Regional development is emerging as a key election battleground as the election-year train of politicians continued to roll through Wanganui yesterday.

Labour's economic development spokesman Grant Robertson was in town, talking regional development and what can be done for Wanganui. He made pledges to restore polytech funding, procure government purchases from New Zealand firms and work to encourage high-value local industry.

"Wanganui's still got the core of that manufacturing base, which is useful, so I think that's what you build off. Then there's sort of that agri-business side, which is clearly where this region could go," he said.

He also saw room for ICT to grow in Wanganui.


"If we got the broadband in this part of the world up to scale, there's no reason why government services couldn't be provided in Wanganui."

Speaking at The Grand, Mr Robertson said a strong polytech was fundamental and promised to pump more money into regional polytechs, which had suffered cuts in recent years.

"We did last time and we will again. We believe we have to," he told the Chronicle.

Reflecting Labour leader David Cunliffe's comments in Wanganui last month, Mr Robertson said businesses needed to be encouraged to add value to export products.

He said he would see raw logs sitting in Wellington Harbour ready to be shipped then have value added overseas, only to be sold back to New Zealand as products.

The Wellington Central MP said it made no sense and the New Zealand economy needed to shift from volume-based to value-based. This could be encouraged by accelerated depreciation or deferred tax for certain industries. He also backed Labour's capital gains tax as a way of shifting investment into productive areas.

"If you earn $30,000, you go out there and work hard and you pay your PAYE. If you sell your rental and make $30,000 off it and don't pay a cent, that's not fair. It's about shifting where people invest their money."

Mr Robertson said having the Government buy products locally would support regional industry. "The Government is a big buyer of products in New Zealand but most of that doesn't go to New Zealand firms."


He said he would like to see at least $200 million of government procurement going to New Zealand businesses. "That's one place we can do so much better. The regions could benefit from all of that," he said. "When you do all of that, then you get the services you need in your community."

Mr Robertson said the economy needed to centre around people.

"The economy isn't an end in itself. A statistic that you can wave around doesn't pay the bills, a job does."

He labelled National's economic plan a "milk and disaster" economy.

"We have to diversify, we have to upgrade our economy.

"It can't just be Auckland and Christchurch. It has to be across the board. The National Government is ripping the heart out of regional New Zealand."

Mr Robertson later attended Te Tai Hauauru Labour candidate Adrian Rurawhe's campaign launch.