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Government turn their back on rural affairs

17th June 2004

Government turn their back on rural affairs

Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) does not accept Jim Sutton’s repeated claims that the Government is serving the rural sector.

RWNZ President Sherrill Dackers says that the Minister of Agriculture can put all the spin he likes on economic indicators, but the Government is simply not facing up to the unique social issues that affect rural people.

A recent restructuring in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) has seen the removal of the Rural Affairs policy section.

Mrs Dackers says that while Mr Sutton campaigned vigorously on the strength of his rural affairs portfolio in the past, the restructuring of his policy team removes his ability to effectively represent social views within the rural sector.

“This has serious implications for the sustainability of the agricultural economy in New Zealand,” says Mrs Dackers.

“The productive capacity of farming communities cannot be sustained if rural services continue to erode and if compliance costs continue to mount.”

“The Government needs to hear and address these real concerns, yet Government departments are proving to be genuinely impenetrable for credible groups wishing to raise the issues that affect our communities,” Mrs Dackers says.

RWNZ cites dental health services as just one example of how urban communities are consistently favoured over rural.

According to District Health Board statistics, there is one dental hygienist for every 409 school children in the Auckland region, yet in Otago the ratio is 1 in 1121.

“It would be physically impossible for any dental hygienist to service that many children in one year, but the large rural component in Otago makes the situation even worse.”

Mrs Dackers says that this is one of many instances where rural communities are missing out on the basic services available to urban New Zealanders because of the funding criteria imposed on service providers.

“The Government consistently fails to take the isolation factor into account when allocating resources for social services.”

The result has been a systematic depletion of health and education services in the rural sector that does nothing to encourage families to stay on the land.

The rural sector is already struggling to attract and retain agricultural workers for this very reason.”

RWNZ asserts that the sustainability of rural communities is an issue of national concern that deserves more than just Ministerial lip-service.

“The Government talks incessantly about its commitment to public consultation, yet it has systematically removed all the formal Government processes that enable rural interest groups to have their say at policy level.”

Mrs Dackers says that “Until these formal consultation processes are restored, the Minister cannot claim that his Government is representing rural communities.”

RWNZ is seeking to discuss their concerns regarding the Rural Affairs section directly with the Minister.

ENDS

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