Rural round-up

September 4, 2017

Eradication is still doable MPI says – Annette Scott:

Officials expect to decide by the end of the year whether the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis can be eradicated.

The disease, identified on a Van Leeuwen Dairy Group farm in South Canterbury in July, had now been traced to six farms including four van Leeuwen farms, one North Otago farm believed to be a calf rearing operation and a lifestyle block at Sefton in North Canterbury.

A fourth community meeting in North Otago on Thursday attracted a crowd of 160 people full of questions. . . 

Urgent need to train rural GPs – Eileen Goodwin:

A decade before Waikato University sparked a public debate on a third medical school, a far-sighted Queenstown GP set up a Rural Medical Immersion Programme to try to fill rural health shortages. Health reporter Eileen Goodwin talks to those involved.

The trust founded to further his brother’s legacy fostering rural health may be redundant when a new rural school of medicine is established, John Farry says. Mr Farry, of Dunedin, chairman of the Pat Farry Rural Health Education Trust, hopes the new school will be awarded to the University of Otago under its joint bid with Auckland. He did not want to see it set up as a new medical school, such as that sought by the University of Waikato. . .

Water Conservation Orders should be abolished says Feds:

Federated Farmers is calling for Water Conservation Orders (WCO) to be abolished because they are no longer relevant and a relic of the past.

Under the Resource Management Act (RMA), the Orders are limited and do not acknowledge farming, horticulture, beverages, manufacturing, and access for human and livestock drinking.

The Federation says the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management has superseded the Orders and made the legislation no longer fitting for future challenges around water conservation. . . 

Farm sector welcomes TPP resuscitation talks:

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) of Australia and Federated Farmers of New Zealand say moves to bring into force the bulk of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is good news for both Australian and New Zealand farm exports.

In Sydney this week, officials from Australia and New Zealand concluded three days of talks with chief negotiators from the other nine TPP countries.

The aim of the talks was to push forward on the development of a ‘regional trade pact’ following the United States’ withdrawal from negotiations earlier this year. . . 

Landcorp back in the black as valuations swing in its favour:

(BusinessDesk) – Landcorp Farming reported a full-year profit as the state-owned farmer recog-nised a jump in the value of livestock and benefited from strong market prices.

Profit was $51.9 million in the year ended June 30, more than four times the $11.5 million it earned a year earlier. Revenue rose 11 percent to $233.5 million while expenses rose 3.3 percent, which included costs related to the end of its sharemilking contract with Shanghai Pengxin, the company said.

The results include a $20 million increase in the value of livestock, “reflecting strong market prices” while the year-earlier result carried an unrealised loss of $24.8 million on land and improvements. The operating profit in the latest year was about $5.7 million, within its guidance range of between $2 million and $7 million, from a year-earlier loss of $9.4 million. . . 

Terms of trade just shy of all-time high:

Record butter prices and high prices for meat helped lift the merchandise terms of trade by 1.5 percent in the June 2017 quarter, Stats NZ said today. This was just shy of the all-time high set 44 years ago in the June 1973 quarter.

Terms of trade is a measure of the purchasing power of New Zealand’s exports abroad and an indicator of the state of the overall economy. The 1.5 percent rise in the June quarter means New Zealand can buy 1.5 percent more imports for the same amount of exports.

“The 1.5 percent rise in terms of trade in the June quarter follows a 3.9 percent increase in the March 2017 quarter,” prices senior manager Jason Attewell said today. “Because the March provisional quarter was revised down from 5.1 percent, the terms of trade didn’t quite reach the record high as expected, but it is very close.” . . 

NZ’s Top Butcher Announced:

The nation’s top butcher and butcher apprentice have been announced this evening at one of the most anticipated events on the meat industry calendar.

Reuben Sharples from Aussie Butcher New Lynn has been named Alto Butcher of the Year and Samantha Weller from New World Rangiora took out the title of Competenz Butcher Apprentice of the Year.

Following three highly competitive regional competitions in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, 10 finalists from each category went head to head in the Grand Final held at Shed 10 in Auckland earlier today. . . 

T&G Global secures exclusive commercialisation rights for blueberry varieties in Australia:

T&G Global has become the license holder of a suite of 16 proprietary blueberry varieties in Australia, allowing it to better deliver to growing demand for berry fruit worldwide.

The exclusive agreement represents one of the biggest collections of proprietary commercial and pre-commercial blueberry varieties in the world and is the result of an agreement between T&G and Plant & Food Research in New Zealand. The arrangement includes varieties developed by Plant & Food Research and a collection of premium varieties from Fall Creek Farm and Nursery in Oregon, USA, for which Plant & Food Research holds the Australian licensing rights. . . 

Farmers feed cities. Support your local farmer before the Labour Party sens him/her out of business.


Quote of the day

April 2, 2015

To their credit, National has already identified that one of the key barriers to progress and development in many parts of the country is the Resource Management Act (RMA). This is certainly the case in Northland, which is rich in natural resources but poor in economic activity and jobs. But ironically for the people of Northland, by electing Winston Peters they may well have blocked the RMA reforms that are required to improve access to such resources.

