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The Nation: Shane Jones, Hone Harawira, and Shane Reti

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Shane Jones, Hone Harawira, and Shane Reti

Regional Development Minister Shane Jones has given more details about how regions can get money from the regional development fund. Four areas have priority and there will be a selection panel. Only larger projects will have to go to cabinet.

Whangarei MP Shane Reti says the National government left Northland’s unemployment figures in good stead at 6.6% and the new government should aim to reduce that to 4%. Shane Jones says that’s a tough ask.

Former Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira says helping to plant the billion trees a year the new government has promised could be a good pathway to work for Northland’s young unemployed.

Jones says he favours work for the dole, but says many in cabinet disagree.

Reti says the top funding priority for Northland should be four lanes from Auckland to Whangarei. Harawira says rail is more important.

Lisa Owen: I’m joined now by the minister Shane Jones, the Regional Economic Development Minister, Whangarei MP Shane Reti from the National Party, and the former Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira. Kia ora to you all. Can I start with you first, Minister? The billion-dollar annual regional redevelopment fund — it’s going to be a contestable fund, isn’t it?
Shane Jones: Yeah, there’ll be some robust criteria, but it will be contestable in the sense that people from either civic leadership, business leadership and obviously Maori development will have an option to apply, but never overlook the fact that there are four key regions that the last government correctly identified — Tairawhiti, Tai Tokerau, Manawatu-Whanganui and the West Coast. And I tend to agree, largely because I’m not a capricious sort of chap, that they were on the right track and we should take the good ideas forward.
So you’ll be concentrating on those regions that you identified?
Jones: To begin with, to begin with. Obviously we need a surge in those regions.
Sorry to interrupt you, but will those be the only regions that are able to vie for that money?
Jones: No, it’s not exclusive. And I’ve said this to regional local government. But we’ve got to start somewhere.
But they’ll get priority.
Jones: Indeed.
So who will make the decisions about who gets the money?
Jones: We’re creating a pipeline, and cabinet ministers are going to sign off on the criteria. There’ll be a selection panel which will be a blend of private sector expertise and the inevitable stewards of the public purse, the bureaucracy. It’s my expectation that small ones can stay with the bureaucracy; mid-sized ones must be signed off by a group of ministers; and mega-projects will have to go to cabinet.
What’s mid-size?
Jones: Well, at the moment, there is—
Put a dollar value on it.
Jones: At the moment CEOs can sign off up to, I think, 100 grand. It will be higher than that. It will be higher than that.
Well, because you’ve been quoted recently as saying that you’ve given one project the go-ahead already — the Opotiki wharf. So who was on the panel for that decision?
Jones: Yeah, so, what I’ve said that that is a project that was quite well advanced by Steven Joyce and the last government, and I don’t want to stop their momentum. But the inevitable sign-off will be by the full cabinet. But I’m very interested in nudging it along. But I don’t have the authority exclusively to sign that one off.
So did you misspeak when you publicly said that that had been—?
Jones: No, I said that I’m a supporter of it, but the end of the day, the cabinet committee will have to sign it off.
So are you picking favourites? Do you pick that one?
Jones: No, I think you need to avoid being arbitrary. We need to acknowledge that communities keep going on with life whether governments fall or stand. And that is a project that had its genesis back in Michael Cullen’s time, and I don’t think it was reasonable for me to scotch it, and I was encouraged, quite frankly, by a number of the departing ministers from the last regime to be fair to such a project.
Okay. Well, I’m wondering what you think. Mr Reti, do you think this sounds like a slush fund for the ministers and his mates and cousins?
Shane Reti: No, we acknowledge it’s a significant amount of money. From our point of view, it’s mainly that it’s a robust process, that there’s really good, robust and transparent decision-making, and then we’ll make our decision as to how we support it from there. So it’s all about the process for this large sum of money that we’re most interested in.
Mr Harawira, does it sound like a good idea, as Shane Jones explains it?
Hone Harawira: Actually, I couldn’t care if it’s a slush fund. It’s the only time anybody in the last 10 years has offered anything into the regions. So I’m a supporter of it. I’m glad my cousin’s in charge of it. I certainly expect to see some activities going on in the north, not just a feasibility study on the rail line up to Whangarei, but also in terms of forestry, in terms of carbon farming, hopefully in terms of community employment projects as well, because we really do need to get the brothers off the couch, back to work. And until the private sector’s ready to pick them up, I think the Crown recognised the obligation to start making that happen now.
