22 May 2017

What the south wants, Mr Joyce . . .

What is the south looking for from Finance Minister Steven Joyce’s election-year, surplus-enhanced Budget?

Depends who you ask, but for starters the Southland Chamber of Commerce on Monday swiftly identified six areas for the benefit, it said, not only of Southland but the country as a whole.

★ Regional development – help to fund major projects in the region to encourage tourism and business into the regions.

★ “Sensible balanced” regulation of water and the Resource Management Act: “The water issue affects some regions more than others,” said chamber chief executive Sheree Carey. “Waituna is a national treasure, but to clean up will impact Southland. So the Government should support major projects like that.”

★ More investment in infrastructure and roading projects, including around making it safer for tourists.

★ Put more money back in the hands of business so they can make investment decisions – so tax cuts.

★ Steady-as-she-goes management – “there are still some strong cross currents out there”.

★ Pay down the country debt and protect our sovereign credit ratings – “the cost of borrowing for all of us is based on that”.

Southland Mayoral Forum chairman and Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks said the forum was looking for continual support for developing new industries and job opportunities.

On top of which continued recognition of the role of immigrants in the workforce in the south, particularly in the rural area, would be important.

The previous Budget included more than $94 million for regional economic development, which Hicks said had been a good signal and useful in itself.

But “when you spread that across the country it does get a little bit thin. It’s good that there was recognition that regional development needs support and that we’re not totally focussed on Auckland,” he said.

Southland Regional Development governance group chairman Tom Campbell said past Government initiatives to address problems in Auckland had sometimes had unintended negative consequences for the regions.

“My hope would be that the Government has a balanced approach in its Budget, benefiting the regions at the same time as keeping an eye on the welfare of Auckland.”

Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell said last year’s budget announcement of $100 million for an environmental cleanup was “a good start” but there had already been something like $190 million worth of bids for that fund, which would be drip-fed over the next five years. Increasing the fund by another $100 million would be great to see.

The task of improving water quality would include considerable costs to territorial authorities needing to get their stormwater and sewerage systems up to scratch, he said.