The RMA is one of those Acts of Parliament that most people have little contact with. They are the lucky ones.

It’s the property owners and business people with initiatives that come into contact with the Act. Most come to dislike it intensely because they encounter first hand the extortionate demands of ‘affected parties’, the manipulation by activists, the huge costs extracted by the RMA industry, and the barriers put up by consenting authorities.

As a result, consents will often take years to go through the process – council hearings, the Environment Court, the High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, all costing applicants such vast sums of money, that in the end many are forced to abandon their project altogether. . .

While there are no doubt a multitude of ideas about how best to move resource planning forward to benefit the country – including the use of council case managers as advocates to guide applicants through the regulatory process and gain the cooperation of government agencies – at the heart of this matter is a realisation that holding back progress is not in the country’s best interest. Yes, we must be careful to minimise the impact of development on the environment, but we must also recognise that New Zealand families need economic growth and jobs if they are to thrive and prosper.

The irony is that as a result of the Northland by-election, the fate of the RMA is now in the hands of Mr Peters. Does he truly care about the long-term well-being of Northlanders, or is he too going to deliver more show than substance for his constituents – some new bridges and a bit of tar seal, when what they really need are jobs.  – Dr Muriel Newman,


More RMA reform needed

April 6, 2014

Environment Minister Amy Adams says the 2012/13 Resource Management Survey shows the Government’s first phase of RMA reforms aimed at improving consenting processes are paying off, however further reform of our planning frameworks is still required.

The survey of how well councils are implementing the Resource Management Act shows that 97 per cent of consents were processed on time for the 2012/2013 period, compared with 95 per cent in 2010/2011.

“This is a vast improvement from the 69 per cent of resource consents processed on time in 2007/08,” Ms Adams says.

Labour and the Green party have opposed National’s reforms but the figures show the positive difference they have made.

Delays are expensive, draining money and energy.

Speeding up the process helps productivity, whether or not consent is given.

“The overall trend across the country shows that resource consenting is becoming more timely and efficient, with fewer staff processing more resource consents. I commend councils for this improvement in performance.”

However the survey finds that resources and staffing required for the current planning framework is a challenge, particularly given extensive consultation requirements and maintaining community input and interest in the often lengthy processes.

“It is not surprising that plan making is identified as an area where further focus is required, as this has also been identified by the Government as a key area for reform, says Ms Adams.

“Councils also highlight the challenges in the time taken to move through planning processes and the difficulty in achieving regional consistency due to the different stages and nature of District Plans.”

“The Government’s reforms are specifically aimed at improving decision-making at every level and a driving fundamental shift towards more proactive planning for what we need, and away from reactive decisions through consents and court appeals.”

The biennial survey has been undertaken since 1995 and monitors council’s performance in implementing the Resource Management Act.

The RMA survey provides information on the Council processes, rather than the social, cultural, economic and environmental outcomes they contribute to.

This latest survey covers the period 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013 and all councils provided their data within the required timeframe and can be found at: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/rma/annual-survey/index.html.

The RMA process is better than it was but further reform will make it better, reducing costs and delays for councils, applicants and anyone else supporting or opposing a consent.

 


Balance between environment and economy

August 11, 2013

Changes to the RMA announced yesterday are designed to get a better balance between environmental responsibility and economic growth.

In his opening remarks to the National Party’s annual conference Prime Minister John Key said:

New Zealand needs planning law that enables economic growth and jobs, as well as providing strong environmental outcomes.

The changes we are introducing are about striking that balance between our environmental responsibilities and our economic opportunities.

The latest reforms, which include changes to sections 6 and 7 of the law, are about providing great confidence for businesses to grow and create jobs, greater certainty for communities to plan for their area’s needs, and stronger environmental outcomes as New Zealand’s communities grow and change.

When National became the Government in 2008, we began a programme of reform to ensure that our planning law was about the sustainable management of our resources and timely decisions for New Zealanders and our job-creating businesses, rather than the endless bureaucratic delays people experienced under Labour.

The first stage of reform in 2009 involved 150 amendments to simplify and streamline the RMA, to reduce costs, uncertainties and delays.

This has improved outcomes for the environment, supported business investment and encouraged stronger economic growth.

These reforms reduced late consents from 31 per cent in 2008 to 5 per cent in 2011. That is a great achievement.

The 2009 reforms also created the Environmental Protection Authority, which enables the efficient processing of major urban and infrastructure projects that are crucially important to New Zealanders.

This process has led to the Waterview and Transmission Gully projects both being consented within nine months.

Previously these critical transport projects could be deadlocked for years.

The trade protection provisions introduced by the 2009 reforms have also helped tackle the so-called supermarket wars, where supermarket groups and other big retailers have spent years and years, and millions of dollars, fighting each other in the courts over their respective expansion plans.

