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United Future Rural Affairs Policy

17 June 2005

United Future Rural Affairs Policy

Agriculture

The cornerstone of strong rural communities

United Future New Zealand recognises the importance of primary industries to the security and prosperity of New Zealand. At a time when there are strong opportunities in the international marketplace, the importance of strong, resilient and responsive primary industries is paramount. They must be supported so the opportunity for diversification and added value is identified and encouraged.

Our policy is more than just an economic prescription for our primary industries. It is about ensuring that the often neglected rural communities receive fair and reasonable access to educational and health services.

United Future will:

· Promote a strong and viable economic policy framework to underpin the role of primary industries as our major export earners.

· Undertake an immediate review of all legislation and regulations that impose coercive powers and administrative burdens on farmers to ensure their impact is minimised, consistent with the overall public interest.

· Conduct a biennial review of the Resource Management Act to ensure that is working as well as possible with regard to improving certainty, shortening timelines and reducing user costs.

· Upgrade the BIZ website and hotline, so that farmers can make enquiries relating to any government department using a single point of contact, and have their queries answered by staff from these departments (e.g. Department of Labour, Occupational Health and Safety, IRD, ACC).

· Make the first $3000 of earned income tax-free, and increase the other tax thresholds by $5000 to offset the increase in inflation (i.e. the 33% rate will apply to income over $43,000 rather than $38,000, and the 39% rate will apply to income over $65,000 rather than $60,000).

· Streamline the tax compliance and penalties regime

· Zero-rate local body rates for GST.

· Support free trade and embrace free trade agreements.

· Increase agricultural workforce skills by getting more people into industry training e.g. through Modern Apprenticeships in the agriculture and horticulture sectors.

· Establish a global online service that matches potential skilled migrants with job opportunities in New Zealand to help fill critical skill shortages.

· Ensure that advice and information is available to businesses to support them in hiring migrants to fill skill shortages.

· Continue the 'no-fault' regime and mandatory workplace accident insurance, but support competition in the provision of accident compensation services.

· Actively support the role of research and development into the sustainability of primary industries and the ongoing development of new niche industries, with a particular emphasis on adding value.

· United Future has consistently opposed New Zealand's participation in the Kyoto Protocol ahead of our major trading partners. We will withdraw from the protocol in 2012 at the end of the 'first commitment period' if New Zealand's major trading partners have not signed up by that time. In the interim we will oppose Government measures, like the carbon tax, that seek to meet our Kyoto obligations in ways that will reduce New Zealand's international competitiveness.

· Ensure that biosecurity remains a top Government priority.

· Promote the planting of native trees and bush along or close by all inland waterways where practical in order to limit soil erosion and reduce agricultural runoff (via Government subsidy);

· Encourage landowners to return non-viable farming land to native regenerative forest, possibly with assistance from the QEII National Trust;

· Boost funding for Crown Research Institutes to conduct research into the health, wellbeing and productivity of New Zealand soils, and to develop new techniques for remedying any deterioration that has occurred over time;

· Support the current policy of allowing the application of GE technology to proceed - but with caution;

· Support voluntary environmental codes of conduct such as the Clean Streams Accord.

Rural Services

· Establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the issue of access to health, education, emergency, transport and social services in rural areas as the starting point in the development of a comprehensive rural services strategy built around families and local communities.

· Support the family farm concept.

· Emphasise community-based social programmes, together with contestable regional development, to assist the revitalisation of rural communities.

· Ensure that a significant proportion of fuel taxes collected within a specific region are earmarked for improvements to roads in that region, rather than being diverted into the Crown Account.

· Increase the Financial Assistance Rate (FAR) that is paid by central government to local authorities for the construction and maintenance of local roads up to 80% of their total costs as a first step to reducing the rates burden faced by many rural communities.

· Use the student loan system and scholarships to bond graduates in medicine and nursing to work in rural areas.

· Support Rural GP services by encouraging medical students to consider rural general practice, supporting the professional development of rural GPs, providing sufficient funding for locum cover, increasing financial incentives for rural GPs, introducing Rural Nurse Practitioners as a new field of practice for senior nurses, and by establishing appropriate practitioner to patient ratios that will ensure quality of care and reduce the risk of burnout.

· Ensure that ambulance and air rescue services are maintained at a level that does not compromise public safety

· Extend Mobile Surgical Services.

· Recognise the importance of rural schools beyond just their educational function in rural communities.

· Support rural schools by ensuring that their operations grants are sufficient to meet the costs to schools of providing the learning opportunities that government expects.

· Support Project PROBE as a way of ensuring that rural schools and communities have access to high-speed Internet services.

· Allow rural schools that are difficult to staff to pay more to attract quality teachers, and introduce bonding for teachers in areas where there are shortages through the use of student loan write-offs.

· Re-focus the Correspondence School so that it is not compromised in its delivery of education for rural children by its other role as a provider of education for at-risk students, and ensure that it is adequately resourced to meet the needs of all distance learners.

· Establish 'families' of schools to improve coordination between pre-school, primary and secondary schools in a given area, with a view to sharing resources such as computers and sporting equipment, and holding quarterly meetings of representatives from boards of trustees.

· Ensure that school bus services are sufficiently resourced to meet the needs of rural communities.

· Establish a network of 'rural education posts' to serve as adult and community education information centres and meeting places and providers, utilising existing educational facilities.

· Ensure that the Tertiary Education Commission recognises the importance of education for the development of the agricultural workforce, and funds vocational courses that meet the needs of the sector.

· Increase national Police numbers to 10,000 sworn officers, to ensure adequate coverage of rural areas, and establish a transparent Police staffing formula that ensures a minimum presence in all areas, yet allows for extra police to be deployed where the crime rate exceeds the national average.

· Establish community safety plans with police, local bodies and communities, building local knowledge and community relationships, and ensure that all households can receive information about local policing issues.

· Increase staffing levels at Police Communications Centres to ensure that 111 calls are responded to promptly and effectively, and consider returning them to control at the regional level to utilise local knowledge.

Forestry

United Future recognises the strategic role of the forestry sector in the New Zealand economy in providing jobs, income and export earnings, while also balancing its contribution to the recreational sector.

United Future will:

- Assist the forest sector to move up the value-added chain through research and development and industry partnerships, so that end products derived from our forests, rather than unprocessed chips or logs, are exported to the greatest extent possible. We will also review the tax treatment of R & D to generate incentives for an increase in private sector expenditure. *

- Balance the need for a viable industry with environmental sustainability. * Work closely with the industry and other interested parties, such as recreational users, to maintain a strategic overview of issues affecting or impacting on the sector.

* Ensure that weeds, diseases and forest soil quality are adequately monitored.

* Introduce improved fire prevention, detection and control measures.

* Increase resources to control exotic pest populations such as possums

* Impose a moratorium on the aerial application of 1080 until it has been re-assessed by the Environmental Risk Management Authority.

* Defer final income tax on income derived from forestry until harvest where partly grown trees are sold. When partly grown trees are sold the seller will be assessed income tax in the usual way. However an amount equivalent to the income tax paid by the seller will be paid to the buyer by way of a forest encouragement grant.

* Ensure that NZ producers of sustainably-harvested timber products are not undercut via the "dumping" of imported timber and products that have been harvested without regard to sustainability criteria.

* Establish legal guidelines for drug-testing in the workplace, and encourage comprehensive employee assistance programmes in return for reduced ACC levies, to ensure there are no barriers to implementing testing.

ENDS

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