The government has allocated $1.9 billion towards improving mental health services, and Jacinda has freely acknowledged that she wants to see the current rates of suicide reduce significantly.

Well, somebody should have had a quiet word with Damien O’Connor, Minister for Primary Industries, about that particular policy, as it seems that the government is anxious to see suicide rates fall dramatically everywhere… except for farmers.

In fact, his whole attitude to those who work in the industry of which he is in charge seems to be cavalier, to say the least.

A “rude and abusive” meeting between the region’s newly elected mayors and West Coast MP Damien O’Connor was quickly cut short last week.

Grey district mayor-elect Tania Gibson and the other new West Coast leaders say they were shocked when Mr O’Connor responded strongly to comments from Mrs Gibson, although the MP yesterday denied any rudeness.

Mrs Gibson confirmed Mr O’Connor’s “rude” response to her when she raised the impact of Government policy on West Coast livelihoods had killed the meeting.
She said it was clear that Westland Mayor Bruce Smith and Cr Birchfield were both unhappy at Mr O’Connor’s demeanour.

Mrs Gibson said yesterday she had simply reflected the issues brought to her from within the community to the MP, specifically the impact of new policies on farmer and landowner livelihoods, and the need for a Government response to coastal erosion.
“I just wanted to make the point there are people whose livelihoods are at stake … People are afraid for their livelihoods and wonder what it’s going to cost them.

People are afraid for their livelihoods… and Damien O’Connor really couldn’t care less.

Mr O’Connor emphatically denied he was uncivil towards Mrs Gibson.

“I absolutely deny that. There was robust discussion on a couple of issues.”

“Robust’… probably peppered with a few two word phrases, the second word being ‘off’, I am guessing.

Following a further call from Mr O’Connor’s office this morning to the Greymouth Star, Westland Mayor Smith rejected he might be trying to manipulate Mrs Gibson as a mouthpiece for his agenda.

“None of us knew what Tania was going to say,” Mr Smith said. “She was asked about the issues she saw in her community and she responded and then it was bang, away it went.”

Mr Smith said he and the others present barely had the chance to say anything as the meeting ended early and they were shocked at Mr O’Connor’s reaction.

“It wasn’t conducive to the relationship going forward. The person that did all the speaking was Damien,” Mr Smith said.

“In a normal respectful relationship, how it was said and the fact it was directed at her would not have occurred. It was very unusual. She (Mrs Gibson) is not exaggerating and I was quite stunned.


It sounds as if O’Connor has been infected by David Parker’s ‘my way or the highway’ attitude when he was talking to farmers about water levies in 2017. Parker wasn’t even in government at that point, yet he was throwing his weight around as if he was the prime minister. But this disrespectful attitude towards the new council representatives, and a statement from a minister of the Crown stating that suicide is effectively par for the course, is just mind boggling. There is nothing that can justify such a statement from anyone, especially from a minister.

We often comment on how governments get arrogant in their third term, behaving as if they expect to be in government forever. Well, this government has developed that attitude in less than 2 years. Maybe they are just fast tracking everything. Let’s hope they are fast tracking themselves onto the opposition benches at the same time.


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