Central Otago Federation of Country Women's Institute
AGM 11 April 2002
Madam President, members of the Central Otago Federation
Thanks for the invitation
To our visitors, welcome to Central Otago. If you're one of us, welcome to Cromwell and to this venue.
Your theme - 'New Beginnings' - is appropriate for Central Otago. There are a lot of 'new beginnings' happening in this district.
So much so that we are beginning to catch the 'Queenstown disease', we are having to learn how to manage the effects of rapid growth.
I've been dining out on the Central Otago story for a couple of years, and I'd like to quickly run through the high points this morning, to give you a flavour of what is happening, and maybe to set the scene for your day's work.
The most exciting, and most visible new beginning is what's happing in the wine industry. Wherever you've come from this morning, you will have seen the new grape developments.
If you'd detoured through Bendigo, or Bannockburn, or any of the back roads in the Alexandra basin, you would have seen a great deal more.
It's an exciting story, it's bringing a lot of new money into the district and creating new jobs, and it is certainly changing the appearance of our landscape. Central Otago winemakers are winning awards; the international buyers are finding their way to Central, and they seem to be happy to pay pretty good prices.
But we've been talking about grape growing and wine for years - where are the new beginnings?
What's new is that until this year, we've been talking about investments in the 100s of thousands of dollars, maybe a million or two. And in a national context, Central Otago has been a footnote at the bottom of the page.
This year, the big boys are finally taking an interest, they've been sniffing around for 2 or 3 years, and there are proposals now for developments in the 10 to 20 million dollar range.
More than that, we are now seeing people investing in wine-related tourism projects, and in workforce development projects. Those are job-rich activities, and they also bring in new categories of people, doing a wide range of new jobs.
The best part of the wine story is yet to be told. Chapter one is finished, we're starting on the rest of the book, and it's going to be a bigger story than many people realise.
What else? On the land, there's an un-heralded boom in deer. The schedules have been strong for several years, and that is translating into on-farm investment and new development. Deer, this time around, are bankable, and the serious investors are moving in. An old story, but also with a new beginning.
Dairying is another surprise. If you came up through Ettrick you'll have noticed the trees that have been felled next to the Ettrick store. Going in there is a new dairy conversion, which may match the scale of the developments in the Maniototo.
Who would have thought, as recently as 3-4 years ago, that we'd be talking about dairy units with thousands of cows and 40 to 50 jobs in places like Patearoa and Ettrick!
I could go on to talk about individual projects - the recently commissioned flood protection scheme and the Warehouse development in Alexandra, the new sawmill in the Naseby Forest, the Rail Trail, Art Deco Maniototo, new beginnings in Summer fruit and pip fruit, and many more.
The key point is that there are lots of new beginnings, in almost every corner of this district, and they all involve building or developing new capacity, which means that they are here to stay. New beginnings; permanent, sustainable change.
My Mother used to say, 'when one door closes, another opens'. Every threat is also an opportunity.
There are some doors that seem to be closing. And the threats don't seem to contain much opportunity.
One that worries me involves family doctors - GPs. Some of you may know that I'm also Central Otago's elected representative on the Otago District Health Board, and I'm married to a family doctor.
I've been saying for a year or more that family medicine is falling apart, and that we are soon going to lose our rural GPs. When I began to say that, it was a bit of an exaggeration. It's not now.
You may have seen in the newspapers in the last few days Doctor Samson in Gore has walked away from his practice, and his patients, because he can't find someone to take over.
There are medical trusts in Southland who can't find doctors, and Winton has also been in the news - TV1 last weekend - because they have gone from four to one doctor, and he's about to leave!
That's going to happen much more in the near future, and not just in small rural communities.
The reasons are complicated, and systemic. Recruitment is not the answer. There will have to be a fundamental redesign of the nature of general practice, and that will be very hard to do.
Rural communities will not stand for the loss of family medicine. It's also an economic development and city hospital issue. Local authorities and district health boards are going to have to get involved, which is where I come in, and we'll have to find an answer.
It may be large, regional medical trusts, employing doctors and providing premises and business support, or it may be the government's proposed Primary Health Organisations.
I don't know what the answer is. It's something for all of us to think about.
But I don't want to finish on a low note.
I've been talking to a couple of the district's champion wine makers in the last few days, and they tell me that this year's crop has all the signs of the best yet - just the right amount of fruit, in excellent condition, with better than expected sugar levels.
Watch for the first of the 2002 vintage - it really will be Central Otago gold!
And of course there's one last thing I have to say, and that is to declare the annual General Meeting of the Central Otago Federation of Country Women's Institute open
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