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Something new for rural New Zealand

Labour
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Labour in government will introduce the new portfolio of Minister of Rural Affairs, says the party's agriculture spokesperson Jim Sutton.

"This minister will of run a ruler over all the legislative proposals and administrative policies of government departments to see what impact they are likely to have on rural communities," says Mr Sutton, who released Labour's rural policy today.

"The minister will be supported by a departmental policy group, because Labour understands that thriving rural industries depend on healthy rural communities.

"Anyone who doubts the importance of this need only reflect on the importance of roads to the rural economy and the obvious lack of understanding of rural realities by those who dreamed up National's various versions of road reform.

"National has lost the plot in the rural heartland," says Mr Sutton.

"Labour won't have a minister of Food, Fibre and everything else. We'll have a Minister of Agriculture who will be an unabashed advocate for our primary industries."

Mr Sutton says economic policies for the past 15 years have concentrated on reducing costs, in an effort to preserve the viability of industries undermined by declining commodity prices.

"This worked for a while, up to a point, but the strategy is clearly past its use-by date.

"Reducing incomes, reducing expenditure and increasing user-pays charges has a terrible social cost but is now delivering precious little economic benefit. It is vital that we move to a new strategy of adding value."

Other key elements of the rural policy include:
· support for producer boards, provided they retain the confidence of producers;
· a substantial upgrade of border biosecurity to prevent accidental or illegal introduction of unwanted organisms;
· a continued Government contribution to funding border control services, rather than full cost recovery;
· a new version of the FARM (Facilitating Action on Risk Management) Partnership scheme Labour introduced in 1990 to help rural communities tackle unsustainable land use issues beyond the capacity of landholders to deal with on their own;
· support for regional initiatives like Topoclimate and Crops for Southland, which identify new agricultural and horticultural opportunities;
· support for the concept of a government-accredited label for organic products;
· a statutory power for industries such as wine to enforce self-regulation on quality control;
· increased support for rural schools and health services.

The full policy is available on Labour's website www.labour.org.nz

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