Labour’s initial response to the whey protein contamination was restrained but the restraint didn’t last long.
During Question Time yesterday David Parker reminded us that his party doesn’t like dairying.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree with the article in the Washington Post on 7 August that the botulism issue highlights New Zealand’s reliance on dairy exports?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, you did not need the botulism issue to highlight the importance of the dairy industry to New Zealand. I must say that the dairy industry deserves some support, despite New Zealand talking for 20 or 30 years about being too reliant on commodities. The dairy industry has performed better than the fashion industry, the IT industry, the wine industry, and the film industry, and it has injected billions of dollars of extra income into this economy in the last decade. We think that is not a bad performance.
Hon David Parker: Given that over the last 5 years under National, New Zealand’s reliance upon dairying has increased and the latest jobs statistics show a further decline in manufacturing employment, how can he deny that he has failed to rebalance and diversify the export sector despite his promise to do so?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member may well know, it is not really a matter of whether Governments can just pick to have another industry. New Zealand has 30 years of experience of trying to do that, and how it has turned out is that we are very good at some things, such as the production of protein and high-value niche manufacturing, and those are the growing parts of the economy. Labour thinks it is good at government, and it decided to grow the Government part of the economy. Well, it turned out that that does not work very well.
This week’s food health scare, made worse by Fonterra’s response, has reinforced just how reliant we are on dairying.
It would be better if our economy was more diversified but Rob Hosking points out that diversification is a slogan not a policy.
He also points out that dairying is diversification.
Forty years ago we depended on the produce of one animal in one market – sheep in Britain.
Successive governments tried various ways to foster a variety of industries, without success, but dairying has grown without any government initiatives.
Farmers have made the most of New Zealand’s natural advantages to respond to international market signals driven by growing global demand for protein by producing, and selling more milk.
The export income and economic growth which has resulted from that has made a significant contribution to helping the country through the global financial crisis.
We would have done even better had we been producing lots more of whatever else the world wants and is prepared to pay for.
A broader economic base would make the country stronger but Labour’s failed strategy of bigger government wouldn’t.