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Taking the floor . . . Prime Minister Bill English addresses the audience at a South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce lunch in Timaru.

by Alexia Johnston

An attentive audience keen to hear what Prime Minister Bill English had to tell them before the election in September packed into Timaru’s tennis centre last week.

Tourism and agriculture were among the topics he addressed as part of the South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce lunch, where he was guest speaker.

He said while there had been challenges in recent years, particularly with the dip in dairy prices and the global financial crisis, Timaru was now in good shape economically.

“Timaru is probably in better shape than it has been for a long, long time and that is actually a pattern we see around the country and the numbers for New Zealand confirm that,” he said.

He said 10,000 new jobs were being created every month.

Nationally, New Zealand also had a “diversifying” export industry.

“We discovered when dairy prices dipped that it didn’t have quite as much of an impact on the economy, although we certainly do better when the prices are up,” he said.

Mr English said significant parts of New Zealand’s export industry were growing fairly rapidly, including its information technology sector, which was “growing at double digits every year now”.

He highlighted tourism as a major part of that, along with the horticulture industry.

All of those aspects were “heading in the right direction” nationally, but opponents had suggested it was time to “take a breather”, he said.

However, he was not convinced that would be a good move because the growth seen in recent times “looks fairly sustainable”.

He said for “a whole heap of people”, their opportunities were still ahead of them, such as the many pupils he spoke to at Roncalli College earlier in the day.

“You stand up in front of those 500 kids there and I can tell you, the year 13s who are going to leave school next year, along with the 60,000 others in New Zealand, they’re not asking us to take a breather.”