Okay, if you could nominate one project that you could get funding from this fund from, what would it be?
Harawira: I’d have to say, right off the bat, carbon farming’s a good one, because it’s a simple one and it’s a long-term one. It’s about planting, but not just for planting so you can chop them all down again in 25 years. It gives us the opportunity to slowly regenerate native forest in a way that Maori want to see but also start creating a credit stream for whanau for years and years and years to come. It gives work immediately.
Sound like a good idea, Mr Jones?
Jones: Yeah, well, the Prime Minister has already identified that a significant percentage of the trees of the billion tree figure are going to be native. And I was in Kahungunu Heretaunga two days ago. They tell me they’ve got 200,000 hectares over a 10-year period, both the local council and the iwi. I think the most important thing, though, for people to bear in mind is that we are inverting the model of regional development. This is something that’s never been tried since the days of Rogernomics, i.e. the Crown is going to set aside a pot of capital, and it’s going to intervene in cases where there’s egregious market failure or business just no longer has either the tolerance or the interest in picking up the pieces.
I want to talk to you about the trees. You’ve raised the trees. So this is planting a billion trees?
Jones: Correct.
So how many will that be a day that you’re going to be planting?
Jones: Okay, so the programme—
How many new ones?
Jones: Yeah, yeah. The programme is with the industry, okay? The industry already plants 50 million trees a year. They want to expand, but they can’t expand until we improve the ETS signals and do some work with tax policy. That’s happening at the moment. They tell me that in partnership with the Crown, they could go beyond 60-65 million a year, and the Crown will pick up the slack. So you’re talking about another million hectares over nine to 10 years.
Well, if you do the sums, it’s 135,000 trees a day on top of what’s already been planted, because as you’ve identified, half of these have already been planted. So how much is that going to cost the government?
Jones: Well, we’d allocated a sum of between 185 million and 200 million at $1000 a hectare. Now, it depends—
So that’s coming out of your billion-dollar regional development fund?
Jones: The key things are coming out of the billion-dollar fund. Obviously, we hope to be around for nine to 10 years, but that's up to the voters. But the costs associated with the forestry scheme, it's also a matter of training our young people. I'm quite hard-line in getting our young men and women up to work again, but I accept that you can't just invest in industry without investing in people, and Kaitaia's screaming out for the investment in people, not just in industry.
Mr Reti, does that sound like a good idea? Or what would the one project that you would spend some of that billion dollars on be?
Reti: Sure. I don't think this is a mystery for Northland. The Tai Tokerau Action Plan defined what the number-one economic driver for Northland is. And that had a range of stakeholders. It had every council on it. It had Northland Bank leading it. And they said the number-one economic imperative for Northland is four lanes from Auckland to Whangarei. There's no mystery or surprise in this. That would be what I would put up as the number-one economic driver that a fund like this might be able to be used for.
So build a bigger road?
Harawira: Nah. I mean, we know how to get to Auckland, and we know how to get home again. Getting that rail line going up to Whangarei is going to bring millions of tons of products in and out of the Whangarei area, which is going to generate massive growth for people on an ongoing basis. You build a four-lane highway, all you're doing is creating more space for people to go faster. We don't need to go faster; we need jobs.
I'll talk about infrastructure a bit more in a minute. But, Mr Jones, is the tree-planting scheme going to be work for the dole?
Jones: Well, my personal preference is that you need the carrot and the stick. It's not government's policy to embrace the work for the dole, and I have been shot down by my own iwi people for being too harsh in that regard.
But what do you think?
Jones: What I think is that there's pockets of multigeneral dysfunctionalism. And the reality is people need a carrot to re-enter to workforce, but I'm Old Testament; you get up, and you start to look after yourself as well. And if you don't, don't expect me to give you a constant handout.
So Old Testament — is that code for Work for the Dole? Do you support Work for the Dole?
Jones: I must confess I don't have the support of my cabinet ministers for that. But I'm from Awanui, Kaitaia, and it pains me to see what's happened Kaikohe, Kawakawa, Kaitaia and Awanui. And in a funny way, we've contributed to that in the sense that we've all gone along and allowed an economic model to prevail, really, for 10 to 15, 20 years, and it has left a lot of our rangatahi on the side.
