Dirty streams, dirty politics
Voted? Not me, not yet. I’ll be chowing popcorn as the election builds to an outraged climax.
Oh, to have the confidence of the early voter. More than 250,000 of us have already cast votes with six days of campaigning still to go, and although the major parties say their policies are now out for all to see, the ructions continue – and I just can’t look away. While Bill English and Jacinda Ardern insist their manifestos present a clear choice – steady as she goes from National and the wave of change from Labour – the vacillating polls show that Kiwis are confused by the options, and, unable to separate the two where policies meet in the middle, are changing their colours day to day. It’s tricky ground for the politicians. Ardern promised to be relentlessly positive and has stuck to it, leaving her front bench-in-waiting to get among it. National has no such restrictions. In the space of 15 seconds, its new attack ad featured a picture of a family home to represent a capital gains tax (already ruled out by Labour for family homes), a petrol pump for a regional fuel tax, and glasses of water, beer, milk, wine, and juice on a domestic kitchen benchtop to represent a water royalty. Oh, and a single flatulent cow, for the ‘‘fart tax’’ (never mind that 95 per cent of the methane actually comes out of the other end). Incessant banging on the tax drum by National had its effect. This week, Labour called out the ‘‘lies’’ but pulled back, promising to stow the results of it’s Tax Working Group until after the 2020 election. Of all the taxes/levies/royalties that haunt National’s dreams, the water royalty appears to be the scariest, given the amount of freelance muscle now fronting. Federated Farmers, which loathes the idea of paying for water, has closed in like a phalanx of blacksuited bodyguards. They made a reasonable start, with a pledge by eight farming leaders to make all New Zealand rivers swimmable. Initially wellreceived, it lost its gloss a little when it became clear there was no plan, no clear target, and no timeline attached. A new voice was needed. Enter Waikato farmer Lloyd Downing, chosen as the face of a mass protest planned for Morrinsville tomorrow. He’s just the ticket: articulate in the casual way Kiwis love. Farmers are being unfairly targeted, he reckons, and just want a fair go. Look how far we’ve come, he says. When asked for evidence, he tells the story of his old dad, back when Lloyd was a lad, taking the farm’s rubbish and chucking it in the river. I used to shoot at the used light bulbs, he says, as they floated away! Nobody does that any more.
But Kiwis are past the point where anecdotes from long ago will suffice. Seventy per cent of New Zealanders now support the idea that businesses that use large amounts of water should pay. While we accept many farmers are doing better, we are yet to see any measurable improvement in our freshwater quality. Just yesterday, water scientist Professor Mike Joy posted in frustration that ‘‘water quality in NZ rivers is NOT IMPROVING. It is declining’’.
And the arguments are not new. ‘‘Farmers have too much political power,’’ said rightwing commentator Matthew Hooton in North & South magazine in 2015. ‘‘They want free water, they don’t want to pay. And if I was a farmer, it’s exactly what I would argue. But you wouldn’t make that case for fertiliser, would you? There’s no other input they don’t pay for, except the sun.’’
It’s not a sentiment we’ll see on the placards when Lloyd Downing leads the farming faithful down Morrinsville’s main street on Monday, I’m guessing.
But hold on a mo, why Morrinsville anyway? Of the 1.2 million hectares of farmed land in the Waikato, only 20,000 hectares are under irrigation. It’s not the region you’d be looking at as an epicentre of rural outrage.
Oh that’s right, it’s Jacinda Ardern’s home town.
So close to election day, and so dirty. If you’ve already cast your vote, good for you, you can relax. I’ll be here, chowing on the popcorn, till the end.
Ali Mau is the host of Radio LIVE Drive, 3-6pm weekdays.