$44m relief package
The Government today announced it would be pumping $44 million into Tairawhiti to keep those affected by the economic impact of the Covid-19 outbreak in work.
The funding comprises a $28 million employment redeployment package to help struggling businesses, along with an additional $16m from the Provincial Growth Fund to boost wood processing ventures here.
The employment redeployment package is funded by a $100 million national fund to help redeploy workers affected by the economic impact of Covid-19.
Forestry and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford and Employment Minister Willie Jackson made the announcement in Gisborne today.
In response to a question from The Gisborne Herald, Mr Jones said the Government had been sitting on a ready-to-go forestry bail-out for almost a month.
“In defence of Te Uru Rakau (Forestry NZ), the proposals that lie behind the $100m were ready to go about three or four weeks ago but my colleagues wanted to see it integrated into a broader package, so that we were able to make a sort-of pulse coming into the economy — to make sure it was not a scattered, provincial pulse but a comprehensive pulse,” Mr Jones said.
“Obviously those folks who are casualties of the economic and negative consequences of the virus are not just in Tairawhiti.”
Mr Jones accepted the collective decision-making process around that.
“However, I have taken it on the chin from some of the forestry commentators that it has been too slow, but the reality is it's real money, it has now been announced and it's a small part of the $12 billion (relief) package (announced earlier this week).”
He pointed out that Finance Minister Grant Robertson had already said this would not be the only economic pulse injected into the economy.
Mr Jones also appealed to forestry's “big players” to “play a big game” in maintaining work for contractors and employees.
“The most recent news out of China is that they are starting to buy logs all over again. The big firms hold a tremendous position of privilege in the forestry sector and with that privilege and social licence goes significant obligations.
“The focus today is on the individual household, the individual neighbourhood and the smaller independent contract gangs whose income has dried up.”
Today's package would allow for continued employment in Tairawhiti at a time of great uncertainty, he said.
Mr Jones said it was not a case of big shots in Wellington putting forward ideas.
“These ideas were generated and sent to my office by local stakeholders — the (Tairawhiti) Mayoral Forum.
“The Provincial Growth Fund is also stepping up to the plate with a $13m loan for WET Gisborne Ltd's wood processing production line, which will produce a laminated structural wood product at the Wood Cluster Centre of Excellence located in Gisborne.”
A $2.98 million loan towards the Wood Cluster Centre of Excellence combined heat and power plant was also confirmed.
Mr Jones said the funding was more evidence of a “social contract” he had made with the region.
“I made a promise when I launched the Provincial Growth Fund with Winston Peters in early 2018 that while my hand is on the tiller of the Provincial Growth waka, the sun will continue to rise early in Tairawhiti.
“Obviously a lot of local leadership will be needed. I have been told some people have already moved away. I am also told by local MPs there are a host of people that are hanging on to sustain their livelihoods.”
Mr Twyford said Covid-19 was having a significant impact on workers throughout New Zealand — “nowhere more so than forestry workers in Tairawhiti”.
“Forestry was one of the first industries to be seriously impacted by Covid-19 but by keeping the infrastructure and workforce of the sector intact we hope it will be one of the first to recover.”
Alternative work identified for Tairawhiti forestry workers includes local roading work — including road maintenance — hazardous tree removal, fast-tracked One Billion Trees projects, conservation activities and retraining and educational opportunities.”
The Tairawhiti package will be administered through the Provincial Development Unit in partnership with the Mayoral Forum and Gisborne District Council.
Affected workers will be referred via the Ministry of Social Development's Rapid Response Team and affected businesses.
Mr Jones said “a significant portion” of the Tairawhiti economy was linked to forestry, which accounted for 6.7 percent of regional GDP.
“The sector was just recovering from a slow-down over last winter. Many small firms used their cash reserves to get them through that and some companies are now struggling to survive.
“However, the future for the forestry sector is extremely bright and we want to ensure it is in a position to recover from the economic impacts of Covid-19 as quickly as possible,” he said.
“By redeploying workers to short-term projects we can help ensure they are available to go back to the forestry sector once it returns to normal,”
Mr Jackson said the package for Tairawhiti included training, transport, administration, assurance and other project-related services.
“The Government will be constantly reviewing all its measures to soften the impact of Covid-19 on workers and businesses.
“We want to make sure the help we are providing is getting to those people and businesses who need it the most.”