Politicians respond to ’embarrassing’ Groundswell protests

A low turnout at the Groundswell protest in Parliament is embarrassing for organizers, said Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

By Russell Palmer and Kirsty Frame from rnz.co.nz

The agriculture advocacy group today staged protests across the country to oppose the proposed farm-level emissions pricing system.

The government is seeking comments on the proposal, which is based on the He Waka Eke Noa plan presented by a partnership between farmers, sector groups, Maori and government departments.

Members of the group Voices For Freedom have had a notable presence at many protests.

Roads were unaffected – except for some traffic that got stuck in the middle of convoys.

A small crowd of protesters – estimated at less than 100 people – gathered in Parliament, although it’s hard to gauge their size given the presence of a second fair pay protest event.

O’Connor said he had not met with the protesters and had no intention of doing so.

“They have the right to have their voice (…) I want to see solutions and not slogans and I think some of them are completely wrong,” he said.

He described the size of the crowd as embarrassing.

“It’s embarrassing for them, not as much as they thought I guess.”

National Deputy Leader Nicola Willis, meanwhile, had been spending time with the protesters and appeared to be championing their cause.

“National’s preference is to have a program that recognizes the good work farmers are doing on the farm and we want to see more of that – regenerative agriculture, bush planning, riparian planting, more efficiency in the farming system “, she said.

“We also want to encourage technology adoption by investing in advanced technologies that will enable agriculture to occur in a way that produces fewer emissions.”

Willis suggested the crowd size in Wellington did not reflect the wider movement.

“Listen you may have noticed this is not the agricultural capital of New Zealand, there are small towns in parts of the country that will have protesters today, and I’m sure they will came out in force.

“We have to remember that farmers are paying a lot of bills in this country – when they are doing well, New Zealand is doing well – and so look, today National stands with these farmers who are saying a proposal that will shut down one in five sheep and beef farms and sending that production overseas where people will do it in a less sustainable, higher emissions way doesn’t make sense.”

National Deputy Leader Nicola Willis speaks to protesters in Groundswell on the Houses of Parliament forecourt.

It should be noted that the Ministry of Primary Industries and the Ministry of the Environment have modeled a 20% reduction in sheep and cattle farming related specifically to land use.

He also found that some land use change will occur regardless of system design and that technological changes could reduce the effect.

Research into whether reducing food production in New Zealand would lead to increased emissions overseas is also unclear and suggests that the increase in emissions overseas would be much less than the decrease in New Zealand.

Willis said that with New Zealand being the first country in the world to come up with an on-farm organic emissions pricing scheme, the government needed to be careful.

“I think what people are concerned about is not doing a big experiment that fails. And the failure would be potentially irreversible. If we had potentially one in five farms that became unviable and closed, then it would be very hard to start over. I think we just want there to be due diligence.

“We want to work with farmers to come up with a program that puts the incentives in the right place, but it can’t be punitive. In fact, they need to have options – if there’s no technology available, we don’t want to see a situation where they have to stop production and it’s going to happen in a less sustainable way elsewhere.”

Climate Minister James Shaw, co-leader of the Green Party, said he was not surprised by the protests.

“I’ve always said people have a right to protest, it’s no surprise they’re protesting right now because they’ve always said they’re opposed to pricing farm shows.”

Groundswell protesters gather in Auckland this morning.

ACT leader David Seymour said he had not met the protesters, unlike other MPs in his party. He raised concerns that other groups hijacked the protests.

“I understand there were a number of people who tried to hijack the event,” he said.

“I understand you have other groups with other causes that have tried to jump on the bandwagon so to speak, our view is that we support opposition to an avalanche of regulations that New Zealanders rural people have faced. I think they need to be defended.

“ACT believes that climate policy imposed on farmers is wrong for the simple reason that it is a tax on food that will force food production to less efficient producers overseas, which will harm the economy. New Zealand agriculture and climate.

“But I wouldn’t have much to say about some of the other people who tried to hijack the process today.”

Consultation on the government’s proposed response to He Waka Eke Noa closes on November 18, with final proposals to be submitted to ministers for approval next year.

Low participation in other centers

A few hundred protesters each gathered in Auckland and Christchurch.

In Dunedin, where there were less than 100 people, Groundswell co-founder Bryce McKenzie addressed supporters.

“Look around you…one in five farmers you see here will be gone by 2030, and those who remain will be under immense pressure and strain,” McKenzie said.

Hawke’s Bay farmer Richard didn’t think the policy would work and marched down the steps of Parliament.

“The tax is going to make our businesses unviable in many cases, so I’m really worried about the social aspects in rural New Zealand,” he said.

“Freezing works in Wairou for example, small towns like Pahiatua, Danneverke, Eketāhuna that depend on farmers to buy produce… they’re going to disappear and we’re going to have a blanket of pine trees.”

Rural lawyer Jamie McFadden said government regulations are weighing on farmers.

“I’m sitting around kitchen tables with farmers in tears — and they’re good farmers, just trying to get on with their lives,” McFadden said.

In Wellington, a small counter-demonstration took place on the way to Parliament.

Valerie Morse said the emissions tax scheme was no good as it was “totally inadequate”.

Farmers demonstrate in Auckland this morning.

“Farming should be brought into the emissions trading scheme without rebates – we are tired of subsidizing pollution and the destruction of New Zealand’s climate and waterways too.”

Without the He Waka Eke Noa proposal, farmers will be forced to join the emissions trading system from 2025.

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