NZ Election 2020: Supporters defend Jacinda Ardern over remarks on farmers dubbed 'outrageous' by National

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern's supporters have come to her defence after she was attacked on social media over remarks on farmers the National Party described as "outrageous". 

Ardern and National leader Judith Collins were asked in their first TV debate on Tuesday night how they planned to support farmers to be both sustainable and profitable, and it led to a showdown between the two leaders. 

As Ardern and Collins debated whether farmers feel supported enough by the Government, Collins said they feel that "they have the got the weight of the world on them", to which Ardern said is "the view of a world that has passed". 

Ardern's remark sparked anger from National supporters, including National MP Nicola Willis who said it "came across as patronising" and "anti-farmer", while Taieri candidate Liam Kernaghan said it was "incredibly offensive". 

"The Labour Leader saying the backbone of our economy - farming - is a 'world that has passed' is incredibly offensive and remarkably unaware," Kernaghan said. 

"Outrageous," a post by the National Party's official Twitter account said. "Our Farmers are 64% more emissions efficient than the global average. Our farmers are already the most emissions efficient producers of milk in the world."

But Ardern's supporters said her comments were taken out of context, and that she was responding to Collins mentioning "dirty dairying", a term coined by NGO Fish and Game in the early 2000s to highlight intensive dairy farming practises. 

Political commentator and former Labour chief of staff under Andrew Little, Neale Jones, re-tweeted Kernaghan with the caption, "That's not what she said."

Damian Christie, the winner of the 2017 Prime Minister's Science Communication Prize, likened National's commentary to "misinformation campaigns" in the United States.

"Given what's happening in the US right now, it's concerning to see what appears to be deliberately organised misinformation campaigns by NZ National Party and its MPs," he said on Twitter.

Ardern defended her remarks on Wednesday, insisting she did not mean to say farming was a world of the past.

"That is absolutely not what I said. I said Judith Collins' view of the challenges around climate change were views of the past and that actually the farming community or leaders that I've been working with are very much focused on how we can drive further value from what we do and make sure we are competitive in our export markets," Ardern said.

"My view is she was presenting an old view of farming."

Collins said on Wednesday it's "very clear" that Ardern thinks farming is a "sunset industry". 

Was Ardern's comment taken out of context?

Collins and Ardern were shown a video clip during the debate of a Waikato farmer who cited a recent Dairy NZ survey which found that 62 percent of farmers said that they or someone on their farm had experienced mental health issues in the last 12 months.  

The same survey found that 60 percent of farmers identified changing Government regulation as the leading cause. 

"We want to play our part in the recovery but are feeling under pressure," dairy farmer Tracy Brown said. "How would you support farmers to farm both sustainably and profitably?"

Ardern said New Zealand needs to be known for producing sustainable food, which she said underlines the importance of the Government reaching a consensus with the agriculture sector on the need to price emissions from 2025. 

Farmers have been given five years to develop practical ways to measure and price emissions at the farm-level, to be separate from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). 

Agriculture will be included in the ETS if an alternative isn't figured out by 2025. But either way, farmers would get a 95 percent discount - despite agriculture making up about half of New Zealand's reported emissions. 

"I'm so proud of that because we did that alongside our farmers and primary producers," Ardern said. 

But Collins said farmers are feeling let down. 

"Actually, farmers aren't feeling like that. Farmers are feeling like they're bagged all the time by this Government. Remember dirty dairying? That was the Greens and Labour going into that," Collins said. 

"When I grew up, being a dairy farmer's kid, I was so proud, I was proud as punch. And now I've got dairy farmers, young dairy farmers, saying 'I'm only a dairy farmer', because they feel that they have got the weight of the world on them."

Ardern responded, "If I may, that feels to me like the view of a world that has passed."

Collins scoffed at the remark. 

"When I meet with our dairy sector… I've probably met with them more than any other because of this important work. They absolutely see the need for us to be competitive in this environment," Ardern said. 

"We've got Australian farmers now talking about climate change. There's an inevitability here we have to face. But they are the ones talking about sustainability."

Collins said they are also concerned about their mental health. 

"We've got farmers suffering mental health issues and they're saying we need help and we want you to support us, and now we're being told by Ms Ardern, oh well that's a time of the past," she said. 

"No it's not. They're already the climate change warriors out there; they're already the ones dealing with climate change more than anyone else."

Labour has announced a $50 million investment to create a single farm planning tool to streamline compliance. It plans to have planning, data sharing and industry cost-sharing agreements drafted by mid-2021. 

On average it costs between $5000 and $10,000 for each property to develop an integrated farm plan, so Labour plans to create the cost-sharing agreement with the industry to ensure every farmer and grower pays less for their compliance.