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Budget good for rural people

This year's Budget is good for rural communities, Associate Rural Affairs Minister Damien O'Connor said today.

Mr O'Connor told Parliament during the Budget debate that there were several measures in the Budget that directly benefited farmers, growers, and other primary producers. These include $14.2 million over four years for support for World Trade Organisation negotiations and bilateral Closer Economic Partnerships and other trade agreements, and more than $6 million a year in new funding for biosecurity.

The Sustainable Farming Fund, which enhances rural communities' economic, social, and environmental sustainability, also received an extra $10.6 million a year for the next three years.

"I note that Federated Farmers has welcomed the increases in biosecurity and trade negotiations funding. They recognise the importance of these to their members."

Mr O'Connor said the Government had initiatives within areas such as health, welfare, and education specifically targeted for rural communities for example, the Heartland Services Centres, and rural retention funding for medical providers.

"So, the increases in social spending outlined in yesterday's Budget benefit rural people significantly too," he said.

Early childhood education gets an 8 per cent increase in funds; the budget puts in $167 million over four years to employ another 774 primary and secondary teachers. It lowers the barriers to tertiary education by introducing a regime to contain fee rises and by increasing the student component of the tertiary funding system next year by 3 per cent when inflation is expected to rise only 1.8 per cent.

The Budget allocates $84.34 million over four years to the Industry Training Fund to increase the number of trainees from 100,000 to 150,000 within the next two years. It puts $56 million behind a commitment to ensure all 15 to 19 year olds are in some form of training or work by 2006. These years are too valuable to be wasted.

Health also is put on a firm financial footing with the allocation of a further $535 million to carry the three-year health funding package into 2005-06. The increases for the first three years, beginning with the current 2002-03 year are: $400 million, $800 million and $1.2 billion.

Mr O'Connor said if the Government was to deliver the quality of services New Zealanders had a right to expect, the sustainable growth rate had to rise. The government has set itself the task of restoring New Zealand to the top half of the OECD in terms of per capita income, and the budget promotes this objective through a series of measures to support the Growth and Innovation Framework.

"These include $140 million over four years for research, science and technology, $110 million to respond to the recommendations of the taskforces into biotechnology, design, screen production and ICT and $73 million to promote overseas trade."

All these things directly affected rural people, Mr O'Connor said.

"More than 80 per cent of primary products grown here are exported. Getting into overseas markets at fair levels is hugely important for our farmers, fishermen, and foresters."

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