Jim Sutton Labour Party Rotorua Conference Speech
Hon Jim Sutton
2 April 2004
Labour Party Regional Conference, Rotorua
President Mike Williams, rural sector council chair Max Purnell, Ladies and Gentlemen: this is the 20th year since I was first elected to Parliament, and I am delighted to be here, addressing you as Minister of Rural Affairs, Agriculture, Forestry, Biosecurity, and Trade Negotiations.
I am proud to be part of this Labour-led Government, so ably led by Prime Minister Helen Clark, surely one of the best prime ministers this country has ever seen.
Ladies and Gentlemen: today I want to focus on what the Labour-led Governnment has done for rural people, why the rural heartland of New Zealand is Labour's territory, not anyone else's.
Analysis of voting figures is quite clear ? even electoratates that voted in MPs from other parties voted with their party votes for Labour to be Government.
Since the Labour-led Government was elected in November 1999, we have focused our efforts on returning services to the rural community.
We have established the Heartland Services Centres, returning essential government agencies back to rural and provincial areas.
We've provided extra funding to help retain and recruit GPs in isolated rural areas, providing for a rural premium, a Rural Locum Support Scheme and the Rural Practice Support Scheme. We have funded mobile surgical units to reinforce services in rural areas.
We have also introduced a scheme for paid parental leave, and have extended that scheme to seasonal workers who have been in work for at least 6 months, a measure assisting particularly meatworkers. I am hopeful that we can ultimately extend that to the self-employed, so that farming families will be able to get assistance as well.
There is the Sustainable Farming Fund, which has funded almost 200 projects around the country, including world-leading research. This fund works with community funding as well, but would not have been possible without the Government's funding.
On the business side, we're helping extend broadband internet access to people wherever they live, something that will improve rural young people's education, but also the efficiency of farm businesses. ACC is developing programmes specifically for rural customers, and is promoting the Farmsafe education scheme in order to reduce the number of farm bike accidents.
This is really significant because that is where the costs are. Our opponents have published a wee brochure recently claiming that ACC charges have increased 89 per cent in the past two years despite accidents and fatality numbers decreasing.
Apart from getting their figures wrong, it also ignores why the increase in ACC levies is occurring - the cost of farmers' claims relative to their earnings has almost doubled in the past three years. The cost of weekly compensation is the major driver of claim costs and this has increased substantially over time as farmer's earnings have increased; and the average duration or total time on claim has almost doubled since 1996/97.
Now, you could avoid costs going up and causing levy increases ? reduce the amount people can claim, and cut the amount of time people can spend on ACC. But I don't think that actually helps anyone.
Rather, ACC has designed programmes for rural people to take into account their particular business structures, and is actively promoting courses people can take to ensure their safety as much as possible.
Since Labour became government in December 1999, we have often provided money to help farmers deal with the adverse effects of climate on their businesses. Last month we outlined a package to help farmers hit by the severe floods that damaged much of the country ? from South Taranaki and the Hawkes Bay, down Wanganui, Rangitikei, Manawatu, Horowhenua, the Wairarapa, Hutt Valley, and Marlborough.
We've facilitated farmer-supported restructuring in the dairy, kiwifruit, wine, and hops industries, with work ongoing in the wool and meat industries.
There are many other things this Government has done that help rural people, at the same time as helping urban people too.
Why has the Labour-led Government done these things specifically for rural people?
Because pastoral agriculture, forestry, horticulture, the whole primary production sector is important to us and to New Zealand as a whole. To ensure that rural economy is sustainable, we support the sustainability of the rural environment and social services.
Rural citizens are important citizens to Labour. We're not ignoring the backbone of the economy the way previous Governments and other parties have.
But we're not doing the things we're doing just because rural people make money for our country: we're doing them because rural people help keep our country the way we like it.
When people think New Zealand, they think of sheep, of green hills, and clean, wide open spaces. If we're lucky, they'll go on to think about the innovative things we do as well ? the high value-added primary products we produce, the exciting arts, literature, and films we create, and our sporting triumphs. Exciting high tech initiatives as diverse as super-yachts and special effect films.
This is the New Zealand the Labour Party is working to preserve in our policies.
Not a country that doesn't care about environmental standards or one where workers are abused and exploited, where the almighty dollar rules alone.
No, our New Zealand is one where all are included. One where we can work hard, adapt new technology, but also respect that other people can be affected by our choices and work to ensure they can be accommodated. A country where we can enjoy the fruits of our labour, relaxing in our homes and spending time in the outdoors.
Labour is working for that.
Last year, I appointed an eleven-member Land Access Reference Group to provide a report on what issues there were blocking walking access to lakes, rivers, and beaches and some recommendations on what to do about it. They reported in August, public meetings were held around the country, and more than 1000 written submissions were received.
I've now received a report from MAF summarizing the minutes from those meetings and the submissions, and I'm discussing with colleagues where to go next. I hope to have decisions to announce by June.
It's a hugely important issue, and not one I want to rush. It is also an important project for the Labour Party.
Ladies and Gentlemen: as I said before, we are implementing policies to ensure that people can stay in rural communities, but still enjoy services that urban dwellers take for granted.
