The holiday period is well and truly over, Parliament is up and running, and we have had a particularly positive start to 2016 with good news on the unemployment and tourism fronts.
The latest Household Labour Force Survey shows unemployment has fallen to 5.3 per cent, which is the lowest it has been since March 2009. There were an extra 21,000 jobs in the December quarter alone, and 175,000 additional jobs over the past three years.
It is encouraging to see strong falls in unemployment across the country and especially in our region.
In Manawatu/Whanganui, unemployment fell 2.4 percentage points from December 2014 to December 2015, while, at the same time, wages have continued to outpace cost of living increases, with the average weekly wage up 3.1 per cent in the past year, compared with inflation at just 0.1 per cent.
I am also encouraged by other recent labour market statistics.
A highlight for me is the figure for youth not in employment, education or training which, at 10.9 per cent, is the lowest it has been since September 2008.
And the rate of unemployment among Pacific people is the lowest for seven years, while Maori unemployment fell 1.6 per cent.
This is clear evidence that the New Zealand economy is continuing to grow well relative to our competitors, and that the Government's economic programme, including the Business Growth Agenda, is helping provide employers with the confidence to invest and grow jobs. The Government will continue its relentless focus on encouraging investment to grow more and higher paying jobs for all New Zealanders.
Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism John Key recently announced further funding to maintain and improve the premier rides of the New Zealand Cycle Trail, which is great news as the number of people using the trails continues to soar. In January 2015 the number of people who had cycled on the trail was 125,000, compared to 97,000 in January 2014.
In fact, visitor numbers have increased significantly and we are now at unprecedented levels, as are the bed night occupancy rates for the Rangitikei electorate area.
The very real and most painful challenge facing the rural sector at the moment continues to be the milk price and more recently the drop in lamb prices.
While the excellent growing season in much of New Zealand will compensate for this somewhat, it continues to be a major challenge.
I envisage it will be one of the hot topics of discussion when a group of National MPs under the Provincial Priorities banner visit our electorate on Monday, 22 February.
The group includes Whanganui's Chester Borrows, Stuart Smith from Kaikoura, Barbara Kuriger from King Country-Taranaki and me. We will be hosting four meetings and anyone interested is welcome to come along: Taumarunui: 10.30am at the Senior Citizens Clubrooms, Morero Tce, Taumarunui.
Raetihi: 1 pm at the Community Space - He Kopae Whakatupu, in Seddon St, Raetihi.
Mangaweka: 4 pm at Awastone Riverside Haven, 143 Ruahine Rd, Mangaweka.
Shannon: 7 pm at the Memorial Hall, Grey St, Shannon.
For further information please phone my Feilding Office on 06 323 7253.