Southland Chamber of Commerce & the Feds

This year I have attended the annual meetings of two institutions that many would not consider natural Green allies, Federated Farmers and the Southland Chamber of Commerce. One could imagine a cold reception for anyone openly green when in a room of farmers or businessmen, but we are now living in a different time and Southland is a unique place.

Southland is not a conservative backwater as many may think and it is not as politically blue as people may imagine. The old Awarua electorate (now largely Clutha Southland and currently held by Bill English), elected a Labour MP in the 70s. The Invercargill electorate had a Labour MP for four terms before National's Eric Roy was elected. Southland is a province of independent thinkers and when I fly out of Invercargill to meetings further north I often find myself sitting beside leaders of national organisations who are based in the south. Although we have only 2% of New Zealand's population we punch well above our weight. We know what it takes to be successful in the sporting or business arena and have the determination to see it through.

A couple of months ago I attended Southland Federated Farmers AGM and joined a meeting of their meat and fibre section. There was a lot of frustration and robust self-reflection going on within this sector. The only sheep farmers remaining in Southland are the most efficient and resilient ones and the success and dominance of dairying just highlighted the opportunities missed by the meat and fibre industry. I was very impressed by the discussions and the leadership being displayed and there was already a Southland group leading a national drive to reshape the industry. They had a detailed strategy that involved managing the seriously flawed freezing works procurement system that operated more like a lottery for farmers. There was also a need to unify the industry into a single marketing entity that had proven so successful for the dairy industry. There are times when Southland farmers' proactive approach to perceived barriers can be problematic but in this particular forum I felt proud to be a Southlander (there was even strong support for environmental responsibility).

Tonight I was present at the Southland Chamber of Commerce AGM and the guest speakers were representatives from Shell. They presented a condensed version of a presentation I had already heard regarding their plans for the Great South Basin. I was prepared to ask a few questions to ensure those present were aware of the concerns we Greens have for deep sea drilling, but I didn't have to. Our Southland businessmen are pretty sharp and actually asked every question I had listed and had the Shell people struggling for answers. Their explanation for how any potential accident would be managed was not reassuring and it became abundantly clear that there would be few economic benefits for Southland.

In speaking to members of the board after the meeting there was genuine interest in engaging with the Greens and understanding our policies. I was even encouraged to become a member, which was very tempting because the speaker for their next meeting is Andrea Vance. We don't miss much in the Deep South.


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