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Positive vibe as region recovers

‘Now is the time to take stock and do a more strategic review of regional development’: Finance Minister

RETURNING the first East Coast Labour MP since Janet Mackey will put the region at the “heart of government”, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

Just four days after the Prime Minister visited Gisborne, Mr Robertson was in the city yesterday to speak to Gisborne Chamber of Commerce, local businesses and party supporters.

He told The Gisborne Herald there was a general feeling of positivity in the region’s business community.

“Regions have been affected differently due to Covid and what I got out of the meeting with the Chamber of Commerce and Universal Engineering is that there’s a good amount of work in the region.

“There’s a lot of optimism but they are also looking to continue with two things.

“One is the partnership between central government and the regions, and we have seen more of that with this government, with Tairawhiti being one of our surge regions for the Provincial Growth Fund, so we talked a lot about what are the next steps.

“The second bit, which we really picked up from Universal, is having the confidence to take on apprentices.”

Mr Robertson said Universal Engineering employed more staff now than it had before the Covid lockdown, thanks to its ability to take on apprenticeships, partly funded by the Government.

The company had also picked up 6500 hours of work in the construction of the new PGF-funded Opotiki wharf.

The Government’s focus post-election would be to ensure PGF-funded projects were implemented.

“Opotiki is one that’s well under way but there’s a number of others yet to get going, so there’s a bit of an implementation job to do.”

Mr Robertson said the past three years had shown the importance of taking a strategic approach to regional projects.

“Now I want to sit down with local government, business and iwi and say ‘OK what’s the sequence of how this region develops? How do we make sure our investments are going towards industries that are going to create new jobs, high-paying jobs?’

“We’ve set aside $200 million in our plan to do the groundwork with the regions, which we can then use for the next stage.

“Now is the time to take stock and do a more strategic review of regional development.”

On top of that, infrastructure spending such as the 3 Waters project would deliver $750m to support revitalising water infrastructure in the regions.

On the issue of Covid recovery, Mr Robertson said the Government had prioritised simplicity when it came to the tax system, rather than trying to implement complicated reform, or introducing a capital gains tax, or lowering GST on food.

“We are in the grip of uncertainty as a planet and nobody can tell you right now whether we are in the middle or at the end.

“We made the call it wasn’t the time for a major shake-up of the tax system. Obviously we have lifted that top rate to 39 cents — that’s 2 percent of taxpayers — and we think that gives us, across the four-year forecast period, about $2.5 billion extra.

“That’s really important to make sure we can continue funding education and health and start to bring debt down again.

As an example of a better way of helping families, Mr Robertson pointed to the work the Government had done with its Families Package, which made solo parent families $100 a week better off.

Mr Robertson also spoke to supporters of East Coast candidate Kiri Allan, praising their “extraordinary” campaign efforts.

“Kiri is leaving nothing on the table here. She’s running a great campaign. It’s a big seat, it’s a big ask and I think Kiri has done an amazing job. Come election night, I’ll be looking at the East Coast booths.

“We’re not at all complacent but if we are back in government, having a voice for the East Coast there at the heart of government, having the mandate to represent the Coast, just takes it up a step.”

Ms Allan said she was not taking anything for granted but should she be elected there would be much greater resources available to her.

“We want this region to be represented at the heart of government and we are doing everything we can to do that.

“We’ve worked really hard over the past three years to earn the trust and confidence.

“We’ve seen the presence of our Prime Minister, our Finance Minister investing in our region, so we’ve thrown our all into it.”