David Clark versus Steven Joyce on “regions are withering”

In Parliament Dunedin North MP David Clark questioned Minister of Economic Development Steven Joyce about problems in the regions with a “two speed economy” and bad news on employment.

There is a lot of concern being expressed about problems facing the regions, especially in Dunedin after a number of job losses. This was promoted by the announcement that most of the Invermay agricultural research centre may be moved north to Lincoln.

Joyce talked up positives for the regions, claiming GDP growth, but the feeling in Dunedin is that times are tough, especially employment difficulties. The ODTcontinues the bad news today:

Jobs online with health moves

Dunedin could lose more jobs under moves to centralise health board finance, procurement and administration jobs.

But the ODT also puts forward Joyce’s counter:

Govt doing plenty: Joyce

The Government was doing plenty to encourage economic growth in Dunedin, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said in Parliament yesterday.

Here is the video and transcript of the questions and answers in Parliament.

Question 12: Dr David Clark to the Minister for Economic Development

Does he agree with Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull that “Central government needs to understand we can’t have a … two-speed economy where Christchurch and Auckland are ripping ahead and the rest of the regions are withering”; if not, why not

Draft transcript:

12. Regional Economies—Employment and Development

[Sitting date: 08 August 2013. Volume:692;Page:16. Text is subject to correction.]

12. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he agree with Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull that “Central government needs to understand we can’t have a … two-speed economy where Christchurch and Auckland are ripping ahead and the rest of the regions are withering”; if not, why not?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) No, because the facts do not support His Worship’s hypothesis. If you look at the most recent economic data that we have for GDP in New Zealand’s regions over the last few years, the fastest-growing regions are, in fact—

Hon Bill English : Taranaki.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : —Taranaki, for example, the West Coast, Otago, and Southland. Another key indicator of the economic health of regional New Zealand is that a number of regions have lower unemployment than Auckland, including Waikato, Taranaki, the Bay of Plenty, the West Coast, and Southland.

Dr David Clark : Given his view that regions should make the most of their local resources, why is closing the Invermay Agricultural Centre, which the Dunedin mayor calls a “foolish, short-sighted, destructive” decision, a good idea when the research centre is essential to growing Otago’s knowledge economy?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : AgResearch is considering its view at the moment, but, of course, I would probably defer more to the AgResearch directors than, perhaps, to Mr Cull in this instance. It is important that the Government does invest hugely in high-level science and education in the Otago region. For example, Otago University, which is an excellent university, attracts the second-largest level of funding of any university in the country—$277 million of taxpayer funding every year. It is very important to invest strongly in the Otago region, but I would point out that that is exactly what the Government is doing.

Dr David Clark : How does this week’s announcement that the number of unemployed in Otago is at the highest level in more than 20 years square with his statement that regions “need public institutions that make sound infrastructure investment decisions, administer fit-for-purpose regulation and provide services that improve local circumstances.”?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Well, it is very important that we work with the regions to get the absolute fastest economic development possible, and that is why the Government is involved in a large number of regional economic development initiatives in Otago. I will not read the full list again for the member, but I will give him a couple of examples, because I think that it is very important. The Government is investing $9 million directly into fast-growing Dunedin companies and in research and development grants to help them develop their businesses, and they are growing businesses that are continuing. We have 200 Dunedin and Otago companies—200—with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise services, we fund and support the start-up Incubator in Dunedin, and we provide capability development vouchers for a range of Dunedin businesses through the Otago Chamber of Commerce and Industry. These are very significant investments that are being made in that region.

Dr David Clark : What does the Minister say to the 112 former Hillside employees, the 73 employees of New Zealand Post, the 85 employees at the Invermay Agricultural Centre, the 460 employees at Presbyterian Support Otago, the 10 employees at PGG Wrightson, the 30 employees at Delta Utility Services, the 25 employees at O’Brien Group, and the 192 employees at Summit Wool Spinners, who have all lost their jobs, alongside countless Government officials, and to the 64 employees at Bradken, who have had their hours reduced to 4 days a week; and how is this indicative of public institutions that support strong regional development?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Well, I think the member has made a list, definitely, of some of the people who have either lost their jobs or are in difficult situations in Dunedin, but I am just not sure why he is talking down his own economy. Actually, there is any number of companies that are growing in Dunedin city. I have visited a number of them. ADInstruments, for example, which was on the TV last night, is growing dramatically. Fisher and Paykel Appliances is investing more in research and development. The member can focus on the negatives if he likes, but the challenge is to encourage investment and growth in new companies in Dunedin, and that is what we are doing.

Dr David Clark : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the highest number of Otago unemployed in 20 years, I seek leave to table a picture—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption ] Order! I do not see that that in any way helps inform members of the House.

Dr David Clark : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a picture expressing frustration. There is a huge amount—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member—[Interruption ] Order! The member is now challenging my ruling.