Last December, Amy introduced a second resource management reform bill, which will deliver on our election promise of a six-month time limit for medium-sized projects, and allow easier direct referral for major regional projects to the Environment Court.

Today, I am pleased to tell you that the Government is ready to progress the third stage of RMA reform.

This will be the largest single set of reforms of the system since the law came into force in 1991.

A key part of these reforms will be addressing the heart of the housing affordability problem in New Zealand, by freeing up land supply and making it easier to build, extend, and renovate houses.

We want to see more houses built for families, and more jobs for builders and carpenters; not bureaucrats checking passports at the doors of open homes as Labour would have us do. . .

The Government’s comprehensive RMA reforms will deliver a system that meets the needs of our communities and our regions by enabling jobs and growth, while also providing for strong environmental protections in a timely and cost-effective way.

They are about breaking the cycle of delay after delay and delivering decisions; one way or the other. 

Our reforms are not about growth at any cost.

I have always said we have to balance our economic opportunities and our environmental responsibilities.  That is at the heart of our approach to planning law.

Our political opponents like to paint National as anti-environment.

That is nonsense.

We only have to look at Nick Smith’s sensible decision on the Milford Tunnel, or the extensive work we have done on managing water resources through such bodies as the Land and Water Forum, to see the balance and pragmatism that runs through our decision-making.

And that balance and pragmatism will continue to guide us in the reforms we make to improve planning law for the benefit of New Zealanders.

Environment Minister Amy Adams  said the RMA is not just about environmental protection, it is also our planning law.

There is no doubt that the Resource Management Act is a critical piece of legislation.

It must protect our natural environment and the qualities we hold dear as New Zealanders, while encouraging a successful economy and enabling a vibrant built environment.

As well as being environmental legislation is it also our key piece of planning legislation and it forms the basis for the decisions that determine what we can do on our land and has a huge impact on whether our communities will get what they need day to day; be that jobs, houses, infrastructure, recreation spaces  or other facilities.

And I believe that in this respect the system that has developed over the past 22 years is not serving us well.

Instead of enabling a strong housing supply – it is slowing or blocking development when it is desperately needed.

Instead of encouraging investors to create jobs – it is discouraging them with uncertainty, bureaucracy and delays.
Instead of protecting our communities and businesses with strong modern infrastructure – it hinders projects of all sizes with unnecessary costs, delays and process.

I’m sure most of you have heard the stories.  And the reason we all know them is because they are everywhere.

A recent Statistics New Zealand survey highlighted that potentially $800million of projects hadn’t proceeded over the 2 years studied, not because they were a bad idea or didn’t make the grade, but because applicants often found it just too frustrating to work their way through the RMA.

Closer to home, we all have our own RMA horror stories. Some recent ones I have come across include:
•       A $3500 consent being needed to do an $800 job to remove a chimney to help quake safe a home
•       Or $7000 in consent costs to add a further 4m to an existing deck
•       Needing a resource consent and an arborist’s report to trim a tree in your own backyard,
•       Heritage protections applied to a 14year old Lockwood home,
•       A consent being needed for a sea plane to do a one-off touch and go landing on a harbour
•       And visual streetscape rules applied to a back section not visible from the street.

Changes which address these sorts of unnecessary costs and delays shouldn’t impact unduly on the environment but will have a positive affect on the economy.

To claim that economic considerations have no place in the RMA is frankly ludicrous and ignores the very wording of the purpose section of the Act.

But I see no reason why we can’t have a system that safeguards New Zealand’s stunning environment while still ensuring we meet the wider needs of our people.

We have to move away from the misguided belief that seems to have developed that the more time and money that gets spent on a process, somehow the better the outcome will be.

Can it be right that a small number of people, if they have enough money, can re-litigate and hold up what the community has decided, sometimes for years at a time?

We currently have one of the most highly devolved planning systems amongst countries we compare ourselves to. . .

In essence the reforms announced will:

•       Bring in a simplified planning framework with central government providing greater direction and consistency, in the form of a national planning template, leaving local decision makers to focus on how those frameworks should apply in their local communities.

As part of this we will be revising and consolidating the current sections 6 and 7 of the Act into a single set of matters of national importance.

•       We will require plans to be more proactive so that more decisions are made up front and fewer consents will be needed

•       and, as the Prime Minister has already told you, where consents are required we will ensure the costs and processes are streamlined and proportionate to the activity so that projects aren’t held up or made to cost more than they need to.

•       we will require a single plan to be created between councils and made available electronically so property owners can more easily understand what all the rules that affect them are

•       We will require Councils to engage better with their communities and local iwi in their planning so that fewer drawn out legal battles are needed for communities to feel heard.

•       We will make councils more accountable to their communities for how they are meeting local environmental, cultural, social and economic needs… by requiring better reporting and benchmarking against indicators such as vacant section availability and prices, local employment information, water and air quality indicators, and so on.

•       We will require better consideration of natural hazards in planning learning the lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes and picking up the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

We are determined to create a system that’s more certain, less costly, and enables growth while protecting core environmental standards which are so critical to New Zealand. . .

