Labour has decided the regions are suffering and its MPs are doing their best to talk them down, but those who represent them have a different story:
Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree that there are growing gaps among the regions of New Zealand, making the economy and society increasingly unbalanced; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): No, I do not agree with that. A variety of data suggests the regions have led New Zealand’s recovery. Statistics New Zealand regional GDP data shows that Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawkes’s Bay, Nelson-Tasman, Canterbury, Otago, and Southland, of course, all grew faster than the national average in the 5 years to 2013. The most recent ANZ Regional Trends survey shows rural regions growing faster than urban areas, and just last week I received reports from Queenstown, in my own electorate, of a significant boost from a long holiday by the Leader of the Opposition. But if the member wants to talk down the regions, then I hope he declares a crisis, because on recent established history every time Labour declares a crisis, things come right pretty quickly.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree that when the top few percent own most of the wealth the squeezed do not have enough to spend and invest and the economy will not perform to its fullest potential until the imbalance is fixed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. In fact, in respect of the distribution of benefits of growth I can tell the member that the number of people on working-age benefits in Greymouth dropped 5 percent in the last year. In Blenheim it dropped 9 percent. In Napier it dropped 8 percent in the last year, and in Wanganui the number of people on working-age benefits also dropped 5 percent. Those people are now enjoying the benefits of more jobs and a stronger economy.
Hon David Parker: Then why is it that after 6 years, aside from Canterbury, the unemployment rate is higher in every region of New Zealand than it was when he took office?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, on “Planet Labour” there was no global financial crisis—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just answer the question.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —and the member should take that into account when he uses those measures. Of course, in the real world, which is not where the Labour Party is, there was a major recession and unemployment did rise rapidly. Fortunately, it is now dropping consistently.
Tim Macindoe: Which regions have seen the strongest increases in economic activity?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The most recent regional trend survey shows that the strongest growth in economic activity in the March quarter was—in order—Northland, the highest, at 3.4 percent, followed by Bay of Plenty, then Waikato, then Nelson-Marlborough, then Otago, then the West Coast, and then Canterbury. ANZ reports that Northland was also the fastest growing region in the year to March at 7.4 percent. Business confidence is at a 9-year high in the survey and the top two areas for business confidence are Otago, despite the complaints of its civic leadership, and the Waikato. As I said, the evidence tends to suggest that the regions have led the recovery not lagged it.
Hon David Parker: Is his selective use of statistics because the latest Statistics New Zealand figures on per capita GDP show that per capita GDP in the last year has gone backwards, not just in Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Manawatū, Wanganui, Marlborough, and on the West Coast but also in his own province of Southland?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree with that. But what I do agree with is the proposition that a significant carbon tax, a capital gains tax, and water rules that mean that every river has to be absolutely pure, will have dramatic economic effects on the regions and they will all be negative. That is why the regions are turning up to meetings all over the country, to tell us how determined they are to stop the Greens and Labour taking over Government. . .
Rangitikei MP Ian McKelive continued the theme in his contribution to the general debate:
IAN McKELVIE (National – Rangitīkei): That speech by Russel Norman was without a doubt one of the most boring obituaries I have ever heard in my life. It was, in my view, a gross misuse of facts to run down rural New Zealand. It will not help our cause. Regional New Zealand has faced its share of challenges in the past 40 years as our population and economy has adjusted and acclimatised to change. The progress we have made in the past 6 years under this Government is now having positive effects as the buoyant world food market and demand lifts farmer confidence, optimism, and ability to invest further in their industry. New tourism initiatives such as the * Forgotten World Adventures, cycle trails, and walking tracks are appearing. The growth in these businesses is leading to new opportunities for growth and investment in our regions. The announcement in Levin last week by Ministers Joyce and Guy of an ambitious plan to double my region’s agribusiness production by 2025, after some early feasibility studies by mayors ** Margaret Kouvelis and * Jono Naylor, who of course is the very good candidate for National in Palmerston North, is another example of proactive Government determined to enable our regions. The interesting point to note is that this agribusiness strategy is not all about increasing agricultural production, as the previous speaker would have us believe. It includes science, tourism, and the manufacturing sectors, which complement our traditional farming activities. Fresh water is critical to the future of our country and the Rangitīkei, as tourism and farming rely heavily on our pristine environment for our futures. The Government has invested heavily in this area, adding a further $12 million to it in the Budget just passed. This is on top of $350 million already committed to lake and river clean-ups, and the $101 million already spent in this Government’s term. The Rangitīkei has three of New Zealand’s major rivers—the beautiful * Whanganui River, which is a beautiful river and a great tourism opportunity for that region and certainly for the electorate of the member sitting next to me; the Manawatū, the subject already of a considerable amount of clean-up funding and, of course, New Zealand’s first river accord; and, of course, the Rangitīkei, one of the best fishing rivers in New Zealand. National has also developed the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research centre in Palmerston North in partnership with * AgResearch and nine other partners. This, as it progresses, will add significantly to our contribution to climate change measures and increase our productivity. The other key measure adding to the productivity in our region and announced in the past few weeks is the increase in the regional roading spend. In my region the replacement of the * Whirokino trestle bridge south of Foxton, which is over 1.5 kilometres long, when completed, will take some 30 kilometres off the trip for the average heavy truck from the central North Island to Wellington—30 kilometres. Add this to the Ōtaki to Wellington roading improvements, including the capital expressway and Transmission Gully, and the benefit to the central North Island will be significant. The * Tongariro and * Whanganui National Parks are a huge resource for the people of Rangitīkei, with winter sports, walking, boating and cycling growing at a great rate. On top of this we have a net migration inflow of people into the region in the last month, an increase in population, and a drop in unemployment. Despite the wailings of Labour and the Greens, this Government has made significant investment in the future of regional New Zealand, and we are seeing the benefits in our region. One of the key challenges that our rural councils face is managing demand for access to our vast network of paper roads, and careful thought will need to be given to the future management of these. The * Walking Access Commission has started this work but there is much to do and funding will be required in the future to complete this work. I want to briefly acknowledge the huge role that Tarania Turia has played in the Māori communities throughout my region, and congratulate her as she leaves this place on making such a great contribution to the welfare of so many. I want to briefly note the work done by Ngāti Apa in the south of the Rangitīkei, particularly in the social field, and now, with the acquisition of * Flock House and the subsequent partnership they have formed to farm this historic property. It will be the forerunner of things to come and perhaps the trendsetter to help unlock the vast potential of Māori land in New Zealand. In * Taumarunui the * Kōkiri Trust is achieving fantastic results in areas such as health, education, work projects, and aged care, under the leadership of Christine Briers—another initiative—and thanks again to the great work of Minister Turia. Finally, I want to acknowledge the time that my north-western neighbour, Shane Ardern, has spent working for the people of the north of the Rangitīkei. In the hill country of the North Island, boundaries are obscure and challenges are the same wherever you live. Thank you.
