As we launch into 2017, and what will be another busy year, we can have confidence New Zealand is on the right track. We are in capable hands with Bill English and Paula Bennett as leaders, and an energetic team of ministers and MPs behind them.
The Government is gearing up for the challenges of election year with a busy agenda and a clear plan for our country's future – building on the strong momentum we have achieved during the last eight years.
During the holiday break, I took time out with family and friends. I stayed local and enjoyed all the Bay has to offer. This included trips to the beach, walks up the Mount and biking around Tauranga. I'm looking forward to another productive year in 2017 and I'm excited by the opportunities the Bay has to offer us and to grow even further this year.
New Zealand is well positioned compared to most other countries, and that is no accident. It's the result of New Zealanders' hard work, backed by the National-led Government's clear plan for our country's future.
Our economy remains one of the strongest in the developed world. And Kiwi families are seeing the benefits.
About 250,000 extra jobs have been created during the last three years and unemployment is falling. The average annual wage is now $58,400 – up $12,000 since we were elected in 2008 and more than double the rate of inflation, while interest rates are at 50-year lows.
The country is back in surplus and we're getting better results from important public services like hospitals, schools and social programmes.
We are seeing strong growth in sectors such as tourism, ICT, construction and high-tech manufacturing. New Zealand is also experiencing our biggest building boom – in the last five years, annual residential building consents have more than doubled. In Auckland, they have almost tripled.
We have the resilience and the financial strength to bounce back from challenges such as the Kaikoura earthquakes, and the Government will continue to support the recovery efforts.
The Government is committed to ensuring this stability and progress continues as we head into the New Year.