The RMA has created a mass of red tape, added costs and caused delays.

The changes will address those problems.

Following the link to the speech will give you some practical examples of what the reforms will do and show how environmental responsibility and economic growth aren’t mutually exclusive.


Survey backs RMA reforms

April 16, 2013

Statistics New Zealand’s Business Operations Survey shows that RMA processes are having a significant effect on business performance.

That won’t be a surprise to anyone whose been subject to the process which is not unlike wading through syrup in gumboots.

Environment Minister Amy Adams says the results show why reforms are needed:

According to the survey, businesses have blamed the RMA process for the cancellation of projects potentially worth more than $800 million over the last two financial years.

The uncertainty of the process had led to the cancellation of about two thirds of these projects.

The survey also shows:

  • Only 3 per cent of businesses said current RMA processes enhanced their business
  • 430 businesses cancelled projects each worth more than $100,000 due to RMA processes
  • Some businesses have spent up to 25 per cent of their total expenditure on applying for resource consents
  • More than half of resource consent applications are cancelled in the pre-application stage, mainly due to uncertainty and time delays
  • The vast majority of businesses feeling constrained by the RMA are small and medium enterprises

Ms Adams says the survey confirms what she had heard from businesses and communities during a series of RMA consultation meetings throughout the country.

“Frustration with the RMA was rife at these meetings. In most cases, the frustration was not about whether a particular project could or could not proceed, it was about the time and cost to reach that decision.

“There is too much uncertainty in the outcome of the process, and the impact of this is real – potential new jobs are not being created and communities are missing out on economic benefits.”

The Government’s proposed reforms would make the RMA system easier to use, increase certainty and predictability, attract investment, and reduce unnecessary duplication and cost, whilst continuing to protect the environment.

“Fundamentally, the proposed reforms are about providing greater confidence for businesses to grow and create jobs, greater certainty for communities to plan for local needs, and stronger environmental outcomes as our communities grow and change.”

The objects of the RMA are laudable but the  prolonged delays and exorbitant costs of going through the consent process are having a significant impact which must be addressed.


Streamlining RMA

March 6, 2013

The RMA discussion document released by Environment Minister Amy Adams last week proposes some much-needed initiatives to streamline the RMA process.

The reforms within the package are divided into six core objectives:

  • Greater national consistency and guidance
  • Fewer, better resource management plans
  • An effective and efficient consenting system
  • Better natural hazard management
  • Effective and meaningful Māori participation; and
  • Working with councils to improve their RMA service performance

Improvements to the RMA are one of the planks in the Government’s business growth agenda.

Speaking at the launch the Minister said:

We see effective resource management as critically important to New Zealand’s economic, environmental and social well-being.

Resource management decisions need to ensure that our natural and built resources are used and protected in a way that meet our needs now and for many generations to come.

But the Government continues to hear concerns that resource management processes are cumbersome, costly and time-consuming, and that the system is uncertain, difficult to predict and highly litigious.

Repeatedly, resource management matters rank the lowest of all public services in the Kiwis Count report into customer satisfaction.

The system is difficult for many to understand and use, and in many cases, is actively discouraging investment and innovation.

Frustration with RMA processes is rife and time and time again I hear that they are failing to meet New Zealanders’ expectations.

To put it bluntly, there are too many occasions where the view of one well-funded party manages to derail the decision of a community.

There are too many times when planning happens almost by default as decisions are fought over on a consent-by-consent basis, and too many occasions where inconsistency between multiple plans eats up resources as councils battle between themselves.

In most cases, the issue is not about the decision ultimately reached, it is about the wastage of time and money to get to that decision.

And let’s not kid ourselves that that does not come with real costs – delays and uncertainties means potential new jobs are not being created, houses are more expensive and communities have no idea what to expect in their neighbourhoods.

The money spent on having to fight to get ahead or to defend your position is money that our households and businesses are missing out on.

We see the same arguments being had time and again, with the same lawyers, the same experts and in front of the same judges.

Across the country we have required each of our 78 councils to build their own planning systems from the ground up.

There are a number of underlying efficiency and effectiveness-related problems apparent with the resource management system that have led to this state of affairs.

These problems are by their very nature interlinked and it is their combined, rather than individual impact, that is of most concern.

To me the core issues include:

  • Too many planning documents with wide ranging inconsistency between them
  • Inefficient duplication of effort in developing plans
  • A lack of responsive national guidance on matters of national importance or where the value of consistency outweighs the need for local variation
  • Insufficient attention paid to meeting future needs as opposed to mitigating negative impacts in plans
  • An over-reliance on consents and Environment Court appeals; and
  • High and disproportionate costs of securing and complying with decisions

She then gave a couple of examples of the costs and frustrations with existing legislation:

Many of you here this morning will remember Project Hayes – Meridian Energy’s wind farm proposal. I am not focusing on whether it was a good proposal or not. I want to look just at the process.

