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Water tax protest portends growing rural-urban divide

Opinion Piece

Events in Morrinsville yesterday were on the surface about protesting Labour’s possible water tax on dairy farmers but they could also be seen as a sign of a divide in New Zealand rural and urban society that is deeper and growing.

Certainly there was a strong political edge yesterday when about 600 farmers gathered in Morrinsville by the statue of the Mega Cow in Jacinda Ardern’s home town to protest against Labour’s proposed water tax.

Signs like Pretty Communist, the presence of Myrtle the Tractor and the National Party background of the two main organisers clearly showed a political edge.

But it should not be overlooked that there is a strong rural-urban difference in the way that people see the water tax situation.

Urban dwellers tend to strongly believe that intensive dairying has had a horrendous effect on the condition of New Zealand’s rivers. In fairness that is accepted by many in the rural community and millions have been spent on remedial measures.

There was a clear theme from those taking part in the protests that they are being unfairly blamed for the situation. Film clips showed people who were genuinely deeply aggrieved. In truth there is much more behind that than just recent politics.

Like all developed countries, New Zealand has seen a sustained urban drift in the past few decades. More than 80 percent of the population now live in urban centres, 70 percent of those in the large centres. That means the rural sector has had less of an impact since the advent of MMP in 1996.

The National Party, once recognised as the farmer’s party, has of political necessity become more diverse and with leaders like John Key has been successful in that respect.

Electorates like ours, which was one of the most hotly contested in the era of first past the post, have dwindled in significance. It is now the party vote that decides who will govern and so much of that of course comes from Auckland.

There is a growing urban-rural divide. The Morrinsville crowd is just another sign of it.