On Tuesday, Minister of Finance Grant Robertson visited Wānaka with Waitaki Labour candidate Liam Wairepo. The pair spoke to and answered questions of an enthusiastic bunch of about 100 locals at the Wānaka Community Hub.
Robertson was genial and informative and answered questions ranging from the town's reliance on tourism to the likelihood of a new maternity hub.
He said Wānaka’s main challenge post-COVID was its reliance on international tourism and that it was a matter of “getting through” this period until tourism was “back on track.”
“Domestic tourism can help, but obviously, there are a lot of businesses here in Wānaka that have set themselves up to be reliant on international tourism.
“On the other side of the
coin, it is a very innovative region. People have a lot of good ideas. Not just
in the tourism sector but also in sustainability, IT etc. with the people who
have chosen to live in this fantastic place and work remotely. So, I think some
opportunities go with those challenges,” he said.
Robertson acknowledged that Wanaka had had a fantastic ski season and this was because those Kiwi’s who normally travelled overseas had spent their dollars at home.
New Zealanders spend
about 12 billion dollars a year on overseas travel, he said. And since COVID that
money was being spent at home.
“Not all is being spent on tourism- we know that sales of cars have gone well. In fact, one of our biggest car companies had its best month ever in July. The money was spent on cars that would have been spent going on holiday.
“Small scale builders and plumbers have been incredibly busy because everyone has spent their lockdown looking at refurbishing their kitchens and bathrooms. So the activity for this sector during June and July and before the Auckland lockdown was way ahead of last year.
Government has also put
out some good marketing initiatives to say to people, 'take a look at New
Zealand,' he said.
“And possibly people who
have always skied Remarkables and Coronet may never have skied Cardrona or TC,
and I think this has been a drawcard. I was talking to someone who works at
Cardrona, and they said they had been run off their feet.
“I think that's part of
our opportunity for the next little while - get New Zealanders to support communities
around the country,” he said.
As far as the shortage of pickers in the vineyards and Orchards this coming season, it is going to be a bit of a patchwork, he said, because obviously, we are not going to have the volumes of RSC workers or holiday workers.
But there are still a lot of working holiday visa holders here who have stayed on. And the government has extended their visas out so they can work through this season. Down this way, a significant Brazilian population has stuck around, he said.
“We still have some RSC
workers from the Pacific, but those numbers won't be as large because the
countries they come from are a bit cautious of them coming down to New Zealand
and then going back again. And all the quarantining that goes on here,”
“But we are expanding the number and range of people who can come in.
“But a critical element
is the New Zealand workforce, and we need to work with the horticulture sector
on how we mobilise these people. There are practical things that we can do that
make sure that the Kiwi labour force is mobilised, like putting on free buses
from towns to and from the orchards as we did during the kiwifruit season—and
lifting the pay rates a little bit. There are things we can do that are very
practical,” he said.
And a new maternity hub has a lot to do with the district health board (DHB), he said.
“There are a few things that people want- accessible services; equity of travel time etc. But there were a few different things that the submitters wanted, and we need to spread these around. There were a lot of propositions about where these maternity hubs would be: Ranfurly, Wanaka, Clyde. But these options will all come up in public consultation. We want the hubs to work well, and it's down to which centres will work best for all. The DHB has to work out where it populates them.
“I think because of
COVID, one of the issues we will be getting onto next will be a review of the
health system. The way we organise ourselves with primary care; there is a
focus about how to get primary and community care right- the people who are
tier one of our health systems, how are they better supported.”
So it was an informative hour during with Robertson, as he deftly fielded the questions of the audience, which hopefully went away satisfied.