The Government needs to turn its five days of korero with the Northland people into action, and commit to continuing the concrete steps National were taking to grow jobs and wages in the region, National Party Economic Development Spokesperson Simon Bridges says.
“Two years ago the National Government, local councils, iwi and businesses jointly developed and launched the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Development Action Plan, which came up with 58 tangible actions across key industries such as tourism, forestry and horticulture to grow the Northland economy,” Mr Bridges says.
“Despite spending a lot of time talking about his good intentions for Northland, the Minister for Regional Economic Development is yet to commit to continuing to progress the Action Plan.”
The Action Plan is already delivering benefits for the region. Within the first year multiple projects to support the economy had been progressed, including the establishment of the Māori Forestry Collective for Tai Tokerau, funding for the Hundertwasser Art Centre and the opening of Pou Heranga Tai – The Twin Coast Cycle Trail
“As usual, Mr Jones is all talk and no action,” Mr Bridges says.
“Already he is backing down from his flagship policy to plant one billion trees over ten years. In his latest statements he has said just five million extra trees will be planted in the first year – meaning it would take 200 years to reach his goal.
“The current approach is having an impact – 14,000 new jobs have been created in the last five years, and the number of people in work is the most ever. We need to keep growing this number, which is why the Government should commit to the actions in the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Development Action Plan.
“The Government needs to turn its good intentions for the people of Northland into concrete actions. It is vitally important that the new Government commit to continuing the important projects of the Action Plan, to further support the Northland community.”
The vacuum that is the new Government’s immigration policy must be filled so it stops choking off regional growth opportunities, National Party Immigration Spokesperson Simon Bridges says.
“We are seeing story after story around regional New Zealand that businesses can’t find enough workers,” Mr Bridges says.
“Just in recent days, businesses in Nelson, Queenstown and Mid Canterbury amongst others have all put up their hands saying they can’t find staff.
“Yet there is real confusion on the Government’s immigration policy and whether it will help fill the labour shortages in regional New Zealand.
“This week the Immigration Minister has again muttered something about regional skills lists, yet he’s still saying Labour will cut immigration by 20-30,000 a year.
“And again, no detail on either statement.
“Small and medium sized businesses can’t grow in a vacuum. They need certainty and this is another area where the Government isn’t providing any.
“We are seeing business confidence around the country suffer under this Government and the number one cause is policy uncertainty.
“They need to step up and make some strong positive decisions on immigration policy for regional New Zealand and remove at least one of the handbrakes on confidence and growth in our provinces.”
The new Government’s target to plant a billion trees in ten years is rapidly turning into a fanciful mirage, National Party MPs Simon Bridges and Nick Smith say.
“We learnt on Friday that Regional Development Minister Shane Jones is now hoping to plant just five million extra trees this year,” Regional Development Spokesperson Mr Bridges says.
“At 5 million trees a year, it would take 200 years to achieve a billion trees. I know Mr Jones is not the hardest worker but stretching a ten year target out to 200 years would be an impressive under-achievement even for him.”
Forestry Spokesperson Nick Smith says this back down on the flagship forestry policy is hugely embarrassing and damaging to the Government’s economic and environmental credibility.
“The Government initially promised 100 million extra trees per year. This was then cut in half by including 50 million trees already being planted each year. The latest back down further reduces the new planting planned for this year to only five million,” Mr Smith says.
“The new target for 2018 is now no different from what is already happening. An average of 55 million trees were planted each year over the last seven years, increasing to 62.5 million in 2016, the last year of full data. The Minister’s new promise of 55 million trees being planted this year is barely any promise at all.”
Mr Bridges says this change in target is on top of plans to change the overseas investment rules so the values of forest investments drop significantly. That will only decrease forest plantings.
“We are three months in and not a single tree has been planted - so the Government is around 24 million trees behind target already.
“The Labour-led Government is already getting a reputation for lots of talk and no follow-through in regional New Zealand. Labour MPs at their Caucus this weekend need to think about what they’re actually going to do for the regions.
“As with Mr Jones’ Work for the Dole scheme and the Government’s unclear plans for the Opotiki Harbour and regional immigration, this is another policy that is a slogan without anything behind it. It is simply a mirage,” Mr Bridges says.
National’s petition to extend the Waikato Expressway from Cambridge to Tirau and from Cambridge to the Kaimai Range was launched today, announced MPs for Tauranga and Hamilton East, Simon Bridges and David Bennett.
“This is one of a series of petitions National is launching aimed at saving regional highway projects that are at risk of being canned by the new Government,” says Mr Bridges.
