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As Saturday’s general election approaches, The Courier talked to representatives from a range of sectors to gauge the issues on the minds of South Canterbury residents. Greta Yeoman reports.

FARMING

South Canterbury
Federated Farmers
president Mark Adams

Federated Farmers South Canterbury president Mark Adams said he thought the country’s economy was “well-positioned” and the farming sector was in “safe hands”, meaning he was happy to see a continuation of the current Government.

He said the tone of political discussions over farming and the environment during the election season had demeaned the environmental science work of those in the rural sector.

“As a farmer, I’m really appalled by the cheap shots that have been directed at rural New Zealand.”

Mr Adams said he thought it was easy for people to look at what the country did not have, rather than reviewing the economic situation in an international context.

“We have done really well.”

ELDERLY RESIDENTS

Tom O’Connor said elderly people came from all sectors of society and did not form a single demographic group.

Tom O’Connor

“For that reason, Grey Power does not advise people how to vote or whom to vote for,” he said.

Mr O’Connor said the key issues for many elderly people were access to adequate health services, good quality aged care and the security of national superannuation.

“All parties have recently announced their proposed policies on these issues and the comparisons speak for themselves.”

EDUCATION

Association president Jane Culhane said the education sector needed a government that supported staff, families and pupils.

She said children needed to be able to come to school fed, from warm homes, with parents or caregivers who had enough time to spend some of it with their children.

“One of the big issues . . . is the large number of families that are the working poor.”

Miss Culhane said while the SCPA’s role was not to tell people who to vote for, people should support parties with policies around these issues.

Pupils also needed more school support for their learning needs, mental health and behavioural difficulties, she said.

“[We need] to support the whole child.”

Teachers were bearing the brunt of the increasing level of support children were requiring, but this needed to be spread among schools, families, communities and the government, she said.

South Canterbury
Primary Principals’
Association president Jane Culhane

Miss Culhane, who is principal of Waimataitai School, said the “traumatic” youth suicide rates, child abuse and domestic violence were big issues facing young people and schools needed to be able to provide encouragement, education and support for pupils to support them into the future.

She said teachers also needed to see the job as a good career choice and while Auckland’s staffing shortage was a lot worse than in South Canterbury, it was an increasing issue.

“There’s a teacher crisis looming across the country.”

HEALTH

The best election outcome for the health sector would be for a progressive change of government with a strong Labour-Greens component, Public Service Association (PSA) president Janet Quigley said.

“National have cumulatively underfunded the health sector by around $2.3 billion since 2008,” she said.

The Timaru-based union president said this underfunding, in addition to National not committing to a mental health inquiry or setting a suicide prevention target, showed why both health workers and patients needed a change in government.

Ms Quigley said the party’s commitment to engage with unions was “very questionable” and its interest in public private partnerships was also concerning.

“[They] have simply not given adequate signals to suggest that the concerns of health workers mean a whole lot to them.”

National and Act were also trying to make it harder for health board administrative staff to take equal pay claims, she said.

PSA president Janet Quigley

By comparison, Labour had promised to invest an additional $8 billion in health over four years (to make up for past underfunding), as well as providing free mental health care in the community, a review of mental health services, health services in every secondary school and to cut GP fees by $10 a visit.

The Green Party was also vowing to match increased need for services with increased funding, prioritising prevention and early treatment for young people and low-decile schools, as well as offering free counselling for under 25s, re-establishing the mental health commission and supporting a mental health inquiry.

Ms Quigley said the Greens had committed to implementing solutions for the health workforce so it was not full of overworked and under-funded staff.

ENVIRONMENT

Forest and Bird South Canterbury committee member Ines Stager said while the organisation was a non-partisan, neutral group it encouraged voters to keep the environment in their minds while casting their ballots.

She said the environmental organisation and 16 other groups had joined together to create the Freshwater Rescue Plan earlier this year, which advised the government on seven steps to improve water quality across the country.

Forest and Bird South Canterbury committee member Ines Stager

These included setting “strict and enforceable” water quality standards, withdrawing all public subsidies of irrigation schemes, investing in an agricultural transition fund to shift farmers towards environmentally sustainable industries and implementing strategies to decrease cow numbers immediately, Ms Stager said.

The other steps included a reduction in freshwater contamination by instigating polluter-pays systems – like Labour’s water tax – as well as addressing the performance of regional councils on improving water quality through quarterly reports and adopting a “whole-of-government, multi-stakeholder process to develop a long-term vision for the transition of New Zealand to a low-carbon, greener economy”.

While the plan had not yet been adopted, Ms Stager said changes were needed because climate change and other environmental factors were creating a “whole raft of issues” affecting the health of the environment and people.

“It’s affecting biodiversity.”