Bill English has accused Labour of driving an urban-rural divide during the election campaign, ahead of a rural protest tomorrow in Morrinsville, the hometown of Labour leader Jacinda Ardern.

"They have set out to target farmers as negligent stewards of the environment, and the National Government," said English, the Prime Minister campaigning for a fourth term for National.

"It is the attitude as much as the tax proposals themselves which I think have really concerned the rural community.

"I think Labour have driven that."


Ardern may well address the protest over water royalties in a speech in Hamilton today and point out that of the 1.2 million ha of farmland in the Waikato, only 20,000ha are irrigated and of those, only 15,000ha are dairy farms.

Federated Farmers is organising the protest but she is set to suggest that few of those planning to attend would be affected by such a royalty.

Labour is proposing a "clean water royalty" on commercial users of water, which is estimated to raised about $100 million a year to be given to regional councils to improve water quality and to iwi in a treaty settlement for water.

With the election just six days away, English was campaigning in Bay of Plenty yesterday, in Te Puke, Rotorua, and Reporoa where he was presented with a weta to play with while inspecting an outdoor nature classroom at Reporoa Primary School.

Meanwhile Ardern was at the Otara markets, where a marching band, decked out in Labour red, led her through the stalls. A dance group, also in red, performed a routine for her.

English, talking to reporters, said yesterday water quality had been an issue for some time but there had been some intensive work for five or six years on it.

"Other political parties have picked it up as a kind of wedge where they think they can punish a small group either with taxes - or in the Greens' case 'kill the cows off'- in order to get the support of voters who understandably are not aware of all the work that has gone on."

The proposed tax was "a dumb tax" because it was not connected to the problem but was just a way of raising revenue from an arbitrarily selected group such as irrigators and other commercial users such as the horticulture industry.


RNZ has reported that modelling by RNZ and Auckland University Public Policy Institute estimate that the cost to the average irrigating dairy farm would be $13,800 a year if the tax was 2c per 1000 litres.

English also said the Maori Party's statement that if Labour was going to impose a royalty on the commercial use of water it would need to sort out ownership issues first was an obvious point to make.

"Any kind of royalty or levy related to water is going to raise the issue of who owns it.

"That will lead to a whole lot of legal complexities. Our position is no one owns the water and it is much easier to maintain that position when you don't set out to put a tax on it."

Both English and Ardern attended the rugby test between the All Blacks and the Springboks last night. They are due to get back on the campaign trail today, English in Auckland and Ardern in Hamilton.

Ardern may well be tempted to draw attention to ongoing problems of overcrowding at Waikato Hospital.


Her own 85-year-old grandfather was asked to be discharged last Tuesday at 11.30pm when he lives an hour away.

The Greens' Metiria Turei spoke at an anti-poverty rally in Otara yesterday. Photo / Doug Sherring
The Greens' Metiria Turei spoke at an anti-poverty rally in Otara yesterday. Photo / Doug Sherring

Meanwhile, Metiria Turei returned to the election stage with a speech in Otara decrying how cruel and unfair New Zealand has become.

Hours earlier, Ardern had been in the same spot. It was a coincidental clash with the Greens, but served as a reminder that the two parties are increasingly treading on each other's turf in this campaign.

There was no new policy, though Ardern hinted at a target for reducing rheumatic fever, which she said had "become a South Auckland disease" because of the high proportion of Maori and Pacific children afflicted by it.

The Green MP spoke at an anti-poverty rally in the South Auckland town centre yesterday afternoon - her first significant role in the Green campaign since she stood down as co-leader five weeks ago.

Around 200 people attended the rally, including actor and Green Party supporter Robyn Malcolm. Some in the crowd held signs saying "I Stand With Metiria" and there were loud cheers when Turei rose to speak.


"About two months ago I told the country my story and gave the country the gift of a story of a real life - the real life of what it's like to live on a benefit in this country," Turei said.

She became tearful when speaking about the response to her controversial admission that she once lied to Work and Income to hold on to her benefit - a revelation that later led to her resignation.

"When did we decide that our country would be so mean? So unfair?" Turei said. "That solo mothers and their babies and the working poor grandparents taking care of grandkids should have to suffer so much just for a decent life?

"We never decided that. That was never our choice, was it? And now we've got the opportunity to fix it."

Turei refused to speak to media after her speech.