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Farming in our region faces any number of serious challenges. Dairy farmers face a raft of new regulations and the threat of somewhat draconian punishment whenever they fall short. They also work largely within a hazardous single market, single commodity model that relies on the goodwill of powerful foreign government controlled markets that acts entirely in its own self interests. Sheep farmers also face the same old roller coaster of prices with wool currently being so undervalued it does not cover the cost of shearing. What to do?
The first point I would make is that we did not end up where ever it is that we are because farmers decided in Isolation that we should. Successive governments, councils, banks, industry representatives, and farm advisors all drove agriculture precisely to the place it is now. It is perhaps symptomatic of the way things are that many industry leaders can best measure their success by the size of the golden parachutes they gave themselves before they bailed out and left farmers to deal with the problems. Playing the blame game is not productive. Farmers are right to point out that the crippling fines they face for even single accidental discharges into waterways are not matched by the fines paid bodies like The Queenstown Council who paid less than $40,000 for about 70 such incidents. Fair is fair.
I accept that the majority of farmers are committed to eliminate discharges into waterways and aquifers and that they want clean, green outcomes. I have always admired successful organic farmers because they get the most money for their product while limiting off farm inputs and building soil but although organic agriculture might be the final destination for many farmers down the line but it is not the only way farmers can pursue these objectives.
Regenerative farming, for example, offers much in the way of solutions and it has been met with widespread enthusiasm in the farming community. There is more than one path to achieve the things we really want to see at play in the countryside.
Farmers complain that they have been singled out when it comes to water pollution although most are willing to acknowledge the need to take responsibility for their part in the process. They are right to complain. Aging and inadequate urban sewerage schemes pollute waterways and the sea as do myriad abandoned industrial sites. In my home town Lumsden the abandoned Niagara Sawmill site was once used to treat timber which was then stacked outside to drip dry. To this day dogs that have drunk from the neighbouring stream have become sick and some have apparently died. We don’t know how much arsenic and so on is still leaching into the stream and thus into the Oreti River because it is not measured. The company that ran the mill has simply walked away without any costs or consequences to them.
Farmers are right to complain that when they make improvements to their land they attract higher rates even though such improvements do not generally lead to increased income.
They are right to point out that although they pay more rates than anyone else they get little benefit from them with deteriorating roads and closed bridges that often cut rural communities in half.
It is increasingly obvious that councils all over New Zealand do not have the funds they need to properly manage core activities and that increasingly the only choices are to cut funding in one key area to support another. I believe that in large part the corporate model imposed in the eighties which saw Chief Executives put in charge of a raft of managers overseeing a growing army of staff has contributed to cost and debt blow outs and an erosion of democracy. As our infrastructure degrades through neglect the cost of repairs becomes every higher until structures are finally closed. This is a third world outcome and a clear indicator that the system needs to be overhauled.
Farmers recognise the need to diversify activities and products and to a degree I believe we are entering a period of transformation. While we go through this it is vital that we as a community and a nation do everything we can to support them.
Looking to the future I believe we need to examine carefully the thinking behind government initiatives like the Million Trees scheme. It would be all too easy for the idea to end up being a gateway for foreign polluters looking to take advantage of an emissions trading scheme by buying arable farm land and planting it out with yet another monoculture of equally foreign pine trees. This would render the land useless for anything in the future other than perhaps more pine trees. We might end up meeting our global commitments to reduce carbon while in fact only achieving a real reduction of say 40%. We might also end up with carbon emitting wastelands.
Dr Simon Upton, the man in charge of the Parliamentary Commission for the Environment recognises this danger. The Commission recommends that fossil fuel emissions be eliminated from our environment rather than allowed for by an ETS. Instead an ETS should focus on less persistent biological emissions, primarily those from animals.
Farmers are right to complain that their riparian plantings may not to be eligible for an ETS when it is introduced. In my view they should actually be the main participants in any future ETS and they should get credit for their past plantings while hopefully future plantings are overwhelmingly native podocarps. High quality native woodlots that protect streams and rivers and cover shaded hill sides will become small forests nurturing native biodiversity, helping farmers not only by providing an income stream but by giving future generations of farmers an opportunity to sustainably harvest very high quality timber that will potentially lock up carbon in valuable objects for hundreds of years.
