NZ govt MPs pick Lamb Day BBQ over Palestine protest

February 13, 2024 by AAP
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In this clash of competing interests for Kiwi politicians, there was only ever going to be one winner.

New Zealand Agriculture and Trade Minister Todd McClay (second left), alongside Beef and Lamb Chair Kate Acland (third left), serves sausages at a National Lamb Day barbecue outside Parliament House in Wellington, New Zealand, Tuesday 13 February 2024 Photo AAP Image/Ben Mckay

Lamb over Palestine.

At the back of parliament on Tuesday, dozens of government MPs attended a free barbecue for National Lamb Day, celebrating the sheep industry’s contribution to New Zealand.

At least one National MP carried her support into parliament after lunch, wearing a National Lamb Day T-shirt in the debating chamber as she asked questions of the finance minister.

However, there was a lack of government enthusiasm for the gathering at the front of Wellington’s parliament at the same time: a Freedom For Palestine rally.

No ministers or MPs from governing parties – National, NZ First or ACT – saw fit to attend the protest in support of a ceasefire to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The duelling events are typical of a parliamentary sitting day when groups organise occasions to grab the attention of MPs.

The bumper turnout at the barbecue, organised by Agriculture Minister Todd McClay with industry groups, displayed one of the truths about NZ politics: the Kiwi farmer is sacrosanct.

“There was half of cabinet there,” Mr McClay said.

“We had MPs from all coalition parties, from the Green party, from Labour and I think I saw somebody for the Maori Party there as well … a bipartisan approach to supporting New Zealand sheep farmers.”

Prime Minister Chris Luxon said he wasn’t sure why no government MPs chose to attend the rally for Palestine, four months into a conflict that has killed more than 28,000 civilians.

He said he “heard their concerns” but did not attend personally as it was “a sensitive topic”.

“There are very strongly held views on both sides of this conversation and it’s important for me as prime minister of New Zealand to make sure that we maintain social cohesion,” he said.

While the government only attended the barbecue, several members from the Labour and Green parties attended both events.

“It’s a very polarising debate,” Labour leader Chris Hipkins said of Israel-Hamas war.

“But it would be nice for the government to have been represented at those sorts of events.”

The government protest no-go belies NZ’s increasing support for Palestinians in the deadly conflict.

The country has contributed $NZ15 million ($A14 million) in humanitarian assistance towards victims of conflict and, on Monday, Mr Luxon criticised Israel’s attacks on the border city of Rafah.

“Palestinian civilians cannot pay the price of Israel trying to defeat Hamas,” Mr Luxon said.

Still, nothing trumps the Kiwi farmer.

Showing their importance the government, Mr Luxon is attending  Southern Field Days – an agricultural show – in Gore on Wednesday, rather than attending parliament.

Barbecue organisers – who did not know their free lunch would create a scheduling dilemma for MPs – said they were grateful for political support.

Beef and Lamb NZ chair Kate Acland, a South Island farmer, said it was “a tough moment for the sheepmeat industry” due to weakened demand from China and competition from the Australian market.

“This is about celebrating all the great things about our sector: farmers producing world class protein with the highest animal welfare standards with some of the sustainably produced red meat in the world,” she said.

Organisers have moved National Lamb Day to February 15 each year, commemorating the date of the first voyage of frozen sheepmeat from New Zealand, when the SS Dunedin left Port Chalmers bound for London in 1888.

At the barbecue, a Ranfurly farmer recited poetry inspired by that occasion when “a legend lamb trade was born”.

“Her cargo a treasure surpassing all gold; a harvest from New Zealand sheep growers, brave and bold,” she said.

“New Zealand lamb both tender and sweet; bringing folks together for a culinary treat.”

ACT leader David Seymour said the nature of other pro-Palestine rallies may have turned off his MPs from attending Tuesday’s protest.

“I can imagine, given some of the violence-inciting activities that happened at some of the rallies … that would make us a little bit hesitant frankly,” he said.


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