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Prebble Speech:Rural Future At Stake

Rural future at stake this election
Bridge House Elizabeth Street Warkworth 7.30pm Wednesday 11 August

ACT is targeting Northland as a region where our polling indicates that ACT will do well. Penny Webster, for whom I am speaking to-night, is one of the outstanding women candidates that ACT is attracting. Penny and her husband are dairy farming. Penny is the former chair of the Auckland Division of Federated Farmers.

So far ACT has selected nine farmers as candidates. Proportionally, ACT will have more farmers as candidates than National. The National Party, for some reason, even in rural areas, is selecting anyone except farmers.

Both National and Labour have lost faith in the future of the primary sector. We have Maurice Williamson coming back from a trip through Europe saying we need to pick winners. He clearly thinks agriculture is a loser. Labour's Michael Cullen has gone further. Let me quote from a press release of Labour's Deputy Leader made yesterday: "We need to break New Zealand's over-reliance on commodities and encourage more sophisticated, knowledge-intensive enterprise".

What does Michael Cullen mean when he talks of breaking our dependency on commodities? It's hard enough already being in the primary sector without having a possible future finance minister talk about the need for government to help smash the industry.

When you analyse both Michael Cullen and Maurice Williamson's remarks it is clear that they believe New Zealand's primary sector is a liability. They are suggesting that the primary sector is somehow preventing New Zealand from being a silicon valley.

The Government has carried this further and are now openly saying that too much research is going into the primary sector - dairy, forestry, meat, wool and horticulture. Ministers are saying this money should be diverted into knowledge based industries.

What Ministers mean by knowledge based industries is not defined but Maurice Williamson, Max Bradford and Nick Smith have all suggested that government should be directing students into science.

Every election we have this sort of cargo cult politics. In previous years it's been 'value added' - lamb burgers and carpet mills, from Labour. The most notorious was 'think big', from National. And in 1999 it's 'knowledge-based industry' - even though no MP can tell you what this means.

Agriculture is actually one of the fastest growing knowledge industries in the world. New Zealand farmers have taken to the computer technology faster than farmers anywhere in the world. The controversy over genetically modified food is a symbol of the knowledge revolution in agriculture.

It's true that agriculture faces real problems. But what Michael Cullen and Maurice Williamson do not tell you is that commodity prices in the knowledge industry are falling much faster.

The price of a computer chip is a thousandth of what it was 20 years ago. You can buy a laptop computer for a tenth of the price it was just 10 years ago. Part of the reason the world's second largest economy, Japan, is in trouble, is because prices are falling faster in manufacturing than in agriculture.

The answer to the fall in agriculture commodity prices is not to break the industry, as Labour is saying, but to find ways to restore profitability of farming at the new prices.

What is stopping farm gate profitability is not world prices but issues that are within our own governance.

New Zealand farmers' ACC costs are higher than Victoria's. National's ACC reforms have resulted in 90% of farmers going to the private sector. Labour's proposal to re-nationalise ACC will help Michael Cullen break farming. ACT's view is that we should open up all of ACC to the private sector and competition.

It's red tape and bureaucracy that is destroying farm profitability. The Resource Management Act, telling farmers how often they can drive out of their driveway - the OSH Act that is driving families with children off farms - the Bio Security Act, and 5,200 other regulations and laws passed in the 1990s affecting business.

This election ACT is campaigning on a practical programme to restore farm profitability. If National and Labour carry out their anti rural policies - we may never be able to regain our lead as the world's most efficient farmers.

The ACT Party is all that stands between farmers and the most anti rural government this country has ever seen. ACT, for the last three years, has been a consistently strong voice for rural New Zealand. We are asking for the rural party vote so we can implement the practical policies that farmers need to restore farms to profit.

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