Politically, things have changed for the first time in nine years.
This has led to a brief moment of uncertainty in a few areas of society. Often uncertainty and change are met with trepidation, but I don’t believe there is any reason to worry; in fact quite the opposite – opportunity for significant provincial growth has been provided by a government for the first time in memory.
First and foremost, Finance Minister Grant Robertson has signed up to a set of five Budget Responsibility Rules that promise fiscal prudence, including managed debt reduction. So don’t expect money to flow recklessly or to see unrestrained growth in the State sector (in fact one of the first things we are addressing is the huge growth in State sector CEO salaries).
The one big difference in economic management between what National promised and what the Labour-NZ First coalition Government will do is how we raise money through taxes and how we spend money in order to ensure community health and wellbeing. In essence, National had promised tax cuts and we have promised investment. So what does this mean for Hawke’s Bay? Well, that depends.
Under the Coalition Agreement with New Zealand First, we have created a $1 billion per year regional economic development fund. Included in this is the provision to plant a billion trees over ten years.
This is a fully contestable fund, which is about supporting economic and social development across regional New Zealand. How successful we are at accessing this fund will depend on how ambitious we are as a region. It is, in my view, that simple.
We are off to a great start, and for this I give credit to CEO James Palmer and his staff and councillors at the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. Where I have been critical of the HBRC in the past, I am now of the opinion that they are one of the most forward-thinking and innovative regional authorities in the country when it comes to land management.
The HBRC has identified 250,000 hectares that would be better planted in trees than left in poor quality farm land (around 10 million tonnes of silt from eroding land flows into Hawke Bay every year). This equates to around 250,000,000 trees. A quarter of what Minister Jones is required to plant. Working with the Government in a proactive way will ensure that we get the funding necessary to ensure a huge afforestation programme that will provide employment and opportunities for decades to come.
The Regional Economic Development Fund is also available for local businesses and projects that create wealth and wellbeing. Again, if our companies, organisations and councils can come up with innovative ideas to create wealth in a way that meets the requirements of the Fund then they will have the ability to partner with this government in a way that allows them to realise their ambitions.
The Regional Economic Development fund is not, however, the only way in which Hawke’s Bay communities will benefit. Further investment in policing resource (1,800 across the country over three years) will see a significant increase in police in our suburbs.
As Police Minister, I do not have the ability to direct resources into any specific geographic area, but what I can say is that our commitment to rebuild our community policing resources, as well as our organised crime squads, will see a concentration on ‘Prevention First’ and a focus on completely disrupting the drugs supply chain at every point. In effect, this means going after the gangs; both at international level and within our communities.
For me, the measure of policing success is not based around increases or decreases in crime statistics, it’s whether people feel safer in their homes, have increased confidence in our police, and if police internal measures around job satisfaction improve.
One area that we know must improve is the mental health and addiction area. It is why Health Minister David Clark has launched a very high-powered inquiry into the state of our mental health system with a view to implementing significant improvement. While again, it is difficult to determine the exact outcome, what we do know is that services will improve to the point where those at difficult times in their lives will have the ability to access services necessary to address their issues. Most important.
In my Small Business portfolio there are a number of initiatives that will drive productivity and increase efficiency if business owners choose to adapt and adopt. Key initiatives like e-invoicing, new business journeys and business.govt.nz provide the tools to improve business practice and, therefore, profitability.
But one initiative more than any will improve the lives and relieve the stress for small business owners: under my Revenue portfolio we are introducing an alternative to the loathed provisional tax regime with a pay-as-you-go system.
In conclusion, there will be significant change in the way that this government invests in education and social services, drives productivity increases and seeks to improve the lives of those who live in the regions.
Many of this government’s initiatives will be implemented directly and we will see the consequences in our communities as the education system is improved and health funding restored. Whereas other initiatives, like forestry, require us to be innovative and engaged and compete for the, literally, millions of dollars available for regional economic development.
So let’s get on with ensuring Hawke’s Bay is the best place in the country to set up and grow a business. We have provided the settings; it’s up to you to take up the initiatives. Let’s go hard.
Napier MP Stuart Nash serves in Cabinet as Minister of Fisheries, Police, Revenue, and Small Business.