THE annual National Party conference was held at the Air Force Museum in Christchurch over the weekend.
The conference was well represented by delegates from the Whanganui and Rangitikei region and the mood was upbeat.
Christchurch is doing well, considering the massive challenges it has faced in the wake of the many thousands of earthquakes it has endured since September 2010. Now is an exciting time for Christchurch with the rebuild really starting to take shape with huge support from loyal residents, local communities and the Government.
Of course, the conference also provided a great opportunity to reflect on some of the significant gains we have made for New Zealanders in this term of Government, including the creation of 200,000 new jobs and a further 170,000 projected over the next three years. The number of students leaving school with a Level 2 qualification or equivalent has risen from 74.3 per cent in 2011 to 81.2 per cent in 2014 - which means we're on track to reach our target of 85 per cent by 2017.
At the same time, 42,000 new apprentices are now in training.
We were also responsible for an increase in welfare payments of $25 a week (on top of the CPI increases) for the first time in more than 45 years.
The Government's latest initiative is aimed at the current housing shortage. While 85,000 new homes have been built since 2011, we still need more. At the weekend, Prime Minister John Key announced a $1 billion housing infrastructure fund to help local councils to meet infrastructure costs associated with new housing requirements.
This is part of our comprehensive programme to improve housing affordability.
All in all, it was an enjoyable, positive and inspiring weekend set against the backdrop of a city that is very much alive and full of hope for the future.
Meanwhile, back in the Rangitikei on Monday, I spent some time launching the level crossing "engine". As part of this year's Rail Safety Week, the New Zealand Transport Agency launched an additional sitespecific, rural awareness campaign, which aims to improve driver behaviour at rural and semi-rural level crossings throughout the country. Our region certainly has its fair share of rail crossings - most of them without lights, bells or barrier arms.
The campaign is based on research undertaken late last year which indicated that local drivers in rural areas are often complacent, especially around those level crossings controlled by Stop and Give Way signs.
Unfortunately, local drivers, in particular, often don't perceive the risk of rural crossings to be high. This complacency can lead to risky behaviour like failing to look carefully for trains before proceeding over a level crossing.
The aim of the rural awareness campaign is to get local drivers off autopilot when they approach railway tracks; and to make sure they accept that crossing railway tracks safely means giving them their full attention.
The campaign involves a locomotive-sized billboard and associated signage being placed near and in the approach to a level crossing. The billboard aims to prompt drivers to slow down and check for trains as they approach level crossings.
It was good to join Mayor Andy Watson, members of the road policing team and the NZTA to witness the installation of the level-crossing engine on Union Line. The billboard will continue to be progressively moved to other high-risk level crossing sites throughout New Zealand over the coming months. If it plays a part in preventing even one accident, then this year's rural awareness campaign will have proved a worthwhile exercise.
"The aim of the rural awareness campaign is to get local drivers off autopilot when they approach railway tracks."