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15/6/2018 — Economics, Politics and Government
Government behind on tree planting
By Dene Mackenzie

Hopes the South will benefit from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund are fading fast, according to Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker.

Speaking to the Otago Daily Times, the first-term MP said Clutha-Southland was not a priority for the Government.

The fund, administered by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, had allocated very little to the region and there was not much likelihood of more being allocated.

“Out of a total of $111 billion, a mere $230,000 is going to Southland for rail freight opportunities focused on South Port, in Bluff.

“If you want to talk forestry, it simply is not going to happen. We have record low levels of unemployment in Clutha-Southland and currently businesses do not have the workers to keep our businesses functioning at the moment.”

Farmers, in particular, were struggling to find enough people, Walker said.

About 60% of the fund's spending so far had been distributed to Northland giving rise to a new name of the “New Zealand First survival fund,” he said.

The MP was disappointed at the lack of foresight from Jones in presenting a growth fund effectively excluding Clutha-Southland from any regional development funds.

“For Mr Jones to ask our locals to essentially `pretty up' our proposals in order to win bids from the PGF is just ridiculous.”

National also continued its criticism of Jones and his One Billion Trees project. Forestry spokesman Alastair Scott said the project was behind target even though a quarter of the PGF was being spent on it.

The Government said it had secured only 1000 hectares to plant one million trees in the current planting season, from a budget of $245 M allocated from the PGF for forestry.

“The minister also says he believes pine is the future of forestry in NZ as natives cannot play an effective role in carbon sequestration and climate goals. His Green party colleagues will be bitterly disappointed.”

Only 13% of trees planted to date under the project had been native, he said. There was no evidence to say any thought or scrutiny was going into the One Billion Tree planting process.

“We all want health, diverse forests, strong logging and local wood processing industries and progress on reducing greenhouse gases. But these things don't happen by chance.”

Jones, who is also Forestry Minister, and Associate Forestry Minister Meka Whaitiri launched a new forestry scholarship at the National Fieldays. The new scholarship aimed to growth the capability of the forestry sector and increase the number of women and Maori in the industry.

The scholarship - Nga Karapihi Uru Rakau - provided $8,000 a year to Maori and female students enrolling in either a Bachelor of Forestry Science or Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) in Forestry Engineering at the University of Canterbury.

It also provided paid internship with Forestry NZ and other forestry employers, Jones said.

*Dene Mackenzie is political editor of the Otago Daily Times.

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