A Breath of Fresh Air

What a turnaround.

I’m referring, of course, to Labour’s big political story of the week, and no, it’s got nothing to do with milk. Instead it’s another of our major exports, wood, that has captured the attention of the Labour party, with a major policy announcement yesterday centred around supporting and partnering with innovation, investment and industry development in the timber and wood processing industries.

I won’t spend too long explaining why I think this policy is a great idea, but just to illustrate, the Rotorua Daily Post is reporting today that Red Stag Timber is prepared to invest another $120 million in its Rotorua facility should Labour come to power and implement its Forestry and Wood Products Economic Upgrade policy. In policy terms this is a really huge step for Rotorua, and for the country more generally. Not only will we see the Red Stag plant beginning to add really significant value to our timber export product (no more cutting down trees and sending them straight overseas for someone else to make massive profits from them!) from the installation of much more high-tech machinery, but both the numbers and kinds of jobs on offer in this huge local industry are set to get a much-needed boost. Having grown up in Rotorua, the news of last year’s Tachikawa mill closure really hit close to home. Rotorua is a region that has truly struggled in the past few years, particularly seeing as the local economy lacks the kinds of businesses that are likely to attract crony favours from the National government. Local tourism operators and forestry are the employment backbone of the place. That Labour is prepared to back independent, local and productive industries through real economic development policy rather than through Steven Joyce and John Key picking winners at the big end of town is pretty refreshing if you ask me.

Not only is this an example of excellent policymaking, but the political management around this whole issue has really been quite impeccable. Anyone can see that Labour has had a pretty shithouse few weeks: overblown stories about leadership election funding and some pretty nasty public poll numbers have really put some pressure on David Cunliffe and his office. It looks to me like Matt McCarten and his staff have really risen to the challenge. Of course, one policy such as this does not an election make but to see a major local employer give such a ringing endorsement of a Labour policy on its second day in public is quite a coup for Labour, and a blow to National in its heartland regional North Island electorates. The days of navel-gazing about political mishaps appear to be over. Intelligent action seems to have replaced inertia and I’d be surprised if more of the same didn’t lift Labour right back out of that polling slump.

Clearly Labour is committed to constructing a narrative around its theme of an “Economic Upgrade”, and it couldn’t be off to a better start. The fact that this policy will explicitly support jobs, prosperity and growth in the regions is, for me, the icing on the cake. Provincial voters may be popularly characterised as conservative but I’m willing to say that they’re prepared to reward smart, innovative solutions to the increasingly perceptible economic decline in their towns.

Overall, Labour and its staff should feel proud of this latest initiative. Assuming that there’s more of the same kind of stuff in the pipeline, I wouldn’t be writing off Labour putting in a real election-winning effort this year just yet.

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