What rural-urban divide?

  • Hon Damien O’Connor

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor has welcomed survey results that show many Kiwis – both urban and rural – hold a similar and positive view of the primary sector. 

New Zealanders’ views of the primary sector was initiated by the Ministry for Primary Industries last year to measure change against a 2008 benchmark survey. 

Mr O’Connor says the key finding was that with very few exceptions, the views of rural and urban New Zealanders are very similar across key topics in the primary sector including water quality and expansion through value-add.  

The findings are contrary to the study’s media literature scan, which suggested there is a growing divide and polarisation of views between the two groups.  

Respondents said the most significant environmental issue facing NZ was water quality (rural 53% and urban 47%), with recognition farmers were working to do something about this. 

They agreed expansion through value-add products was good for New Zealand (rural 70% and urban 69%) and were equally concerned about threats to biosecurity from pests and disease (rural 88% and 87%).   

There was a sharp increase in urban respondents who agreed that everyone should have access to services and most would pay a bit more if it meant rural people could access them at a reasonable cost – 63% up from 52% in 2008. 

“It was pleasing to see those surveyed felt very strongly that responding to key issues such as climate change and biosecurity were the responsibility of all New Zealanders,” says Mr O’Connor. 

“There’s overall recognition of the importance of the primary sector to the New Zealand economy, but more remains to be done to address sector impacts on fresh water and the environment.  

“It looks like we’re getting on the same page and that’s important as we drive a new strategic direction for the New Zealand primary sector towards the production of sustainable, premium food products that meet consumer expectations. 

“The survey also highlighted very positive views about New Zealand’s animal welfare, and in particular the focus groups felt that New Zealand led the world in animal welfare standards and performance. 

“While respondents considered the primary sector offers good employment opportunities, they were less inclined to agree they were good employers. Addressing this will need to be an important area of focus going forward.” 

Both urban and rural Kiwis indicated that better lifestyle, open spaces, population size and clean environment were the positives about living in rural NZ. Lack of infrastructure, lack of amenities and facilities, distance from school/work/friends and isolation were seen as key negatives. 

“Understanding the values and perceptions of New Zealanders is a critical input to the work of Government and industry,” Mr O’Connor says. 

The survey was completed by 1,245 New Zealanders and nine focus groups.