OPINION: Govt ‘out of step’ with heartland

by Jacqui Dean

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It was a sad day for South Canterbury on Sunday as hundreds turned out at the Waimate Racecourse to watch the last gallops racing event at the venue.

Waimate had its license to race withdrawn early this year as part of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Racings’ Future Venue Plan.

Ten other venues throughout the country are facing the same fate, being forced to find another local venue to hold their events.

The Waimate racetrack has been running for 150 years. I feel gutted for the Waimate racing club and the entire community who have celebrated and supported events at the venue over this time.

The closure comes as another blow to the regions and small rural communities who I believe are copping the brunt of decisions made in central New Zealand by different agencies and a Government quickly losing touch with our reality.

Last week’s so-called “Wellbeing Budget” is a prime example of this and falls well short for the people of South Canterbury.

This was the Government’s chance to show that it understands the small towns and communities that make up regional New Zealand and it completely missed the mark.

What they delivered was ideological and disjointed with no discernible action plan to inspire the people of South Canterbury, showing just how out of step the Government is with the New Zealand heartland.

The economy is sharply declining. There are fewer jobs, more people on a benefit and the Government is doing nothing to encourage growth.

Business confidence has slumped because of poor policy decisions and this Budget shows no plan to grow the economy.

For small business, getting a slightly bigger version of an existing website just reinforces the belief that this Government doesn’t understand business at all.

The Government’s trump card in this so-called “Wellness” budget is inarguably its plan to put $1.9billion towards mental health over the next five years.

While extra funding is always welcome in this area, I have serious concerns about just how it will reach those in need throughout South Canterbury.

With funding for the country’s district health boards coming in well short, I am unsure just how they will be expected to carry out these extra services when they are so under-resourced.

There seems to be a drastic mismatch in what has been promised and what will be delivered.

The fact that M. bovis support funding has also been halved reflects the Government’s alarming attitude to an industry which is vitally important to the New Zealand economy.

So many of our farming families throughout South Canterbury have experienced at first hand the horrors of this disease and the far-reaching effect it has had on their businesses, livelihoods and mental health and wellbeing.

Cutting funding in this area shows this Government’s ignorance and lack of care for the health concerns of this entire sector.

The agriculture sector had very low expectations going into the Budget, so for farmers there were no great surprises.

However, seeing millions of dollars pumped into Wellington bureaucrats for policy advice, implementation of advice and ministerial servicing will leave the rural community shaking its head in disbelief.

I am also concerned at the prospect of extra intervention and control on farming activities.

The phrase “developing good management practice standards and guidance across farm systems” sounds suspiciously like moving to central control to me, and “addressing freshwater over-allocation” will send chills down the spine of all agricultural water users.

Fiscal prudence, or lack thereof, has already plagued the reputation of this Government and some aspects of this Budget will only raise more questions as to why certain pet projects are pushed through at the expense of helping aspirational New Zealanders get ahead.

South Canterbury residents have every right to feel disappointed.

This Budget just isn’t for them.

Jacqui Dean is the National MP for Waitaki