Dairy farmers have been encouraged to become dependent on a single market and the dangers inherent in that strategy are now abundantly clear. The Chinese have a history of encouraging development of specific industries in other countries by buying products from them at high prices. When the infrastructural spending is done they then slash the prices they pay and buy up the struggling enterprises cheap. What happened to the Australian mining industry is now befalling our dairy industry. The Chinese have now acquired many dairy farms in New Zealand and farmers need to consider who their real friends are.
Mayor Tong has been to China twice on all expenses paid junkets courtesy of a New Zealand resident whose loyalties lie unabashedly with his homeland, a multimillionaire developer and international business owner named Jhang Yikung.
Jhang is the man who allegedly gave a100k donation to the National Party which the soon to be ex National Party MP Jamie Lee Ross claimed his political leader Simon Bridges instructed him to split up and bank into different accounts to get around donation caps. The story erupted into a major scandal about among others things the issue of foreign influence peddling.
Although he speaks no English Jhang clearly speaks a language that many powerful people understand. He has become close to Bridges and the former PM John Key as well as the National Party president Peter Goodfellow, Deputy Leader Paula Bennett. He also cultivated friends on the other side, Auckland Mayor and former Labour leader Phil Goff, current Justice Minister and former Labour Party leader Andrew Little and other senior Labour politicians. He reputedly significantly financed Goff’s mayoral campaign and he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2018 Queens birthday honours. He was also awarded a Kiwibank local hero award at the New Zealander of the Year awards.
In spite of the language barriers, Tong apparently became such a good friend to Jhang that he publicly defended him without hesitation after the donor scandal erupted. He told reporters that he was 100% certain that Jhang would not have handed over money and that Ross’s allegations were ‘Bullshit’.
However, it is clear that giving money to politicians is entirely the sort of thing that Jhang does and that whatever services he may have performed to win all his accolades in New Zealand they were performed at the behest of his communist superiors back in China.
This is because Jhang is the most senior figure in New Zealand of the “United Front”, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) department that is tasked with maintaining loyalty to the party within China and promoting the CCP’s values abroad. This includes conducting overseas foreign influence activities, described by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping as “magic weapons”. This mainly consists of coercing with flattery, gifts and money people with influence from ministers to mayors in pursuit of the CCP’s global objectives.
Prior to Tong’s free trip Jhang and his associates sent Tong a draft of a memorandum of understanding to ‘strengthen Friendly Exchanges and Cooperation’. Tong showed the document to his council’s CEO Steven Ruru and a couple of other councillors. When asked about it while Tong was away Ruru told the press that nothing would happen until the agreement had been formerly presented to council but he was wrong. Instead Tong unilaterally signed the agreement on the council’s behalf at a glittering ceremony in Shantou, China. He was quoted by Chinese media as saying the two regions could broadly cooperate in “marine fisheries, agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and tourism”.
The bromnance between Tong and Jhang continued with more bizarre episodes like the time Tong asked an Auckland lawyer Chen Ping, who was a business partner of Jhangs, to help him explain his relationship with the pair to the council.
The lawyer sent back a ‘draft for your approval’, which said Jhang and Chen would be appointed as a business adviser and legal consultant, respectively. ‘Together, they will form business attraction and investment team for Southland District Council.’
Certificates of appointment were prepared and although they were never finally authorised Tong did send a letter back welcoming Jhang’s ‘contribution as a business adviser ‘. Although he added the rider that this was at the time an informal arrangement his letter was hailed in the local pro CCP Chinese press as a formal arrangement that honoured Jhang and Chen with the appointments they sought, an impression Tong seems to have done nothing to correct.
On a previous occasion Tong had hosted Jhang, Chen and a third associate of the pair to a $3600 night on a tourist boat in Milford, all paid for by Southland ratepayers. They then spent time with Tong ‘looking at opportunities’ on the road to Invercargill.
Tong has now made five trips to China the net result of all being to date an arrangement for Southland seafood to be supplied to an Auckland restaurant. We don’t know what the opportunities were that Tong, Jhang and Chen were looking at during their drive through Southland because Tong has never divulged that information. Maybe it was fresh water or perhaps it was all those green, warm paddocks full of black and white cows. Paddocks that might soon be going cheap again when the CCP decides to crash the price they pay for milk powder once more. It would be instructive to know just what the Mayor thought they might like to buy into.