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Labour leader David Cunliffe announced yesterday the next Labour government would co-develop regional growth plans for every region of New Zealand and would invest at least $200 million in a fund to create breakthrough opportunities for jobs and sustainable growth.
Speaking to Local Government NZ's annual conference in Nelson, Mr Cunliffe said the regions were the lifeblood of New Zealand and Labour understood their vital importance to growing New Zealand's economy.
''Many regions have been hollowed out under National, with young people leaving for the cities and overseas. Things have become so bad there is speculation of abandoning communities or 'red-zoning' regions.''
Labour would not let that happen.
The party would stand alongside regions and work with them to fulfil their ambitions and keep their young people at home, he said.
Population swaps between Australia and New Zealand in June were even.
Local Government NZ president Lawrence Yule welcomed the support for regional economic development, which was one of the organisation's key strategic policy priorities.
''Activity that helps regions is important but it needs to be sustainable. New Zealand's economic growth strategy needs to consider the nation as a whole and the needs of its regions.
''We need to find ways to make our regional centres attractive for investment and for skilled migrants to settle.''
For that to occur, there needed to be a shared strategy developed with central government, he said.
''Labour's classic response to problems is to throw money around and David Cunliffe is doing that again in another desperate attempt to revive his leadership.''
Independent data showed the regions had been leading New Zealand's economic recovery, he said.
Eight out of 11 regions had a lower unemployment rate than Auckland.
Mr Cunliffe's claims about the regions hollowing out had proved to be as hollow as most of his other assertions, Mr Joyce said.
He said Labour and the Greens wanted: a capital gains tax on all productive businesses and farms; big freshwater levies; a carbon tax five times higher than the world price; the restoration of a national award system, forcing regional employers to pay wages at the same rate as employers in Auckland; to put the brakes on any more trade deals; and to clamp down on the dairy industry and oil and gas exploration.
''That recipe would really damage the regions and it would take a lot more than a $200 million slush fund to solve it,'' the minister said.
However, New Zealand Institute of Economic Research principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub told the 550 delegates to the Local Government NZ conference economic wealth was unevenly shared in New Zealand.
Gaps in economic outcomes and opportunities would get wider if policies were not changed.
''Secular and unstoppable forces - technology, urbanisation, globalisation and ageing - are marginalising regions,'' he said.
''Current policies are not working. It is an uncomfortable reality but it is not without hope.
''It cannot be a conversation of envy about Auckland and the rest, rural and urban, environment and economy.''
Each region would be different and unique so the same policy for all was not going to work, he said.
Economies were not like a game of rugby.
Co-operation meant there could be two winners.
''We must own up to the challenges facing our regions and the solutions - leveraging local strengths - must be for our young people,'' Mr Eaqub said.