New Zealand farmers set for right-wing protest vote over climate change policies

Policies put their livelihoods at stake, some say
calendar icon 28 September 2023
clock icon 3 minute read

Rural voter anger at New Zealand's environmental policies to tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions may contribute to a return of right-wing parties to power at an Oct. 14 election, a shift that could diminish the country's green image, Reuters reported

A flirtation with the New Zealand Labour Party in the 2020 election by rural voters, some for the first time in decades, has ended due to environmental policies such as planting pine forests on grazing land and taxing livestock methane burps.

Warning that livelihoods are at stake, farmers are looking to conservative candidates who will unwind or delay these Labour policies.

Southland dairy farmer Bryce McKenzie and his sheep and beef farming mate Laurie Paterson set off at 40 kph (25 mph) onboard their John Deere tractors last week for a nationwide protest. The two will travel the length of New Zealand over 10 days to encourage rural communities to vote for a change.

“Rural New Zealanders and farmers in particular have found things really difficult for the last six year and particularly the last three years when there has been a whole raft of regulations come in,” said McKenzie, who co-founded rural protest group Groundswell.

Farmers in New Zealand have staged several protests in the past two years against growing regulations and agricultural emission schemes. Similar farmer protests in the Netherlands against government environmental polices saw their protest party in March win sufficient support to shake up the country' senate.

New Zealand’s opposition centre-right National Party is leading in opinion polls, with voting starting on Oct. 2, but it is expected to need the support of at least one minor party to govern, probably the smaller further right wing ACT party.

A Taxpayers' Union–Curia opinion poll in early September found that 58% of rural voters – those living in settlements of less than a 1,000 people -- intended to vote National or ACT.


New Zealand has been at the forefront of pushing through environmental changes to its agricultural sector, one of its biggest industries and one which produces around 50% of the country's emissions.

Labour legislated a number of regulations over the past three years including new rules around water usage and protection of waterways, changing leases on high country ranches and making it easier for sheep and beef farms to be turned into pine plantations to offset carbon and to reduce the number of methane producing animals in New Zealand.

New Zealand will also become the first country in the world to tax farmer for methane from animals from 2025.

If elected, National has promised to delay the introduction of any tax until at the latest 2030 and ACT will only introduce a tax when New Zealand’s main trading partners do.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the country needed to continue to push forward with emission reduction policies including those related to farming, as not doing so was a credibility issue for the country.

"Our trade and tourism opportunities depend on it," he said in a statement.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said New Zealand had to continue to reduce agriculture emissions because its "future economic security depends on our sustainability credentials".

However, farmers say they are desperate for a change in policies as they face rising regulatory costs, sharply lower commodity prices and on-farm inflation at around 16% in the past year.

Wayne Langford, president of farmer lobby group Federated Farmers, said recent policies had been impractical, difficult to implement and caused significant frustrations.

"We will probably see quite a large backing towards...the right wing parties this year -- the National, ACT and New Zealand First -- because it's not necessarily that farmers are against some of what Labour were putting forward, it's more that they feel like they're not getting listened to, and that what's being put forward is not practical," Langford said.

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