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Audience puts would-be MPs through their paces

Farming was one of the hot topics at an election candidate meeting in Martinborough for the hotly contested seat of Wairarapa.

About 25 people attended the live-streamed meeting at Martinborough’s Waihenga Centre on Wednesday evening.

Wairarapa MP and Labour Party candidate Kieran McAnulty joined the event online, while the Green’s Celia Wade-Brown, Act’s Simon Casey, and NZ Loyal’s Pete Arnott were there in person. National candidate Mike Butterick couldn’t attend due to another event.

The electorate is expected to be an interesting battle this election, after McAnulty won the seat from National in the last election. It was one of many traditionally blue seats that swung to Labour in 2020.

The evening had a game show-style question and answer format involving candidates choosing closed boxes containing questions that Carterton mayor and former defence minister Ron Mark then put to them.

A comprehensive range of contentious topical issues were canvassed, from whether the voting age should be reduced to 16 to compulsory vaccine mandates for health workers. Cycleways, crime, local authority funding, and Wairarapa council merger issues were also covered.

Hard-hitting questions also covered the farming sector and KiwiRail closing level crossings in the region.

On farming, McAnulty said we need to access a number of markets that pay more for what New Zealand produces.

“New Zealand has the best farmers in the world and the most efficient farmers in the world,” he said, adding that the country’s clean green brand is really important.

“It’s not so much the destination, farmers agree with that – it’s the pace of change,” he said regarding climate change goals.

Wade-Brown said the sector is critically important to Wairarapa and to New Zealand.

“There must be improved alignment between government regulations, and what both central and local councils require, and growing market demand for more sustainable food,” she said.

“Our regulations are there to protect our market both locally and internationally.”

Casey said farmers are the lifeblood of New Zealand, with most of the nation’s revenue coming from the sector.

“Farmers need our help. They certainly don’t need to be stomped on by regulations, which in some cases are now starting to go too far. Business as usual has now become overregulated,” he said.

“The form-filling and compliance are now starting to hit them to the point it’s starting to become unbearable.”

Arnott said his party wants to reduce the regulatory burden on the farmers, whose margins are being squeezed.

“They know how to farm,” he said. “If they’re not squeezed, they’ll farm well.”

After the meeting, Butterick explained to the Times-Age his absence was due to “a prior commitment which had been in the diary for some time”.

“The challenge is trying to get across the whole length of the electorate, and there will unfortunately be clashes, as there was in this case,” he said.

“I’m always available to be contacted. I’ve been right across the electorate trying to engage with as many people as possible about the things that matter to them.”

Attendees at the meeting said they found it useful. National party supporter Derek Barnes said the parties should be encouraging productive business. Green voter Anne Lincoln said she enjoyed the meeting and was pleased candidates weren’t talking over each other. -NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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