Rural NZ's perspectives are not at odds with Labour's, says Kieran McAnulty

Rural NZ and Labour have similar goals, according to Kieran McAnulty, but the Government does need to make things clearer.

Fresh off a tour meeting with mayors and councilors on 54 rural and provincial councils across the country, the Minister for Local Government believes the essential issue with Three Waters is that "rural councils cannot afford to do the water work they need to by themselves."

With regard to farming reforms, he says "He Waka Eke Noa was a proposal that came forward from the sector itself. The whole point of it is to make sure that we have a sustainable farming sector moving forward."

While many councils have felt heard by McAnulty, there are broader fears there is a disconnect at the cabinet level, which would mean the feedback he is taking on is not being translated into actual policy change. 

However, McAnulty thinks the leadership is listening. He points to the recently announced $44m in funding to help councils attract and retain staff and $10m to help rural water suppliers not affected by Three Waters meet the same standards. McAnulty says these were "a direct result of the feedback I heard."

McAnulty accepts that there has been a mixed response to Three Waters. Of the 66 mayors elected in October, only nine support Three Waters, with 43 opposed. 

He recognises "there is a disconnect between the objectives of local government and what the Government has put forward."

While he cannot discuss details of potential upcoming changes to Three Waters or He Waka Eke Noa, McAnulty said "I've made it clear that these communities need reassurance that their needs will be met by these entities."

"If it hasn't been made clear, then we've got to make it clear. We've got to spell it out."

McAnulty's own rural background motivates him - "I care very deeply about rural New Zealand." 

"Part of the reason I put my hand up to be Labor MP was because I genuinely believe it's the party for rural New Zealand."

He believes there is a path forward in which councils and the Government can work together to reach a successful outcome, noting "that of the 54 councils I visited, none of them said they can do this by themselves. And they all agree that something has to be done."

Refuting the idea that Labour doesn't care about the rural sector, McAnulty pointed to New Zealand's "world first plan to get rid of Mycoplasma bovis." 

"If we didn't care about the sector, we wouldn't have done it."

McAnulty points towards the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs as an example of local and governments working together successfully. 

"It's an awesome program, a great example of central and local government working hand in hand. A shared objective. Central government provided the funding and had total trust in the local council to do what was best for their communities to help people into work."

Though voting attendance in local body elections is going down, McAnulty says "local government will always have a significant role in our communities," but he admits "we need to demonstrate to communities why it's so important and why they should participate in it." 

One solution that McAnulty would support is increased civics education in schools. 

"I hope to see that coming because we need everyone in the country to understand how important democracy is for us."

In his role as Minister for Racing, McAnulty says the greyhound racing industry could be shut down, depending on the results of an upcoming report from the Racing Integrity Board, in a matter of weeks.

"The recommendation that I put to Cabinet will be heavily influenced by that report."

Amidst reports of animal abuse, extensive injuries, and dogs being given methamphetamine, McAnulty "feels sorry for the good decent people who are potentially going to be let down by the actions, or indeed inaction, of some players in the industry."

He recognises that "banning any industry is a massive call," but says "no sport that uses animals can operate without a social license, and greyhounds are at risk of losing that." 

For McAnulty, the greyhound racing industry must "clearly outline what their plans are and what they're going to do to fix it."

McAnulty has enjoyed his first six months as a Minister, and while he didn't expect to become Emergency Management Minister, now that he's got it he's "just quickly become really passionate about it."

Watch the full interview for more.

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