It was a $2 billion project, and by the time it was eventually refused by the Environment Court after three years, nearly $9 million had been spent to get to that point.

And that $9 million estimate was just the applicant’s costs. No doubt, there would have been many hundreds of thousands of dollars in community and submitter costs.

The Environment Court made a point in its judgment of criticising the fact that if it were not for the inconsistent and unclear nature of the local plans, much of that cost could have been avoided.

To give an example at the other end of the scale, I am aware of a homeowner who merely wanted to add 4sqm to an existing deck and found that the consenting costs would be $7000.

It is also clear that we have drifted into much over-regulation in RMA planning documents.

For example, I have had reports of rules that stipulate lounge rooms in houses must face the street, heritage zone provisions that apply to a 14 year old Lockwood house, and streetscape rules applied to houses on rear lots, not visible from the street.

And just this week, I was made aware of a council that wanted to dictate the size of the front windows of new houses.

Is this really what sustainable management of our resources is about?

We cannot continue with this approach. We can and must do better.

The RMA has its good points but it needs a tune-up to ensure a fair balance between environmental, social and economic considerations, lower costs, improved consistency and faster processing.


Agenda for investment & jobs

January 25, 2013

Government finances were in better shape in the first half of this financial year than they had been 12 months earlier:

Firm control of the Government’s expenses and an improvement in revenue has kept the Crown’s financial position broadly on track with forecasts in the five months to 30 November, Finance Minister Bill English says.

“Compared to the first five months of the previous financial year, we have made good progress in moving towards our target of getting back to surplus by 2014/15,” he says. . .

There is however, no room for complacency and the speech from Prime Minister John Key shows the government is firmly fixed on its agenda for investment and jobs:

The Government has a very substantial programme of work ahead of it.

I have told Ministers I want them to get on with the job.

And I’ve told them to step up momentum, building on the work we’ve already done over the last four years.

That work has been substantial.

We’ve made a huge turnaround in the government’s books, we’ve brought in the biggest changes to the tax system in a generation, and we’re making significant changes to reform the welfare system and strengthen work obligations.

Among other things, we’ve introduced 90-day trials; set time limits for the consenting of large projects under the RMA; introduced a competitive new system for awarding oil and gas exploration permits; got ACC back into good financial shape; and kick-started a multi-billion dollar programme of infrastructure investment.

And throughout that time we’ve been dealing with three major challenges:

  • an economy that was left unbalanced, and in poor shape, by the previous government
  • the impact of the Global Financial Crisis
  • and the Canterbury earthquakes.

Each one of those challenges is still with us.

Those achievements in face of the major challenges are significant but New Zealand also has some advantages:

. . . I remain hugely positive about the future for New Zealand.

Our economy is robust.

Since the bottom of the recession, in mid-2009, the economy has grown at an average of just under 2 per cent a year, and economists are expecting that to strengthen further.

Our employment rate is very high in comparison to other countries, with over three-quarters of all New Zealanders aged 20 to 64 in work.

There are still too many people looking for work who can’t find it. But forecasts show employment continuing to increase and unemployment falling.

Interest rates are at 50-year lows. Prices for primary exports are holding up, and our terms of trade remain high.

That is helping to support a high New Zealand dollar, which is proving a head wind for other exporters and firms that compete with imports.

But the flipside of a high dollar is that goods priced on world markets are cheaper than they otherwise would be. This includes goods that are crucial to households like food, clothing and fuel. So inflation is running at less than one per cent a year, food on the whole costs less than it did a year ago, and businesses are taking advantage of cheaper capital goods to invest in plant and machinery.

Looking ahead, New Zealand facessome big opportunities.

Our trade and investment links are increasingly with Asia, which is the fastest growing region in the world. Over the last four years, our exports to China have trebled.

And New Zealand faces a domestic construction boom.

That will be centred, of course, on Christchurch, where the spend is now estimated to be around $30 billion.

But construction is also expected to pick up in other areas, and manufacturers across the country will be gearing up to supply materials.

The Government, for its part, is going to press on and expand its economic programme.

We’ve been very clear and consistent about that programme.

We’re managing the Government’s finances to get back to surplus and start reducing debt.

And we’re pressing ahead with a wide range of measures to build a more productive and competitive economy.

That’s an economy where growth is based on the solid foundations of investment, exports and savings.

Investment is crucial.

Because the truth is, you only get jobs and growth in the economy when people invest money, at their own risk, in setting up a business or expanding an existing business.

Why has Australia been doing so well over the last few years?

Because there has been massive investment in its economy.

Investment in Western Australia, for example, has seen the lowest unemployment rate, and highest population growth, of any Australian state.

Over this side of the Tasman, the Taranaki region has attracted significant oil and gas investment. It has a low unemployment rate and workers’ incomes have grown faster than anywhere else in the country.

The key factor is investment, and not just in oil and gas.

So here in New Zealand we have to be a magnet for investment.

That’s investment by individuals and small businesses as well as big businesses; and it’s investment by people from overseas as well as Kiwis.

