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Joyce: Labour’s talk of regions in decline not the reality

Sunday 27 October, 2013
Joyce: Labour’s talk of regions in decline not the reality
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has told TV One’s Q+A programme that the regions are not in decline despite what Labour is saying.
Mr Joyce told deputy political editor Michael Parkin: “With the greatest respect to my dear friends in the Labour Party, they’re trying to talk this up. The reality is the regions are lifting NZ out of the GFC (Global Financial Crisis). So, regions like Taranaki, Waikato, West Coast and Southland. The West Coast has the highest average income after the housing costs of any region in the country. That’s the reality of the situation.”
He says the government’s move to promote oil and gas exploration, and the Ruataniwha dam project, which is before a board of inquiry at present, would have a “massively positive impact on Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay if they proceeded”.
“In Northland, the opportunities are similar there. There’s minerals opportunities, there’s opportunities, frankly, with the Treaty settlements that Chris Finlayson has been working very hard on, opportunities to maximise the productivity of Maori land in Northland, which is being closely worked on with the Ministry of Primary Industries and various Maori landowners in the region,” he says.
Mr Joyce says providing good infrastructure to support this regional economic investment is also vital.
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Repeated Sunday evening at 11:30pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz   
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                        Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, I guess that is the question - was it fair to give that $5 million to Team NZ?
STEVEN JOYCE - Economic Development Minister
                        Well, with the greatest respect to Dale [Williams], the reality is the reason that that goes to Team NZ is we see it as an opportunity to project NZ on the world stage in the world’s largest economy, and that’s for the benefit of all the exporters that Mr Nana talks about - is to have that opportunity to get NZ on the front page of these big newspapers in the US so that US consumers understand more about NZ. So it’s got nothing to do with the sailors, and it’s got nothing to do with the team itself. It’s got a lot to do with the investment for NZ’s profile.          
MICHAEL       But it looks like a job-creation scheme for 45 sailors.
STEVEN         Well, that’s wrong. My point is that it’s wrong, and with the greatest respect to Dale, he’s got the wrong end of the stick. Interestingly, I see also Mr Nana’s got the wrong end of the stick as well, because we all know he’s got his Labour Party sympathies, but the reality is the regions are doing better than the big cities at the moment. So, 15 out of the 16 regions grew in the population census that’s just happened. The incomes of those regions is going up. There’s lower unemployment in just about every region bar three than there is in Auckland, and Auckland gets a lower share of government spend on per head of population basis than the rest of the country. So apart from that, Mr Nana is right.
MICHAEL       And we will get to all of that. We will get to all that. And just on the America’s Cup, though, before we move on to that - Auckland. I mean, have there been any talks when it comes to job creation about maybe hosting Larry Ellison’s defence in Auckland? Is anyone having those conversations?
STEVEN         Certainly there’s interest being expressed in that, but the reality is I doubt very much. There are no signals coming out of Larry Ellison’s camp that it will move out of the US, and I wouldn’t expect it to. And I think you’ve got to chase the dreams that are achievable, and that one is not achievable. Just while you’re going back to things-
MICHAEL       But you’ve had talks with Larry Ellison-
STEVEN         No, hang on. Let me- Just a second. No, I haven’t personally.  Just going back to-
MICHAEL       But have your officials?
STEVEN         What’s that?
MICHAEL       Have officials or council members-?
STEVEN         Officials are working with Team NZ very closely on what the prospects are for doing a whole range of things, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope for that particular suggestion. What it will have is the opportunity to actually get a team if there’s an arrangement that works for the sponsors - and, let’s face it, the government is not going to be the biggest sponsor in Team NZ. The government’s going to be supporting to the extent that it’s worthwhile from NZ’s perspective in terms of our profile on the world stage, but the team’s got a lot of work to do before it will be able to be in a position to challenge next time.
MICHAEL       Let’s look at the regions. I mean, we’ve heard this idea that everyone’s losing out to Auckland and Christchurch. Why do you think even that perception is there, then, if you don’t believe it’s a problem?
STEVEN         With the greatest respect to my dear friends in the Labour Party, they’re trying to talk this up. The reality is the regions are lifting NZ out of the GFC (Global Financial Crisis). So, regions like Taranaki, Waikato, West Coast and Southland. The West Coast has the highest average income after the housing costs of any region in the country. That’s the reality of the situation.
