'Big step backwards': Labour would reverse decision

AgResearch's decision to largely stick with plans to slash jobs at Invermay has just become an election issue, with Labour vowing to overturn the move if elected.

Labour leader David Cunliffe told the Otago Daily Times that, if elected, it would retain animal genomics staff at Invermay, adding that yesterday's decision was yet another example of National abandoning the regions.

''We are thoroughly committed to regional development and that means all the regions.

''We think National has been absolutely punishing Dunedin and Otago and we think Invermay's a world-class research facility,'' Mr Cunliffe said.

Labour's promise brought condemnation from both Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce and Dunedin-based National Party list MP Michael Woodhouse, who labelled the move as ''pork barrel politics''.

Mr Joyce said Labour needed to be clear about ''what they are actually offering'' and whether it meant ''junking'' AgResearch's entire restructuring plan.

''I think, at the moment, they are basically offering a bumper sticker,'' he said.

He respected AgResearch's decision to shift animal genomics staff to Lincoln and said it had tested the alternatives ''pretty thoroughly''.

''I understand that there will be some people disappointed, but hopefully they take the view that there has also been some significant gains as a result of the additional consultation.''

He disputed the suggestion National had abandoned Dunedin.

''I think the Labour Party politicians should get to a point where they stop talking Dunedin down all the time.

''Dunedin is doing pretty well; unemployment is one of the lowest in the country; we are seeing quite significant growth,'' he said.

The decision had ''nothing to do with'' strengthening Lincoln or the Christchurch rebuild.

''It's important to note that they brought the plan to us and, as you can see through the process, it has been changed more in favour of Invermay.''

Dunedin North MP David Clark said the changes announced yesterday were no more than ''cosmetic''.

''This is a big step backwards for the New Zealand export sector.

''The science produced out of Dunedin and in co-operation with the University of Otago goes a long way to explaining productivity gains in the sheep-meat industry over recent decades,'' Dr Clark said.

He said Labour had listened to the evidence and would overturn the decision if elected.

''We will retain Invermay and preserve the animal genetics hub, saving money and increasing agricultural productivity at the same time.''

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said the commercial hub surrounding the research centre was hard won and should not be done away with.

Mr Woodhouse said while he was disappointed the decision meant jobs would move out of the region, he was pleased to see the changes and hoped the campus could grow further.

''I am more than willing to work with other stakeholders such as the Otago Regional Council and Environment Southland to encourage more work at Invermay so it continues to grow into a strong regional hub,'' he said.

Labour's promise to overturn the decision was a ''cheap'' election promise.

''Labour's comments that they would retrospectively interfere in a decision made by an independent crown entity is simply pork barrel politics made by those desperate to offer cheap promises in an election year.''

He ''completely'' rejected the notion the Government was not focused on the regions and was encouraged to see the latest ANZ trends report, which showed business sentiment across Otago peaking at a 20-year high in December.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull welcomed Labour's promise, calling it ''common sense''.


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