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Otago Federated Farmers president Mark Patterson and Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan attended an Agricultural Action Group (AAG) meeting in Balclutha last Wednesday, which Mr Patterson described as "unsettling and unhelpful".
About 200 attended.
The former New Zealand First list MP said the content of the meeting conflated "valid concerns" of rural communities about current government policy with "wild conspiracy theories".
He said he was concerned this presented a "false narrative" of the current situation for those attending.
He believed the AAG was playing into rural residents’ genuine concerns in order to further its own agenda, without addressing the "real issues" at hand, something he described as "unhelpful".
"Pretty early on there were some wild conspiracy theories being peddled, regarding the United Nations’ Agenda 21, and that organisation’s leading of a shadowy global cabal dictating to our Government.
"Having worked within government, frankly, that’s nonsense, but because there’s an underlying tension founded on legitimate policy concerns currently, it could be persuasive for some, which is unhelpful."
He said a young farmer attempting to voice his concerns about the direction of the meeting was shouted down by other audience members.
"When you get people stirred up enough, it’s easy to incite them to civil disobedience."
The AAG’s website describes it as a "voluntary, apolitical and self-funded group [providing] education/inspiration/motivation [to] take action to change our future for the better. Peaceful non-violent non-compliance included."
AAG co-founder, spokeswoman and former Advance NZ candidate Heather Meri Pennycook, of Wanaka, said the group wanted to make people aware of "legislation that will demolish the rural sector".
"The current political system is totally corrupt and broken.
"We want to inform the public of the big picture, and encourage decentralisation and re-empowerment of local communities."
She said all material presented during the meetings was supported by evidence and attendees were encouraged to do their own research.
"Some of the facts we present can cause a cognitive dissonance because they sound so insane.
"That makes it easy for people, like Mr Patterson, to twist what we’re saying and label it as ‘conspiracy theory’."
Mr Cadogan said calls at the meeting to "deregister" as tax-paying citizens and peacefully resist police intervention in activities on private property were "undermining to society".
"I believe this group is doing a huge disservice to the farming community, and the community at large."
Last night, about a crowd of 160 people attended an AAG meeting in Gore.
The audience listened to topics including why there is no evidence there is a climate emergency and three pieces of legislation of concern to farmers.
Retired science teacher Peter Foster, of Waikouaiti, and AAG co- founders Ms Pennycock and Robert Wilson addressed the crowd.
Mr Wilson said he always encouraged people to do their own research to find out if what the group shared was true.
‘‘Don’t take everything we say as gospel.’’
- Additional reporting Sandy Eggleston