“Strengthening the link between the Bay of Plenty and Hamilton is fundamental to economic growth. Tauranga is New Zealand’s main port and Hamilton provides many services such as health and education to the south Waikato.
“Getting rid of National’s expressway extensions would put a dampener on the great growth we have seen in Tauranga, the wider Bay of Plenty, Hamilton, and wider Waikato.”
Mr Bennett says it would also mean longer, less reliable journey times and more deaths and serious injuries. “No one has ever died on one of National’s four lane highways given their safety features. The further improvements we were planning would save many lives.”
“National knows that developing infrastructure is essential for the regions to build on their economic growth. When we realised that the Government wasn’t going to prioritise these projects, we knew we had to stand up and be counted. We want to show the Government that the regional communities are behind these projects.
“The people in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty have great drive and ambition; we just need the Government to support it.
“As Government prioritises light rail in Auckland, our petition aims to show them that the Waikato and Bay of Plenty refuse to be left behind.”
The petition can be found here.
Shane Jones needs to get off the couch and do some real work on the Provincial Growth Fund, National Party Economic Development Spokesman Simon Bridges says.
“It’s now obvious he hasn’t done any work and he’s missed all his own deadlines,” Mr Bridges says.
“On 9 November he told us that the full content, structure and character of the fund will be dealt with conclusively in the Budget Policy Statement. Yet when that came out there was nothing substantive in it at all.
“On 9 December Grant Robertson told the House that the HYEFU and the Budget Policy Statement would contain ‘significant certainty about our spending plans’.
“Yet when those documents came out, the only mention of the billion dollar a year Provincial Growth Fund is a specific fiscal risk flag from Treasury, and they are a dime a dozen with this Government.
“The Finance Minister says he’d get us an advent calendar to countdown to the HYEFU. We haven’t even got that.
“It’s clear the work simply hasn’t been done and now Minister Jones will be heading into his long Christmas break.
“In the meantime the Provincial Growth Fund sits idle, and he’s already nearly 15 million trees behind his first year’s tree planting target.
“So far, all we’ve had from Shane Jones is the billion trees that isn’t a billion trees, the work for the dole that isn’t work for the dole, and the Opotiki Harbour project with no costings.
“He’s also spent a lot of time talking about getting his nephews off the couch. Perhaps he should lead by example and get himself off the couch first.”
Time is running out for the coalition Government to get the America’s Cup bases up and running for the Cup Defence in Auckland, National’s Economic Development Spokesperson Simon Bridges says.
“Economic Development Minister David Parker needs to get his act together pronto,” Mr Bridges says.
“Council and Government officials seem to be in a stand-off with the Prime Minister and Mr Parker and it is not difficult to see why.
“Mr Parker has said on these matters that he ‘doesn’t want to be dictatorial’ but it seems his high handed approach in the face of both Council and Government officials who have differing views to him is causing delays that may well jeopardise the running of a successful Cup event in Auckland.
“It’s also very surprising that no estimate of costs to Government of the America’s Cup are included in the Treasury’s Half-Yearly update. Does the Government really not have any idea yet what it is up for?
“While it may feel like there is plenty of time, the reality is that with planning, designing, consenting and building infrastructure we are well into the eleventh hour before midnight. There will come a point when decisions will be too late and that would be unforgivable.
“I was conscious as Economic Development Minister in the previous Government how tight the timeline was and this was going to be the top priority for me to sort prior to Christmas.
“Now we are heading for decisions in all likelihood a couple of months into the New Year. Officials are obviously tearing their hair out with all the time delays. It’s time for the Government to make a decision.”
The much talked about Opotiki Harbour Development is the first big test for the Government’s provincial growth fund, National Party Economic Development Spokesperson Simon Bridges says.
“Since the formation of the Coalition Government, Regional Development Minister Shane Jones has repeatedly named just one particular individual project, the Opotiki Harbour Development, as an example of what he’d invest in,” Mr Bridges says.
“The only problem is that official advice earlier this year suggested the Opotiki Development would cost two to three times the original $50 million envisaged by the project partners.
“That means the cost to Government could be far greater than the $20-$30 million envisaged, and the expected 220 jobs could end up costing more than half a million dollars per job to create.
“At that rate, the whole $1 billion provincial growth fund will only create 2,000 jobs. In the last two years, 245,000 jobs were created under the previous Government.
“The previous Government directed officials to work to improve the economics of the project by reducing the construction costs, increasing the revenue from the project, or sourcing additional funding from other parties.
