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PQ 4. Regional Economies—Economic and Social Inequality

[Sitting date: 23 July 2014. Volume:700;Page:5. Text is subject to correction.]
4. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance : Does he agree that there are growing gaps among the regions of New Zealand, making the economy and society increasingly unbalanced; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): No, I do not agree with that. A variety of data suggests the regions have led New Zealand’s recovery. Statistics New Zealand regional GDP data shows that Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawkes’s Bay, Nelson-Tasman, Canterbury, Otago, and Southland, of course, all grew faster than the national average in the 5 years to 2013. The most recent ANZ Regional Trends survey shows rural regions growing faster than urban areas, and just last week I received reports from Queenstown, in my own electorate, of a significant boost from a long holiday by the Leader of the Opposition. But if the member wants to talk down the regions, then I hope he declares a crisis, because on recent established history every time Labour declares a crisis, things come right pretty quickly.
Hon David Parker : Does he agree that when the top few percent own most of the wealth the squeezed do not have enough to spend and invest and the economy will not perform to its fullest potential until the imbalance is fixed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No. In fact, in respect of the distribution of benefits of growth I can tell the member that the number of people on working-age benefits in Greymouth dropped 5 percent in the last year. In Blenheim it dropped 9 percent. In Napier it dropped 8 percent in the last year, and in Wanganui the number of people on working-age benefits also dropped 5 percent. Those people are now enjoying the benefits of more jobs and a stronger economy.
Hon David Parker : Then why is it that after 6 years, aside from Canterbury, the unemployment rate is higher in every region of New Zealand than it was when he took office?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Well, on “Planet Labour” there was no global financial crisis—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! Just answer the question.
Hon BILL ENGLISH : —and the member should take that into account when he uses those measures. Of course, in the real world, which is not where the Labour Party is, there was a major recession and unemployment did rise rapidly. Fortunately, it is now dropping consistently.
Tim Macindoe : Which regions have seen the strongest increases in economic activity?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : The most recent regional trend survey shows that the strongest growth in economic activity in the March quarter was—in order—Northland, the highest, at 3.4 percent, followed by Bay of Plenty, then Waikato, then Nelson-Marlborough, then Otago, then the West Coast, and then Canterbury. ANZ reports that Northland was also the fastest growing region in the year to March at 7.4 percent. Business confidence is at a 9-year high in the survey and the top two areas for business confidence are Otago, despite the complaints of its civic leadership, and the Waikato. As I said, the evidence tends to suggest that the regions have led the recovery not lagged it.
Hon David Parker : Is his selective use of statistics because the latest Statistics New Zealand figures on per capita GDP show that per capita GDP in the last year has gone backwards, not just in Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Manawatū, Wanganui, Marlborough, and on the West Coast but also in his own province of Southland?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, I do not agree with that. But what I do agree with is the proposition that a significant carbon tax, a capital gains tax, and water rules that mean that every river has to be absolutely pure, will have dramatic economic effects on the regions and they will all be negative. That is why the regions are turning up to meetings all over the country, to tell us how determined they are to stop the Greens and Labour taking over Government.
Hon David Parker : How can he say that regional growth is not in balance when according to the 2013 census the gap between median household incomes in Northland and Wellington has grown to around $30,000 a year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I have not seen those figures, but that is a bit rich coming from the party that complains because the Government put constraint on Public Service salaries.
Hon David Parker : I seek leave to table the per capita GDP figures from Statistics New Zealand for the regions for the year ended 2013.
Mr SPEAKER : If they are published by Statistics New Zealand, they are available to be referenced.

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