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Jim Sutton, Minister Of Rural Affairs, Speech

Jim Sutton Minister Of Rural Affairs Speech

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to speak to you today as Minister for Rural Affairs.

This is an exciting time to be involved in agriculture and the rural sector particularly as minister.

Not only is the rural economy doing well, but people seem to be recognising the importance of the rural sector. As Rural Affairs Minister, this is a relief to me.

One of my priorities as Rural Affairs Minister is to remind the majority of New Zealanders, who don?t live or work in rural areas, of just how important our primary industries are.

On Wednesday, the Governor-General Sir Michael Hardie Boys said at the national agricultural fieldays at Mystery Creek that New Zealanders were in "deep denial" about the importance farming plays in our national economy. Sir Michael said that denial was dangerous because it undermined what would always be crucial to our national survival.

Last year, the primary sector accounted for 62% of total exports. Farming, horticulture, forestry and fishing are vital to the continuing wellbeing of this country. Once, most New Zealanders understood that ? today, they have to be reminded.

The Labour Party's manifesto was quite clear - rural communities are New Zealand?s heartland, and the land-based industries remain the cornerstone of our wealth.

At the core of Labour?s rural policy is the conviction that vibrant rural communities, thriving land-based industries, and a healthy rural environment are profoundly interdependent. Unless each of these elements is sustained, the others will not be sustainable in the long term.

The land must provide for the social and economic needs of the people. In our own interests therefore, we must protect natural systems and environmental values.

I have been appointed the first Rural Affairs Minister.

That appointment of a Minister for Rural Affairs provides a voice in Cabinet to raise issues and concerns of rural communities and also to ask the questions ? have rural people been consulted, how will this impact on them, why is that impact justified?

All Ministers and their departments have been asked to ensure that they consider the impacts of the policies they are developing on rural communities and to undertake consultation with those communities.

My main priority for my initial year as Minister of Rural Affairs is to develop an infrastructure and lines of communication that will give me access to areas of Government that can influence the wellbeing of rural communities.

In particular I want to ensure that the potential impacts of Government policies on rural people and businesses are considered in future Government decision-making.

My aim is to put in place procedures to ensure that my fellow Ministers and their officials examine their policy initiatives for their impact on rural communities, just as they now take into account the requirements of the Treaty of Waitangi and the involvement of Maori. A lot of the things that are needed to close the gaps for Maori are applicable also to rural communities ? education and health care, for example.

Indeed, I have a particular interest in the delivery of social services to rural communities. I firmly believe that the centralisation of services that has taken place in the last few years was pushed through without much consideration for those who do not live in towns and cities.

The Labour-Alliance Government's programme for regional development will also have a big impact on rural communities. I will be working closely with Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton to make sure that programme is targeted well to encourage economic growth in rural communities.

The Ministry is examining the logistics and resourcing needed to meet these objectives. MAF already has a good network into rural communities which is co-ordinated by its head office in Wellington. I would like to see that network utilised - and perhaps enhanced - to facilitate the watchdog role that I envisage.

MAF is changing its work programmes to enable it to pick up on and actively work on particular issues where it believes either the potential impacts are significant or where it can add particular. This involves broadening its current work from looking at the impacts of government policies on the sectors to considering impacts on the broader rural community.

MAF will build on the Rural Bulletin as a way of letting rural people know what policy initiatives are being pursued by government agencies and how rural people can be involved in consultation processes or otherwise make their views known.

The ministry is also reprioritising the work programmes of its regional staff through out the country to build on and improve contacts with rural people.

Over the coming months MAF will consider how else it can improve its ability to understand and ensure the Minister is informed of both the impacts of policies on rural communities and the issues and concerns of those communities.

I've asked my ministry to work on finding ways that new technology ? such as the internet ? can be used to benefit rural communities. Access to good telecommunications is something I see as vital for rural communities if they are to adapt to the change occurring in our world.

MAF has suggested an Internet site to link rural support groups and others to form a national network ? an idea I think is worth exploring. Farmers have already shown themselves to be quick at grasping new technology.

The website could be used to co-ordinate activities not only of rural support groups, but also to link in other organisations active in rural communities such as Rural Women, and local authorities.

When I was in South Korea earlier this year, I was told about a project they have underway there ? Cyber Korea 21. By the end of next year, 30 million of South Korea's 45 million people will be online and trained to use the internet. Just imagine the changes that will bring to their lives and how they do business.

New Zealanders ? whether rural or urban ? can not afford to ignore these developments.

Sometimes the issues in rural affairs will be big, visionary ones ? such as telecommunications and the internet ? sometimes they will be closer to home.

Just this week, Thursday night in fact, I had my first tangible success to show rural communities.

After representation from me and a substantial investigation by MAF officials, the education minister responsible for school transport, Parekura Horomia, re-instated the Foxhill School bus service.

That primary school, south of here near Wakefield, had lost its school bus service and children were forced to walk along a busy state highway to get to school.

After high-quality work from MAF and a strong approach, the bus route is back. What's more, policy work on the school transport policy and the specific needs of rural school students is going to be carried out.

That's a demonstration of the rural affairs portfolio in action ? giving rural communities a voice in Government.

It's not just education. It will be employment, health services, and the many other things that make up the fabric of rural life.

But I can't do it alone. That's where you and your colleagues and friends come in. I could only do something about Foxhill School's bus because I was told about it. We need to hear from you ? when things are going right as often as when they're going wrong.

This Labour-Alliance coalition government wants to work in partnership with communities to make them stronger. Please keep in touch.

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