The Opposition has decided there’s rich political pickings in saying the regions are in decline.
But once more their rhetoric isn’t supported by the facts:
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has told TV One’s Q+A programme that the regions are not in decline despite what Labour is saying.
Mr Joyce told deputy political editor Michael Parkin: “With the greatest respect to my dear friends in the Labour Party, they’re trying to talk this up. The reality is the regions are lifting NZ out of the GFC (Global Financial Crisis). So, regions like Taranaki, Waikato, West Coast and Southland. The West Coast has the highest average income after the housing costs of any region in the country. That’s the reality of the situation.”
He says the government’s move to promote oil and gas exploration, and the Ruataniwha dam project, which is before a board of inquiry at present, would have a “massively positive impact on Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay if they proceeded”.
“In Northland, the opportunities are similar there. There’s minerals opportunities, there’s opportunities, frankly, with the Treaty settlements that Chris Finlayson has been working very hard on, opportunities to maximise the productivity of Maori land in Northland, which is being closely worked on with the Ministry of Primary Industries and various Maori landowners in the region,” he says.
Mr Joyce says providing good infrastructure to support this regional economic investment is also vital.
Labour has only a couple of electorate MPs outside the main centres, none of the other parties have any.
If they had MPs who lived in, and served, the regions they’re talking down, they might have a different, and more positive, view than the one they get by cherry-picking bad news stories as they pop in and out for photo opportunities.
Some other points from the interview:
. . . 15 out of the 16 regions grew in the population census that’s just happened. The incomes of those regions is going up. There’s lower unemployment in just about every region bar three than there is in Auckland, and Auckland gets a lower share of government spend on per head of population basis than the rest of the country. . .
MICHAEL You’ve got unemployment. The reality is that the unemployment levels in Gisborne, Manawatu, Northland are increasing at an incredible rate.
All three of these regions were hard hit by last summer’s drought yet the Opposition isn’t supportive of irrigation which would provide significant protection from dry weather.
STEVEN Yeah, you’ve picked the three regions I agree with you, and we can talk about those regions, but, actually, most of the rest of the country, including the whole of the South Island and the lower North Island and Waikato and Taranaki have all got lower unemployment rates than Auckland. And also the average income across NZ is one of the lowest differences between regions as it is in anywhere in the OECD. Now, this doesn’t mean to say there isn’t work to do, so let’s come to those regions. So, in the Gisborne/Hawke’s Bay area, for example, the government is focused on a couple of things that I think would really move the dial, if they were successful, in terms of opportunities for those regions. One is the oil and gas exploration and the other is the Ruataniwha dam project which, of course, is going in front of a board of inquiry at the moment. Now, those things undoubtedly would have a massively positive impact on Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay if they proceeded, and that’s the sort of things I think we have to look at in those resource-heavy regional economies. In Northland, the opportunities are similar there. There’s minerals opportunities, there’s opportunities, frankly, with the Treaty settlements that Chris Finlayson has been working very hard on, opportunities to maximise the productivity of Maori land in Northland, which is being closely worked on with the Ministry of Primary Industries and various Maori landowners in the region. And, of course, there are other opportunities in the primary sector as well and agricultural opportunities. So all the things the government is doing-
MICHAEL You mentioned Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki there. Like, I mean, are we too focused on this resourcing, this petroleum, the mining? Are we putting all our eggs in one basket?
STEVEN No, I don’t believe so, Mike. The reality- No, with the greatest respect, you just need to look at the numbers. The Taranaki is the most successful region in the country over the last few years and there’s a reason for that, and if you don’t want to learn the lessons of that, then you just stick your head in the sand and forget about it. But the reality is it’s about exploring all our opportunities. Now, not every region has similar opportunities to Taranaki; they have different ones. But the government’s priority is to open up those opportunities. You mention Shannon, for example, and I think it’s very sad what’s happened to those people in Shannon. So, what’s the opportunity there? Well, Shannon is in a place called the Horowhenua, which is not far north of Wellington, and Wellington is one of our largest cities-
MICHAEL So move to Wellington. Is that what you’re saying, Minister?
STEVEN No, no, not at all, and don’t get me wrong. But we have a lousy transport link between Wellington and the Horowhenua. You open that up, just like we’re doing with the Waikato Expressway south of Auckland, and suddenly businesses can develop along that highway in those towns leading to the capital city. The National Party’s very focused on that. We have actually got a number of projects underway – the Kapiti Expressway, Transmission Gully – but there’s a whole lot of people on the left who have got their heads in the sand about this, and I think it’s actually very sad, because they’re focussing on the area closer to Wellington, but I want to focus on those regions in Horowhenua and the Manawatu who would have great economic benefits out of that one piece of infrastructure. That’s very important. . .
Another point is that jobs are lost and gained all the time:
STEVEN Well, it is difficult. There’s no doubt about it. But, actually, we lose a quarter of a million jobs in the NZ economy every year, and we create a quarter of a million jobs in the NZ economy every year, and there are industries that are having struggles for various reasons. So, if you take the meat and beef industry and the fellmongery which is associated with that, there’s a long-term over capacity because of a decline in numbers because the dairy industry’s growing. The dairy industry in the Manawatu, you just have to look around, is a much more successful industry currently. So those industries are rationalising. Now, you can’t stop that, and Mr Cunliffe wandering around saying you can is actually dead wrong, and most of the public know that. It’s the same with the postal industry. The reality is we’re not all offering to go out and post more letters to keep NZ Post afloat, so it actually does have to change. The opportunity there is to attract more investment and do more things that attract more investment, and the difficulty that those on the left have, particularly the Greens but also the Labour Party, is they sit there and try and pretend that’s not what’s necessary-
What’s needed is to make business easier:
STEVEN . . .. What you have to do to make a difference is let people explore the economic opportunities in each region, and that means freeing up the RMA so that people can make calls. You took the West Coast there, Tony Kokshoorn on the West Coast. It’s a travesty the time it’s taken for Bathurst Resources to actually get the ability to open an open-cast mine on the West Coast right next to the Stockton Mine that would employ 225 people, and that’s why we’re making the RMA changes that we’re making so that doesn’t happen again, so those people would have jobs to go to on the West Coast. Now, that is a very significant economic opportunity. It’s finally got the go-ahead, and Labour and the Greens have been opposing it the whole way through, and that’s where there’s a real lack of understanding of what’s really required for regional development.
The Opposition appear to think more of the things which make business difficult – regulation, tax, inflexible employment law – will help.
They won’t and any policies they’ve announced so far will make business growth and the jobs which flow from that, more difficult in cities and the regions.