Wairoa’s farming community and supporters left visiting MPs with no doubt that they were against the government’s He Waka Eke Noa farm-level emissions pricing proposal, at a meeting on Monday night.
More than 250 people attended the Wairoa District Council facilitated gathering, which aimed to inform local people on the proposal, and the impacts it could have on farms and rural service towns like Wairoa and the wider district.
Local farmers and community members were out in force to share their views with local MPs Stuart Nash, Minister of Forestry, Economic and Regional Development, Small Business and Tourism, and Meka Whaitiri, Associate Minister of Agriculture, along with MPI and Beef and Lamb NZ representatives.
The vocal and emotive crowd were passionate about protecting their local farming industry and were concerned about the impacts the pricing proposal could have on the future of the entire Wairoa district.
Facilitator Lawrence Yule, former MP, Mayor of Hastings, and the author of a discussion paper outlining the carbon farming threat the sheep and beef sector, described the issue as complex acknowledging that if the government gets the proposal wrong a lot of small rural towns, like Wairoa, will be disadvantaged, with a potential of at least 20% reduction in sheep and beef farms.
Heated discussion centred around why the New Zealand Government was proposing to reduce the amount of food New Zealand produces at a time when the rest of the world was worried about a food shortage.
The government was accused of undermining farmers claiming the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change, is all about warming and there is less warming in New Zealand now than there was in the 1990s, and the agreement should not be to the detriment of food production. There were claims farmers have been branded as ‘environmental bandits’ and not backed by the government.
Frustrated attendees questioned what New Zealanders are going to eat when productive farms are planted in pine trees, and what is going to happen to Wairoa when its agricultural related employment and support services and businesses are gone. There were further questions around the government’s promotion of international air flights and tourism which contradicted its proposal of reducing emissions and a question how the proposal supports Minister Nash’s own promotion of supporting local when the government’s proposal could kill rural communities like Wairoa, in his electorate.
Locals further questioned, when New Zealand produces the best food in the world, is one of the smallest global emitters and has the world’s most carbon efficient farmers why the government is not doing more with its export trade partners to encourage global change.
Attendees noted that the direct effect of the He Waka Eke Noa scheme is tax for farming animals, essentially taxing food production and could therefore be perceived as a “food tax” in a time where New Zealanders can’t afford to put food on the table and the concern that once productive farmland is planted in forestry it is very likely it could never go back into productive farmland.
Mr Nash refuted many of the comments made by the audience, although he did acknowledge too much land in Wairoa has been planted in trees saying, “no one wants to see Wairoa close down.”
He said the government is proposing changes to give Councils more say on what land can be planted in forestry, but that legislation is not yet in place. This comment drew further contempt from the crowd who said any change needs to happen now. Mr Nash confirmed that emission reduction is being talked about globally, and the government wants to see New Zealand’s brand enhanced, and premiums paid, because of the work to realise net zero-emissions by 2050.
MP Meka Whaitiri said while she recognised some people didn’t feel their questions were answered, they have all been acknowledged and recorded and the notes from the evening will be shared.
She praised the work of Mayor Craig Little and his office for proactively arranging the discussion evening.
Mr Little said as a farmer he has real concerns over the proposal and the impacts it could have on Wairoa, and he shares the frustration of the local community.
He acknowledged and thanked the two local MPS for fronting up and attending the meeting and listening to the community’s concerns. “We organised this meeting in four days, and it is the largest community meeting I have ever seen in Wairoa which shows how seriously our community is taking this proposal and the government’s treatment of the whole agricultural industry, particularly when it is such a busy time of year for everyone.
“I am constantly asked why, when New Zealand is such a small country, it is trying to lead the world in zero-emissions which could end up breaking our country. He Waka Eke Noa translates to ‘a waka we are all in together’. Unfortunately, this government is choosing to not take our Wairoa district along for the ride.
“I’m really concerned about the pressure and stress this is putting on farmers and our community. The emotion, frustration, passion and comments at the meeting demonstrates how our community is feeling and we need to stay together and look after each other.
“It was heartening that people realise the flow on impacts of the government’s proposal and that we got to hear opinions from a broad representation of our community across all generations. Thank you to everyone who attended. I know it was a long trip into town and home again for many of you, and it was fantastic that we came together collaboratively and recognised the detrimental repercussions this proposal could have on our community.
“The number of people who attended Monday’s meeting demonstrates the genuine concern our community has, and I thank you all for attending.
“From a Council perspective we will be making a local submission and encourage everyone else to share their views. My Council office will be available for anyone to drop-in and receive support to make a submission, and there will also be submission templates available, based on the views from the meeting.
“Submissions close on November 18. A data base for those who attended the meeting and registered their email will also be developed to keep interested people in the loop. The submission templates will also be sent to those who have provided their email address. Anyone who wishes to receive further information or have support with their submission, should email firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone looking to make a submission should go directly to the Ministry for the Environment’s website: https://consult.environment.govt.nz/climate/agriculture-emissions-and-pricing/consultation/
2 November 2022
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