OPINION: Rugby shows unity of our communities

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In this fair and varied country of ours there is one thing that never fails to bring us together.

It induces passion, and sometimes pain, fierce debate and camaraderie. It is our united love for rugby – and small-town New Zealand is no exception.

As your member of parliament my job means I have the pleasure of covering the vast Waitaki electorate, so when I’m not up in Wellington I’m traversing this stunning piece of country visiting people and businesses throughout the district.

Over the past weeks my trips have been more colourful than usual, with local businesses and shops draped in their team’s colours.

It was the first time in decades that the Kurow and Waimate rugby teams have made it to the finals in their respective Citizens Shield and Hamersley Cup competitions.

And while both sides may have unfortunately come up short on the day, the passion and pride was there for all to see, demonstrating the strength of community throughout the region.

It’s this keen sense of unity and resilience which has helped so many of our farming families throughout South Canterbury and the Waitaki affected by the terrible Mycoplasma bovis cattle disease outbreak.

The agricultural sector has had to weather several storms over the past months and there appears to be no let-up in sight.

Just last week Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor confirmed farmers will face “additional costs” under his Government.

This follows his previously signalled climate tax for farmers and slashing of the Primary Growth Partnership fund and any new irrigation projects.

This is on top of the Government’s other policies, which are already adding thousands of dollars a year in costs to South Canterbury and Waitaki households through cancelled tax cuts, higher rents, slower GDP growth and the cost of fuel.

Mr O’Connor has already stated being the “friend of the farmer” isn’t necessarily his Government’s objective and he should, therefore, be upfront with farmers and outline what extra costs he’s anticipating.

Despite this the industry remains optimistic. The latest Federated Farmers confidence survey shows 30% anticipate an improvement in farm profitability over the next 12 months, while 48% expect it to remain stable.

This is the first time in almost 10 years that the survey showed increased optimism in all areas of farming – except their negative and very real perceptions of the economy.

When asked how they feel general economic conditions will fare over the next 12 months, nearly half of the 1100 farmers involved expected conditions to worsen.

This is the lowest level of confidence since July 2012 and a five-fold increase in pessimism in the 12 months.

The sector’s opinion echoes the latest dismal ANZ business confidence survey, which shows a further six-point drop, taking it to the lowest level in 10 years – not seen since the global financial crisis.

These results are simply the flow-on effects from a Government which takes a reckless low-growth approach to running the economy. Businesses throughout the region are increasingly unlikely to hire more workers or increase wages, meaning fewer opportunities for Kiwi families to get ahead.

The Prime Minister urgently needs to review her Government’s low-growth policy and put a stop to this downturn before more damage is done.

Jacqui Dean is the MP for Waitaki