OPINION: The jaws of sheep and wool farmers would have dropped last week when National leader Christopher Luxon brushed off their concerns about plastic carpet being chosen over New Zealand wool carpet for 800 schools.
The Ministry of Education chose US company Milliken to supply fossil-fuel-derived nylon carpet squares in a deal worth around $8m. The plastic carpet would be rolled out in rural schools, whose pupils come from farming families.
New Zealand company Wools of NZ – whose carpet square was developed using taxpayer money from the Ministry for Primary Industries – also tendered for the contract but lost out.
It caused an uproar in the agricultural sector. Federated Farmers was furious. The Campaign for Wool was flabbergasted. Groundswell was fuming too. My phone was running hot with farmers and industry figures gutted at the decision.
So it was an easy political win handed to Luxon on a plate. But instead of showing solidarity with his grassroots National Party-voting base, he shafted them.
“Wool’s a fantastic product. Ultimately though, it’s about getting value for the taxpayer’s money as well and that’s ultimately a decision for the Ministry of Education,” Luxon responded to Newshub’s questions at a press conference in Taupō.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He was supporting the Ministry of Education’s decision, citing ‘value for taxpayers’ dollars’. The NZ wool option only cost a couple of million more.
Luxon did spout some stats that highlight just how vital the agriculture sector is for New Zealand:
“It’s a sector that generate $10,000 for every man woman and child in this country. It’s a sector that feeds 40 million people all around the world. It’s 11 percent of our economy, it’s 13 percent of our employers.”
He even said the best way he can support the wool sector is by opening up markets.
Well, one way you can do that is by government procurement and by creating the markets here that can be built upon.
What’s even worse for National is the response from the Greens. The Greens support the sheep farmers in this case. They agree that local rural communities have been shafted and urge the Ministry to reconsider.
What sort of backward parallel political universe have we entered where the Greens are supporting sheep and wool farmers and National isn’t?
Luxon should have said: “Wellington bureaucrats have got it wrong yet again. They need to be prioritising the NZ wool industry and a government I lead will do that”
Here’s another line he could have used: “It beggars belief that this anti-plastic government has chosen plastic carpets for our schools instead of natural NZ wool. This wouldn’t happen under my watch”.
Heck he could have even said: “This is the last thing the NZ wool sector needs and I’ll be looking into this to see what went wrong”.
But he didn’t. And the collective jaws of the wool sector would have dropped. The collective eyes of the sector would have rolled.
The baton carrier for farmers in Parliament dropped the baton.
Lloyd Burr is a Newshub political reporter.