The Minister is 'off planet'

I’ve decided Minister O’Connor and I must live in an alternate reality.

And that’s a problem as it’s affecting Rural New Zealand and its communities badly.

One of his most recent statements in the media — ‘that dairy farmers needed to do more to attract workers’ — is so out of touch.

For months now, industry groups around the country have been telling him and the Government about the need to open the borders and MIQ spaces to help fill the desperate shortage of skilled workers.

The operative word here is ‘skilled’. It includes dairy, rural contractors (currently suffering by using unskilled workers), agri-business, red meat, horticulture, wine, wool and shearing industries — and the extensive list goes on.

Minister O’Connor thinks unemployed Kiwis will rush to fill these the vacancies. While I, like most of us who operate and live in the real world know, that won’t happen, nor is a statement like that, helpful.

We’ve labelled Budget 2021 the ‘Broken Compass’ budget for good reason. It’s obvious the Government is lost.

The only clear direction throughout the Budget reading was that Rural NZ will be expected pay the country’s bills.

Labelled as ‘the biggest lift in a generation to beneficiaries” … where was the support for the hard working, getting-on-with-it rural sector?

I travel through rural communities, speaking with them and their industry representatives, constantly. As an MP for NZ’s only rural political party, we value greatly and appreciate what these communities contribute.

The Minister, meantime, is sending them into a spin. Not only are there staffing issues; there are catchment (water), carbon farming, methane, banking, health and connectivity issues, to name but a few.

Mental health issues and angst is rising rapidly in the rural sector. Why does this Government spend so much time talking about “wellbeing” when it’s contributing to the problems?

Farmers who really don’t want to be political, are fighting back on any proposed new rules and regulations individually, and through their industry rep organisations. While a group of southern farmers has just formed Groundswell NZ, in response to proposed policies they see as ‘so far off the wall, it’s ridiculous’.

Other support initiatives are underway. Readers may be aware of my family’s animal welfare issues four years ago. At the time, my son sought help, which was not forthcoming. So our family was pleased to be a part of the launch of a Fonterra review seeking views on support services for farmers on May 21. 

Simply because our first-hand experience is about the matters Fonterra is looking to address. The situation we faced was avoidable if the support structures, which were in place worked properly, so we’re helping publicise this to ensure robust feedback.

Now I’m asking the question — What will you be doing in the next week, month, to help Rural NZ Minister?