Govt too busy for debate on economy

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 12/11/2012
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The National-led Government, which has been in charge of the country during Southland's worst unemployment rate in more than a decade, has turned down the opportunity to attend a political debate to try to jumpstart the region's economy.

Council of Trade Unions Southland convener Anna Huffstutler said about 300 job cuts and displacements throughout the region by major employers, including New Zealand Aluminium Smelters and Alliance, had prompted the council to organise the Southland economy debate next month.

The aim was to highlight the Government's role in the region's economy but it was disappointing every invitation she sent to members of the National Party was turned down citing "previous engagements".

Those confirmed to take part in the debate are New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei, Labour economic development spokesman David Cunliffe, Council of Trade Unions national secretary Peter Conway and Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt.

Ms Huffstutler said invitations were sent to Prime Minister John Key, Deputy Prime Minister and Clutha-Southland MP Bill English and Invercargill MP Eric Roy.

Household Labour Force Survey figures for the September quarter released on Thursday show Southland unemployment is up by 1 per cent to 5.3 per cent, or 3300 unemployed people from a potential workforce of 61,500 - the highest level since 2000.

"After far too many job losses across Southland . . . it's time for a new economic plan for our region. We need an approach that will deliver more jobs, higher wages and new industries. Otherwise we will see even more Southlanders head out of the region and we will return to the dark days of the 1990s with a declining population and stagnating economy," she said.

She believed there was an air of doom and gloom in the community and a fear of what would

happen to the region if Tiwai closed.

The debate would be an opportunity for Southlanders to hear first-hand what political leaders intended to do to help maintain and increase jobs in the region, she said.

She said Mr English's senior private secretary Eileen O'Leary had forwarded the invitation to Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce's secretary but said ministers' diaries were usually booked months in advance, so the chance of getting a minister at late notice was almost impossible.

Ms O'Leary asked Ms Huffstutler to get in touch in the early planning stages next time.

"If I had known months in advance that Tiwai were going to lay off workers and potentially shut down and the Mataura freezing works were going to shut the lamb and mutton shifts, of course I would have been in contact," Ms Huffstutler said.

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Representatives for Mr English did not respond to The Southland Times.

The public debate will be held at Invercargill Workingmen's Club on Friday, December 7, at 7.30pm. Entry is by gold coin donation to the Southland Foodbank.

A mix of prepared questions and questions from the floor will be taken. collette.devlin@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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