timeframe but the way the policies are being imposed by people in Wellington dealing with theory rather than working with the people on the ground who understand the practice.
Rather than looking at what’s working and using that as a model to help the laggards follow suit, the government is doing to farmers what it’s done to polytechnics and is threatening to do with three waters.
It’s going for central control and the pace at which it’s trying to impose it is, as Jamie points out, ignoring the mistakes of its own history.