Groundswell’s tractor and tradie national protest on July 16 left many Federated Farmers members asking … what happens next?
Did anyone actually hear the farmers’ messages, or are the folks in government circles in Wellington too much like deaf sheep to pick up on what a 50-town protest was trying to say?
The protest was not a Federated Farmers-organized event. However, it was certainly supported by Feds. Our approach was to support and understand why farmers, growers, tradies and other industry supporters felt the need to get out and show their displeasure at the mountain of government regulation coming their way.
Our strategy in taking this approach was a simple one. We believed the event and Groundswell would have more impact if it truly was a ‘ground swell’. Not a stage managed, placard waving, orchestrated demonstration put together by a group well versed in stirring up complaining. Like Feds.
That’s not to say it was ignored. National president Andrew Hoggard spoke at his local event in the Manawatu, as did several other Feds representatives up and down the country on the day. Many of the Groundswell speakers also referred to Feds and understood the organisation’s approach.
Andrew also had to do dozens of media interviews before, during and after the event, trying to explain to the media and the rest of the country what it is that farmers really have a problem with.
What the media all wanted to know was ‘what was the protest for?’. Andrew kept being asked “What do farmers want?”
His answer: “They want the government to slow down.” If the media wanted more detail than that (and some did) then he could launch into a detailed list of the maladjusted and often completely disconnected regulation and policy decisions made over the last few years. Not much of that got reported.
Sadly, this is a perfect storm for misinformation. It is easy for urban media commentators to criticize the event and that makes it even easier for the government to ignore it.
Without specific demands, and worse, with vague calls to ‘slow down’, all the urban viewer hears is “farmers don’t want to change/improve/get with the times’. Which everyone reading this knows is not the case.
Feds is routinely accused of blocking change. Resisting improvement. Of ‘kicking the can down the road’. The fact is, these days there are too many cans. We don’t even have enough feet spare among us to kick them all, if we wanted to.
We know, and have known for almost two years, that the wagonloads of legislation belting down the track towards primary food and fibre producers has in almost all cases been ill-prepared, only vaguely consulted on and generally imposed without any real thought given to the practical application of any of it.
Thanks to our business partnership with ‘Stuff’, many of those issues can be presented to you within the pages of this newspaper. At least here, and on this website, there is somewhere where farmers and growers can see the work that goes on, day in and day out, to encourage the government’s ‘deaf sheep’ to listen more, and react less.