Finance Minister Bill English got it half right when he said recently that models of government intervention that had been applied in the Far North over the last thirty years had “disempowered them rather than helped them”.
Mr English told the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee that there had been a culture and a climate in Northland “where aspirations have been killed off by the way the governments dealt with them”. The obvious irony of course is that it has been a very long time since a general electorate MP from any party other than National has ‘represented’ the North’s interests in Wellington.
English must be given credit for his honesty, which was also in evidence when he correctly identified New Zealand prisons as ‘moral and fiscal failures’. But if anything has killed aspiration it would be the very policies that National has overseen like tax cuts for the rich alongside the hike in GST that disproportionately affected people in Northland on lower incomes.
The billion dollar tax cut the Key Government gave to the most wealthy has exacerbated the divide between rich and poor in New Zealand. This extreme wealth gap has been the fastest growing in the OECD over the last 30 years, and NZ has gone from being one of the most equal to become one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.
The notion that wealth will ‘trickle down’ is a myth that has failed a generation of New Zealanders, not least of all in our Northland communities.
Northlanders aspire to have a fair and equitable government that will listen to, support and empower local communities and businesses in the North. They want to see sustainable jobs and industries that don’t threaten our land, water and sea, leaving our people worse off than when they started.
We need a 50-100 year plan that will enable all of the Northland region to benefit socially, environmentally and economically, not a series of ad hoc measures implemented with an eye to a three year electoral cycle. We need to focus on building a strong and resilient regional economy based on what we can produce from the land and water, and adding value using our knowledge, vision and creativity.
Northland doesn’t lack for aspiration, but when people are told that the only way forward is to allow corporate exploitation of your land and sea with extraction industries like toxic mining, risky ultra deep sea oil drilling, it’s easy to see why locals would find it tough to get motivated.
A model that invites large multinationals to exploit the North’s resources and send the wealth produced overseas is a jobs-poor option that will come at the long-term detriment of local communities, and will inevitably degrade the environment that sustains us.
I look forward to campaigning in Nortthland for a fairer, more sustainable model that will empower and liberate the enormous potential that lies within the North’s land and people.