MICHAEL       You’ve got unemployment. The reality is that the unemployment levels in Gisborne, Manawatu, Northland are increasing at an incredible rate.
STEVEN         Yeah, you’ve picked the three regions I agree with you, and we can talk about those regions, but, actually, most of the rest of the country, including the whole of the South Island and the lower North Island and Waikato and Taranaki have all got lower unemployment rates than Auckland. And also the average income across NZ is one of the lowest differences between regions as it is in anywhere in the OECD. Now, this doesn’t mean to say there isn’t work to do, so let’s come to those regions. So, in the Gisborne/Hawke’s Bay area, for example, the government is focused on a couple of things that I think would really move the dial, if they were successful, in terms of opportunities for those regions. One is the oil and gas exploration and the other is the Ruataniwha dam project which, of course, is going in front of a board of inquiry at the moment. Now, those things undoubtedly would have a massively positive impact on Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay if they proceeded, and that’s the sort of things I think we have to look at in those resource-heavy regional economies. In Northland, the opportunities are similar there. There’s minerals opportunities, there’s opportunities, frankly, with the Treaty settlements that Chris Finlayson has been working very hard on, opportunities to maximise the productivity of Maori land in Northland, which is being closely worked on with the Ministry of Primary Industries and various Maori landowners in the region. And, of course, there are other opportunities in the primary sector as well and agricultural opportunities. So all the things the government is doing-
MICHAEL       You mentioned Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki there. Like, I mean, are we too focused on this resourcing, this petroleum, the mining? Are we putting all our eggs in one basket?
STEVEN         No, I don’t believe so, Mike. The reality- No, with the greatest respect, you just need to look at the numbers. The Taranaki is the most successful region in the country over the last few years and there’s a reason for that, and if you don’t want to learn the lessons of that, then you just stick your head in the sand and forget about it. But the reality is it’s about exploring all our opportunities. Now, not every region has similar opportunities to Taranaki; they have different ones. But the government’s priority is to open up those opportunities. You mention Shannon, for example, and I think it’s very sad what’s happened to those people in Shannon. So, what’s the opportunity there? Well, Shannon is in a place called the Horowhenua, which is not far north of Wellington, and Wellington is one of our largest cities-
MICHAEL       So move to Wellington. Is that what you’re saying, Minister?
STEVEN         No, no, not at all, and don’t get me wrong. But we have a lousy transport link between Wellington and the Horowhenua. You open that up, just like we’re doing with the Waikato Expressway south of Auckland, and suddenly businesses can develop along that highway in those towns leading to the capital city. The National Party’s very focused on that. We have actually got a number of projects underway - the Kapiti Expressway, Transmission Gully - but there’s a whole lot of people on the left who have got their heads in the sand about this, and I think it’s actually very sad, because they’re focussing on the area closer to Wellington, but I want to focus on those regions in Horowhenua and the Manawatu who would have great economic benefits out of that one piece of infrastructure. That’s very important.
MICHAEL       But what is the forklift driver who was at the fellmongery in Shannon who wants to keep driving a forklift in Shannon, what does he do now that he’s got four weeks’ redundancy pay and is looking for a new job?
STEVEN         Well, it is difficult. There’s no doubt about it. But, actually, we lose a quarter of a million jobs in the NZ economy every year, and we create a quarter of a million jobs in the NZ economy every year, and there are industries that are having struggles for various reasons. So, if you take the meat and beef industry and the fellmongery which is associated with that, there’s a long-term over capacity because of a decline in numbers because the dairy industry’s growing. The dairy industry in the Manawatu, you just have to look around, is a much more successful industry currently. So those industries are rationalising. Now, you can’t stop that, and Mr Cunliffe wandering around saying you can is actually dead wrong, and most of the public know that. It’s the same with the postal industry. The reality is we’re not all offering to go out and post more letters to keep NZ Post afloat, so it actually does have to change. The opportunity there is to attract more investment and do more things that attract more investment, and the difficulty that those on the left have, particularly the Greens but also the Labour Party, is they sit there and try and pretend that’s not what’s necessary-
MICHAEL       Mr Cunliffe suggested-
STEVEN         And it is what’s necessary, and that means actually going out there and doing the sort of things - the dam projects, the oil and gas, the roading projects, the RMA reforms-
MICHAEL       What about loans to attract businesses that Mr Cunliffe talked about this week? What about incentivising businesses to come to the regions instead of setting up shop in Christchurch, Auckland or Wellington and helping them with that process?
