Mitch Harris: A tale of two portfolios

Opinion 18/05/2018
Nathan Guy. Photo credit: File.

By Mitch Harris, Night Talk host.

OPINION: He was the ever-present figure standing loyally behind John Key when the former Prime Minister was talking to reporters. Tall and salt-and-peppered with a smug grin, Nathan Guy could be relied upon for an unremarkable soundbite that defined conventional wisdom.

As Opposition shadow Minister of Primary Industries, he has criticised the Government over its refusal to start handing over unlimited amounts of compensation to farmers affected by the deepening scandal that is the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.

It reminded me of the difference in his energy levels towards his portfolios when he was both Immigration Minister and Minister of Primary Industries in the last National Government.

When (I assume) the former Prime Minister told Guy to give the sinister tech billionaire Peter Thiel New Zealand citizenship, Guy unhesitatingly and quickly used an "exceptional circumstances" clause to get the job done. Thiel would be free to buy up as many "billionaire boltholes" as he wanted, despite only spending 12 days in New Zealand.

The usual route to citizenship requires applicants to live in New Zealand as a permanent resident for at least 1,350 days in the five years preceding an application. Thiel was too busy to be in New Zealand for the formal citizenship process, so it was held in Santa Monica.

When a disease breaks loose [farmers] want the Government to cough up.

This was Theil's reward for making tens of millions of dollars from the NZ Venture Investment Fund, while his partner the NZ Government barely broke even.

The rash of disease outbreaks like Mycoplasma bovis, Psa, myrtle rust and a long list of biosecurity scares shows just how uncritically tribal Federated Farmers and many in the rural community are towards National.

Back in 2017, Guy dithered when the disease was found in a farm owned by rich-listers. I suspect it was all kept secret and quick and decisive action held up while compensation was being negotiated. It is interesting to see how compensation seems to be the only issue over the M. bovis outbreak that has taxed the mind of Guy last year when he was minister, and now in Opposition.

This is despite the black market in cattle sales and a lack of compliance with the national animal identification and tracing regime (NAIT), which hampered MPI's efforts to respond to the disease.

Head of Biosecurity NZ Roger Smith said it had been a very challenging incursion response because of the level of non-authorised stock movements.

Not a word on that from Guy despite the fact that this all happened on his watch.

There is a lingering image in New Zealand of the plucky, farmer battling the elements and breaking in the land so that all New Zealanders can share in the prosperity created by their hard work.

The reality is that farming is now a 'Queen St Farmers' operation run by large businesses. Guy himself owns four farms. He is not a farmer - he is an agri-businessman. And farm workers are now being encouraged to exercise because so much of the former back-breaking work is now automated.

Many farmers and agri-businesses have thumbed their noses at the systems that are designed to protect them. Then, when a disease breaks loose they want the Government to cough up.

Perhaps agri-businesses should be treated the same as every other business in New Zealand.

Mitch Harris is host of RadioLIVE Night Talk, 8pm weeknights.