30 Apr 2013

Joyce says poorest regions should rethink mining

10:19 pm on 30 April 2013

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has called on New Zealand's poorest regions Northland and the East Coast to drop their opposition to mining and oil exploration if they want to become wealthier.

But the Labour Party says mining alone will not help those regions grow.

On Tuesday, Mr Joyce released the first regional economic activity report which confirms that Northland and the Gisborne region lag behind other areas.

Northland has an average annual household income of $60,000, while the Gisborne region is only slightly better. Auckland, Wellington and the West Coast recorded average incomes higher than $80,000, according to the report.

Mr Joyce said people in Northland and the East Coast say they want jobs, but then oppose developments such as mining which would help boost economic growth.

But Labour's finance spokesperson David Parker is not so sure.

"In terms of Minister Joyce's statement that effectively the answer lies virtually solely in mining, which seems to be his response, I think that's too simplistic.

"Of course mining has its place. The Labour Party is supportive of mining outside of national parks and in the right place - we always have been."

However, Mr Parker said mining alone is not enough to boost regional economies and many are being hurt by the high value of the New Zealand dollar.

Mayors respond

Gisborne mayor Meng Foon says if the Government wants the economy to grow in the region, it should focus on education, infrastructure and drug prevention before mining.

Mr Foon believed that education is the key to changing the East Coast's fortunes.

"Encourage people to stay in education, to be trained ... that is the best thing. And control drugs and alcohol, because those are the detrimental things in our society."

However, Mr Foon said he would support mining in the region if it had the approval of local Maori.

Steven Joyce said other factors, such as educational attainment, also affect how well regions do and the report acknowledges the importance of this in Northland and the Gisborne region.

Northland mayor Wayne Brown said he would support mining in the region to boost growth.

Mr Brown said surveying for oil and gas has already been done and the Government has been slow to issue prospecting licenses.

He said the region is more productive than the report's statistics suggest.

"It shows the population of Northalnd is 150,000 - well, the Far North has a population in the summer of about 160,000. The census is measured after everyone goes home - not a good number on which to measure us."

Mr Brown said Northland exports a greater percentage of gross domestic product than Wellington or Auckland.