18 Sep 2017

Farmers protest in Ardern's hometown

4:55 pm on 18 September 2017

About 500 people attended a farmers' protest in the Waikato town of Morrinsville - Labour leader Jacinda Ardern's hometown.

Farmers protest in Morrinsville about what they see as continued attacks on rural New Zealand.

Farmers protest in Morrinsville about what they see as continued attacks on rural New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Benedict Collins

The gathering was held next to a giant fibreglass friesian cow on the main road leading into the town from the south.

Organiser dairy farmer Lloyd Downing said it was to highlight the positive things about farming and how urban New Zealand relied on agriculture.

Farmers spoken to said they were tired of being blamed for all environmental issues and in particular attacks from political parties.

Signs read: "Don't bite the hand that feeds you", "Farmers are sick of getting a bad rap", "Even vegans need farmers".

About 500 people turned out for the Morrinsville protest.

Photo: RNZ / Benedict Collins

While not strictly a political rally, the number of National and New Zealand First signs and a lack of anything red, put paid to that theory

One of the organisers, Lloyd Downing, didn't dispute that Labour was the target.

"Because there is probably going to be a Labour-Greens alliance and if we try and farm underneath that sort of politics is going to be extremely difficult."

He said the message to politicians was clear.

"I would just like to think there is a bit of solidarity in the rural community and to the MP's just leave us alone. We will sort the problem out and if they tax us, we need a carrot not a stick."

While not at the protest, National's Bill English and Labour's Jacinda Ardern were questioned on the campaign trail about the rally in Morrinsville.

Mr English pointed the finger at Labour and the Greens.

"The real problem here is that Labour and the Greens have targeted the rural community because they believe there are urban votes in it. We work with them and in the future will be working with urban communities because the water quality issues in our urban areas are going to be challenging.

"That is how you make progress by working with people, not adopting divisive politics."

Ms Ardern denied there was any sort of rural urban divide.

"The fact that I know that there are plenty of farmers who are environmentalists and want to see us clean up our rivers and that is why we have announced our plan. It is ultimately about making sure our rivers are swimmable again."

At the end of the protest, New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters addressed the crowd but he was received with a fair bit of animosity and jeering.

When Mr Peters tried to raise what he says are the National Party's plans to also charge for water, he was drowned out by jeers, and cries of "retire" from the crowd.

Afterwards, Mr Peters said the farmers were not serious.

Myrtle, an old Massey Ferguson tractor that became famous in 2003 after National MP Shane Ardern tried to drive it up the steps of Parliament, also made an appearance.

Standing a little way off from the protest rally, in fact across the road and down a bit were about eight people protesting water pollution with a banner saying "Love farming, hate pollution".

One of them, Angus Robson said they did not join the main protest because they did not want to confront farmers.

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