Roy declines Southland economy meeting

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 16/11/2012

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Invercargill MP Eric Roy has reiterated he will not attend the union-backed debate on the Southland economy scheduled for December 7, and its organisers will not move the date to ensure attendance from the Government.

The public debate has been set up by the Congress of Trade Unions in response to major job losses at the Blue Sky Meats and Alliance Mataura meatworks and the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, which faces an uncertain future.

Labour's economic development spokesman David Cunliffe, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, NZ First leader Winston Peters, Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt and CTU national secretary Peter Conway are all attending.

Mr Roy was invited but said he had a prior engagement and could not attend, a move criticised by unionists and opposition in Invercargill.

Finance Minister and Clutha-Southland MP Bill English has also declined to attend.

Yesterday, Mr Roy repeated he would not be going.

"I have another obligation I am not prepared to break."

Asked what the prior engagement was, Mr Roy said he would not hold his diary up for people to question where he should be.

"Suffice to say there are two other MPs involved and it's not in Invercargill."

He said his refusal was not because he was worried about the reception he might receive and had never walked away from a debate no matter who organised it.

He suggested it could just be a political stunt and even if he could attend he would have wanted to know more specifics before committing. "I am still mystified by the whole procedure . . . I have not received any written communication about the format, the terms of reference, who is running it, how long we speak for . . . I'd like to know more before I participate."

He would not set himself up to be blindsided, he said.

CTU Invercargill secretary Anna Huffstutler, who is organising the debate, said it was not simply an opportunity to attack the Government and denied it would have become that.

Ms Huffstutler said she genuinely wanted National representatives to be there.

"This isn't about bagging the Government. I would love the Government to attend, in all honesty. I wouldn't have contacted John Key or Bill English if I wasn't interested in having the Government at the debate."

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