Wa­ter to re­main an is­sue

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE - CHAR­LIE MITCHELL

A week be­fore the elec­tion, Bill English went to Ash­bur­ton on a quest for the ru­ral vote, telling farm­ers that Labour ‘‘take no no­tice of you’’. They agreed.

A few days later, farm­ers gath­ered in Mor­rinsville, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern’s home­town, to de­nounce what they said was the party’s use of farm­ers as a ‘‘po­lit­i­cal foot­ball’’.

Ru­ral and ur­ban ten­sions had been thor­oughly stoked.

Far from the cam­paign trail, Mike Glover – who lives in Springston, south of Christchurch and is nei­ther townie or farmer – has started a com­mu­nity wa­ter group to dis­cuss the state of the Sel­wyn.

His daugh­ter has never swum in the neigh­bour­ing river; its pol­lu­tion has be­come a so­cial is­sue as much an en­vi­ron­men­tal one.

‘‘Both par­ties were start­ing to talk a bit more se­ri­ously about wa­ter,’’ Glover said.

‘‘But they had a lot of rhetoric and big, wide state­ments about town­ies and farm­ers. If you dig into a bit more there’s so much more go­ing on.’’

Most of the de­bate was around Labour’s wa­ter tax, which would have im­posed a tar­geted cost on ir­ri­gat­ing farm­ers for a river cleanup fund.

With a Na­tional gov­ern­ment con­ven­ing for a fourth time, the ten­sions un­earthed in the cam­paign – a clear pub­lic ap­petite for bet­ter wa­ter qual­ity and a sense among ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties that there is a tar­get on their back – will be a tricky bal­anc­ing act.

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