The more investment we get, the more jobs will be created.

That’s not to say there won’t also be jobs lost.

In any three-month period in New Zealand, between 100,000 and 200,000 jobs disappear, and between 100,000 and 200,000 new jobs are created, as businesses start up, expand, contract and close altogether.

The labour market is a very dynamic place.

But the only way net new jobs can be created is by private investors putting their money into businesses in New Zealand.

In spite of what the Opposition says, governments can’t create jobs but they do influence the environment which determines whether or not businesses create jobs.

Governments can encourage investment but they can also discourage investment.

A government can load up big costs and uncertainties onto business.

It can make people unwelcome because they are considered to be the wrong nationality to invest here, or in the wrong industry.

And it can lock up the resources of the country.

That would certainly discourage investment.

But as I said, we have to be a magnet for investment.

That’s why my Government is working hard to reduce costs and uncertainties for business.

That’s why we welcome investment that benefits New Zealand.

That’s why we are keeping our own costs down.

That’s why we are ensuring people have the right skills to contribute to the workforce.

That’s why we are ensuring the country has the infrastructure it needs to grow.

And that’s why we’re focused on opportunities to use our natural resources productively and sustainably.

This programme is set out in our Business Growth Agenda, which details a large number of initiatives in six main groupings: skilled and safe workplaces, infrastructure, natural resources, exports, capital markets and innovation.

There is a lot to that Agenda, but today I want to pick out a handful of things which are either new or where I really want us to step up this year.

He says the challenge is to have the people with the right skills in the right place for job opportunities.

Put simply, there is going to be a lot of work in Canterbury, and there are going to be people in other parts of the country who need that work and could do it, particularly if they get the right training.

The first element of that – getting people in the right place – is going to require some initiative from workers, but also a good deal of innovation from businesses involved in the rebuild, and from the Government.

We aren’t going to micro-manage that process, but we can help it. That’s what we’ve done – for example, with the new Canterbury Skills and Employment Hub, which provides a one-stop shop to link local employers with people looking for work, before turning to immigration.

We’re also looking closely at how we can encourage people to work in Christchurch.

In terms of skill-matching, we are focusing in particular on young people and on vocational training.

This year we are launching five new vocational pathways that clearly signpost the subjects young people should take to prepare for vocational careers in construction, manufacturing, the primary sector, the service sector and social services.

This year there will be over 4,000 places available in trades and services academies, allowing young people to explore vocational career opportunities while still at school.

And there will be around 8,700 Youth Guarantee places for young people to study fees-free outside the school environment.

But the big changes we are making this year are to industry training and, in particular, to apprenticeships.

Under Labour’s wasteful management, up to 100,000 people a year listed as being in industry training were in fact “phantom trainees” who achieved no credits and in some cases were no longer alive.

So we have been streamlining this scheme, reducing the number of qualifications and putting the emphasis on achievement rather than token participation.

That has freed up some very significant funding to re-invest in expanding apprenticeships.

Currently, Modern Apprenticeships are only available for people who begin their training between the ages of 16 and 21 and they attract a significant top-up in funding to pay for advice and mentoring. The top-up is in fact greater than the subsidy that supports their learning programme.

So today I am announcing a new initiative to expand and improve apprenticeship training.

This has a number of parts to it:

1. From 1 January next year, we are going to combine Modern Apprenticeships and other apprenticeship-type training under an expanded and improved scheme called New Zealand Apprenticeships. These new apprenticeships will provide the same level of support, and the same level of subsidy, for all apprentices, regardless of their age. Fewer than half the people doing apprenticeship-type training are actually funded as proper apprentices, through the Modern Apprenticeship scheme, and we are going to change that.

2. We are going to boost overall funding for apprenticeships. The current top-up for Modern Apprentices will be redistributed across all apprentices, regardless of age, as an extension to their learning subsidy. In addition, overall subsidy payments will be increased by around $12 million in the first year, rising over time. Increased funding for apprenticeships will allow industry training organisations to invest in the quality of education for apprentices, lower fees for employers and encourage growth in the uptake of apprenticeships.

3. We are going to boost the educational content of apprenticeships. At a minimum they will require a programme of at least 120 credits that results in a level four qualification.

4. We are going to set clearer roles and performance expectations for ITOs, and give employers other options if their ITOs don’t perform; and

5. To lift the profile of, and participation in, apprenticeships, we are going to give the first 10,000 new apprentices who enrol after 1 April this year $1,000 towards their tools and off-job course costs, or $2,000 if they are in priority construction trades. The same amount will also be paid to their employers.

As a result of these changes, and stimulated by the boom in construction and other trades that is already underway in Christchurch, we estimate that around 14,000 new apprentices will start training over the next five years, over and above the number previously forecast.

The whole idea is to kick-start new apprenticeship opportunities ahead of the curve, so that thousands of New Zealanders get to learn a new trade that will last them a lifetime. . . 

