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Dame Nellie for PM

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Prime Minister Jenny Shipley is taking a leaf from the late Dame Nellie Melba's songbook, in launching yet another so-called Heartland Tour in Blenheim today. At least, this was how Labour's rural affairs spokesperson Jim Sutton saw the enterprise.

"Dame Nellie kept engaging in repeated 'final, farewell tours'. I want to know, will Mrs Shipley's audiences be encouraged to sing along to the chorus of 'so long, it's been good to know you'?"

Mr Sutton recalled that Mrs Shipley had last week in Southland advocated less government help for provincial areas. Obviously, she is applying the same approach to depressed regional economies that she applied when she was Minister of Social Welfare - she helped the beneficiaries by slashing their benefits.

"Since then, the National Party has set about helping rural New Zealand by closing schools and slashing health services. No wonder rural voters are deserting the National Party in droves."

Mr Sutton said so-called heartland tours by millionaire National MPs dressed up in swandries or oilskin parkas, giving out blue balloons, would not turn it around for National. What rural voters were responding to was Labour's commitment of government support for rural social services and local economic development assistance.

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