National Party leader Todd Muller will probably not look back on his Oamaru visit too fondly.
The leader of the opposition was in the Waitaki district this week, hosted by Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, for a public meeting and to meet local business leaders.
But his visit coincided with the fallout from Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker’s admission he leaked Covid-19 patient details to the media, making headlines across the country.
Despite the distraction, Mr Muller continued to canvas support for the National Party before the September 19 general election.
He spoke at a well-attended public meeting at the Valley clubrooms in Weston on Tuesday night, and at Whitestone Cheese, in front of an audience of local business leaders, on Wednesday morning.
Mr Muller said Whitestone Cheese was an example of the “New Zealand story”, and it and other small businesses would be key to the country’s economic recovery from Covid-19.
Several farmers attended the public meeting at Weston on Tuesday night and voiced their concern about the general direction of the economy, Mr Muller said.
“They sense that what sits in front of us is a country in a serious crisis, and [they] are not sure the rest of the country is really tuned in yet.
“Particularly through Covid, really it was the primary sector that kept this country afloat.”
That had not been meaningfully acknowledged by the Government, he said, although most New Zealanders had a “deep respect” for the agricultural sector.
Environmental regulations had to be more aligned with the “pragmatic realities” of farming, Mr Muller said.
“I’ve never met a farmer that suggests they want to return to the way they farmed 20 years ago. Every one of them are proud of the work and investment they have done on their farm over time to improve them.”
While carbon emissions “absolutely” had to be cut, it would be the market that would drive the change, not regulations, he said.
“Our view is technology will be the solver of this.
“In a transport context, you see that with the arrival now of electric vehicles, and over time they have become a greater part of the transport fleet.
“With agriculture, we need to be able to measure it first – if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
At both meetings, Mr Muller criticised the Government’s delivery on its promises and several of its policies, including the Provincial Growth Fund.
While the intent of the PGF was good, the way it had been implemented was not, he said.
“It [has] no particular focus or probity, and you talk to people trying to access the fund and it was . . random pot luck, and that is not the way to do these things,” Mr Muller said.
“It can’t be based on Shane Jones’s whim, which sees three out of four projects end up in Northland.
“If you have investment in local communities, you have got to be able to have a test that is defendable.”