National Party leader Christopher Luxon was looking for answers in Balclutha last Friday.
“I try and get out and see two or three towns each week, because a lot of the answers come from outside Wellington. It’s about getting a feel for the issues and themes common across New Zealand and seeing the way things have been solved at a community level,” he said.
Mr Luxon has been to Balclutha in the past, but this was his first visit as the Leader of the Opposition.
He began with a tour of Clutha Health First medical facility, before speaking at a National Party members’ meeting at Cross Recreation centre and then moving on to Waihola for a meeting with representatives of the diversity of farming in the South.
Mr Luxon found time for an interview with ODT and The Clutha Leader and was ready to share his outlook for the agricultural industry.
‘‘Farmers are incredibly frustrated by regulations coming fast and at cross purposes. They’re doing a lot of work just to manage compliance and regulatory burden.
‘‘We have kids growing up who don’t understand where food comes from, and there’s been a lot of identity politics played over the last few years so we see a picture of urban vs rural, where farmers have been treated as villains.
‘‘I want New Zealanders to understand the reality is the sector employs 350,000 people, feeds 40 million around the world and generates 80% of our export earnings. We saw that during Covid when tourism fell over.
‘‘I don’t think Labour understands or appreciates the agricultural sector . . .
‘‘They believe in centralisation and control; National believes in localisation and devolution.’’
Talking through a range of issues, including farming, climate change and healthcare, Mr Luxon outlined a general policy of engaging with community groups to set goals for outcomes, and enabling them to be achieved.
‘‘National is committed to net carbon›zero 2050 but the means by which we’ll deliver that goal will be very different from Labour. We need to engage with farmers because they understand the challenge (but) they need workable regulation. You don’t want agriculture in an Emissions Trading Scheme because there is no technological pathway yet for them to get to a lower emissions place . . .It’s going to be a series of investments and R&D over time. We want an industry›developed and led solution, based on science and evidence.’’
Immigration, housing and the cost of living also loomed large.
‘‘Twelve thousand more people are leaving New Zealand than arriving. At a time of labour shortage, that is a real worry. We need to revisit our immigration settings and make it attractive for people to stay. A lot of that is around land supply . . .we are not unlocking land to be able to build houses.
‘‘With the highest inflation in 32 years, average incomes are up 3% with prices up 7%. We want to adjust tax thresholds so people aren’t going backwards and eliminate the government’s stealth taxes, particularly those that resulted in rents going up.’’
He had seen Western democracies over the past five years becoming more internally divided, Mr Luxon said.
‘‘We’re in a place where groups of people have been pitted against each other. We come from diverse backgrounds but we’re all Kiwis. We’ve been very clear on co› governance of public services: we are one country with a single system of delivery of public services — not two — and it’s important we target on the basis of need, not ethnicity. We’re all equal under the law — one person, one vote. That’s a simple construct by which we all need to go forward as New Zealanders. It means we should be free to stand up and say what we want to say, to disagree without being disagreeable.’’