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National MP Jacqui Dean and the party’s spokesman for Agriculture and Horticulture David Bennett took a drubbing at a farmers’ meeting held at Omakau on Thursday to back up their support with actions, not just words.
It was not tea and sympathy the small number of attendees wanted. It was answers, and what the National Party intended to do about the rules, regulations and taxes that the rural sector believed were too onerous and unworkable.
Also the Hamilton East MP, Mr Bennett’s opening volley was to criticise the handling of water issues at the Otago Regional Council level, pledging that the National Party would work at a catchment level with farmers and the community, rather than Labour’s ‘‘top-down approach’’ that had bred division and uncertainty around water use.
Attendees demanded solutions now; they could not wait three years for a new government to come into bat for them.
Some felt that despite protests like Groundswell, they were only seen as a ‘‘whinging pack of farmers from down south’’ without a political voice, and that their messages were not getting through.
‘‘We were driving tractors because we weren’t being listened to,’’ a farmer called out from the floor.
They urged the Waitaki member Mrs Dean and Mr Bennett to tell their party to get more on board with the movement.
Mr Bennett told farmers to make sure they were heard.
‘‘We need a whole voice across the sector and this is a great example of a community fighting back because you’re vulnerable and you’re fighting for your way of life.’’
Otago regional councillor and farmer Gary Kelliher urged Dean, Bennett and the National Party to be ‘‘more reactive’’.
‘‘My hope is that National can be more reactionary. People are speaking up, to the point they’re tearing their hair out, but you need to stand up for us.’’
After the meeting, the organiser, Maniototo farmer and former National Party politician Gavan Herlihy, said he expected the politicians to get a drubbing.
‘‘I’m not surprised at the strong reaction from people at the meeting because of the stress people are under, which brought the searching questions and emotive expressions. It’s totally understandable’’.
Ms Dean said she had to accept that in opposition, an MP had to take it on the chin.
‘‘I think this is a community under stress, and we find ourselves impotent to do anything to help them, and that was the underlining feel of the meeting.
‘‘I’d love to help, but we have to wait for two years.’’
- By Mary-Jo Tohill