By Jo Luxton, Labour MP for Rangitata
More than ever, farmers and rural communities need strong voices in our Parliament who genuinely understand the reality of their day to day lives – the struggles, the frustrations, and the opportunities too. We need authentic leaders who live in the same communities, speak the same language, and understand the issues on the ground – and we need those voices spread right across the political spectrum.
Last election I was absolutely humbled to be elected by my community as the Member of Parliament for Rangitata – the first Labour Party MP to ever win what is usually considered a safe blue seat. Stepping into the role I could really feel the weight of responsibility to provide that strong rural voice inside the Labour Government, but I could also see the unique opportunity in front of me to offer that unique perspective.
I’m a rural MP through and through. I was born in Rotorua, grew up in Gisborne, which is about as rural as it gets, and some of my earliest and most cherished memories are of time spent with my dad out on the farm near Ngakuru in the Waikato. I then went on to spend several years dairy farming with my husband in the Bay of Plenty and then in Eiffelton, just outside of Ashburton.
There have always been rural people like me inside the Labour Party, our current Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor and Minister for Rural Communities Kieran McAnulty included, but following the 2020 election we saw a real influx of Labour MPs from rural and provincial centres like Angela Roberts and Steph Lewis who have added a valuable perspective to policy discussions. They are well connected at a grassroots level and their communities have kept them grounded as we’ve navigated some difficult times for our country.
As a Labour Government we have had three key objectives this term – continuing to keep New Zealanders safe in a global pandemic, accelerating our economic recovery and laying the foundations for a better future. Our farmers, rural communities, and primary sector leaders were critical relationships for achieving each of those objectives, and when I reflect on where we’ve been together over the past few years, I take real pride in how far we’ve come and the role I’ve been able to play in ensuring the voices of those living, working, and running businesses in rural communities are heard loud and clear in Wellington.
It hasn’t always been easy. We’ve faced some real challenges over the last three years with a global pandemic, extreme weather events, and volatility in the world economy. We’ve also had to navigate tough policy issues like climate change, water quality issues, and workforce shortages. Yes, there’s still work to be done, and the conversations continue, but from my perspective the most important thing is we are still working constructively together towards practical, pragmatic, and fair solutions for all New Zealanders.
There have been some real wins for our farmers and rural communities during this term of Government and our primary sector has continued to grow the already enormous contribution you make to the New Zealand economy. I’m proud that we’ve been able to support that growth with initiatives like an expansion of the RSE scheme (the largest in a decade) and campaigns like Opportunities Grow Here, which has attracted more than 16,000 people to roles in the food and fibre sector.
We’ve also had a relentless focus on trade. Since 2017, we’ve secured or upgraded seven Free Trade Agreements and unlocked access to some of the world’s biggest and most lucrative markets. New Zealand’s food and fibre export revenue has grown by 39%, from $38.2 billion to $53.1 billion, and the momentum is still building with export revenue expected to reach a further record of $62 billion by 2027.
All of this is good news for rural communities. Growing our economy, in addition to our careful management of the Government’s books, means that we can lay the foundations for a better future and invest in the things that matter most to New Zealanders like building up our health and education systems, investing in infrastructure, putting more police on the frontline, and improving rural broadband and digital connectivity.
Labour has a proud record to stand on when it comes to making sure that rural communities are great places to live, work and raise a family – and that’s something that’s personal for me. I know there’s still work to do, but I’m confident that with rural voices like mine in the Labour Party and across Parliament, we will continue to build on this record, together.