Bit of heart needed for the heartland

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Eighty four aircraft engineers, design engineers and support staff heard in June they’d lost their jobs at Air New Zealand subsidiary Safe Air.

It is a big loss for Blenheim and Marlborough as some of those 84 households pack up and leave, taking their families, skills and earning power with them.

A few years ago, Safe Air was a world-class winner of international contracts for the likes of Boeing and the Chilean Air Force – so what happened?

The same is happening right across our regions – it’s weakening our heartland.

Kiwi exporters can’t compete internationally because of the high dollar.

In the year to March year 10,000 jobs were lost in manufacturing.

Since the current government came to power the unemployment rate has increased from 4.5 percent to 6.2 percent, and in the year to March, a record 51,273 people left New Zealand on one-way tickets to Australia.

We need to back our regions, our manufacturers and our exporters with a hands-on approach to supporting growth in heartland New Zealand.

For starters, Kiwi businesses deserve a government that will back them with its procurement policy.

The closure of the Hillside workshop in Dunedin was a result of KiwiRail contracts being awarded to offshore companies. The skills and experience at Hillside were incredible – I saw them in action and it’s a tragedy New Zealand has lost that top-class facility.

We will use major government contracts to back New Zealand firms, not overseas ones.

Our procurement policy will require companies like KiwiRail to consider wider economic benefits – like jobs and opportunities — when awarding contracts. A policy like that would have saved the Hillside workshop and many associated jobs in Dunedin.

We need to increase training opportunities for Kiwis by making sure big government contracts come with a responsibility to take on one apprentice for every $1million of investment.

A flourishing manufacturing industry will create new opportunities for our young people to up-skill, and we’ll pay the equivalent of the dole to any employer willing to train an unemployed person as an apprentice.

We’ll require employers to give local workers a fair chance before bringing foreign workers in from overseas.

We’ll look at following Australia’s example, where companies list the local components and suppliers they’d use, whenever they tender for a job: encouraging local businesses to support more local businesses.

We’ll tackle New Zealand’s overvalued and volatile dollar so our exporters can have a hope of outflanking their international competition, and we’ll encourage more innovation through R&D tax credits.

Our recent parliamentary report into manufacturing charts a path towards a stronger more diversified economy.

An economy that will create and sustain the high-skill, high-pay jobs needed for economic success.

We need to keep our best and brightest in New Zealand with an economy powered by a strong heartland.

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