'Blown away': Thousands descend on South Island centres for protest

Farmers gather for the protest in Canterbury. Photo: Tim Cronshaw
Farmers gather for the protest in Canterbury. Photo: Tim Cronshaw
Thousands of people have turned out in the South Island to protest against unworkable regulations and unjustified costs for farmers.

The Howl of a Protest event, organised by Groundswell New Zealand, has seen thousands of farm vehicles rumbling through cities in protest against what farmers say is increasing interference from the Government, unworkable regulations and unjustified costs.

The protests are taking place in 55 cities and towns, from Kaitaia to Southland.

A farmer protesting in Christchurch. Photo: Tim Cronshaw
A farmer protesting in Christchurch. Photo: Tim Cronshaw


Those protesting in Canterbury made their way from the Canterbury Showgrounds to the city centre.

One farmer said he's tired of burying too many mates who couldn't handle it anymore.

Canterbury farmer Bob Paton said for too long the community and the country haven't valued and appreciated what the farmers are doing.

Coordinator for Christchurch Aaron Stark says he is blown by the number of people who have turned up for the protest.

"We had people turning up at 9.30am. I'm blown away with the amount of urban people, the amount of tradies, electricians, you name it.

Stark said he expected about 200 utes to take part and there could be up to 500 tractors.

Farmers gather for the protest in Canterbury. Photo: Tim Cronshaw
Farmers gather for the protest in Canterbury. Photo: Tim Cronshaw
"We're doing this because of unworkable regulations, we've got to a point now where the whole industry is hurting."

More than 1000 gathered in Darfield, bringing along their tractors, utes and dogs.

Sheffield farmer Derek Bull, who organised the Darfield protest, said he was pleased with the turnout.

"It went well, better than we expected," he said.

A farmer in Darfield with his best mate. Photo: Susan Sandys
A farmer in Darfield with his best mate. Photo: Susan Sandys
Farmers parked their tractors and utes on the outskirts of the town before marching down the main street.

Police undertook an impromptu road closure, keeping this in place as the crowd gathered outside the Gnomes Ski Shop.

An NZTA spokesperson said there were delays on the state highway network through both Ashburton and Timaru at about 1pm.

Over 800 protesters are heading to Ashburton Domain from the south side of the town.

Hokonui FM's Phill Hooper said there is the same amount if not more coming from the north side.

Tractors parked up at the Tower Junction shopping centre car park in Christchurch. Photo: Ross...
Tractors parked up at the Tower Junction shopping centre car park in Christchurch. Photo: Ross Kiddie
Event co-ordinators have started reading out the same statement at protest sites, listing the group’s concerns as:

  • Unworkable freshwater regulations.
  • Proposed Significant Natural Areas policy penalising conservation-minded landowners.
  • Over the top, one-size-fits-all state control.
  • No respect for people, their privacy and property information.
  • Overseas corporates buying up New Zealand farmland to offset emissions.
  • Taxes on essential work vehicles.
  • Out of control costs crippling small business.
  • Unprecedented mental strain on people.

The statement says Groundswell NZ has ‘‘put a stake in the ground and said enough is enough’’ and calls for a halt to all environmental regulations including freshwater, indigenous biodiversity/significant natural areas, climate change, high country legislation and to remove the ‘‘ute tax’’.

The Government’s clean car standard puts a fee on high-emissions vehicles like utes to fund a discount on low-emissions vehicles.

The group warned it would take further action if the Government had not made sufficient moves to address its concerns by August 16.

‘‘Everyone is feeling overwhelmed with the avalanche of poorly designed policies and the we know best, one size fits all mindset of the current Government.’’

Groundswell NZ were keen to promote workable solutions.

‘‘Our leaders are at the forefront of environmental action.’’

West Coast

Torrential rain in Greymouth has not stopped protesters from coming out in full force.

Andy Thompson, who is at the protest, said he has never seen so many utes, tractors and trucks in one place in Greymouth.

"There are literally hundreds and hundreds of them snaking through Greymouth. They're going to have a lot of difficulty gathering in the town square.

"It's absolutely torrential here but that hasn't stopped any Coasters and I knew it wouldn't.

"There's a saying that there's no such thing as bad weather just bad gear."

A police spokeswoman said authorities were aware of the plans for protest action today.

"Police recognise and respect the lawful right to protest and our aim is to ensure that both the participants and the community are safe.

"Police will monitor the activities to ensure the safety of everyone involved."

People have been encouraged to bring their tractor, ute and dogs for a bark-up.

"I guess meanwhile for local communities we're finding that responding to this legislation is actually on top of our day job - for legislators it is their day job."

She said farmers were not "shirking the fact changes were needed but farmers and rural communities needed to be part of the process.

Speaking to the Otago Daily Times yesterday, Ms Wethey said organisers were expecting 20 to 30 tractors and "a couple of hundred utes" but that number was a moving beast.

Meanwhile the ODT understands a convoy of tractors from Ettrick and Roxburgh is making its way to Alexandra.

Groundswell co-founder Bryce McKenzie, of West Otago, said there was a lot of mental anguish in the farming community, but he hoped protesters would stay peaceful.

He wanted those who turned up to be passionate, but not angry.

"If somebody is angry about what’s happening and they’re thinking about coming on a tractor, we’d ask them not to do that.

"We are speaking up for them, so they don’t need to be out there taking out their anger on anything."

Organisation of the event had gone "really well" and each of the co-ordinators had their areas under control.

Safety was the biggest concern among organisers and protesters had been given guidelines on how to minimise traffic and safety issues, he said.

Only time would tell if their message had got across, but he hoped the protest would be remembered for the right reasons.

The Otago Daily Times reports that in Dunedin, organisers have decided it would not be safe for the protest to stop in the city so participants will drive through the Octagon, between about noon and 12.15pm, their dogs barking.

Federated Farmers national president Andrew Hoggard said there was a real risk of the agricultural sector being made out to look like "a bunch of fringe nutters".

A big concern was offensive signage being brought to the protests, which would do more harm than good.

Groundswell NZ co-founders Bryce McKenzie (left) and Laurie Paterson. Photo: Sharon Paterson

In last week’s Federated Farmers newsletter, Mr Hoggard asked protesters to tell those who showed up with offensive messages to "bugger off".

Just turning up would have an impact and their message would be shared by presence alone, he said.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins was unable to attend the protest, but said if the protesters were looking for constructive engagement they should prevent the event being "hijacked by fringe conspiracy theories".

Communities in both rural and urban settings had a common interest in conserving the environment, but the differences lay in how to achieve that and how urgently.

Despite those differences, protesting was a proud tradition in New Zealand and "a privilege we should all cherish", he said.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said too many changes being made by the Government were disproportionately affecting rural communities and businesses.

"Metropolitan centres may be where the majority of votes exist, but we need a fair New Zealand which allows all Kiwis to thrive economically, environmentally, socially, and culturally," he said.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said he would be surprised if the protest was "anything other than an orderly event".

A police spokeswoman said the protest would be monitored to ensure everyone’s safety.

Dunedin participants of the protest will drive through the Octagon about noon.

They will then return to Mosgiel where former Invermay head Dr Jock Allison would give a short address and Groundswell NZ's statement on how it sees things would be delivered.

Even though protest vehicles would be keeping left and letting other traffic flow as smoothly as possible, there would still be significant disruption to the travelling public around Dunedin and Balclutha and more time should be left to get to destinations.

-Star News, NZ Herald and ODT online