New Zealand farmers seek more right-wing government for help
Farmers are looking to conservative candidates who will unwind or delay Labour policies on climate change
Wellington — Rural voter anger at New Zealand’s environmental policies to tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions may contribute to a return of right-wing parties to power at an October 14 election, a shift that could diminish the country's green image.
A flirtation with the New Zealand Labour Party in the 2020 election by rural voters, some for the first time in decades, has ended due to environmental policies such as planting pine forests on grazing land and taxing livestock methane burps.
Warning that livelihoods are at stake, farmers are looking to conservative candidates who will unwind or delay these Labour policies.
Southland dairy farmer Bryce McKenzie and his sheep and beef farming mate Laurie Paterson set off at 40km/h onboard their John Deere tractors last week for a nationwide protest. The two will travel the length of New Zealand over 10 days to encourage rural communities to vote for a change.
“Rural New Zealanders and farmers in particular have found things really difficult for the last six year and particularly the last three years, when there has been a whole raft of regulations come in,” said McKenzie, who cofounded rural protest group Groundswell.
Farmers in New Zealand have staged several protests in the past two years against growing regulations and agricultural emission schemes. Similar farmer protests in the Netherlands against government environmental polices saw their protest party in March win sufficient support to shake up the country’ senate.
New Zealand’s opposition centre-right National Party is leading in opinion polls, with voting starting on October 2, but it is expected to need the support of at least one minor party to govern, probably the smaller, further right-wing ACT party.
An opinion poll by Taxpayers’ Union-Curia in early September found that 58% of rural voters — those living in settlements of fewer than a 1,000 people — intended to vote National or ACT.
Green image at risk
New Zealand has been at the forefront of pushing through environmental changes to its agricultural sector, one of its biggest industries and one that produces about 50% of the country’s emissions.
Labour has legislated a number of regulations over the past three years including new rules regarding water usage and the protection of waterways, changing leases on high country ranches and making it easier for sheep and beef farms to be turned into pine plantations, to offset carbon and to reduce the number of methane-producing animals in New Zealand.
New Zealand will also become the first country in the world to tax farmers for methane from animals from 2025.
If elected, the National Party has promised to delay the introduction of any tax until at the latest 2030 and ACT will only introduce a tax when New Zealand’s main trading partners do.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the country needed to continue to push forward with emission reduction policies including those related to farming, as not doing so was a credibility issue for the country.
“Our trade and tourism opportunities depend on it,” he said in a statement.
Green Party co-leader James Shaw said New Zealand had to continue to reduce agriculture emissions because its “future economic security depends on our sustainability credentials”.
However, farmers say they are desperate for a change in policies as they face rising regulatory costs, sharply lower commodity prices and on-farm inflation of about 16% in the past year.
Wayne Langford, president of farmer lobby group Federated Farmers, said recent policies had been impractical, difficult to implement and caused significant frustrations.
“We will probably see quite a large backing towards … the right-wing parties this year — the National, ACT and New Zealand First — because it's not necessarily that farmers are against some of what Labour were putting forward, it’s more that they feel like they are not getting listened to, and that what is being put forward is not practical,” Langford said.
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