Wanganui Chronicle

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

MANY of us grew up in a New Zealand where what I will term corporate welfare was an important ingredient of everyday life.

It ensured that the families of company employees were looked after and had most everything they needed to enjoy life here.

They had staff Christmas parties and family picnic days, and corporate welfare ensured that the communities those businesses operated in had the resources to help provide essential services like volunteer fire brigades, St John Ambulance services, children's playgrounds, theatres and other facilities.

It was a time when large businesses employed local tradesmen where possible, bought their supplies locally and paid for them religiously on the 20th of the month following purchase.

They were often overseas or government owned and valued the people and communities they relied on to operate.

They were companies like the New Zealand Railways, the Post Office, various meat works, local dairy co-ops, the Ministry of Agriculture, trading banks and many others.

Move forward 40 years and what a different world we live in.

I, for one, would not want to go back but along the journey we have lost some very important pieces of the jigsaw - and it is times like now that we notice it most, as we realise the impact of the current dairy price slump and last year's June rainfall event. There is a real shortage of experienced people on the ground in rural New Zealand who have the expertise in a number of areas needed to expedite recovery. Economics may have forced centralisation but, more importantly, it is decisions made by people, companies and Government that have led to this.

There is no longer an empathy for the challenges small businesses face in rural New Zealand. KiwiRail, as we now know it, has evolved through many iterations from the old New Zealand Railways to a state-owned enterprise.

At the moment it is trying to charge farmers for the use of private crossings over railway lines that allow people access to their farms and houses, many of which were there before the lines appeared. In some cases the land that hosts the railway line was donated to the government by those very families now being aggravated by a petty charge.

Recently they have also prevented charitable groups from using their tracks to host long-standing fundraising events.

Fonterra, which evolved from the many small dairy co-ops I mentioned earlier, is now owned by some 11,000 New Zealand dairy farmer shareholders who live and work throughout rural and provincial New Zealand and are great supporters of local business and communities, as are the thousands of Fonterra employees. So how is it that their company would make a decision to extend their suppliers' terms of payment out to 90 days, meaning many tradesmen and women in our rural heartland will not get paid for their work for 90 days?

Not only have they done this, but they have also asked these same suppliers to cut their charges by 20 per cent. Is this really acceptable? Not in a country I am proud to live in.

This is not the New Zealand way - yet these are not the actions of foreign multinationals, rather they are companies owned by New Zealanders, and by New Zealand farmers.

I worry that these decisions are being made by people like you and me, except they are hidden away in an expensive corporate monolith and have lost touch with the essence of their businesses - and, indeed, the Kiwi way.