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Anderton: Speech - Northland Skills Strategy

Hon Jim Anderton Minister of Economic Development

Northland Skills Strategy launch 11.15 Friday, 6 August 2004.


Acknowledgements: Ministerial colleague Steve Maharey, Parliamentary colleagues, Mayors Craig Brown and Graeme Ramsey, members of the tangata whenua

Thank you Mike Simm for your introduction…

Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned about regional development I learned here in Northland.

I came here in early 2000 right after I first became a Minister, and visited Moerewa.

Then, the town was as low as a town can get.

Even the takeaway bar had closed.

I went to a meeting with the people of Moerewa, who outlined their plans to turn things around.

They said to me: ‘Minister, if the government is here to work in partnership with us, we’ll welcome that; but we are committed to making it work anyway because this is our home – we don’t have anywhere else we want to go.’

Moerewa was a severe case, but the whole of Northland was quickly ranked as an acute region.

The government committed to working closely in partnership with the region.

We had to improve the capability of the region to solve its own problems.

We had to identify the strengths of the region.

And we had to identify the top priorities for development.

A lot of work has been achieved quickly.

The results are beginning to show.

As Steve Maharey has outlined in his speech, Northland has been doing better than average in its growth.

Unemployment has been falling steadily.

Northland is in a transition.

We can be confident it is moving from an acute region to one growing strongly.

Regional development is about harnessing the positive potential of every part of New Zealand.

New Zealanders have to look out for ourselves, because this is our home; we need to ensure our young people have a future here.

There is no one else who is going to look out for us, except us.

Northland’s growth is – at least in part – a result of the partnership with government and the determination of the region to solve its problems.

But there is still much to be done.

While the unemployment rate is falling, labour force participation remains low at around 60 percent.

The national rate is around 67 percent.

The Northland Skills Strategy will help improve those figures – it will help to move more people into the workforce.

It will show there are opportunities to gain new skills.

Skills lead to jobs – to good jobs.

And jobs are the key not only to economic prosperity, but to social progress as well.

You cannot have strong social services without having the economy to underpin it.

There are no third world countries with first world health and education services, superannuation and security…

A first world income doesn’t guarantee it, but it gives you the choice.

We’ve tried a lot of ways to create higher incomes for New Zealand.

The simple fact is they didn’t produce results fast enough.

The old ‘hands off’ way sent Northland backwards.

We need a different approach – and that is, partnership between government and regions.

The regional partnerships programme is about maximising the opportunities and natural advantages of each region.

Every region has a Major Regional Initiative – a top priority for development.

Northland chose ‘Activate Northland.

It’s been a key contributor to maintaining employment.

Tourism job growth has been the strongest of all sectors in recent years.

The government’s economic development agency NZ Trade and Enterprise is making a contribution to the MRI of $2 million.

It’s helping to develop tailored, specialist professional development programmes for middle and senior management.

It’s helping to launch a broadband-based e-technology programme and attract investment.

Programmes to develop art, heritage and culture are providing opportunities to further leverage the Northland Naturally brand.

The choice of tourism is a good one.

It combines burgeoning demand with a natural advantage.

The initiative helps to unlock potential, and helps to unleash entrepreneurial talent without crowding it out.

The aim of the major regional Initiative is to deliver a further $53 million of tourism expenditure, more than 600 new jobs, and an additional $86 million to Northland’s GDP by December 2008.

Not a bad return on investment.

The best thing about Major Regional Initiatives is that, with one underway, you can come back for the next one.

The combined effect of one carefully designed initiative after another must grow the economy substantially over time.

Northland is working positively with the government.

It has achieved a number of firsts.

Last November I was here in Northland to address the Northland State of the Economy Forum.

The Forum is believed to be the first report back to regional stakeholders in New Zealand.

Since then, the economic development strategy, ‘Northland Forward Together’, won this year’s New Zealand Planning Institute Project Award.

It’s the first time a regional economic development strategy has won an award of this kind.

So the strategy has the ability to lead to real economic and social change in Northland.

For the government’s part, there has been considerable work on priorities for Northland.

I fought for and secured a new Regional Transport Fund.

Much of the funding has come here.

The fund provides $23 million a year for roading projects in Northland and Tairawhiti.

The road development work will help to attract new investment and lead to faster growth in industries such as forestry and tourism.

The forestry industry is specifically targeted because it is so important for Northland.

While roads are getting attention being addressed, so too is the issue of skills in the forestry sector.

This has never been a simple issue.

I was amazed when I first discovered the extent of the problems caused by drug use in the forestry industry, for example.

