Farmers assembled en masse in Masterton on Friday to protest government regulations, causing the biggest traffic jam Masterton has seen in years.
About 300 people with 50 tractors and 100 utes attended the “Howl of a Protest” in Masterton as farmers took to the streets across the country.
It was said that the protest could be the biggest rural protest in New Zealand history.
Organisers said many in the rural sector have had enough of the rising regulations on water, environment, biodiversity, climate change, and now the “ute tax”.
Farmers said legislation many rural people had been facing was “oppressive and costly” and was causing “mental anguish”.
Masterton protest organiser Derek Daniell said in a speech that there were unfair regulations mounting on the primary sector when compared with cities.
He said that Essential Freshwater policy had one rule for cities and another for farmers.
“Why doesn’t Auckland get fined $10 million every time there is sewage on the beaches? You can swim in the Waikato River above Hamilton, but not below the city sewer outlet.”
Daniell said the Significant Natural Areas policy was the government’s “latest attempt at a land grab”.
He said despite having “370,000 people on welfare and 200,000 on the unemployment benefit”, there still weren’t enough skilled workers to drive trucks, milk cows, and pick fruit.
He said this was the “real work” that had made New Zealand prosperous in the past 180 years.
National MP Andrew Bayly, who attended the Wairarapa protest, said National was “very much in support” of the protests and the sentiment behind it.
“As a farmer I have an interest, the biggest issue has been the victimisation of farmers which I find quite offensive.”
He said farmers were environmentalists at heart, but that perception had not been recognised by the general population.
Bayly said there was a growing rural and urban divide.
“It’s really unfortunate that we’ve got to that situation. New Zealand’s exports are primary sector based.”
He said changes in regulation were needed, but they should be slowed down for farmers to discuss and adapt to.
Daniell said we were living in a “soft dictatorship”, and that government policy was full of “half-truths, double standards, and symbolic gestures”.
“These are risky times for democracy,” he said.
Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said he did not attend the protest on Friday because the sentiment behind it did not represent the whole sector.
He said the protest undermined the hard work of many farmers who were keen to get ahead of the climate change curve.
“Now is not the time to tread water. Maintaining the status quo or, God forbid, going backwards, will not deliver results for rural communities.
“We are a trading nation. Our prosperity depends on consumers choosing to buy our products. We have leveraged the 100 per cent pure, clean, and green image that we have cultivated over decades in order to extract the best price possible for our products.”
McAnulty said that New Zealanders shouldn’t assume international demand for New Zealand-made-products would stay as they are.
“Consumers want to know their purchases are environmentally sustainable, that they are climate friendly, with high animal welfare standards and that the workers in the industry get a good wage with good conditions.
“We have led the world in this. Our farmers are the most efficient producers in the world. We aren’t as ahead of the pack as we used to be.”