Some say Jacinda Ardern and her government have done more to divide this country than any of her/its predecessors, even allowing for Muldoon's Think Big and the 1981 Springbok tour.
That might be debatable, but there was precious little evidence of discord in Kaitaia and some 60 other centres around the country on Friday, when thousands of farmers, and others, drove their tractors and utes through main streets big and small. If ever there was a sign of rural unity, that was it.
It takes something special to lure farmers, in particular, into town in those numbers, but they turned up last week in droves. Some travelled considerable distances to be there, in many cases their vehicles displaying muddy evidence that they were not something to splash their vast profits on but tools of their trade. So too were the dogs that barked their way through town.
The sheer scale of the protest - Kaitaia's took more than an hour to trundle its way through Commerce St - and the response from those who stood, watched and in many cases applauded, must have given great heart to the organisers. And Groundswell NZ says there is more to come if the government doesn't respond "adequately" by August 16.
The mood in Kerikeri on Friday was described by one reporter as "festive," and it was the same in Kaitaia. Add a few balloons and a plump man in red tossing lollies and it could have been the town's biggest Christmas parade in years.
If it had been a Christmas parade, of course, there would have been no last-minute warning that a district council bylaw bans tractors from Commerce St, although the most egregious display of sheer lawlessness was the sight of people of all ages, and unrestrained dogs, riding, quite illegally, on the back of utes. There have been no reports of death or serious injury.
Kaitaia hadn't seen such a display of public anger in some 30 years, since people from far and wide marched from the northern end of the main street to Redan Rd to show their support for the town's hospital, which was in danger of being reduced to a 'super clinic.' Kaitaia won that battle, to a degree - the hospital isn't what it used to be but is much more than the government of the day intended - and those who protested last week will be hoping for a similar outcome.
It remains to be seen how a government that has an outright majority, and according to (some) polls still commands the loyalty of more than half the country's voters, will react, but at least now the battle has been joined. The provinces have never been of particular importance to Labour governments, but this one would be foolish to believe that SNAs, Three Waters, the 'ute tax' and other issues du jour are offending a very narrow band of voters, pivotal to our economic wellbeing and way of life as they might be.
There is a no doubt that climate change must be addressed (although we can never make a meaningful contribution to slowing the rate of Earth's warming, if indeed anything can be done), the natural environment must be nurtured and restored, as much as it can be, or that decades of woeful under-investment in infrastructure must be remedied. Farmers, however, who have collectively done and are doing a great deal to reduce their emissions and their impact on the environment, whilst keeping the country solvent, are not unreasonably sick and tired of being maligned as destroyers of the planet, and of not being recognised as doing their bit and more.
They believe, again not unreasonably, that Wellington does not give them the credit they are due, and it might take more than one Howl of a Protest to change that. Unless and until, of course, there are signs that voting intentions are changing on a major scale.
Meanwhile it should be of more than passing interest that governments, and councils for that matter, have no difficulty in formulating and enacting policies that suit their ends, but profess to be utterly powerless to do something about specific issues that cry out for an immediate response. To pluck one example from thin air, take the feral dogs that are slaughtering sheep and goats on Shenstone Farm, without any hindrance from government in all its manifestations.
The district council, it seems, can only trap dogs that are destroying a farmer's livelihood. If said dogs won't be trapped, what else can it do?
The Minister for Conservation has been asked to give responsibility for dealing with such dogs to a government department, and has passed that request on to the Minister of Local Government. What's she doing to do? Make it illegal for dogs to kill livestock? It already is.
What happens if - at least one Far North farmer says when - these dogs attack a person? What happens if someone, most likely a tourist, is seriously, perhaps fatally mauled? Who will take responsibility for that? The district or regional councils? The Minster for the Conservation or Local Government? The poor bloody farmers who are trying, without marked success, to protect what's left of their flocks?
This isn't the first time 'government' inertia has played its part in this situation. Felix and Rita Schaad were reduced to watching dogs kill every last one of their 150 goats at Horeke in 2009, the FNDC's suggestion that the dogs be trapped proving spectacularly unsuccessful. The only actual help the council gave the couple was to deliver one baited trap to the property, when they weren't there.
The last of the goats resorted to perching on rocks (at Wairere Boulders) that they no doubt hoped would put them beyond the dogs' reach. They were wrong. They were systematically slaughtered, throats and stomachs ripped open by dogs that the council was apparently powerless to control. A nearby farmer had reportedly given up running sheep because of marauding dogs.
Twelve years later, the same scenario is unfolding at Shenstone Farm, the only support coming from other farmers and hunters from as far afield as Whangārei. If these dogs remain on the loose, and if they attack a human - they have reportedly threatened to do so on more than one occasion - someone will deserve to go to jail. But they won't. When it comes to dereliction of duty the blame tends to be spread so thin that no one can possibly be nailed, but there will be blood on plenty of hands.
Maybe there is someone in Kaikohe, Whangārei or Wellington who has the decency to do something, but no one has put their hand up yet. Maybe they're all busy preparing statements for release when the dogs graduate from attacking sheep to attacking people, and scouring the bylaws in a bid to stop farmers from driving their tractors through Kaitaia's main street.
Fair enough, the government has bigger fish to fry than packs of dogs that are wreaking havoc on a Far North farm, but you'd think someone would be interested. It is simply inconceivable that there is nothing that anyone can do. The rules that prohibit dogs from attacking people are the same rules that prohibit them from attacking other animals, and some very hard questions will be asked when the former eventuates.
Not even our council would stand by and do nothing if these dogs were attacking people. The owners of Shenstone Farm have been failed by every level of government. And so have we all.
When politicians have an agenda to push they can act with lightning speed. When there is a real problem to solve they are useless.