STEVEN         In what sense? What’s he actually saying?
MICHAEL       Well, this is him-
STEVEN         What he was actually saying was no-interest loans for people that are prepared to stay in regions. Well, he’d have a huge queue of people lining up at his front door, business owners. ‘If you don’t give me a no-interest loan, Mr Cunliffe’-
MICHAEL       I think what he was saying was incentives through loans to attract business.
STEVEN         Well, with the greatest respect, it’s just not going to make any difference. What you have to do to make a difference is let people explore the economic opportunities in each region, and that means freeing up the RMA so that people can make calls. You took the West Coast there, Tony Kokshoorn on the West Coast. It’s a travesty the time it’s taken for Bathurst Resources to actually get the ability to open an open-cast mine on the West Coast right next to the Stockton Mine that would employ 225 people, and that’s why we’re making the RMA changes that we’re making so that doesn’t happen again, so those people would have jobs to go to on the West Coast. Now, that is a very significant economic opportunity. It’s finally got the go-ahead, and Labour and the Greens have been opposing it the whole way through, and that’s where there’s a real lack of understanding of what’s really required for regional development.
MICHAEL       What if we look at migration? Obviously, immigration figures now are above average. What has the government looked at to get these people to move beyond Auckland and maybe out into the regions and spread a bit of the wealth around there?
STEVEN         Well, the real opportunity in immigration at this point- And you’re right, the numbers have turned. But what’s turned is the number of people coming back from Australia. Now, there was a significant number that left, particularly from Christchurch after the earthquakes, which really knocked our emigration numbers around a bit. And what you’re now seeing is a whole lot of people coming back from Australia. The most useful thing you can do to attract people into the regions is have the jobs from investment opportunities and growth in those regions, and there’s some great things happening. So if you take, for example, the Manawatu, there’s a company that’s coming in there with the help of NZTE, which is a company called Proliant. They’re setting up a big factory in Feilding. There’s the Food HQ investment that’s going on Palmerston North. So, those are the sort of things that-
MICHAEL       But the government’s doing nothing to push people in that direction?  You’re-
STEVEN         No, no, you’re completely wrong. The government is doing a whole range of things to bring people to NZ, and it’s been hugely successful, and they’re going to all over different regions of the country. So that’s just wrong. The reality is all the employment law changes we’ve made, we’ve made it more flexible for small business to take on jobs. So, for example, the 90 day employment probationary period helps small business in regions take on jobs. And that’s worked very well, because about a third of people who have come into employment over the last year have actually had a trial period and been successful on that trial period. So that’s very positive. So all these things are things that work throughout the regions. And I tell you what doesn’t work in the regions is this whole idea that Mr Cunliffe had of kicking out the starting-out wage, of pushing up the minimum wage dramatically and of actually having a national award system which would cause problems for employers in places like Levin and Palmerston North-
MICHAEL       I think we’ll leave-
STEVEN         …who have to pay exactly the same incomes as people in Auckland, and that just doesn’t work.
MICHAEL       We’ll leave the Mr Cunliffe bashing till another day. I just want to finish, finally, on a bit of a change of topic-
STEVEN         It’s not Mr Cunliffe bashing at all. It’s actually-
MICHAEL       We’ve just talked to Colin-
STEVEN         No, no, Michael. I’m sorry, it’s really important. Because if you’re going to make regional development important, you have to look at the alternative solutions, and it’s not a case of bashing-
MICHAEL       I think we’ve heard enough of those alternative solutions. I just want to ask finally, just on Colin Craig we heard there mention he’ll be looking to stand in that Auckland seat when a new one is created. Is it time for you to become an electorate MP?
STEVEN         Oh, I’ve got heaps to do at the moment, thank you, Michael, and very focused on doing it. One last thing for you as well - you said at the start that the state asset sales was only ideology. You’re completely wrong, my friend. The reality is that it’s all about raising incomes so we don’t have to borrow from foreign markets. It’s also about improving and lifting the NZ Stock Exchange, which it is doing, and it’s also about getting better public oversight of those companies. So you really do need to drop the whole ideology line.
MICHAEL       We’ll save that for the Genesis Float then next year. Steven Joyce, thank you very much for your time.


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