Dairy industry champion and former National Cabinet minister John Luxton dies

Former National Cabinet minister and dairy industry leader John Luxton has died aged 75.

Born into a Waikato dairy farming family, Luxton, CNZM QSO, was a Member of Parliament from 1987 until his retirement from politics in 2002. As a Cabinet minister he held many portfolios including housing, energy, commerce, industry, police, lands, forestry, food and fibre, Māori Affairs, agriculture and fisheries.

At the time of his death after an illness, he had recently retired as chair of the Asia NZ Foundation, was chair of the large-scale dairying Pouarua Farm Partnership, and Crown appointee co-chair of the Waikato River Authority, a role he had served in since 2011.

Luxton was chairman of dairy industry advocate organisation DairyNZ from 2008 to 2015, and had a long governance association and farming interests with blue-chip Waikato dairy company Tatua.

A former World Bank consultant, he was a co-founder of the Open Country Cheese company, formed after dairy industry export deregulation in 2001, and which has grown to become Open Country Dairy, New Zealand’s second-largest dairy processor and exporter after Fonterra.

Luxton chaired the Tatua board for several periods between 1978 and 1990, and was a director from 2001 to 2016 when he retired.

In a tribute to Luxton, DairyNZ chairman Jim van der Poel and chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said he had given a lifetime of service to the dairy industry.

They said he would be remembered for his long-standing “unfaltering” contribution to the rural sector, particularly dairy.

“John has had a major role in the success of New Zealand’s dairy industry. John has always demonstrated strong leadership and long-standing commitment to the sector,” said van der Poel.

“John was instrumental in a number of significant policy and legislative changes in New Zealand, including the foundation policy work that led to the formation of Fonterra and the deregulation of producer boards.

“One of his major achievements was shaping the development of DairyNZ – the first industry-good body of its kind and the largest in Australasia.”

DairyNZ said Luxton played a major role in helping guide the dairy industry through a significant period of change, on the journey to becoming New Zealand’s number one export industry.

He was instrumental in supporting a successful, viable, competitive dairy industry in New Zealand, with the sector employing 42,240 people and contributing $13.2 billion to New Zealand’s export revenue during his time as chair of DairyNZ.

Mackle said Luxton was a statesman and diplomat who could bring people together.

“John was an influential leader who unified the dairy sector from dairy companies through to local and central government departments,” he said.

“He led by values, had enormous integrity, and always put the best interests of those in the rural sector first. We will miss him.”

DairyNZ said Luxton’s achievements during his time as chairman included launching a new strategy for sustainable dairy farming and a new water accord in 2013 alongside former prime minister John Key, championing investment in research and development to improve on-farm innovation and the competitiveness of the New Zealand dairy industry, advocating for education and the ongoing investment in people to improve the skills and capability within the industry.

Luxton was also key in establishing DairyNZ’s role in policy and advisory, establishing the Waikato Dairy Leaders Group and chairing the industry leader’s forum, and leading a record dairy levy vote in 2014, increasing levy support from 75 per cent in 2008 to 82 per cent in 2014, the industry-good organisation said.

Luxton had also been instrumental in guiding a generation of rural leaders, many of whom have gone on to hold leadership roles within the sector.

Luxton followed his father, Jack Luxton, into politics after he retired as Piako and Matamata MP for 21 years. Luxton senior was also a past chairman of the Tatua dairy company.

Luxton, who attended Hamilton Boys’ High School and held degrees in agriculture and agriculture science and a Masters degree in management, was first elected to Parliament in 1987 as the MP for Matamata.

He held the Matamata seat for National until the 1996 elections, when a boundary change caused him to stand in the seat of Karapiro. In the 1999 elections, he opted to become a list MP, leaving the Karapiro seat to newcomer Lindsay Tisch.

The National Party won the 1990 elections, and Jim Bolger became Prime Minister, Luxton was appointed to Cabinet.

He was regarded by many as one of the more economically liberal members of the National Party.

Luxton is also a former director of Landcare Research, Wallace Corporation Ltd and the Royal NZ Ballet.

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