100% Pure HorowhenuaInternational Trade
Raewyn's Restaurant LEVIN
Roger Sowry's very positive about the Destination River Region and he's been wanting me to visit for some time.
It's great to be here and to see for myself what tourism has to offer the region, and how you contribute to the nation-wide tourism effort.
It's election season and I guess what you're expecting me to do is to claim all the credit for the record visitor numbers the industry has achieved this year.
I can't really do that because what I set out to do when I became minister was take the politics out of the industry.
Before being Minister of Tourism, I was Minister of Agriculture, working with industries nearly as big and as valuable as tourism.
But, over the last couple of decades, none of them have grown as fast as tourism.
And one of the key reasons for that is that they are so dominated by industry politics.
So much time and energy is put into thinking about what's happening in Wellington rather than what's happening in the international marketplace.
And, of course, at the beginning of this year, there was a risk of the same thing happening in tourism.
And, you know what?
As a result of all that time and effort going in to worrying about who said what to whom in Wellington, not one more tourist is in New Zealand today, or extending or upgrading their holiday.
The industry has achieved the record number of visitors, despite the politics, not because of it.
The four goals I set as Minister were designed to be market-orientated:
* A sustainable flow of tourism earnings, through the global marketing strategy
* Removing barriers for tourists - visa issues, air services and so forth
* Removing barriers for the tourism industry, such as improving RMA processes
* Increasing investment in our tourism industry - from central and local government, and from the private sector both domestic and international.
Those are the four big, common sense issues we need to focus on as an industry.
And when it comes to tourism-specific issues, I have to give some credit to the other parties, because they've generally endorsed them and the point scoring has stopped.
My differences with those parties are on broader economic issues.
Today, I want to talk to you about my fourth goal, investment, because I think it's probably the most important for this region.
I guess you'd have to say that, right now, the Horowhenua is still an emerging tourism destination.
It's not yet on the standard international tourism map of New Zealand.
And even domestically, you have strong competition in the southern part of the North Island.
But you have extraordinary potential to grow.
First, there's a large domestic market as a strong base for further growth.
I'm told there are well over half a million people who live within an hour's drive from Horowhenua.
There's strong tourism growth in Wellington that you can leverage off.
And, of course, tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world.
Throw into the mix the global marketing strategy, which will deliver more tourists to New Zealand, who'll spend more, stay for longer and come back.
We're expecting over 2.2 million visitors by 2005.
The fundamentals are in place for you to grow here in the Horowhenua.
The question is how best to take advantage of the opportunities ahead of you.
The answers all involve investment.
At the top of the list, of course, is brand investment.
Let's put the recent controversy about funding for Tourism Horowhenua to one side for the moment.
Wherever the funds come from, it's vital you agree on your unique points of difference, while being consistent with the overall 100% Pure message.
As a regional industry, you have to agree on how you want to present yourself and how you're going to go about it.
You've got to make those fundamental strategic decisions collectively, and stick to them.
I'm pleased you're all working on that.
That brand investment - time as well as money - is vital.
Other investment is perhaps more down to earth.
Some needs to come from central government, for vital infrastructure such as roads.
I know that Roger's been a big advocate in Wellington for Transmission Gully.
There's other vital infrastructure investment that needs to come from local government.
These things are fundamental, but my main focus is on greater private sector investment.
I could be wrong, but I think it unlikely that there are sufficient investment funds in this region alone to make the Horowhenua the tourism destination it could be.
If you are going to reach your potential, you will have to look elsewhere in New Zealand, and probably to overseas.
I acknowledge that overseas investment can be controversial.
The Alliance and the Greens are very much against it.
The irony is that many of those same people were in the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement.
One of the things they argued for was the investment boycott against South Africa.
They knew that if South Africa didn't have access to foreign investment it'd be forced to change.
And it worked!
Why now are they arguing we should use the same weapon against ourselves?
The truth is that inward investment means jobs.
And we saw very graphically at Bendon what happens when investment moves the other way.
Right now, New Zealand is a reasonably attractive destination for investment.
Our company tax rate is currently below Australia's.
Our cost structures are reasonably competitive - the ACC reforms have helped that a lot, and there's still more to do.
Industrial relations are also reasonably civil.
The Ansett strike was a huge issue, and so it should have been.
But, in the old New Zealand, strikes like that were a dime a dozen except that they went on for far longer and the unions always won.
On these broader economic issues, I am prepared to be political; very political.
Why on earth would a political party want to raise taxes, reverse the ACC reforms and give unions more power?
The only motivation I can think of is if you were beholden to an interest group in Wellington to whom these were matters of ideological dogma.
The big political debate in New Zealand should not be whether we should raise tax, but what we need to do to stay competitive with Australia when they cut their company tax rate to below ours.
We shouldn't be talking about reversing the ACC reforms.
We should be asking ourselves what other reforms we need to achieve similar cost savings for business.
And with industrial relations, our focus should be on how we can encourage even greater co-operation between employers and employees in the workplace - not whether unions and big employer groups in Wellington should have more power.
No one would claim that the last three years have been plain sailing, politically or economically.
Political machinations spawned by MMP have held us back as a country.
But that is not a reason for taking the catastrophic step of electing a Labour/Alliance/Green Government, depending on Winston Peters for support.
Nothing could be worse than that.
What we need from this election is a clear result.
With a clear result, Roger and I can get back to work.
We can deliver to you a sound business environment so that your industry and your region can grow.
That's our commitment: give us a clear result and we can deliver.