OPINION: Roading policy will be costly for regional NZ

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When the Labour-led coalition Government was elected to power, I assured our National supporters that we would hold them accountable, that we would be the fiercest opposition party the country has ever seen. And now is the time for action.

This month the Government has shown its true colours with its brazen raid on the regions.

In the past fortnight, it has pulled $5billion from regional roading projects which would have made vast improvements to roads throughout the South Canterbury and Waitaki districts.

The coalition has confirmed its plans to shelve regional roading projects to pay for trams in Auckland, and to charge regional motorists to do so.

The move is a slap in the face, particularly for South Canterbury residents who have been calling for improvements to dangerous stretches of road at Pareora and Winchester.

This means roads which would have improved safety, created jobs, boosted regional economic growth and better connected our region’s farmers and producers to our major centres will be axed.

This is an extraordinary blow for regional New Zealand, from a Government which has claimed to stand behind it, instead they are saying their needs are secondary to ensuring tourists a smooth ride from Auckland’s CBD to the airport.

The Government has also announced a petrol tax increase, which will hit small-town New Zealand hard. The regions could pay up to 12c a litre more for fuel in three years alone, then will be stung again when the proposed regional tax legislation comes in, paying another 10c a litre.

While in power, the National Party worked hard to improve and support the growth of business in the regions. It’s such a shame to see the Labour-New Zealand First Coalition now introducing taxes which will do just the opposite.

It won’t be long before the extra fuel costs are added on to the price of groceries and other items which need to be transported to rural areas, making communities across the Waitaki region pay twice.

And let’s not forget the agricultural sector, which has also taken a pummelling, first being kept in the dark about the Mycoplasma bovis compensation, then with the axing of funding to several irrigation projects, including South Canterbury’s Hunter Downs scheme.

I have worked closely with the farmers behind Hunter Downs throughout the years. I know how hard they have worked to bring this project to fruition. All that time and effort is now lost.

This summer, six regions were declared in drought as dry weather hammered primary producers right across the country.

These irrigation projects, which are worth $1.2billion a year to rural New Zealand, would have provided certainty that they could deal with future dry spells, but that certainty has now been ripped away.

The Greens party is celebrating the move as a major step towards cleaning up our rivers, an attitude I believe is worryingly naive, uneducated and showing a complete disregard for the efforts already under way.

This Government claims it wants to help grow our exports and support our primary industries to add value, but instead of standing behind regional New Zealand it is taking its taxes and turning its back.

By MP for Waitaki Jacqui Dean