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Gisborne’s ‘growing pains’,Strong economy but PM challenged on low wages

GISBORNE was a city of two halves for Prime Minister Bill English yesterday.

The farming sector, meeting Mr English at Bushmere Arms, was receptive to his message that the Government had produced one of the best economies in the world and was capable of dealing with Gisborne’s “growing pains”.

But a subsequent visit to Kaiaponi Farms resulted in an employee questioning Mr English about the minimum wage.

Robin Lane told him workers were struggling on the minimum wage of $15.75.

Workers were powerless to negotiate in a region like Gisborne, where jobs were scarce and the minimum wage left successful companies with no incentive to raise wages.

The minimum wage had gone up by only $3.75 over the past nine years.

Mr English accepted it was a challenge to live on the minimum wage, but said the Government had made moderate increases.

Kaiaponi Farms was getting bigger, which was further evidence of a growing economy.

Mr English told the Bushmere Arms meeting that all New Zealanders — including the lower paid — would benefit from National’s management of the economy.

The Government had produced a $3 billion surplus, and unlike Labour, would not raise taxes.

“We are getting enough revenue to do the things that people want done.”

A worker on the average wage would earn an extra $1000 from April 1. That would be threatened by a Labour Government, Mr English said.

Low-paid workers in aged and disability residential care were receiving a 20 percent wage increase.

He said that savings from local roading contracts would be returned by NZTA to Gisborne District Council.

That was preceded by Mayor Meng Foon talking about the increasing number of forestry trucks on the district’s roads and Gisborne’s “growing pains”.

“Isn’t it great that you can stand up and talk about the growing pains of Gisborne,” Mr English said.

The same issue existed in provinces like Hawke’s Bay and his own Southland.

“Frankly, 10 years ago we had given up on the idea of growing. We were holding our own, not doing too bad.

“But now we’re dealing with growing pains. That is the kind of progress we can keep on making. We are up to dealing with those growing pains.”

Young farmers announcementMr English also announced young farmers would be able to buy Landcorp farms after they had worked the land for five to 10 years. The announcement was met by applause from the Bushmere Arms audience.

Mr English said Labour’s “uncertainty” over taxes would slow down the economy.

Several times during the day Mr English said Labour would treat taxpayers “like an ATM machine”.

He did not understand why opposition parties were opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would help to grow the economy, produce more jobs and lift wages.

“Labour have not made the case for a different way of managing the economy. It’s just the same old grab bag of failed policies of the past,” he said.

Mr English also went to EIT Tairawhiti, where he lunched, and to Te Wharau School.

At the school Mr English mingled with students taking part in the Bikes in Schools programme and spoke to room 10 students in the Ngahere vegetable garden.

The students were impressed to meet a prime minister.

“He’s a very good man,” said Journey Waiaraki.

“It was fun, I have never seen him before,’’ Lachyn Moeke said.

There was a light moment at Bushmere Arms. Before Mr English spoke at the meeting, owner Robin Pierson took him on a walk through the impressive gardens. Mr Pierson told him the lawns were mown by Tony Gayford, father of Clarke who is the partner of Labour leader Jacinda Ardern.

“It’s a small world,’’ Mr Pierson said.




DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Prime Minster Bill English experienced conflicting reactions on a quick one-day election campaign visit to the electorate yesterday. The farming community at Bushmere Arms applauded his announcement that young farmers would be allowed to buy Landcorp farms but casual Kaiaponi Farms’ employee Robin Lane (red top) challenged the Prime Minister about workers struggling on the minimum wage. Ms Lane’s questioning of Mr English made national media headlines. Pictures by Paul Rickard
MEDIA SCRUM: Bill English takes questions from the national media in the gardens of Bushmere Arms after addressing the farming community during his election campaign visit to Gisborne yesterday.
The PM at Te Wharau with Jodeci Matenga-Bishop, Oakley Brown-Terekia, Kaea Stewart and Rycah Maurirere-Drane.
Discussing tyhe finer points of the fruit business at Kaiaponi, Bill English is pictured with Nathan Guy and packhouse manager Jeremy Pigou.
With Social Development Minister and local MP Anne Tolley, watching Te Wharau School students enjoying their Bikes in Schools cycle track. Mr English is speaking to school principal Steve Berezowski (left).