Are you going to try and coax them around? You keen to make it happen?
Jones: Yeah. Well, I think I should be judged not only on GDP, industry-wise, but on the growth of the people. There's a great saying out of the north — 'He tangata, he tangata' — 'The people, the people.' And I think that's a standard that politicians should be held accountable for.
So if you had your way, you would have Work for the Dole?
Jones: If I had my way, people that are on the benefit with some additional assistance — some additional assistance — they should be compelled to get up and get ready and go to work. That is my personal preference.
So why do your colleagues have a problem with it? And who in particular?
Jones: Oh, well, I mean, I'm the Minister of Economic Development; I'm not the Minister of Social Welfare and Training. You know my style. I'm upfront. And that type of robustness, I think, is what's needed in the north. We don't need an uber-liberal approach in the north; we need common sense.
Hone Harawira, do we need Work for the Dole in the north?
Harawira: Well, I mean, let's take it away from the Work for the Dole. We need to get the brothers, mainly, off the couch, engaged in work in their community if there's no private work. If that means getting them working on their maraes, working on their schools, working on their sports parks, working on anything that gets them engaged in the process of work so when opportunities like forestry or like the rail line or like anything else come up, they're ready for work, then it's got to be a good idea. The fact that anybody is talking about it as the Work for the Dole — I don't think Shane's talking about that, necessarily. I know that's not what his government's talking about. I don't even think that what National was talking about.
But that is what the minister's talking about — Work for the Dole.
Harawira: But at the end of the day— No, no, I think he said Work for the Dole with an extra bit of financial assistance. And when you look back at the community employment projects that we used to have when unemployment was as high then as it is now, it was very much the dole plus enough financial assistance to make it worthwhile getting them out of bed, getting engaged in the process of work. Once people start to do that, they start to believe that they can be better than just that, and then the world opens up for them, opportunities open up for them. We are in a bad way up here in the Far North because we've been generations now without that kind of working mentality within our whanau. We have to bring that back, and any way that we can do that is going to be a positive.
Mr Reti, you have said that unemployment is now down to 6.6% in Northland. And, in fact, you've issued a challenge this week to the government to do better, you say. So what target do you think that the new government should meet? 6.6% unemployment now. What should it be?
Reti: Yeah, that's the best we've had in Northland for two years. 6.6% is a great starting point. Round about 4.6, 4.1, the rest of New Zealand. How about we were the same as the rest of New Zealand? That's a jolly good target. So this is a starting point. If they can do better than 6%, 6.6, well done, them. They'll have our congratulations and our thanks. But there's the benchmark right there. We're passing the baton on to a new government at 6.6% in Northland. Do better than that and you have our 'Thanks. Well done.'
Jones: Yeah, but those figures are fictitious. Go to where there's a high density of Maori families; it's a lot bloody higher than 6%. Northland as a part of New Zealand has a huge Maori population. Now, Shane, we can describe these things away with generic figures, but you come with me to your own people, and you'll see that it's in double figures — consistently high levels of unemployment — young men, young women. I happen to believe it feeds gross lifestyles; it often leads to suicide. So I don't care what label is applied to me; if there is a way through this fund to grow industry and grow people and have them in the workforce, it's one of the most liberating things that I'll do. And I'm very focused on our Maori population in these blighted areas, such as the Far North.
But people need to measure your progress in some way. So there you have it — a suggestion that you should aim for the national rate of unemployment, and, in fact, Grant Robertson is aiming for 4% unemployment. So do you undertake to achieve that goal in Northland too?
Jones: Oh yeah, of course. We absolutely want to see a decrease of unemployment—
To that 4% in Northland? Is that realistic?
Jones: Well, who knows if it's realistic? We've got to drive in that direction. But, Lisa, I'm not going to let this issue go away. Go to the areas where there is a densely domiciled Maori population. It's a lot higher than 4% or 6%. And I'll take you to parts around Kaikohe and other parts of the Far North. I'm telling you it is 25%, it is 30%.
So is 4% unachievable, then?
Jones: No, I don't think 4% is unachievable. But so much of it is going to depend on the vagaries of international economics, not just a billion-dollar fund.
So within what time frame do you think it would be achievable to get to 4% unemployment in Northland?
