Farmers, businesspeople grill election candidates


The candidate line-up, from left, Celia Wade-Brown (Greens), Kieran McAnulty (Labour), Sean Plunket (MC), Ron Mark (NZ First), Mike Butterick (National).

by Simon Edwards

The four MPs and would-be MPs who braved a grilling at the Federated Farmers Wairarapa/Business Wairarapa ‘meet the candidates’ event on September 2 all managed to deliver some thought-provoking policy positions.

It proved to be a solid move by the organisers to tee up broadcaster Sean Plunket as moderator.  He gave the politicians a hurry-up when their answers started to meander, and injected humour too.

But best quip of the night belonged to one of the farmers in the full-house Masterton  audience.  After listening to the Labour, Green and NZ First representatives describe all they’d achieved during the current term, John McFadyen said he “must have been asleep for the last three years because I never realised the government had been so good for us”.

Former Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown (Greens), Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty, NZ First’s Ron Mark and “political virgin” (as Sean dubbed him) Mike Butterick (National), all got three minutes to make their opening shots.

Ron Mark’s pitch was that the Wairarapa needed someone with a demonstrated strong voice in Parliament, “someone with a track record.

“I am not one of those people who came through university to be an MP, doing political science.  I am a person [who grew up being] fostered by people in the Wairarapa…I’ve had a successful run as a soldier, an Army officer, the Mayor of Carteron.”

As Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs, “I’ve seen through the greatest investment in Defence that this country has seen since the 1960s, when we were dragged into the Vietnam War.”

Ron said he realised most of the people in the audience were “dyed in the wool” supporters of a particular party “and that’s the way you’ll vote.  But I just ask you to think of this: Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister, Marama Davidson as her deputy.  If there’s a reason to vote NZ First as your party vote, given where the National Party is right now, that’s your reason.”

After the inevitable hard time from Sean Plunket about her party co-leader’s pratfall regarding the Taranaki ‘Green’ school (Celia was quick to say she had gone to a public school as had her sons and “public money should go to state schools”), Celia said she was now a Wairarapa resident, had studied at the Berkshire College of Agriculture, and these days was busy “killing pests on our 250-hectare bush block”.

The Green party’s vision for agriculture was that farmers were valued for regenerating our soils and locking away carbon, and for producing healthy food, fibre and wood.   She wanted action on cellphone and internet connectivity, “which is still appalling in some districts”, and trains running from the Wairarapa to Palmerston North and Hawke’s Bay.

Kieran McAnulty used his time to say his firm view was that the primary sector does not benefit from a “hands-off, she’ll be right, market-led approach.”  The sector needs a partnership with the government, and vice versa.

“New Zealand has never sold its products to the cheapest customers in the world, but to the most discerning, such as those potential customers in Europe and the UK where this government is trying to get free trade off the ground.   Those customers want products that are sustainable, ethical and contribute less to climate change.

“We need to live up to our clean, green brand because others are catching up.”

Introduced by Sean as potentially the guy who could be leader within six months “the way the National Party is going”, Mike Butterick said he’d “lived and breathed provincial New Zealand; I’m a product of it and I want good outcomes for the people I’ve spent my entire life with, and good outcomes for the people our children will spend their lives with”.

Mike grew up on a Canterbury farm, and went mustering in the High Country out of sixth form.  He and his wife bought their first farm in the Wairarapa in 1995.

He said his reason for helping to form 50 Shades of Green was not “anti-forestry” but that afforestation was happening on good productive farmland, “and the speed it was happening”.  Some 8% of the Wairoa district was sold to forestry in eight months,” he said.

The pandemic response inevitably required “eye-watering” amounts to be spent, but the important thing now was what it was spent on.   “It can’t be a lolly scramble.”

The nation will lean on the primary sector to help pay back what it borrows.

“Water is a key.  Water equals jobs, growth and diversity of production,” Mike said.

Questions during the two-hour meeting traversed everything from tax pledges to foreign ownership and climate change.  Perhaps one of the more interesting ones came from former Federated Farmers Wairarapa President William Beetham, who wanted to know – with particular reference to the freshwater regulations - whether the candidates would vote against their own party if they felt a particular policy was not in the best interests of the Wairarapa.

Celia Wade-Brown had little to say in response, and Kieran McAnulty repeated his conviction that a genuine partnership between the agriculture sector and government was essential.   The vision expressed in the Federated Farmers 2020 Election Platform was “on the whole, the same vision in the government’s Fit for a Better World strategy,” he said.

Ron Mark maintained there was a “gear change” during the freshwater eight week consultation process when Federated Farmers and others made their views very clear.

“The consultation process wasn’t good, it wasn’t inclusive but it did change….it’s the same with 50 Shades of Green, that message has been heard.”

The Labour Party had a rule that binds their MPs to party policy, Ron said.  “NZ First learned from the mistakes of National when our party was put together.  We put in a rule that gives a constituency MP the right to cross the floor against the party’s position if the MP believes it is not serving his community.”

However, a NZ First list MP is bound by the party position.

Mike Butterick pledged to challenge the freshwater regulations if elected.  Not a single cropping paddock in New Zealand will be able to meet even the amended rule on pugging, he claimed.

One report had estimated the Essential Freshwater package would cost farmers in the Ruamahanga catchment alone $46 million annually, the wider region $78 million and it would end around 300 jobs.

“For farmers to be told at the consultation roadshows to ‘get over it, that’s the way it is’ [is not good enough].”