24 Oct 2008

Rural vet shortage tackled in National policy

7:17 pm on 24 October 2008

The Veterinary Association has welcomed the National Party strategy for dealing with shortages of rural veterinarians, including a voluntary bonding scheme.

National's Agriculture spokesperson David Carter said students who undertake to work in rural areas for up to five years after they graduate would have their student loan reduced by $10,000 a year.

He said of the 100 veterinary students graduating each year, at least 30 are needed in rural practice.

The Veterinary Association said some regions are experiencing severe shortages, and in areas such as the East Coast of the North Island there is no veterinary presence for some distance, making animal welfare a growing concern.

Association chief executive Julie Hood said both anecdotal evidence and research shows it is difficult to keep graduates in rural practices.

She said some students prefer to work overseas in order to more quickly repay student loans of up to $60,000, so a student debt relief programme may appeal to them.

National's policy, released on 23 October, also proposes bonding and student loan debt write-offs for doctors and other health professionals working in hard-to-staff rural areas.

Seasonal workers

In the horticulture sector, National pledges to broaden the scope of the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme that allows workers to be hired from some Pacific countries to help with harvesting and pruning work.

Under the policy, barriers to hiring people from other countries would be reduced.

The party would also reintroduce temporary work visas for visitors to supplement the seasonal workforce.

Horticulture New Zealand chairman Andrew Fenton said those measures would help growers deal with seasonal labour shortages.

"We certainly appreciate the present Government bringing in the RSE scheme and we recognise that it needs refinement."

National is proposing to take a new approach to high country tenure review to restore leaseholders' confidence in the process.

Rentals for high country pastoral runs would be tied to the earning capacity of the farm.