Farm debt mediation Bill news this week's offering

New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson’s farm debt mediation member’s Bill has been adopted as...
New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson’s farm debt mediation member’s Bill has been adopted as a Government Bill. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Politics this week offered proof that if at first you do not succeed, you should try, try and try again.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Monday afternoon post-Cabinet press conferences usually begin with some kind of policy announcement; sometimes it is something substantial, other times it seems like a placeholder designed to make it look like the Government was actually doing something during the morning.

Quite apart from being informative about government business, these also serve the purpose of attempting to steer the course of the press conference in a direction the Prime Minister wants it to go, and also to cut the amount of time left for questions she does not especially want to answer.

This week's offering was news that Lawrence New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson's farm debt mediation member's Bill had been adopted as a Government Bill, which gives it every chance of becoming law.

If passed, it will require banks and financiers who have loaned money to farmers to offer mediation before they call in their loans.

Mark Patterson
Mark Patterson
This is not a new idea - Australia, for one, has similar laws - and has been around for a very long time; New Zealand First has been calling for it since the 1990s, when Doug Woolerton drafted a Bill to this effect.

Various New Zealand First MPs have subsequently championed it, but the Bill made it firmly on to the political agenda last May, thanks to some clever politics by party leader Winston Peters.

During Question Time National had raised the issue of farmers being unable to meet their bills due to the outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis.

Mr Peters immediately raised a point of order to ask if the Government would back a farmers' debt remediation Bill, something National had previously opposed.

As a result, the shadow leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee, probably somewhat begrudgingly, had to express support for such a Bill, given his colleagues had just that minute been raising the issue of farmers being on the brink of bankruptcy due to the disease outbreak.

Ironically, no actual Bill existed at that point, so a member's Bill was quickly lodged in the name of Darroch Ball before Mr Patterson, a farmer in his own right, took it over.

Mr Patterson saw the Bill through to the primary production select committee, but it looked to have stumbled at that hurdle after the committee sent him away to do more work on the fine print.

However, the coalition agreement between Labour and New Zealand First came to the rescue, with its commitment to examine the issue of agricultural debt mediation.

Hence Monday's press conference, where Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor and Mr Peters awkwardly tried to give each other - and Mr Patterson in passing - due credit for this success, while the Prime Minister watched on.

The intervening months have seen Mr Patterson's Bill amended to allow either party to the loan to trigger mediation, and for the Ministry for Primary Industries to oversee the process rather than an independent body as originally proposed.

While Mr Patterson now steps to the side of the stage, he will still be his party's lead speaker on the issue.

New Zealand First firmly believes there are rural votes for it to gain, and this law change will be a key debating point for it come election time.

It also bolsters the party's wider arguments that it is keeping "the Aussie-owned banks" honest, and standing up for provincial New Zealand.

The principle which underpins the Bill is that a farmer should not be forced from the land because of a temporary setback beyond their control, such as a flood or disease outbreak, when a bit of forbearance could avoid the act of foreclosure.

With an estimated $63million owed in farm debt, as Mr Patterson said in brilliantly agricultural terms, the Bill is there for when the proverbial hits the fan.

Sound policy

Speaking of Mr Patterson, on Tuesday he unexpectedly found himself taking a call on the Racing Reform Bill - which he enthusiastically endorsed.

"Firstly, it's a really good piece of legislation ... and, secondly, for me not to do so would be career limiting."

This being because the Racing Minister, whose Bill it is, is one Winston Peters.

Delayed response

Back on December 11 when answering a parliamentary question about policing levels in Balclutha, Police Minister Stuart Nash told Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker that if he knew more about policing than the Southern district commander he should leave Parliament and join the police.

This week Mr Walker finally got to respond to that comment.

Mr Nash, with his fisheries hat on, was appearing before the primary production select committee on Tuesday when he was startled to see Mr Walker knock back a sachet of sugar.

When asked why, Mr Walker explained he was a type 1 diabetic . . . a fact which stymied him when he attempted to join the police a decade ago, let alone if he had followed Mr Nash's advice back in December.

The  National Party’s Invercargill branch  has decided to launch a local branch of the Young Nats...
The National Party’s Invercargill branch has decided to launch a local branch of the Young Nats with a ‘‘Pineapple on Pizza’’ night, and as former National leader Sir Bill English can testify, there are few more controversial things than pizza toppings. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

Better late than never, but the Invercargill branch of the National party has figured out there are some young folk in the city and maybe they should start a local branch of the Young Nats.

Going by their ad they can expect some robust arguments: it is headlined "Pineapple on Pizza", and as former National leader Bill English can testify there are few more controversial things than pizza toppings.

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