Heartland Services Centres, Project Probe's broadband internet access, mobile surgical buses, medical schemes, subsidies for upgrading sewerage schemes: the list goes on.
My counterparts in other countries call this desire to have people remain in rural communities "multifunctionality" and use it to justify the outrageous subsidy schemes they operate for their farmers. My argument has always been to tell them that if they want "nice white painted fences and well-maintained hedges" ? some of the things they tell me they need rural people for ? then, pay those people to paint fences and clip hedges, don't subsidise them to produce lamb, beef, and dairy products your consumers don't want that are then dumped on international markets and collapsing the prices for unsubsidized farmers.
Since being elected, this Government has made it clear that its main international trade priority is the World Trade Organisation's multilateral round of negotiations. We worked hard to ensure the Doha Round was started three years ago, and we worked hard, albeit unrewarded, for a result at the Cancun meeting last year.
We have maintained that effort this year, playing a significant role at the Cairns Group meeting, ensuring that this group of agricultural exporting nations continues to be united in its resolve to keep other countries honest on agriculture.
WTO Ministers all signed a declaration in Doha in 2001 which set the path to substantial reform. We saw in the leadup to the WTO Conference in Cancun, Mexico last September that some countries were weakening in their resolve, even trying to wriggle out of that commitment, and shortchange the world's farmers.
That won't be allowed to happen if Team NZ has anything to do with it And despite the relatively small size of our economy, we are one of the small number of countries that contribute real leadership to the cause of reform.
In Costa Rica, the Cairns Group reaffirmed that increased market access for all products, in all markets ? including developing-country markets ? is central to our objectives. That said, the Group is prepared to take political realities into account in deciding how that access should be provided. We also agreed that developing countries have genuine food security and rural income concerns, and we need to elaborate on targeted measures to address those specific issues.
On export subsidies, the Group remains adamant: these measures must go. They stultify development and harm efficient, unsubsidised producers like New Zealand dairy farmers. They undermine the domestic markets of developing country farmers. The Cairns Group is not prepared to enter into tactical games which could ultimately let some export subsidies off the hook.
This is important because the Cairns Group has the potential to be a significant driver within the WTO negotiations. So it was important for New Zealand to be there to make sure our interests are taken care of.
And I can assure you we have significant interests at stake in the WTO negotiations.
Sometimes trade negotiations seem quite remote to real life back here in New Zealand. Change seems to happen at a glacial rate, and it's not obvious the effect it has on people here, in Rotorua, in South Canterbury, and other parts of our country.
But I can assure you that nothing else has quite the same impact on your livelihoods as progress in international trade.
Research carried out by MAF on the quantitative benefits of the last big round of international trade negotiations, the Uruguay Round, showed in the single year of 2000 (the year that many of the gains of the Uruguay Round kicked in) the beef, sheepmeat, and dairy sectors gained about $590 million from product price and volume increases in the major markets of the United States and European Union.
That works out to an average increase in earnings for each sheep, beef, or dairy farmer of $11,500 a year. And that was from changes in our trade with just two of the 146 members of the WTO.
Combined MAF and MFAT research assessed the overall benefits from the Uruguay Round as at least $9 billion over the 10-year implementation period of Uruguay Round changes, and about 17,600 jobs throughout our economy, including 2000 in agriculture in particular.
But the Uruguay Round was only a toe in the door, for agriculture, which is still one of the most heavily protected sectors in the world.
The Doha Development Round has even greater potential.
So that's our main priority. However, it's not our only priority.
The Government is also putting significant effort into bilateral trade negotiations.
We are making good progress with Thailand, and I hope that the feasibility study will be completed shortly, in time for a trade agreement to be negotiated this year. Remember that Australia, our main competitor in key product areas and a much larger and more attractive market, is ahead of us in Thailand. If we cannot keep up, we stand to lose significant market share.
We are continuing to work with Mexico on a bilateral agreement, and with Singapore and Chile for a "Pacific 3" trade agreement.
We are continuing to lobby for a trade agreement with the United States, and talks are still pending with Hong Kong. Other partners are still in the wings.
The biggest possibility on the horizon is China.
We are currently negotiating a trade and economic co-operation framework, which sets in place a structure for official discussions on various topics, and I am hopeful this will lead quickly to a feasibility study and potentially negotiating a bilateral trade or closer economic partnership agreement.
To my mind, there is no more important trade and economic relationship for New Zealand across the scope of this century than that with China. That doesn't mean our relationships with other countries, especially those of Australia and the United States, aren't important ? they are.
But the potential for growth with China is enormous, and not just for our agricultural producers.
However, talks are still at an early stage, and there is still water to go under the bridge there. We will be engaging intensively with New Zealand stakeholders on the subject over the next year or so.
Ladies and Gentlemen: This is my 20th year in central government politics. Before then, I had many years in farming.
Farming is a brilliant career option for people in New Zealand. Our farmers are innovative, adopting new technology and new ways of doing things, producing the goods for us all. I commend Wrightsons for their recent television advertisement campaign trying to promote the positive side of agriculture. I'd like to see a lot more of that.
Farming has a good future in New Zealand, and Labour is standing alongside our rural communities.