Jones: Oh, no, no, no. I'm going to get my projects up and going with the officials, with private sector input, working in partnership with industry leaders and civic leaders. And as we training people and make them work-ready, then unemployment will come down.
Are you frightened to set a goal?
Jones: No. No, no, I think if Mr Robinson has identified that's our 4% goal, I would say to everyone that's a laudable goal for the north, but do not overlook the character of the north. You wouldn't be here if you didn't think that there were some stubborn issues, not the least of which is the cop-out rate amongst our young Maori men. And I hope to turn that around.
Hone Harawira, you have said that Mana has got bigger fish to fry than being in Parliament at the moment. So I'm wondering — do you think that traditional politics is failing this region. And if it is, how do you turn that round?
Harawira: Look, when I'm in Parliament, I talk about the things that I think should be done. When I'm outside of Parliament, I do the things I think need to be done — open the curtains, the Tai Tokerau Rugby League, supporting guys like— I think you're going to be interviewing Ricky Houghton. Those kinds of initiatives which are helping people in really, really difficult situations get close to zero, because a lot of them are already way below the zero line. Our job is to try to get them up to that point. At that point, they are then ready to start becoming something else. So we're a long way away from that. We have kids that are genuinely starving. We have rampant diseases which could be fixed — and Dr Reti would be able to confirm that. We've got homelessness all over the Tai Tokerau. We've got unemployment at huge levels. Suicide, as Shane keeps talking about — we've got some good initiatives coming out of the north as well. Talking about those kids from Taipa — what it is they're trying to do. So it's not just about economic development, and as Shane's rightly pointed out, it's about that at that level and about growing people as well. And in the growing people, we need to focus not just on those referred to us by the police or by the schools or by anybody else, but those who are in such a desperate need that they don't talk to anybody. And there's too many of them out there, so, yeah, that's the area that I want to focus on — that at that level and community employment at a level so that from here, they've got one step up before they move up to the next level.
Jones: I think the challenge, Lisa, which is what we're doing different from the last nine years and, indeed, different from what Helen Clark and them did— I mean, Helen and Jim Anderton had a regional development focus, but they sent Jim around the country without a penny in his purse. We have, through the coalition formation, taken a stance — we are going to dedicate capital to the regions. Now, this is quite unheard of over the last 25 years. Generally, we've relied on local government or private sector to treat it as a private investment, but we've come to the point that there are some areas that the public needs to partner with private and make it happen.
Well, the thing is — when you say that you've got the money, but already 800 million for a rail project in Northland. The trees, they're going to cost money. You've ticked off pretty much on the Opotiki wharf. Have you spent your first billion already?
Jones: It's not actually going to be that easy to allocate a billion dollars a year, the officials have told me. And one of the parting ministers did warn me that officialdom's feet is covered in treacle, so it'll be a sluggish process, but the reality is in order to defend it to the level of the auditor-general and the public taxpayers, over a three-year period, we're going to have no shortage of projects. But unless they're robust, they're not going to be able to fly.
We're almost out of time, but I want to as you, Mr Reti — your government supported boot camp. Is that something you would like to see this government continue with?
Reti: If I can just come back. Shane's very correctly spoken about the public and private working together in forestry. My question would be — if we frame that as a PPP, is it also going to apply to education? Is it also going to apply to health? Because we're hearing in both of those instances it's not. So what makes forestry special that it gets to be a PPP-type format?
Mr Jones?
Jones: Forestry is special because Nick Smith committed New Zealand under the name of the National Party to a figure in 2030 that has a value of a $34 billion deficit — 200-million-ton carbon deficit. Unless we pay that bill, it's going to cost you and I $32 billion. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment said the best transitional thing New Zealanders and their government can do is plant trees. That's why trees are different.
Okay, we're going to have to leave it there. One-word answer.
Reti: To answer your question, I did army time, so, yes, I'm supportive of boot camp.
All right. Thank you for joining us. That's Shane Reti, Shane Jones and Hone Harawira.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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