Groundswell protest: David Parker says don't expect backdown from Government commitments

Farmers shouldn't expect the Government to back down from its commitments in the face of massive protests expected throughout New Zealand on Friday, David Parker says.

The Groundswell Howl of a Protest event is taking place on Friday in towns and cities across the country. It's in support of farmers and growers "fed up with increasing Government interference in your life and business, unworkable regulations and unjustified costs". 

Farmers claim they are being adversely affected by what they say are mounting regulations being imposed by the Government making it difficult for them to get by. They point to the likes of the Government's electric car rebate scheme, which places a fee on the import of new high-emission vehicles like utes. 

"Forcing things on people that they haven't been consulted on [is] causing a lot of anxiety and a lot of stress and tensions in the rural sector," organiser Bryce McKenzie told Newshub this week.

Thousands are expected to turn out, but Parker, the Minister for the Environment, won't be among them. 

"No, I am not going. I think everyone has a right to express their opinion," he told The AM Show on Friday morning. "It is a country of free speech. I do note that farmers are doing very well, export prices are high, interest rates are low, profits are high."

Many of the protesting farmers have also vocally opposed the Government's freshwater regulations. Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor this week announced consultation with farmers and growers "to provide their practical ideas to help develop high quality and workable freshwater farm plans". 

"Everyone knows we need to do better environmentally, particularly with freshwater," Parker said on Friday. "Some farmers think we are going a bit fast, other farmers think we are going a bit low."

He said the protesters want him to "change track". 

"I think most people know we need to clean up our rivers. I meet with farm leader groups more than I do with environmental NGOs and we are always negotiating the details. We have changed some of the intensive winter grazing regulations.

"There is a generation for these changes to take place over and the rules are actually set by regional councils. Are we going to back away from our commitment to have rivers that are swimmable? No."

National's Simon Bridges, appearing alongside Parker on The AM Show, said farmers are right to be angry with the Government. 

"They have had a gutsful, regional New Zealand. Whether it is all the regulations - mainly from David - whether it is the fact they can't get any workers, whether it is the law straw, the EV ute tax," he said. 

"Over COVID, these are the guys and the girls who have kept the New Zealand economy going... they have got a sense that Labour doesn't get regional New Zealand. I think they're right. 

But Parker said during the COVID-19 lockdown, farmers were "preferred over other sectors". 

"We kept the freezing works, the dairy factories going, all the farmers were essential workers. There are a lot of other businesses who have done it harder. That's not to denigrate the farming sector because they do work very hard."

Bridges suggested the Government engages further with the sector.

"With due respect, we are," Parker replied. "I think a lot of the farming groups - not all of them, because there are different farming groups - I get along very well with and work very well with."

Groundswell NZ was established in Southland after a tractor protest in Gore last year and is calling for more "common sense" on the issue of freshwater regulations.

The discussion document on freshwater regulations can be found here