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Southern businesses want robust policy from political parties

Southern businesses want robust policy from political parties

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Southern businesses are calling for more certainty ahead of an election finance debate in Queenstown tonight.

Central Queenstown.

The Queenstown town centre.

The finance spokespeople from the major parties will debate the key issues as the resort town grapples with limited visitors.

Central Otago mayor Tim Cadogan said his district was in pretty good shape, but they were waiting for the hammer to fall.

He wanted councils to be able to play an increased role in affordable housing, more work on building a hydro storage lake above Roxburgh and support for health.

“We just ask any incoming government to recognise the tyranny of distance and what that does for people. If you want to go to a hospital appointment to see a specialist in Central Otago, you’re looking at two and half hours each way,” Cadogan said.

Agriculture, horticulture and viticulture represents close to a third of its economy – with the cherry industry worth about $1 billion alone.

The district is about 5000 workers short as they move into fruit picking season, with an ageing population base of 22,000 spread out over about 10,000 square kilometres.

“So we’ve got a population density of just slightly more than Mongolia,” Cadogan said.

“We don’t have the ability to go to Hamilton or Tauranga or somewhere like that and pick up large numbers of workers, so they need to reflect on how different parts of New Zealand are and what that means for those ideas that may work in one place but might not work for us.”

Cadogan said he wanted an extension of working visas.

Central Otago mayor Tim Cadogan

Central Otago mayor Tim Cadogan
Photo: Supplied

Stephen Darling, from Darling’s Fruit in Ettrick, said new workers took at least a year to learn the basics in an orchard, so wanted experienced and skilled workers who remained overseas allowed back.

He was also against an increase to the minimum wage.

“We’re not asking the government for money, we’re not looking for any help, we just want policy that will give us certainty of labour supply and we see that as a mix of Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers or New Zealand staff or some of the migrant workers who are stuck in New Zealand,” Darling said.

Further south, the announced closure of the Tiwai Point smelter near Bluff continued to make waves as the region braced for more than 2000 job losses.

Southland Chamber of Commerce chair Neil McAra said it was in no-one’s interest for the smelter to close within a year.

“Hence why the engagement is focused around an extension. Hopefully all the policy from each party recognises the need for New Zealand to have that operating on a longer term basis,” McAra said.

“No-one wants unemployment rates to rise and losing 2500 jobs in a region goes against trying to maintain in a time when it’s extremely difficult for business.”

While commodity prices were holding up for the region’s agriculture, McAra said tourist towns like Te Anau were struggling with unemployment because visitor numbers had been dramatically cut.

Similarly in Queenstown, Chamber of Commerce chair Craig Douglas said the economy remained on its knees with its reliance on visitors.

He wanted political parties to outline how they plan to balance the economic and health needs of the nation.

“The biggest concern that we have for our businesses in Queenstown right now is the uncertainty of what conditions they might be operating under next week or next month,” Douglas said.

“It makes it very difficult for businesses to make decisions and certainly very difficult for them to make commitments about how to resource and how to invest so that they can be in a good position to deliver to growing visitor market when it comes back.”

Fergburger group general manager Stephen Bradley outside its Shotover Street store in Queenstown.

Fergburger Group general manager Stephen Bradley.
Photo: RNZ / Belinda McCammon

Having enough workers is another big concern for Queenstown businesses.

Fergburger Group general manager Stephen Bradley wanted answers about wages, immigration and labour policies.

At least 80 percent of his 150 employees were usually from overseas and for many, the end of their visas were coming up.

“We’re trying to plan to staff our businesses at compressed peak periods and things are very, very difficult in that regard with potential increases on the way in terms of sick leave, in terms of holiday pay. That’s going to cause further significant stress for us.”

Southern voters are hoping for more clarity during the finance face-off in Queenstown this evening from 7pm.

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