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Minister Kiri Allan supports petition opposing Coast farm sales

‘This isn't just about pine trees or farming; it’s about the people’: farmer Graeme Williams.

More than 200 people assembled outside Lawson Field Theatre this morning to present a petition against farms being sold into forestry and send a simple message to the wealthy foreign industrialist wanting to buy the land . . . “plant trees in your own bloody back yard”.

That was the call from East Coast farmer Graeme Williams who is a neighbour of Huiarua Station, one of two farms that have been sold to foreign buyers, pending Overseas Investment Office approval.

Federated Farmers today presented a petition opposing the sale of Huiarua at Tolaga Bay and Matanui Station at Tokomaru Bay.

“For me, this isn't just about pine trees or about farming; it's about the people,” Mr Williams said.

“The reality is Huiarua has a school (Mata). If the school goes, the families go. If the families go, there's no women in the community. If there's no women in the community, there is no community.

“Mata School is the area's only school.”

“If Huiarua goes west, it's putting a knife through the heart of the community.

“My question is, if we have someone over in Germany with a big factory, what makes it right to come and buy a pine forest here?”

He would be better served offsetting his carbon emissions back in Germany, he said.

Federated Farmers Gisborne-Wairoa provincial president Toby Williams said 8990 people had signed the petition, with signatures from all over New Zealand and overseas.

“What we found is people who have a lived connection to the Coast, no matter where they are in the world, have picked this up.

“We are fighting a losing cause. There is already a process going through. We are focused on the politicians who can halt this process.

“It's really great to have the support of Kiri (Allan, East Coast MP and Conservation Minister) to take this back to her colleagues.”

Members of the rural community said they had sourced money to match the sale if something could be done to halt the sale of it to the overseas party.

However, Ms Allan said it was not an easy process.

“The grounds we have to turn down the application (with the OIO) are limited.

“There's a couple of broader issues. Should farms of this quality be converted for other land uses?

“That's a broader discussion which will get broader view across the community.

“Why I'm so glad to receive the petition today, though, is I agree with it. I don't think farms like these should be converted into forest plantations. I don't think that makes environmental sense. I don't think it makes community sense.”

The Government had been working for several years to resolve the issue and there was now a submission process under way about exotic plantations.

She pleaded with anyone in support of the farm sale petition to also lodge a submission on that.

“Is that in time for Huiarua? I'm not sure. Time will tell.”

Mayor Rehette Stoltz also backed the petition.

“I've always been supportive. One of my experiences was I went up to Mata School and there were only eight kids in the school but all their parents work on the farm there.

“It's not about economics and money, it's about our communities staying alive.

“It is something that's very close to our hearts . . . as a community we should be concerned and we are concerned.”

Gisborne District Council submitted to the new Emissions Trading Scheme process, choosing to support the option where there would be a ban on pines unless it was proven there was no alternative.

TAKING IT TO PARLIAMENT: A petition opposing the sale of two East Coast stations to overseas buyers was presented to Conservation Minister Kiri Allan by Federated Farmers provincial president Toby Williams (left) and Coast farmer Graeme Williams this morning. Ms Allan said she backed the petition. Picture by Liam Clayton