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean added more:
JACQUI DEAN (National – Waitaki): What is Labour’s policy solution for everything? Talk it down, say how bad it really is, and then throw some money at it. That will do it—that will absolutely do it. Oh, and have a Minister. Labour members say “Let’s form another committee. Let’s have another Minister.” Who is that going to benefit? Oh, yes, that is right—it is going to benefit themselves. Do you think—or does one think; thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker—that after flying in over * South Canterbury’s beautiful water storage facility, the Opuha Dam; the highly productive dairy factories, one under full operation, one just about to be commissioned; and the most beautiful farms in South Canterbury, with grain stores glistening down below and new sheds everywhere, including milking sheds, and landing at the Timaru airport, and this happened last week, David Cunliffe apologised to South Canterbury for how badly the region is doing? And as he crossed the brand-new $20 million Kurow bridges, with their own cycle lane, creating 150 jobs regionally, on the way through the reinvigorated towns of Kurow, of Otematata, and of Omarama, following the $3 million * Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, do you think that Mr Cunliffe apologised to the locals for the new business opportunities and the incredible new tourist traffic that is now running through the region? And do you think after he recovered from his 2 days—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): Order! Many times the member has brought me into the debate. You cannot mention “you” being the Speaker.
JACQUI DEAN: Thank you so much—thank you so much for your help, Mr Assistant Speaker. And do the Assistant Speaker and the members of the House think that once Mr Cunliffe did recover from his 2 days in beddy-byes with his man flu that he enjoyed all the magnificence that Queenstown offers, from the restaurants to the magnificent high life to the skiing? Actually, I did hear some of my spies report to me that some time last week there was seen on the slopes of Cardrona ski field a man in a red scarf desperately trying to be noticed. But do you think that—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): Order!
JACQUI DEAN: Oh, right. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. It is just that I am so enthusiastic about the topic that I cannot help but try to include the Assistant Speaker in the conversation, but I will not do that any more. But does one think that Mr Cunliffe then apologised to the people of Queenstown for how well their local economy is doing, with the expansion of the Queenstown airport and with the commitment of Air New Zealand to bringing tourists both domestic and international into the region? And do you think he apologised to the wineries? Do you think that David Cunliffe, when enjoying a pinot noir or a little a pinot gris, perhaps, for his cold, apologised to the wineries and said to the House how awful it was for them? And what about the cherry producers, the pip fruit producers, and the apple producers, who are producing so much that this Government had to respond by increasing the * Recognised Seasonal Employer numbers and, in fact, creating a new seasonal worker programme down south to assist New Zealanders into the region and into work? You see, what we are having to do with Central Otago is have programmes to bring workers into the regions. Unemployment is so low in Central Otago and the whole region is so productive that we need programmes to bring people into the region. There are jobs, all right. There are jobs in Central Otago, all right, and we are creating them. David Cunliffe should apologise. David Cunliffe should apologise because the South Canterbury and Otago regions are doing just fine. Things do not feel so hollowed out when the Winter Games NZ or the Queenstown winter festival are in full swing, or when the BMX world championships or the Wanaka triathlon festival are all go—all supported by what? All supported by this Government. Things do not feel hollowed out to the 11 Otago companies supported by the * Venture Investment Fund, or the initiatives in the meat and wool industries through the Primary Growth Partnerships, or the towns of Queenstown—or what about Ōāmaru or Dunedin city, which have been supported with their ultra-fast broadband upgrade? And what about the hundreds and hundreds of small businesses that now benefit from the * Rural Broadband Initiative and the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise capability development programme?
Labour holds only a couple of general electorates outside the main centres and really don’t understand what makes them tick.
They and their potential coalition partners are against most of the industries which provide the jobs there and export income for the whole country.
Rather than helping the regions their policies would handicap them with more restrictions and higher taxes.
National provides a happy contrast to that with MPs who represent rural and provincial people, understand their issues and how best to help them.