Age shouldn’t determine whether or not apprentices get assistance. This is a very good move and will help people who need to up-skill or retrain as well as school leavers.

The government will also focus on new infrastructure and will involves private sector disciplines as much as possible.

The first major public-private partnership ever undertaken in New Zealand will open this year, with the first group of students attending the new Hobsonville Point primary school.

A new secondary school at Hobsonville is also being developed through a PPP, as is the new prison at Wiri and the Transmission Gully project.

By the middle of this year, around 300,000 businesses and homes will be able to connect to ultra-fast broadband, and around 1,300 schools and 30 hospitals will have fibre to the gate. In addition, almost 100,000 rural homes and businesses are expected to have access to faster broadband through the Rural Broadband Initiative.

The Government is also continuing to support the development of water infrastructure. Earlier this week we announced we would be establishing a new Crown-owned company to invest in commercial-scale water storage and irrigation projects, and set aside $80 million for the initial stages of its operation.

In terms of housing, the Government is itself planning to build more than 2,000 houses over the next two financial years but, more importantly, wants to work with local councils on the underlying problems of land supply, building and resource consents and provision of infrastructure.

We need more houses built in New Zealand, at a lower cost.

That means we need more land available for building, more streamlined processes and less costly red tape.

This doesn’t require the Government to spend a lot of money. We are already a huge player in the housing market and I’m very wary of spending more of taxpayers’ money. . . 

Sadly the  virtue of wariness over spending more or our money hasn’t filtered through to the Opposition.

But there are plenty of private sector investors who want to invest in housing – if only we can remove the roadblocks that are slowing down the process and driving up costs.

It’s ridiculous, for example, that developers can wait six to 18 months for a resource consent.

It’s ridiculous that we allow councils to demand almost anything as a condition for the consent.

And it’s ridiculous that we allow them to charge whatever fees they want.

Unless these sorts of issues are dealt with there won’t be more affordable housing built.

Labour’s so-called ‘plan’ to build 100,000 houses doesn’t do anything to fix the actual cost of building – so will either fail miserably, deliver dwellings that people don’t want to live in, or require massive taxpayer subsidies.

It’s dishonest and it doesn’t stack up.

As I said, we want to work co-operatively with local councils and I believe our goals in the end are the same.

In particular we are keenly awaiting the Auckland Council’s spacial plan, and I’m expecting it to include multiple options for both greenfields and brownfields residential property developments.

But if councils aren’t able to change their planning processes, then the Government would have to get a lot more proactive, because we are very serious about resolving this issue.

Labour’s plan to build thousands more houses has several flaws, not least of which is that it does nothing to tackle one of the major drivers of house prices – the availability of land.

In terms of natural resources, I think all New Zealanders are aware that our economy and natural resources are closely linked.

New Zealand is rich, for example, in minerals. The Greens and Labour oppose it, but we are going to continue to encourage development of our country’s oil, gas and mineral resources.

Looking across our resource base as a whole, what’s clear is that we need a much better system of planning and resource management – one that enables growth and provides strong environmental outcomes, and does so in a timely and cost-effective way.

We’ve already made changes to the resource management system and we’ve got more in the pipeline. There is a Bill already in Parliament to set a six-month time limit on the processing of medium-sized consents, and to establish a streamlined process for Auckland’s first Unitary Plan.

But as a country, we’re still not planning well enough for our future.

The RMA is constantly cited as a source of frustration, both by investors wishing to develop on their land, and by communities left waiting for years to know the outcome of a project.

There is not enough national consistency. Across New Zealand’s 78 local authorities there are over 170 resource management planning documents. Consistency is important because New Zealand is a small country and local decisions have significant effects on our national economy and national environment.

We also need to ensure that local plans aren’t overly restrictive and that consent processes are proportionate to the scale of the activity.

Public participation on whether an individual builds a deck on their property, for example, is profoundly different from a decision affecting water quality in a lake.

So the Government is working on a comprehensive package of reforms to the resource management system, which we’ll release in the next few months.

I want to see big improvements in this area and it’s going to be a high priority for the Government this year. . .

Free trade agreements to open new export markets are another important part of the plan.

In terms of developing export markets, the Government is currently negotiating free trade agreements with 11 countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including the United States, and separately with a number of other countries including India, Russia and Korea.

We’re also about to begin negotiations for a new 16-nation regional free trade agreement across Asia and the Pacific.

Trade agreements can take a long time. But the TPP negotiations are well advanced and negotiators have been asked to try to conclude the broad outline of an agreement by October this year.

The Greens and their fellow travellers say the TPP is anti-democratic. That is nonsense.

A high-quality free trade agreement with the world’s biggest economy, that includes agricultural exports, would be a significant achievement.

The Government has also been ramping up its engagement with Asia, because we see there are huge opportunities there for New Zealand businesses.

This year, for example, we will continue to focus on Chinese tourism.

Before Christmas, some of our opponents thought it was a tremendous scandal that high-value, low-risk and well-travelled Chinese were able to get a New Zealand visa with a little less red tape.

