New Zealand farmers upset Labor

The new premiership path is complicated

calendar icon January 21, 2023

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3 minutes to read

Reuters reports that Jacinda Ardern has won over many New Zealand farmers with effective policies on the coronavirus, but the influential rural bloc has soured because it is out of touch, affecting the chances of the prime minister’s successor to stay in power.

Ardern made a shocking announcement Thursday that she was stepping down, saying she was “no longer in the tank” after five and a half years that saw unrest like COVID, a massacre of Muslims at the hands of a white supremacist and a deadly volcano.

Part of her fatigue may also have been caused by rural New Zealanders falling in love with a politician who has become an overseas symbol of left-leaning politics and women in leadership.

Although 87% of New Zealand’s 5 million people live in urban areas, according to the World Bank, agriculture remains a key component of the economy in a country where there are five times as many sheep as there are sheep.

Rural voters say reforms by Ardern’s Labor party, which aim to improve the environmental impact of farming, are costly and ineffective. Farmers worry that the extra costs and labor will make their produce more expensive and less competitive in foreign markets.

New Zealand’s rural voters have not traditionally supported Labor, but Ardern won over many of them with her early handling of the pandemic, where her pioneering “start hard, go early” approach to lockdowns and border closures eliminated transmission of the virus for a time.

Many voters switched to Labor for the first time in decades at the 2020 election, allowing Ardern to form its first one-party government since New Zealand adopted a proportional voting system in 1996.

Rural elections have now largely fallen behind, angering Labor’s efforts to reduce water pollution from fertilizer and animal waste, change leases on upland farms and overhaul water infrastructure. The government has proposed an unpopular scheme for farmers to pay for methane emissions from sheep and cows.

A poll by the Korea Taxpayers Federation and Korea released on Friday, based on data from before Ardern’s resignation announcement, showed Labor at 31.7%, trailing the conservative opposition National Party’s 37.2%.

‘collapse of regulations’

Tractors and vans tumbled into parliament last year, part of a nationwide protest against Labor reforms. Across New Zealand’s North Island, banners in grassy fields express anger at new taxes and requirements, and in the Ardern itself.

“There is a real sense that the government has not listened, and they have maintained their reform agenda,” said Brigitte Morten, political commentator and former National Party staffer.

“The rural sector and the county sectors that feed into the rural sector feel like they just had a whole lot of regulation piled on them in the last five years,” Morten said.

The government said getting farmers to follow best practices and reduce their environmental footprint will create demand as consumers become more aware of the origin of their food.

Previously, farmers in the country had more freedom in how they used their land and resources, Morten said.

New Zealand farmers are some of the most efficient in the world. They receive minimal agricultural support but compete with farmers in the United States and other developed economies because of good farming practices, good farmland, and a climate that largely allows for year-round pastoral farming.

Many labor regulations are impractical and make farming difficult, said Andrew Hoggard, the national president of the federal farmers.

Hoggard, who runs a dairy farm two hours north of the capital Wellington, said farmers’ concerns have spread across rural areas as those towns depend on a strong agricultural sector.

“With this government or Jacinda in particular, the moments where they all shined were on the world stage,” Hoggard said. “All their promises of what they’re going to do, I can’t think of a single song they’re going to do.”

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