Out and About
The year has flown by and Christmas is almost upon us. Over the past month I have been around the electorate for openings, school visits, and meeting constituents.
Among the schools I visited were Gore High, St Peters College, Southland Boys and Kaitangata Primary.
I had the privilege to open several projects. At Kaitangata, I opened the new gymnasium. The community was well represented and the kapa haka group and school performed items for the event.
Cutting the cake at Kaitangata Primary School
At Southland Boys High School I opened the JR Page Gymnasium and the Alex Lindsay Performing Arts Suite. The gymnasium is named in honour of JR Page, a former physical education teacher, while the performing arts suite is named after Alex Lindsay, a prominent musician and old boy of the school.
I also opened Quinn's Pharmacy's new building and Stage 3 of the Gore Sports Stadium. The stadium is a great asset for the Gore community. I spent a number of days watching netball in the rain at the Preston Street Courts so certainly know that players and spectators alike will enjoy this new facility.
It is also good to see the ground for the new hockey turf being prepared next door. Our young people are so fortunate to have volunteers giving up their time, supporting sports and building facilities like these.
Gore Sports Stadium a great community asset
The Clutha Southland Electorate Christmas Party was an opportunity to catch up with many people from around the electorate. It was great to see young people interested enough in politics to attend and I enjoyed talking to these inspiring young people.
I was guest speaker at the Otago Southland Film Industry evening in Queenstown. I was impressed with the professionalism of the people involved in the film industry, which has gone from strength to strength, utilising our incredible scenery to sell New Zealand overseas.
Budget policy statement
The Government's firm focus in 2010 will be achieving higher economic growth and giving businesses the confidence to invest and create jobs.
Responsible management of the country's finances will also be essential, with another six years of forecast Budget deficits.
Growth matters because it creates jobs, increases incomes and improves the living standards of New Zealand families.
This week, as Minister of Finance, I issued the Half-Year Economic and Fiscal Update and 2010 Budget Policy Statement.
Updated Treasury forecasts show that both economic growth and the fiscal outlook are a little better than forecast in the Budget in May.
This reflects the fact that the global economy has stabilised and the success of significant Government initiatives in the past year to fight the recession.
However, that does not mean that all of the problems of the recession have passed - risks remain that growth could weaken again.
Unemployment is forecast to peak sooner and lower than previously predicted - 7 per cent in early 2010 as opposed to 8 per cent in the second half of 2010. However, it is likely to remain at elevated levels throughout 2010, even as the economy improves. So the year ahead will remain difficult for many New Zealanders.
Energy sector moves will benefit consumers
Measures to improve the New Zealand electricity system will give consumers confidence that power bills will not keep skyrocketing.
Our reforms, introduced this month, will also increase security of supply, and ensure effective and streamlined governance.
Power bills climbed rapidly during the previous government's term, well above the rate of inflation. We also faced many power shortages in dry years.
Among our initiatives is a requirement for generators to compensate consumers if consumers are asked to save electricity through a national conservation campaign.
The Electricity Industry Bill passed its first reading this week and has been referred to a select committee for public submissions. The Bill will improve retail competition, while ensuring that signals for investment in new generation are clear.
Helping prevent child abuse
We are taking action on preventing child abuse.
The statistics in New Zealand must change. Vulnerable young babies and toddlers are at greatest risk of abuse, as they are completely dependent on the adults who care for them.
The "Never, Ever Shake a Baby" campaign, launched on 6 December, is part of a wider programme to protect young children. We are starting with this multi-media campaign, raising awareness about the vulnerability of young children, and making sure every New Zealander understands why you must never, ever shake a baby.
We need every New Zealander to take a stand on this issue, and look out for the children who can't look out for themselves.
Electronic road user charges will cut costs
National is working hard to reduce compliance costs across industry.
Moving to electronic road user charges is another concrete example of a simple change that will bring real benefit to the transport industry, and to the economy.
Trucking companies will be able to replace mechanical hubodometers and paper licences with electronic distance recording and electronic licences from next year.
These and other steps that we are taking in transport will reduce compliance costs for the transport sector, and help to lower the costs for exporters to get their goods to the market.
ACC levies set
We announced this month that levies will rise next year. However, these increases will be considerably less than those recommended by ACC.
These levy increases are necessary because the cost of ACC claims have increased 57 per cent in the past four years.
We're moderating the increases by pushing out the full funding date to 2019, pulling back on extensions to the scheme made by the previous government, and putting in place a wide range of cost-saving measures.
Setting the levies has been a difficult balance between minimising the cost increases and families and businesses, keeping the pressure on ACC to better manage its costs, and ensuring ACC's long-term sustainability.
These changes will help get ACC back on a more sustainable path and protect our 24/7, no-fault accident insurance programme.
Every fish counts
Four million guardians - this is the way we should be thinking about New Zealand's fisheries this summer.
We are all privileged to have access to one of the world's most abundant and well managed fisheries. With this privilege comes responsibility - know the rules, ask yourself whether you really need all those fish - and return fish to the water in a way that will ensure their survival.
This is the message from the Ministry of Fisheries' summer education campaign.
Summer is the time when Fishery Officers see many New Zealanders in their aquatic environment. Fishery Officers and Honorary Fishery Officers are out and about helping and supporting the 4 million guardians of our fisheries.
This Government is committed to supporting their efforts as we work together to sustain and enhance our fisheries and ecosystem.
I take this opportunity to wish you a very happy Christmas and a safe and fun filled New Year…
…and to assist, I've put Santa on a tight budget!
Bill English MP