VIDEO: Groundswell of support for farmers mass protest over Government regulations
A convoy of tractors and utes, with signs and dogs in tow, rolled into Hastings to protest against what has been described as "increasing Government interference, unworkable regulations, and unjustified costs".
The "howl of a protest" organised by a volunteer group of farmers and rural advocates called Groundswell NZ saw tens of thousands of people protest through urban centres across the country.
At the core of the protest are seven demands relating to specific Government policies and regulations that farmers either want scrapped or re-written. Their main concerns, and the focus of the protest, was what they described as unworkable environmental policies for freshwater, significant natural areas (SNAs) and climate change.
Groundswell NZ Hawkes Bay Coordinator Chris Miles estimated between 600-800 vehicles, and more than 2000 people protested in the region. The protesters wound their way through Hastings, forcing traffic to a standstill, before stopping at Showgrounds Hawke's Bay.
Prior to the protest at midday, police advised motorists that they may experience congestion and delays, particularly on main roads through towns.
"Police recognise and respect the lawful right to protest and will monitor the activities to ensure that both the participants and community are safe and feel safe," a police spokesperson said.
Mr Miles says the movement has "hit a chord with so many people". Since being contacted by one of the movement's national conveners Bryce McKenzie, he says it has "snowballed". "From there it became not just about water reform but about other regulations that the current Government are foisting on farmers and growers and now tradies with the ute tax that came up a lot later."
"My wife and I formed a database and emailed dozens and dozens of people and those people then contacted dozens and dozens of people and today was the result of that."
Mr Miles said they were fed up with constant government interference in the rural sector.
"What it will do is make the Government sit up and take notice of all these people who are disgruntled and disappointed and disillusioned with what is happening. We've given the Government an ultimatum to do something about these unworkable regulations and they've got a month to do it."
He said there are a lot of people who are waiting to see what happens. “This is just the beginning. We can’t stop now. We are on a roll. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but you can rest assured that the Groundswell group has got this by the throat and this is just the beginning," he told the crowd.
Federated Farmers Hawke's Bay president Jim Galloway said it was pleasing to see so many farmers and non-farmers alike supporting the rural community.
"There was a lot of people there and then if you count the dogs you've got to add a lot more in as well," he said.
Mr Galloway said the protest was the cumulation of things that have been coming their way. "People say it was the ute tax, but that was the last straw, there have been so many things coming out of the Government that we've been fighting."
Coupled with the extra droughts farmers in the region have faced, Mr Galloway said there are a lot more people who are thinking of getting out of the sector. "Even though prices are good for our exports, we've had some massive increases in our inputs and it's just adding up to quite a substantial increase in costs."
He said it is not aimed at anyone else other than Government and bureaucrats in Wellington. "It is a lot easier to do it with consultation prior than consultation after the fact."
"The support from all of our support agencies, all of our suppliers and a lot of urban people has been brilliant and it does make a difference to the farmers. The farmers feel that very keenly that they are appreciated, just not appreciated by some in Wellington it seems."
"To motivate tens of thousands around the country must be a message to someone, the Government especially, that people are a little bit annoyed with the way things are going - very annoyed."