If you hadn't noticed last week that a general election is in the offing you would have had to have been in a coma. It has certainly gotten lively over the last few days.
OPINION: Regardless of the rights and wrongs of it, allegations of foul deeds and counter-allegations such as "well everyone is doing it, so it must be right" have been rife. Riveting as it may be, that style of politics actually only serves to cloud the real issues facing the country and we need to be careful not to be mesmerised and miss the "real stuff".
By "real stuff" I mean the actual policy settings the various parties are offering in return for your vote, irrespective of the style of individuals delivering that policy.
The two big issues that will influence my vote are how the parties are approaching the priority of child-friendly policies within their manifesto and how important the concept of regional development is in their thinking.
I guess my two priorities may be a surprise to some. However, in my view both are central in terms of nation-building and ensuring New Zealand as a whole is working toward improved social cohesion and economic prosperity.
The old saying of "give me a child until he is 3 and I will show you the man" is so true.
Investment in those early years is critical.
It is an investment that comes in many forms but primarily it's time, caring and money.
It's an investment that is extremely long term and has a dividend that can't often be measured for more than a decade, which of course is a challenge to the usual cost-benefit ratios governments are used to dealing with.
However, it's absolutely vital if we are concerned about what this place looks like for the next few generations.
Similarly, prosperity in our regions is critical for the nation's future but again it is hard to quantify in reasonably short time frames.
A vibrant and cohesive Auckland is vital for New Zealand but that vibrancy must not be at the expense of the rest of the country.
This appears to have been occurring over the last couple of decades and is now gathering such pace it may be difficult to change.
If being an export-led economy is where we need to be focused - and I think it goes without question that we do - the infrastructure required to sustain that export drive in the provinces needs support nationally, not just locally.
It's not a question of subsidies. There is no doubt Southland is a leading light in terms of export production.
It's really all about recognising where our wealth as a country is generated and being prepared to support that endeavour.
Interestingly, I see the goal is to get our exports-to-GDP ratio up from 29 per cent at present to 40 per cent.
This is a good goal to have. However, when you compare it to the current Southland figure of 60 per cent it puts good context around what is happening in other parts.
All the regions, including Southland, need focus from government to get that performance lifted.
If the regions are humming economically and we have a national focus on ensuring our children all get a great start in life, I believe that as a nation we will be very much on the right track.
Tracy Hicks is Gore District mayor.
- The Southland Times
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