In this issue I talk about the Prime Minister's visit to the electorate, upcoming school board elections, the Cycle Trail winners and some of what's coming up in Parliament.
Out and About
We are now well into 2010 and the past two months have been busy and interesting. There has been the ongoing preparation for the 20 May Budget, the three-week opening sitting of Parliament, and a number of events in the Clutha-Southland electorate.
It was a pleasure to have Prime Minister John Key in the electorate over two days recently.
Along with Invercargill MP Eric Roy, we attended a "Dinner with the Prime Minister" at the Invercargill Workingmen's Club. The following morning we headed out to the Croydon Aviation Heritage Trust's breakfast function at The Moth. The Trust is based at Mandeville.
From there it was off to the Waimumu Field Days where we were joined by Agriculture Minister David Carter and Eric Roy. The field days were highly successful and a great opportunity to catch up with "the locals" as well as businesses and franchises from around the country. The Prime Minister spoke to an assembled crowd in CRT's Village.
I attended the Tuatapere and Districts Schools 100th Jubilee Celebrations and also visited the Winton A & P Show. After so much gloomy weather early in the year, the sun shone for these events and it was a great opportunity to catch up with many people.
I also attended meetings in Lawrence, Balclutha, Owaka, Winton, Gore, and Queenstown. Question time at these meetings is a good opportunity to hear what is on people's minds, and various questions arose, including: a floating exchange rate, tax incentives, Emissions Trading Scheme and GST.
School board electionsSchools are busy planning for their local school board elections in May elections. Schools have to call for nominations by 15 March with nominations closing at noon on 23 April. Election day is 7 May with boards talking office on 14 May.
This is a very important election for our schools. Strong leaders make strong schools. Schools need people with a balance of skills and experiences to put their names forward. Anyone from the community, including parents, can be nominated.
Boards of Trustees do a great job at managing our schools and I urge you to consider whether you can put your name forward as a candidate. The NZ School Trustees website www.nzsta.org.nz will give you more information about the role of a trustee or contact one of my offices.
Cycle Trail WinnersIt was great news that two proposed cycle trails in Clutha-Southland have been given the green light for feasibility studies as part of the $50 million New Zealand Cycle Trail.
The Wakatipu Trail and the Clutha Gold Trail were among 13 winners from a pool of 54 applicants nationally.
The projects will now undergo feasibility studies to ensure they are properly priced, can be built, and will deliver what they promise. If the feasibility studies are positive construction could start by the end of the year.
The selection of these trails, which showcase the best of what New Zealand has to offer, is great news for the region. They will also support regional economic development and employment. That means jobs for locals during the construction phase and more importantly longer-term jobs providing accommodation and other services to cycle tourists.
I'd like to congratulate the organisers of these projects and all of those people in the community who put time and effort into the proposals. Their hard work has been recognised.
I am, however, disappointed another proposal - the Manapouri Cycleway - has missed out, but overall the region has done well.
Once you count the Around the Mountain trail which was selected last year as one of seven Quick Start projects, Clutha-Southland has three of the 20 projects currently being appraised.
Budget tax package
Over the past month there has been a lot of talk about the tax package I'll unveil in the Budget. Because there has been so much noise I thought it is worth giving you an update. To recap, we are considering a package of across-the-board personal tax cuts, changes in the taxation of property investment and a small rise in GST. Any rise in GST would be matched by increases in NZ Superannuation, benefits and Working for Families.
The package is yet to be finalised, but you can catch up on my thinking on alignment of the top personal, trust and company rates in a speech I gave in Auckland last month.http://www.beehive.govt.nz/speech/lifting+our+economic+game
Prince in townI had the pleasure of attending the opening of the Supreme Court of New Zealand by Prince William. It was an honour to meet the Prince who was performing his first official duty for the Queen.
Voluntary Bonding Scheme for Veterinarians
I was really pleased that Agriculture Minister David Carter announced that the voluntary bonding scheme for veterinarians has been expanded and Clutha vets will now be able to receive the benefits of this scheme.
The scheme, launched last year, encourages new graduates to stay in an eligible practice by providing a taxable payment of $11,000 for every year, up to five years, that they are working in the practice.
The scheme was originally aimed at specific rural areas. Twenty vets have been accepted into the scheme, but unfortunately South Otago was not included.
However, from this year, all practices that deal with production animals like dairy and beef cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry will be eligible, providing the vets receiving the funding spend most of their time working with these animals.
Over the past year both I and Minister Carter had had talks with Clutha vets about the scheme. The changes are the result of feedback from vets and the New Zealand Veterinary Association.
When the scheme was launched, the Agriculture Ministry acknowledged that good data on vet shortages was scarce, so a transition year was agreed while vets and their association, as well as Massey University and the Vet Council, could be consulted on the final design of the scheme.
Its main limitation appeared to be the targeting of specific regions. Many practices reported they faced similar shortages and recruitment difficulties as those in the eligible areas, but were not able to use the voluntary bonding incentives to recruit and retain staff.
Youth Parliament 2010Young people who have a passion for the future of New Zealand and are willing to stand up and have their voice heard are encouraged to apply to attend Youth Parliament 2010.
The Youth Parliament is an opportunity for young New Zealanders to learn about New Zealand's democracy and influence public decision-making.
It has been held every three years since 1994. The next Youth Parliament is this July. Daniel Louni from Gore was my representative at the previous Youth Parliament.
During Youth Parliament, Youth MPs have the opportunity to debate legislation, sit on select committees and ask parliamentary questions of Cabinet Ministers. At the same time, their Youth Press Gallery colleagues report on their activities and make sure they are held accountable to the public.
If you are aged 16 to 18 and are interested in representing Clutha-Southland at Youth Parliament contact one of my offices for an application pack. The closing date for applications is Wednesday 17 March.
Affordable, sustainable, and fair ACC
Legislation passed recently will ensure ACC is affordable, sustainable, and fair for current and future generations.
ACC claim costs have risen 57 per cent in the past four years - five times the rate of inflation - and the unfunded liabilities have grown from $4 billion to $13 billion.
The scale of levy increases required this year without these law changes would be crippling for workers, motorists, and businesses.
The law changes enable the levy increase this year for the average worker to be reduced from $550 to $150. The levy increase for motorists is $30 a car, down from $104. And for employers the average levy increase is 12 per cent instead of 44 per cent.
These changes are part of the Government's objective to secure the long-term future of ACC as an effective and fair 24/7 no-fault insurance scheme for all New Zealanders.
Hon Bill English MP
15 Main St. PO Box 266, Gore 9740
Phone +64 3 203 3000
68 Clyde St. PO Box 2192, Balclutha 9240
Phone +64 3 418 4288
1085 Frankton Rd. PO Box 103, Queenstown 9349
Phone +64 3 441 4093