A National MP whose son was convicted of animal cruelty offences believes there was "a political element" to the way the case was handled by staff of dairy giant Fonterra.
Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger - whose family are Fonterra shareholders and have a lengthy history in dairy farming - claimed employees of the dairy co-operative appeared more interested in a conviction than resolving a long-running animal welfare issue her son had raised.
She has indicated a law change may be needed to remove a power imbalance between sharemilkers and land owners.
Tony Kuriger pleaded guilty to animal cruelty offences in the Palmerston North District Court in January, midway through a trial. Charges against his father Louis Kuriger were dropped.
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This month Tony Kuriger failed in his bid to be discharged without conviction, but his only punishment beyond the conviction was to pay vet and other expert costs of just over $4000. He is allowed to continue farming.
Oxbow Dairies Ltd, a company part-owned by the Kurigers, was fined $30,000.
The charges date back to 2016 and 2017, when Tony Kuriger was a sharemilker on a farm in Hukanui, north of Eketahuna.
As a result of an investigation involving the Ministry for Primary Industries, more than 20 cows were euthanised while others had amputations as a result of lameness.
Tony Kuriger was convicted for not removing bandages from cows, some of which led to maggot infestations, the court heard.
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Barbara Kuriger, an MP since 2014, said her son contacted Fonterra's animal welfare early response service to raise the concerns, which he blamed on the condition of farm lanes he claimed the farm's owner refused to remedy.
Kuriger said her son had accepted responsibility and was in "a bad place" at the time. As well as suffering from anxiety, he was going through a marriage break-up.
The unit she referred to is actually part of industry body DairyNZ, but Fonterra describes itself as an "active participant" and the company acknolweged its employees were involved in the case.
Barbara Kuriger claimed problems on the farm pre-dated her son arriving on the farm and continued after Tony Kuriger left midway through the contract with the land owner.
"My greatest disappointment is that Tony asked for the problem to be solved," Kuriger told The Muster, in her first public comments on the case.
"He stood up and reported this problem and now he's the one who's been hitting the news when actually, the problem never got solved."
She claims the company appeared to take a "prosecutorial" approach to the case rather than support her son to solve the issues.
"Tony ended up in a court process and the problem wasn't fixed, so to me the people who came in to deal with this did not deal with the welfare of their animals, which is so disappointing," Kuriger said.
"That kind of leads me, and with the evidence I have around emails and stuff, to believe there's a political element to this, definitely."
Emails released as part of the court process show a Fonterra employee expressed "hope" that Tony Kuriger was "going to jail" as a result of the investigation.
Elsewhere, one sent a text message to another describing the Kurigers as "typical entitled politicians" and said they would not vote for Barbara Kuriger.
In a statement, Fonterra managing director of co-operative affairs Mike Cronin said the way the issue was handled "could've been better".
"We saw instances where some employees did not consistently behave in a way that aligned with our expectations and we have dealt with that," Cronin said.
Fonterra had made changes "to ensure a fair and consistent approach is taken wherever our Terms of Conditions of supply are not met".
But Cronin said any suggestion that Tony Kuriger's political connections influenced the treatment he received "is completely inaccurate".
Earlier in his career Tony Kuriger won a regional sharemilking award. Barbara Kuriger was the inaugural dairy woman of the year in 2012.