NZ First’s Patterson in his roles for good reason

Rural Communities Minister Mark Patterson. PHOTO: FRANCINE KEACH
Rural Communities Minister Mark Patterson. PHOTO: FRANCINE KEACH
Nestled down near the bottom of the ministerial list on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website sits, almost last but certainly not least, Taieri New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson.

The minor roles given to minor parties in the aftermath of coalition negotiations can often seem like a scattershot of whatever was left, but at least in Mr Patterson’s case some careful thought has gone into it.

There are four ministers in the agriculture team. The decidedly urban, and urbane, Todd McClay is the overall minister of agriculture, and although he is not a farmer, what Mr McClay does have is vast experience in the trade area, and agricultural exports are the lifeblood of the New Zealand economy. Damien O’Connor combined primary industries and trade in the last government, with the same logic in mind.

His National associate minister colleague, Nicola Grigg, is a former journalist but comes from farming stock and had a range of agriculture spokeswomanship roles while in opposition.

The other associates, Andrew Hoggard and Mr Patterson, are both farmers and were both formerly prominent in Federated Farmers. They will be doing a lot of the front of house work presenting the coalition’s agriculture policy, partly because Mr McClay will often be overseas with his minister of trade hat on, and partly because who better to talk directly to farmers than a fellow man of the land?

Also, neither man should have any issues fronting government agriculture policy, given there was considerable crossover in manifesto pledges between the three coalition parties.

Both Mr Hoggard and Mr Patterson, as is routine in all portfolios where there is an assistant, will be given designations to specifically look after certain areas. Mr Patterson’s are yet to be made public.

But we do know that he has the ministership for rural communities, in which "responsibilities include ensuring that rural communities can thrive in the face of emerging challenges; providing a rural perspective in government decisions; and improving the resilience of rural communities (adverse events and mental wellness support)."

Which all sounds very woolly, if you’ll pardon the pun, but the concerns of folk in places such as Mr Patterson’s home of Lawrence seldom register as loudly in Parliament as those of people who live in Lynfield or Lyall Bay.

True, all those places do have some shared issues - it is hard to find a doctor anywhere - but at least in Auckland or Wellington there might be another one in close driving distance.

Conversely, do a crop farmer in the Catlins, a grazier in Central Otago and a grain farmer in South Canterbury have a shared "rural community" experience?

Mr Patterson accepts there will be nuances to be recognised, but they all have similar challenges in accessing government services and having to comply with regulations, which is where he comes in.

"The country’s money is made in the provinces and we often don’t feel like we get our share back," he said.

"Rural communities often have to raise their own money for basic services - we have seen that right around the country - and it is my job to be their advocate."

It is early days but Mr Patterson said he had yet to find a closed door when approaching any minister - and given the scope of the rural communities role he will likely need to approach most ministers at some time or another.

There is an extensive section on primary industry in the National-New Zealand First coalition agreement, but the legislative priority is likely to be reviewing and replacing rules regarding freshwater use -work which may well require conversations with Environment Minister Penny Simmonds, just down the road in Invercargill.

The audience at New Zealand First’s Dunedin meeting, minus an ODT reporter out of shot on the...
The audience at New Zealand First’s Dunedin meeting, minus an ODT reporter out of shot on the right. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON

Correcting Hansard

Speaking of New Zealand First, its leader, Winston Peters, delivered a rousing, knockabout and often hilarious speech to kick off his party’s contribution to the Address in Reply debate, albeit one which probably bore very little resemblance to the draft which his chief of staff Darroch Ball had carefully crafted for him during the preceding days.

Mr Peters took aim at most of his favourite targets, including the media of course, and it is there that we must ask Mr Peters for a correction.

"We were out there packing the halls in Tauranga," he told Parliament.

"We got 750 in Tauranga. Not one journalist there. Then we’re on to places like Dunedin, Papamoa, Dargaville, Invercargill, Hawke’s Bay, Kaikōura, Nelson. Everywhere we’re packing the halls and no journalists at all."

Ahem. I know that there was a journalist at his Dunedin meeting, because it was me... and many of the people in the room know I was there too because they stared at me, standing in plain view on the left-hand side of the hall with notepad in hand, as Mr Peters told them that mainstream media were not covering his meetings. I also spoke to him briefly afterwards, and when I interviewed him for the ODT’s pre-election feature series on party leaders we talked about what he said that day.

And for the many people not in the room for that Sunday meeting, the Otago Daily Times put it on the front page on Monday.

Likewise, a colleague covered Mr Peters’ August 13 meeting in Invercargill.

Winston Peters speaks in Invercargill. PHOTO: BEN TOMSETT
Winston Peters speaks in Invercargill. PHOTO: BEN TOMSETT

The Parker amendment

Labour stalwart David Parker carved out his own unwanted small part of parliamentary history on Thursday when the House passed a sessional order authorising a person to be sworn in somewhere other than the Bar of the House. Mr Parker, sadly, suffered a badly broken leg at his Karitane holiday home a fortnight ago, from which we hope he is speedily recovering, and hence missed this week’s pomp and ceremony.