I thought it was a scandal that we hadn’t done this earlier, because Chinese tourism has the potential to be huge for New Zealand.

Finally, on tourism, the best thing we can do to increase high-value tourist numbers – as I’ve said time and time again – is to facilitate the development of a national convention centre in Auckland. The sooner that can happen the better. . . .

We are seeing more Chinese tourists in the south, some of whom come because their children are studying at Otago University.

When it comes to capital markets, the biggest thing happening this year is the Government’s offer of shares in state-owned energy companies.

Subject to the Supreme Court’s decision, this will start in the first half of the year with our offer of up to 49 per cent of the shares in Mighty River Power.

We also want to proceed with another IPO later this year.

The whole share offer programme will be a shot in the arm for New Zealand’s capital markets.

It will give New Zealand savers an opportunity to invest in big New Zealand companies, and the companies themselves will benefit from better monitoring and market disciplines.

At the same time, the Government will maintain majority ownership of the companies, and will use the proceeds to invest in other public assets, like schools and hospitals.

New Zealanders will be at the front of the queue for shares in these particular companies, but in general we continue to welcome foreign investment in New Zealand.

That’s because overseas investment in New Zealand adds to what New Zealanders can invest on their own.

It creates jobs, boosts incomes, and helps the economy grow.

Overseas capital can make things happen here that wouldn’t otherwise happen, grow businesses that wouldn’t otherwise have the means to grow, create jobs that otherwise wouldn’t exist, and pay wages that are higher than they would otherwise be.

So it’s sad to see the Labour Party that was such an advocate of trade and investment in the past somehow turning into the number one defender of Fortress New Zealand. . .

Then there’s science and innovation:

Research funding will be greater this year than it ever has been, because new ideas are a key driver for a modern economy.

In particular, this year will see Callaghan Innovation, the new advanced technology institute, up and running, and working with firms involved in high-tech manufacturing and services.

The National Science Challenges will be finalised in the next few months, and a greater proportion of resources put towards addressing these challenges.

So as you can see, we’ve got plenty on.

But I can guarantee you one thing – Labour will oppose almost all of it.

And the few things they might find to like, Russel Norman or Winston Peters will vehemently oppose.

And that’s the irony of the New Zealand Opposition in 2013.

They criticise the Government for being too hands-off; and yet between each of the Opposition parties they oppose every hands-on change we make to encourage investment, growth and jobs.

Tax changes – they oppose.

Major roading projects – they oppose.

A free trade agreement with the US – they oppose.

RMA changes – they oppose.

90 day trials – they oppose.

Work expectations for beneficiaries – they oppose.

Oil and gas exploration – they oppose.

The Hobbit legislation – they oppose.

A national convention centre – they oppose.

Every piece of legislation or policy we have developed to encourage growth and jobs they have opposed.

And that’s because there is only one type of activist government they know – the big-spending and big-borrowing kind that we know so well from the Labour Party and the Greens.

It’s called “chequebook activism” and New Zealanders know it well because they’ve seen it before.

As a country we are still paying for it – literally.

It means big, wasteful and unaffordable spending, charged to the taxpayer’s bill. And it means Labour and the Greens meddling and choking off private sector investment.

As for the National-led Government, our plan will encourage investment, strengthen the economy and boost jobs.

People know what that plan is, we have stuck to it and we will continue to stick to it.

And New Zealand is heading in the right direction.

The Government’s economic programme is laying the foundations for a stronger economy, sustainable jobs and higher incomes.

The world is full of opportunities for New Zealand over the next few years.

We need to seize those opportunities with both hands.

That’s why the Government is getting on with the job.

Commenting on changes to the apprenticeship scheme, Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce says:

The changes announced today are being funded from the money we have saved by tightening up the industry training system to remove tens of thousands of ‘phantom trainees’ under the previous Labour Government that were not earning any credits.

“We expect the changes to the apprenticeship system will drive a higher level of qualification completions in industry training so more workers, especially young people, are equipped with transferable and practical skills they can use throughout their working lives,” Mr Joyce says.

“By rebooting apprenticeships the Government estimates there will be an additional 14,000 new apprentices starting training over the next five years – over and above the 7000 who enrol every year.

“These changes are part of our comprehensive suite of vocational training reforms which are creating a simpler, more effective, vocational training system.

“Other initiatives include providing clear Vocational Pathways for young people interested in a vocational career, Trades Academies and Youth Guarantee places to ease transitions from secondary school to vocational training, and a major reduction in the number of qualifications at Levels One to Six to make the system easier to navigate for students and employers.

“Delivering Skilled and Safe Workplaces is a key plank of the Government’s Business Growth Agenda to lift productivity, deliver higher wages and living standards, and build a faster-growing and more competitive economy.” . . .

A mismatch between skills and job opportunities is a large part of the problem employers have filling jobs even though a large number of people are unemployed.

Increased opportunities for training, especially in much-needed trades, is the answer.


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