Thursday, 14 May 2020 17:11

A few crumbs for rural in the budget

Written by  Peter Burke

There are a number of small pockets of money allocated to specific rural initiatives in the budget announced by Finance Minister Grant Robertson on Thursday.

The projects include:

$20 million to ease impacts on Covid-19 on rural and fishing communities

$15 million develop a system of marketing fresh fruit and vegetables that aren’t being bought by supermarkets to ensure they don’t go to waste in the Covid environment

$19.3 million over four years to be to be spent on a range of initiatives to help people who have recently been made unemployed access to training and work opportunities in the private sector.

$1.1 billion to be spent on creating 11,000 environmental jobs in regions. This includes controlling wallabies, wilding pines and other pest eradication mainly within the DOC estate.

Naturally rural communities will benefit from some of the other social spending outlined in the budget. It is also fair to state that the Government has announced other initiatives in regards to the drought over recent weeks.

But while there is emphasis on training people for rural jobs and that’s great, the other half of the equation is missing – connectivity. It has been said by industry leaders over and over again that people are put off locating to rural areas because of the lack of broadband. Great to train people, sure, but if you can’t get cell coverage or fast reliable broadband, the dole might still be an attractive option.

From what I can see there wasn’t a dollar offered up for this in the budget. The budget has a Wellington-centric ring about it. Earlier today, the President of Federated Farmers told a group of agricultural journalists that one of the disappointments during her presidency is the lack of understanding by Wellington officials of rural issues.

The failure by successive governments to seriously invest in rural broadband is dumb and now with Covid-19, quality connectivity is more essential than ever. Industry good organisations, educators, health professional and businesses who deal with rural communities are being kneecapped by the lack connectivity. How come they can see the problem, when the Wellington bureaucracy and their political masters appear to be so out of touch with reality?

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