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Agriculture Main Player in Economic Growth

Any push by New Zealand to reach the top half of the OECD will depend on the contribution of the key player - agriculture, says National's Agriculture spokesman, David Carter.

"National's just-released economic discussion paper sets out the pivotal role the rural sector has played in achieving growth in the past decade.

"This paper was released about an hour after Helen Clark admitted her Government can't deliver on promises to return New Zealand to the top half of the OECD in a decade," says Mr Carter.

"The current Government's failed to recognise the importance of agriculture to our economy; it could have made hay while the sun was shining - good commodity prices, good growing weather and - until recently - a very low exchange rate.

"Agriculture contributes 17% of GDP and 60% of total exports, and these contributions having risen steadily over the past 10 years.

"But this Government has let farmers down. It's refused to see the sector can't continue to increase its contribution when it's being hammered by high direct and indirect taxes and massive compliance costs.

"In the last year alone, farmers have been hit with a 4.5 cent fuel tax and a 30% increase in road user charges. And this on top of a big hike in ACC levies.

"With tough times looming for the rural sector, the Government will soon face its first real test in heartland New Zealand. Will Jim Sutton then start to show some interest in this crucial portfolio area?" asks David Carter.

Farm Expenses Price Index Unchanged

The Farm Expenses Price Index showed no change in the December 2002 quarter compared with a 0.5 increase in the September 2002 quarter, according to Statistics New Zealand. This follows 13 consecutive quarterly increases since the September 1999 quarter. On an annual basis, farm input prices rose 3.6 percent from the December 2001 quarter to the December 2002 quarter.

Excluding livestock, input prices rose 0.6 percent in the December 2002 quarter. The most significant upward contribution came from local and central government rates and fees, which rose 4.4 percent in the December 2002 quarter. This was mainly due to property revaluations in some areas.

The most significant downward contribution to farm input prices this quarter came from a 3.0 percent decrease in the livestock purchases index, reflecting lower prices for deer, cattle and calves. This is the second consecutive fall in the livestock purchases index, following a fall of 1.0 percent in the September 2002 quarter.

Employers and employees urged to work together

Labour Minister Margaret Wilson today urged employers and employees to work together over the next two months to ensure that when the Health and Safety in Employment Act Amendment comes into force on May 5 they have a shared understanding of workplace safety requirements.

"The amendment is about creating a culture where there is zero tolerance for the behaviours which cause accidents and ill health in the workplace, " she said. "And there does need to be a culture shift. `She'll be right mate' when it comes to health and safety is too much the culture at the moment and the way to change it is by involving everyone in the workplace."

The Occupational Health and Safety Service has produced a range of easy to understand information booklets on the Act and the key changes. These are being distributed this week to key groups in the community who are encouraged to read and understand the new provisions.

Margaret Wilson said early next month more than 100 free seminars would be held around the country to distribute these resources more widely, and to give employers and employees an opportunity to get the information they need.

"I recommend the OSH publications to employers and employees alike," she said, "and I commend OSH on the work it is doing to lead change."

The targeted booklets cover:
managing stress in the workplace
involving employees in health and safety at work
the rights and responsibilities of employers,
the self employed, employees and volunteers.

OSH recognises there is best practice already in New Zealand workplaces and invites employers and employees to share their experiences through the Workinfo website, Margaret Wilson said.

The website also has detailed information on the Health and Safety in Employment Act. In addition, queries can be directed to free phone 0800 20 90 20.

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