Wairarapa organisers pull pin on Groundswell protest as fringe elements undermine farmers' messages

Some Groundswell protesters were accused of barking up the wrong tree and straying from core farming issues.
John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Some Groundswell protesters were accused of barking up the wrong tree and straying from core farming issues.

The Masterton organisers of the rural Groundswell protests, which are due to roll out in 70 towns and centres on Sunday, have pulled the pin over fringe elements distracting from the core issues and a loss of focus.

One of the organisers of Groundswell’s last protest in Masterton, prominent local farmer Derek Daniell, said the organisers decided not to run a follow-up event because “anti-vaxers and all sorts of people might latch onto our protest, rather than it being about farming”.

Groundswell’s demands cover everything from over regulation of the rural sector, to the ute tax, to the ETS, significant natural areas and freshwater policy.

But Daniell said there are concerns the weekend’s protest could be hijacked. “It’s a convenient way for fringe elements to put up banners and complain about what they think needs to be complained about.”

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MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF
The “Howl of a Protest” convoy of 500 tractors and utility vehicles that drove from Richmond to Nelson. The protest was organised by Groundswell NZ (first published July 2021)

Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard said while they agreed with many of the core farming messages Groundswell was pushing, he thought it was at risk of being undermined by uninvited guests.

“What you’ve got is people potentially coming on board with focuses on other areas and that’s what’s coming through.”

Hoggard said it appeared the Wairarapa organisers pulled out because “they were worried about everything else overwhelming the agricultural issues and the voice being lost”.

Groundswell national organisers Bryce McKenzie, right wants participants to stick to their main messages. He’s pictured with co-organiser Laurie Paterson.
Stuff
Groundswell national organisers Bryce McKenzie, right wants participants to stick to their main messages. He’s pictured with co-organiser Laurie Paterson.

Groundswell’s lead co-ordinator Bryce McKenzie said the fact that they had protests organised in 70 locations showed they still had broad support.

“We know that other groups will be turning up, much to our dissatisfaction, but we can’t do anything about it. It’s a public place.”

As the Prime Minister continued to snub the protestors and prominent regional organisers come under fire for racist social media posts, Groundswell was accused of losing its way.

Founder of the Agri-Women’s Development Trust Lindy Nelson was horrified by some of the posts circulating the Groundswell’s social media pages and tweeted a response.

Her tweet said she felt physically sick when she saw a “disgusting image” posted on Groundswell’s social media page insulting Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

“I do not buy the fact that ‘we cannot control a crowd, or we can’t control people's views’. Don’t start something about really, really big issues where you’re likely to do damage.”

Nelson said the group appeared to have “lost focus”.

McKenzie said these types of posts were unacceptable, but admitted they had been unable to monitor the page properly in recent days.

“We don’t condone those posts at all and have been trying to remove them.”

Organisers want this protest to be focused on key messages.
Barry Harcourt
Organisers want this protest to be focused on key messages.

In last July’s protest, the occasional racist and anti-communist placards were mixed in with traditional farming slogans taking attention away from core messages.

As part of the Groundswell’s effort to clean up its messaging, it had published a list of acceptable signage.

“Our messaging has been very clear on people’s responsibilities about what Groundswell expects. We won’t stand for any abuse or racism or anything like that,” McKenzie said.