Smile For The Camera: Call me a cynic, but the carefully staged photograph of Federated Farmers’ new president, Katie Milne (the first woman ever to hold the post) resplendent in boots and Swandri, kneeling at the side of the Ngaruroro River, while a grinning line of gumbooted corporate cockies look on admiringly, strikes me as too good to be true.
IT WAS MAUDE ROYDEN, the English suffragette, who admonished the Anglican Church to “go forward along the path of progress and be no longer satisfied only to represent the Conservative Party at prayer.” Royden’s oft-quoted quip was irresistible to a wit of Sir Michael Cullen’s acerbity. His wicked paraphrase: that Federated Farmers represented “the National Party in gumboots” has always struck me as at least as memorable as the original. The Labour Party would, therefore, be wise to keep Sir Michael’s witticism at the front of their minds as they congratulate Federated Farmers and other “farming leaders” for their pledge to make all New Zealand’s rivers swimmable.
And before said “farming leaders” admonish me for failing to do the same, I will concede that, on the face of it, their better-late-than-never embrace of Labour/Green policy just might constitute evidence of a hitherto unnoticed willingness to “go forward along the path of progress”.
The operative phrase in this case is, of course, “on the face of it”. Call me a cynic, but the carefully staged photograph of Federated Farmers’ new president, Katie Milne (the first woman ever to hold the post) resplendent in boots and Swandri, kneeling at the side of the Ngaruroro River, while a grinning line of gumbooted corporate cockies look on admiringly, strikes me as just a wee bit too good to be true.
First of all, there’s the timing. Surely it is no coincidence that this happy little announcement and artfully composed photo-opportunity have been arranged just four weeks out from a general election? And not just any old general election, either, but one in which the “Water Issue” has featured prominently. When New Zealanders go to the polling stations of 23 September, the appalling state of this country’s lakes, rivers and streams will have persuaded more than a few of them to vote for those parties pledged to do something about it.
If Sir Michael Cullen is right about Federated Farmers and the National Party, it is quite impossible to avoid the conclusion that these gumbooted farming leaders’ last-minute conversion to the religion of Gaia – as elucidated in the Gospel of Dr Mike Joy – has been undertaken purely in the interests of protecting the Government’s exposed flank.
Presumably, the argument in favour of hauling all these characters out to the banks of the Ngaruroro runs something like this. “If we appear to be conceding the Greens’ and the Labour Party’s points on water quality, and if Nick Smith joins in the inevitable chorus of congratulation, then an issue currently causing the Government a lot of grief will be taken off the table.”
And, who knows, it just might work. If the voters fail to notice that there is precious little in the farming leaders’ announcement relating to HOW they, and their respective organisations, intend to go about making our lakes, streams and rivers swimmable; and even less about WHEN this happy state will be achieved.
Personally, I’m betting they will notice those rather large holes in Federated Farmers’ cunning plan. Why? Because Greenpeace, Forest & Bird, Fish & Game and every other NGO fighting for swimmable rivers will tell them. I’m especially confident that Russel Norman, the guy who, when he was the Greens’ co-leader, introduced the expression “dirty dairying” into everyday Kiwi conversation, and who is currently the boss of Greenpeace in New Zealand, will find these cockies-come-lately to the clean water party as bogus as I do.
Because talk is cheap – especially in the run-up to general elections. And because what I’m being shown in this latest photo-opportunity is just one more image in the lengthy sequence of images presented to New Zealanders as part of a concerted PR campaign to undo the damage caused by the success of the Dirty Dairying project.
Cast your mind back over the past 18 months and recall the expensive advertising campaign on behalf of New Zealand’s hard-working, dairy-farming families (along with the big corporations who actually dominate today’s dairy industry, but whose agribusiness systems curiously do not feature in the ad campaign’s soft-focus vision of the Kiwi heartland) and ask yourself this question:
“How can Federated Farmers and their allies possibly guarantee to make our rivers swimmable once again, without drastically reducing the size of New Zealand’s dairy herd?”
Then ask yourself: “Am I really that gullible?”
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 August 2017.