Comment: Now is not the time to elect for change for the red meat sector

Casting votes in Mangonui in the 2014 New Zealand election.

Anyone else noticed there’s an election on here in New Zealand? 

It’s been wonderful to see the electorate so engaged in the debates and also, in some ways, that the rural sector – the backbone of New Zealand’s economy – has not been forgotten in discussions.

Our local Ohariu candidates’ meeting was absolutely packed out, following Peter Dunne’s withdrawal from our electorate. Those attending got a good impression of the people offering their services to the community and asked some very pointed and insightful questions, including ones about the need for value-add for commodity products and water quality and environmental issues.

I do confess, personally, to having been torn between heart and head, urban vs rural.

Yes, it’s true that the gap between rich and poor needs narrowing, that more needs spending on health and education and that we need to expand our infrastructure to support a growing population. I also firmly believe we could be doing more on climate change. Not to dismiss those important topics, writing personally, I wouldn’t mind being taxed more to ensure the more vulnerable can be supported and adaptation to climate change is made easier for the population but do not want to be taxed on EVERYTHING we touch, drink, eat and do.

The water quality debate, for example, shows the issue is nowhere near as simple as some have made out. Should the life essential, water, that is generally plentiful in New Zealand, be taxed at all? Sheep, beef and deer farmers are among those doing their best to make changes in a complex biological working environment. They are consumers and citizens too. With votes. Some estimate suggest the rural population is equivalent to New Zealand’s second largest city. Imposing an unfair tax on a major part of NZ’s economy to achieve something part of NZ society has decided simply HAS to be forced through, without taking into consideration the work already underway, could be described as madness.

I, like many others I suspect, am still wavering in my final voting choices. But, I believe that during a time of immense change around the world for New Zealand’s products, now is not the time for major change for the red meat sector, one of New Zealand’s main export earners and which has steadied after our own turmoil in recent years.

  • As a sector, we need to keep our eye firmly on the trade agreement ball – whether that’s the new EU-NZ FTA currently on the starting blocks, TPP-11 and the Pacific Alliance amongst others. New Zealand is lucky that in the event of an election we don’t lose all of our top and skilled trade negotiating civil servants, but policy direction could potentially change in an increasingly uncertain world.
  • Most of the red meat sector’s five Primary Growth Partnership programmes, featuring major red meat organisations/food producing companies partnering with the Ministry for Primary Industries to move the industry forward in its quest for doubling the value of exports by 2020, still have two to three years to run. Any suggestion of disrupting those now would be a waste of good and hard work and plain daft.
  • The current government successfully steered us through three major crises, that seem to have been forgotten: the Global Financial Crisis and two huge earthquakes.
  • The economy is steady and we have a surplus.

In three years time … who knows what might happen. The only incontrovertible facts are that at the start of this next export season, starting on 1 October – in just over two weeks time – we will know what the incoming government will be, whether it’s the old one or a new team, and the incumbents will have to be prepared to be lobbied hard on the points that matter to the varied strands of the New Zealand population.

Those eligible to vote in the red meat sector need to get out in around a week, or before, to cast their ballot to ensure New Zealand gets the best combination of parties to take the red meat business and our country forward into the 2020s.

 

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