I’ve told the industry its own practices haven’t helped, either.

But it’s a problem we have to solve.

Some forestry companies around New Zealand are recruiting professionals from overseas, while they would prefer to be offering careers to New Zealanders.

Northland Polytechnic has accepted a role in responding to increasing demand for skilled forestry labour.

It’s been offering forestry training programmes since 2001.

It has recently received assistance through the Polytech Regional Development Fund for the Northland Training Alignment Project.

Forestry training is being coordinated through schools, the Polytechnic, and industry.

The project will ensure Polytechnic forestry programmes remain demand-driven and relevant to industry needs.

Wood processing is an issue I have worked on specifically.

The wood processing cluster has made great strides.

They have been working with Enterprise Northland’s Forestry Development Group in developing Northland’s Forestry Strategy.

The next twelve months will be looking at new niche markets for export and opportunities for joint marketing initiatives.

The cluster began with six companies, and now has fourteen with a combined turnover of more than $130 million.

Between them the companies employ 530 staff.

All of these initiatives are contributing to the falling rate of unemployment.

The Northland Skills strategy launched today will help to ensure much more is done, and unemployment is reduced even further.

It will complement several other programmes already operating in Northland.

In partnership with the Ministries of Economic Development and Social Development, Northland has developed a comprehensive approach to skills shortages.

Several programmes each target a different need.

Programmes involve students, teachers, and the unemployed, and target the needs of industry.

Programmes include the Northland Employment Initiative.

Government agencies working together with potential employers identify job vacancies and then find unemployed people who could be suitable with training and motivation.

The unemployed person knows they are guaranteed a job if they complete the skill requirements.

The promise of a job at the end of their training provides very strong motivation.

For the tourism industry in Northland, it goes some way to reducing skills shortages.

The taxpayer benefits from reduced unemployment benefits.

Families coming off the benefit do better as parents earn more.

It works for the social and economic development of the whole community.

Twenty people are in jobs or training because of this scheme.

This is just the beginning.

I know of a similar programme in Christchurch.

I believe it’s a very positive scheme with positive outcomes for everyone.

Skills shortages are one part of the picture.

There are many to deal with.

They’re not all economic.

Some of the most important are how we feel about ourselves.

You won’t find anyone more positive than me about the future of New Zealand.

We should be confident and focused on our potential as a region, and as a nation.

When we’re confident, the benefits almost create themselves.

It’s easy for investors to contribute when they see a region sure of itself with a vision, direction and energy.

It’s easy for young people to have hope and a sense of purpose when there are growing opportunities.

Northland can feel confident again.

This region is growing.

Services are returning.

You can feel it’s turned a corner.

Businesses are doing better.

Unemployment is falling.

There is more hope for young people growing up here.

There is hope of a vibrant and secure future – not in Auckland, or in Sydney, but right here in Northland.

This is a good time to be a New Zealander and we can be very positive about the progress we are making as a country.

This weekend there is a Bledisloe Cup test, so it’s a good time to compare ourselves with Australia.

Our economy has beaten the Australian economy in three of the last five years.

In the other two we were virtually tied.

Over the last five years as a whole we have easily outstripped Australia’s growth.

If we had done that over the last thirty years, this country would be a very different place.

(My colleague Steve Maharey and I should have been in government much earlier).

We have a choice about whether we want to continue doing as well as we are.

It’s up to New Zealand to choose to be positive.

We’re making great progress, and today is another step along the way.

Since it’s a Bledisloe Cup test coming up, I think I can get away with this story…

Once upon a time in the Kingdom of Heaven, God went missing for Six days.

Eventually, the angels tracked him down and asked where he’d been.

God proudly pointed down and said, ‘Look, I’ve created Earth. It’s my greatest work yet and it's going to be a great place of balance.’

The angels were confused and asked, ‘what do you mean by “balance”?’

‘Well there’ll be freezing polar ice caps and melting Pacific Islands, for example.

‘There’ll be vast oceans balanced by towering mountains.

‘Can you see what I mean?’

‘Yes,’ said the angels, and they were mightily impressed.

And one of them pointed down to one land mass and asked, ‘what’s that one?’

‘Ah,’ said God. ‘That's New Zealand, the most glorious place on Earth. There are beautiful mountains, rainforests, rivers, streams and beaches. The people are good looking, intelligent, hard-working and high-achieving. They will be known throughout the world as peaceful, creative and strong – both physically and in character.’

The angels gasped in wonder and admiration.

But then one said, ‘But you said there will be BALANCE!’

‘Oh yes,’ God replied wisely.

‘Wait until you see what I put on the other side of the Tasman!’


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