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Urgent Call For Economic Leadership

The Government must act swiftly to confront the impending economic emergency facing New Zealand, Opposition Leader Jenny Shipley said today.

"While businesses and families daily feel more worried about the serious situation New Zealand is facing, the Government is muddling along and sending mixed signals about where it is taking the country, " Mrs Shipley said in an address to the Auckland Rotary Club.

"The current acid test of the Government's economic direction is the proposed Singapore Free Trade Agreement. This is potentially an important international trade agreement, but Labour is at odds with its coalition partner, the Alliance, which is foolishly refusing to support the agreement.

"Labour is putting the agreement to the Parliament in an attempt to appease the Alliance which plans to vote against it as a branding difference.

"This sends a weak and destabilising message to the international investment community, which is seeing again that the Government is anti-business. What's more, the Government does not require Parliament's vote to endorse this treaty. It's going down that path because the Alliance wants a chance to show its colours.

"Instead of playing politics with such an important issue, Helen Clark should be sending the right international signal by whipping her partner into line.

"Of course National supports lowering trade barriers, but it is dangerous and presumptuous of Labour to rely on our support, when we have not been involved in negotiating the treaty text and we strongly believe it is the responsibility of governments to enter into these agreements on behalf of their people.

"I expect to be briefed on the agreement this week, and we will then consider the detail of the text.

"This is just one area where there is an urgent need for the Government to show leadership," Mrs Shipley said. Instead we are seeing:

* The collapse of the Kiwi dollar. We have fallen far more against the US dollar than other currencies have, and it is not good enough for Helen Clark to say there is nothing we can do about it. * The Prime Minister's talk of currency union with Australia which is at odds with the Treasurer's comments - and has received a cool reception in Canberra. * The "double whammy" faced by New Zealand businesses and firms, caught by higher petrol prices and a sinking dollar. * A Treasury report predicting higher interest rates and sluggish growth caused by the dollar and high petrol prices. * Independent forecasters projecting a rapid slump into domestic recession and the replacement of projected surpluses into deficits. * Serious question marks about the credibility and performance of Treasurer Michael Cullen. * A sustained exodus of New Zealanders leaving the country for better prospects overseas. * The absurd and internationally damaging sight of Green MPs protesting outside the World Economic Forum where, inside, Michael Cullen, will be trying to convince international investors and observers that the Government is on track. * New Zealanders being asked to accept a proposed code of good faith bargaining principles which even the committee of employers and unions who drafted it cannot agree on. "All these issues have come to a head driven partly by international trends but largely by the Labour-Alliance's Government's damaging policies.

"Every day the Government sits on its hands the situation becomes more serious for New Zealanders.

"If the Government was pursuing productive economic policies there may be some argument in riding out the storm and expecting indicators to improve.

"But as observers as diverse as Gareth Morgan and Chris Trotter are saying, the Government itself is part of the problem.

"I urgently call on Helen Clark to demonstrate her authority by pulling the Alliance into line and confirming the free trade agreement rather than seeking a vote in Parliament - a vote that Labour could lose.

"Further I call on Michael Cullen to acknowledge the serious circumstances in which New Zealand finds itself by putting together a package of fiscal and economic policies which would restore domestic and international business confidence," Mrs Shipley said.

Ends

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