Tuesday, 02 February 2021 10:25

From the cowshed to the Beehive

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
ACT MP and Ruawai farmer Mark Cameron and his partner Jodie Booth. ACT MP and Ruawai farmer Mark Cameron and his partner Jodie Booth.

Northland farmer Mark Cameron is living a “chaotic” lifestyle and loving every minute of it.

On most Mondays, he packs his suits and ties, drives to Auckland Airport and catches a flight to Wellington. By the end of the week, he’s back in his jeans and gumboots and on the 300-cow Ruawai farm that he runs with partner Jodie Booth.

Cameron is an ACT MP, one of the 10 voted into Parliament at the last general election. The party won 7.6% of the popular vote, its best results since it was founded.

Listed 8th on the ACT List, he is the party spokesman on primary industries, regional economic development and biosecurity.

For him, there isn’t much difference between the halls of power at the Beehive to the farm.

“It’s a funny world…they are at diametrically opposite ends but talk about the same stuff,” he told Dairy News.

“I sit in the caucus talking about the societal damage that’s happening with arbitral compliance like around freshwater reforms and I come home and live it.

“David (Act leader David Seymour) and the caucus celebrate this…they say you have a different kind of oratory and I say, yeah, I grew up in the country.

“I love what I do but I think about the guy up the hill because he’s bloody good at it and he’s not getting acknowledgement either...so it’s more than me.”

The 48-year old father-of-three says he’s had a life-long interest in politics, both local and international. He lists former Act leader Rodney Hide as an inspiration.

“I have known about ACT since the Rodney Hide days. I loved the way he articulated his point of view. He was a very clever politician and very well engaged with the public sector.”

Cameron believes that both the major parties are out of touch with the rural sector.

He says Labour, while well-intentioned, is ignoring farmgate issues and ramming regulations through without listening to farmer views.

On the other hand, National, a traditional voice for farmers, isn’t offering “a counter narrative” to Labour’s agenda.

Cameron says politicians have no idea when it comes to the builder, the farmer or the fisherman in regional NZ.

“A lot of blue-collared industries are at odds with beltway politics.”

Cameron points out that the Government may want to do the right thing around the environment, climate change and freshwater but often the Government’s methodology is wrong – they aren’t engaging with the farmers at the farmgate.

“Their intentions are often very honourable but the application of public policy to a farmer, Fonterra or to a milk supplier is all too often at odds at what happens at the farm level.”

Cameron says during his farming career he buried four farming colleagues who committed suicide. He isn’t blaming the Government but says politicians’ failure to understand farming is harming those involved in the primary sector.

“There is a growing disquiet in social circles, and farmers are saying that when will have actually we have a representative that understands farming.

“Because they are at odds with what we do, who we are. NZ farmers identify by who they are and what they do.

“The more you disable that rather than enable that and have the wrong discourse with the industry, you actually turn off what you are trying to achieve.”

Cameron says about a year ago he raised farming concerns with party leader David Seymour who encouraged him to stand on the party ticket.

“I said to him that a typical NZ party of old had gone cold on rural issues and we could have something to offer here. He said to me ‘well bloody stand’.

“You never know how the cookie will crumble but it’s a privilege to be given the job of speaking on behalf of the rural community.”

Degree of Hubris

Mark Cameron says he personally think's Fonterra's decisions to invest in Chinese dairy farms and Beinmate weren't "necessarily wise".

"There was a degree of hubris at one point," he told Dairy News.

"But I think they learnt very quickly and rightly have sold off assets."

Cameron, a Fonterra supplier since its inception, believes the co-op must look at market diversification, particularly the Americas and the Indian sub-continent.

"It's not my job to lecture to a private enterprise. I have a little mortgage on this farm and that's mine.

"But I think Fonterra must look beyond China. I'm not saying they are not doing this."

He thinks Fonterra has done a good job, apart from two years where it reported financial losses recently.

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