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Jim Sutton speech To TRENZ

TRENZ conference, Christchurch

Good Afternoon, ladies and gentlemen: I'm delighted to be here today at such a prestigious event.

I'm sure you're all fully up to speed now with the New Zealand Government's approach to tourism. It's an important industry for us in New Zealand and one that is thriving.

The Tourism Industry as a whole is enjoying positive times. Arrivals are up. Foreign exchange earnings are up. The summer brought reports of record occupancy numbers and the forecasts of future arrivals look strong.

Figures from the last big study of the industry - carried out in 1997 - show that:

- 149,000 people are directly or indirectly employed servicing tourists. - Total tourist expenditure in 1997 was $11.5 billion. - Tourism contributed directly and indirectly 9.3 percent of New Zealand's Gross Domestic Product in 1997.

We all know that the tourism sector has grown substantially since 1997, and in the coming months we will get provisional figures for 1998, 1999 and 2000.

I have no doubt those figures are going to portray a vibrant and growing industry. It is a credit to the industry that at this time it has made the commitment to work in partnership with the government on developing, for the first time, a national tourism strategy for the industry and New Zealand.

Many in the industry, and in the wider-related sectors, recognised the need to plan co-operatively for its future. This is a sign of an industry that is maturing and taking responsibility for its future, and for the effects and impacts that it has on the rest of New Zealand.

The Tourism Strategy document is based on four key objectives:

- To secure and conserve a long term future - To market and manage a world class visitor destination - To work smarter - and to be financially and economically prosperous

The key structural proposals include: - Evolving the marketing role of Tourism New Zealand, to build on the excellent work done to date - Build on the advocacy role of the Tourism Industry Association - Expand the role of Regional Tourism Organisations - And enhance the policy and advice role of the Office of Tourism and Sport

So, you've got the message - tourism is important for New Zealand.

But while tourism earned 9 per cent of GDP for New Zealand, agriculture earned 6 per cent. And I'd like to talk to you about that.

Agriculture is a vitally important industry to us here in New Zealand. It's what we make most of our money from. Two-thirds of our export earnings come from animals, fruit and vegetables, and timber, and from processed products of those.

New Zealand, as an island a long way away from anywhere else, doesn't have a lot of natural pests or diseases - so when something makes its way here - say Asian gypsy moth - potentially it has a huge effect.

For us in New Zealand, that effect can be devastating.

We don't have a lot of other industries to draw on. So a foot and mouth outbreak in Britain produces many horrible images on our television sets and is devastating for British farmers - but it's not devastating for the British economy.

Sure, there's been a downturn, and they're missing a lot of tourists.

But if we had foot and mouth disease break out here - God willing, it won't - it would have a horrific impact not just on farmers and a few tourist centres, but on the whole country. Living standards everywhere would drop by 25 per cent, it's estimated. That's everyone - merchant bankers in Auckland, mums in Naenae, lawyers in Christchurch, and university students in Dunedin.

Foot and mouth disease isn't the only one that could wreck our economy, but it's topical at the moment.

Biosecurity is crucial for New Zealand's continued prosperity.

The Labour-Alliance Government recognises that and has put extra money into biosecurity and border control measures into its Budgets.

Last year, an extra $2.79 million was put into that area, this year an extra $4.6 million. Both of those are ongoing funding increases. With baseline increases in departmental funding in other areas included, about an extra $20 million is being spent on biosecurity and border controls.

That money is being used in four different ways.

A key thing is to raise the awareness of biosecurity amongst our population. New Zealand has something worth protecting and our people need to be aware of that.

As well as the billions of dollars earned from primary production, fishing, and tourism, biosecurity measures also protect the health of our 3.6 million people, our cultural heritage derived from 750 years of human habitation, and our unique island geography - our 27 million hectares and about 80,000 native plants, animals, and fungi species.

As well as increased awareness, we have installed more soft-tissue x-ray machines to spot organic material being brought into the country and more sniffer dogs to sniff through passengers and their bags. We use beagles to deal with passengers - they're extremely cute and noone seems to mind a beagle pawing over them and their bags.

New Zealand has now the only country in the world that screens 100 per cent of all passengers' bags, mail, and persons. Australia is planning to follow our lead.

We used to have targets of catching 88 per cent of all smuggled meat products and 95 per cent of all smuggled fruit and vegetable materials. But the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Europe has heightened awareness of risks around the world, and we no longer consider those earlier targets adequate. It is vital that we protect New Zealand and so those targets have been lifted to 100 per cent interception.

When our MAF Quarantine staff intercept smuggled food material, it is confiscated. Some cases are prosecuted, depending on circumstances.

However, from June 18 this year, instant fines of $200 will be imposed on the spot. That was going to be from July 1 (the start of the Government's new financial year in New Zealand) but again, the recent heightened awareness of the importance of biosecurity meant there was no point in delay, once staff were trained and ready to implement the new enforcement regime.

So, how does this affect you?

Hopefully, you won't have noticed much at the border when you arrived. Our processes have been set up to be as unobtrusive as possible. Our MAF Quarantine staff have been KiwiHost trained, so they can help people through the process as quickly as possible.

But we want you to tell everyone you meet and in every article you write - New Zealand is serious about its border controls.

We have reason to be serious about those border controls. We have a lot to protect in New Zealand.

I hope you'll get to see a bit more of the country than this conference centre, nice though it is. Once you do, you will understand how we feel about our country, why we want to protect our unique advantages, and why we are so rigorous in our border controls.

For us, they are no joke.

Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to answering any questions you have.

ENDS


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