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Confused Key to get officials' briefing

14 March 2008

Confused Key to get officials' briefing

Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton is pleased that John Key has accepted his offer to be briefed on the New Zealand Fast Forward initiative by officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Treasury.

"If he won't accept what he reads in the documentation about NZ Fast Forward, and he won't believe what Prime Minister Helen Clark, myself, or journalists say, then maybe he will accept what responsible officials have to say about it."

Jim Anderton said the New Zealand Fast Forward fund was a genuine attempt by government and industry working as partners to increase pastoral and food industry innovation. It was something those industries desperately needed.

These industries are the backbone of our economy, he said, and New Zealand needed them to continue to be so well into next century.

"Farmers I've met over the past three days have been appalled that National is pledging to axe New Zealand Fast Forward."

These farmers and food producers will be relieved that John Key has accepted the briefing offer, Jim Anderton said.

"Hopefully, he will listen and understand that this is a sinking lid fund, with a life of 10 to 15 years, where both interest and capital will be invested in innovation, research and development in pastoral and food industries. New Zealand Fast Forward is the largest single contribution to innovation and science in our history. Over time, and with matching industry contributions, the fund will spend as much as $2 billion."

Jim Anderton said that if National thought this was an under-the-radar bungle, they were wrong.

"Mr Key bungled his initial response to the announcement of Fast Forward, falsely claiming it would spend only the interest.

"When that fundamental error was exposed, National appeared to think it would be too embarrassing to concede yet another misstep by a leader who can't get on top of policy briefs. So National has made up a series of increasingly off-balance criticisms of the Fund.

"For example, Mr English appears to be criticising the Fund for not spending enough and also saying that is reason for getting rid of it altogether. Those ideas cannot be reconciled except in the Disneyworld where National MPs form their thoughts.

"Meanwhile Mr Key is refusing to be interviewed at all. It is unheard of for an Opposition leader to refuse interviews on his criticism of government policy. Yesterday Mr Key was bizarrely claiming the fund would amount to '$700 million on the Reserve Bank balance sheet', a comment no one can explain. And the party's agriculture spokesman appears to have been stood down altogether from comment on the issue.

"Without a guarantee of government contributions, industry will not have the confidence to make its own contributions. National's vague statements leave unanswered the crucial question of what will happen to industry contributions.

"National is trying to be slippery about its commitment to innovation. It has dug a hole for itself and it is trying to get out by making up stories that are simply false. The agriculture sector is dumbstruck that they want to cancel it. And every statement National makes indicates more confusion and raises more questions about National."


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