“Mr Jones must know all this yet he continues to talk the Harbour Development project up, suggesting a lack of concern about good process and cost to taxpayers. He is on the record saying anything to do with Harboursides is likely to ‘get a tick from me’.
“Already the fund, a key coalition plank, has struck controversy with the so-called Billion Trees Planting Programme when it was revealed that Government would actually only seek to achieve half of this target.
“The question that must be asked is whether this provincial growth fund will have a robust defensible process for allocating taxpayers’ money, or whether it is a huge political slush fund.
“This is $3 billion of hard-earned taxpayers’ money over three years. It can’t be run like Shane Jones’ personal fiefdom.”
The Coalition Government has made history as the first to vote against a closure motion on its own Bill, as its organisation of Parliament sinks to new lows, Shadow Leader of the House Simon Bridges says.
“Recent scenes in the House border on farce. You have the Government – including senior Ministers - filibustering its own legislation because it has so little for Parliament to debate and wants to avoid the embarrassment of the House being left with nothing to do.
“It even went to the extreme step of voting against several motions to end debate on its own Bill because it so desperately needs to fill time – something so extraordinary the Parliamentary Library cannot find a precedent for it.
“Clearly Parliamentary drafters are still struggling to turn the Government’s intentions into legislation, something the Prime Minister referred to on Monday when she admitted there was a lag in getting bills into the House.
“This was confirmed in today’s Business Statement which said the House will sit under Urgency from next Thursday but only one new Bill was mentioned – cancelling tax cuts which would have seen someone on the average wage $1060 a year better off.
“This leaves the House in the unacceptable position of wasting time on straight-forward legislation – carried over from the previous Government – all so the Government can ram through controversial legislation in the lead-up to Christmas under the cover of Urgency.
“And to top it off the Speaker has reprimanded the Government for failing to adequately answer Written Questions from Opposition MPs.
“When the Deputy Prime Minister is asking for clarification of what is meant by “a meeting” in order to avoid answering a direct question then that’s hardly surprising – and it’s definitely not the transparency that was promised.
“The Coalition needs to get its act together. It’s meant to be running the country but it is struggling just to run Parliament. New Zealanders deserve better.”
Comments from Jacinda Ardern along with supporters of the Coalition Government this morning show that Labour and New Zealand First are already at odds on the Work for the Dole scheme, National Party Economic Development Spokesperson Simon Bridges says.
“This happened more quickly than we thought,” Mr Bridges says. “Ms Ardern’s comments this morning are completely at odds with those of Shane Jones yesterday.
“He’s in favour of work for the dole, she wants a training programme. He wants it to be compulsory, she wants to put it in front of Cabinet, which won’t support it.
“We all know who will win. The Labour Party and the left won’t let work for the dole happen. They want to reduce work obligations, not increase them.
“This is just the latest embarrassment for Shane Jones after the billion trees target was cut in half in a couple of days.
“The question for New Zealand First is, how can they champion the regions if all their regional development policies keep getting rumbled by Labour?
“Shane Jones should stop all his bluster about work for the dole and a billion trees. It’s quite clear neither phrase actually means anything.
“It’s quite obvious that he’s already the Minister in name only. Labour is running the show.”
Shane Jones’ regional work for the dole scheme is the latest NZ First Policy to come up against the realities of working in a Labour/Greens/NZ First Coalition Government, National Party Economic Development Spokesperson Simon Bridges says.
“In an interview on TVNZ’s Q&A today, Shane Jones said he wants a work for the dole scheme to get unemployed people in the regions planting trees. However that’s anethema to Labour and the Greens who if anything want to reduce welfare obligations to be available for work,” Mr Bridges says.
“Mr Jones’ interview was a long list of things he’d like to do but Labour and the Greens won’t let him do.
“Things like irrigation schemes, the Te Kuha mine on the West Coast, gas exploration, and work for the dole schemes.
“The only thing the parties can agree on is spending more taxpayers’ money. Mr Jones admits he’s got no idea where the money comes from, but says he trusts Grant Robertson will find it.
“Six weeks in, we are still no wiser on what the provincial growth fund will do, how it will work, and who will decide.
“Meanwhile he’s already at least several million trees behind the billion tree eight ball.
“Despite Mr Jones’ comments, many parts of regional New Zealand have been performing the strongest economically that they have in 30 years.
“Mr Jones needs to stop talking in riddles and start laying out what NZ First will actually do in regional New Zealand.”