Health Minister David Clark’s crony appointments continue with the appalling decision to remove the previous chair of Pharmac and appoint a former Labour MP to the role, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“It‘s clear that David Clark’s decisions are questionable at best after he appointed Steve Maharey, a former Labour MP, to this role with no position description, application process, interview, without considering other candidates and without any other input into the decision.
“This decision also needs to be viewed in light of Clark’s handling of other appointments.
“This includes former Counties Manukau DHB chair Rabin Rabindran’s exit after his role was offered to former Labour MP Mark Gosche before Mr Rabindran was formally removed, his appointment of former Labour MP Pete Hodgson to the Southern Partnership Group which is steering the $1.4 billion Dunedin Hospital rebuild project, former Labour MP Margaret Wilson as deputy chair of Waikato DHB and former Labour Chief of Staff Heather Simpson to the major health review.
“This is an incredible string of crony appointments.
“As the agency responsible for buying lifesaving drugs for New Zealanders, Pharmac should be free of any political interference so it can make decisions based on the best available evidence and in the best interests of New Zealanders.
“This appointment destroys that independence. It will cast doubt on the new Chair’s decisions and raise questions about the Government’s influence on Pharmac.
“Clear advice was given that the current chair should be reappointed for between one to three years to manage Pharmac through upcoming changes and to ensure that a proper appointment process could be followed.
“Instead, the Minister has arrogantly disregarded that advice and shoulder tapped another former Labour MP.
“A Labour Health Minister appointing a former Labour MP to run the country’s drug budget with no proper process or proof to support his ability to do the job is inappropriate at best.”
Today’s announcement by the Government of a six unit secure facility rings somewhat hollow given that the Government has callously cancelled 17 mental health initiatives that would have been making a difference right now, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The fact that this Government grabbed $100 million that was earmarked by the previous Government for mental health and has pledged just $8.4 million in this ‘major’ mental health announcement beggars belief.
“During last years’ election campaign David Clark claimed that National’s $100 million package of mental health initiatives were merely ‘tinkering on the sidelines’.
“In light of him scrapping that fund and stalling with his unnecessary inquiry, I would ask him whether this announcement makes any real change to support the mental health of New Zealanders.
“Let’s be realistic here, while this facility is needed, this is a six bed unit that will not be a drop in the bucket to addressing the need for mental health services across the country.
“The Mental Health Foundation seems to agree with this sentiment, today saying that ‘this announcement will not make a material difference to the mental health needs of most New Zealanders.’
“It’s clear that mental health was de-prioritised as soon as the Government was sworn in, in favour of big ticket items including fees free and Shane Jones’ slush fund.
“The country needs to see real action on mental health. I urge the Government Ministers to take up our 17 mental health initiatives given they seem to have no original ideas of their own.”
The Government’s major backdown on post-study work rights for international students is welcome, but the damage to New Zealand’s international reputation has already been done, National’s Immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse and Associate Tertiary Education spokesperson Simeon Brown say.
“Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has been forced into a U-turn on his proposed changes to post-study work rights after he was told it could cost more than $1 billion a year,” Mr Woodhouse says.
“We told Labour before the election that its policy to slash the number of international students would gut the international education sector and grind our economy to a halt.
“Yet it still went ahead with proposing to require students studying Level 7 graduate diplomas to study in New Zealand for at least two years before becoming eligible for post-study work visas, which would have seen a major drop in student enrolments.
“Thanks to the chorus of voices that joined National in warning the Government that this proposal could result in 50 per cent fewer student enrolments next year at a cost of almost $500 million in export earnings per year, the Government has finally backed down.
“Had it not backed down, thousands of students studying one-year graduate diplomas would have had all post-study work rights removed. This would include, for example, teachers qualified overseas doing a one-year course to gain teacher registration in New Zealand.”
Mr Brown says the change would have had a significant impact not only on international education sector but on other sectors that relied on those skills so the backdown is welcome.
“But it’s too little too late, with news that the number of Chinese students coming to New Zealand fell for the first time since 2013 cutting millions of dollars from the sector,” he says.
“Given the Education Minister has signalled closures of polytechnics, institutes of technology and private training establishments, and Chinese student numbers could continue to fall by at least 30 per cent, the sector is already in real trouble.
“The previous National Government introduced measured, sensible changes to prevent student exploitation and improve the quality of private training establishments.
“It’s a relief that the Minister has now recognised that was the correct path to follow. There is no need for further reckless changes in order to meet an arbitrary immigration reduction target conjured up during an election campaign.”
The targets that have underpinned improvements in New Zealanders’ health over the past twelve years could become an enduring part of our health system if a Members’ Bill introduced to the ballot becomes law, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The Government’s cancellation of the nationwide health targets will cost lives. This is simply not acceptable to National which is why we have introduced a Bill to the Members’ Bill ballot to introduce a set of reported targets, similar to those axed by the Government.
“These targets were originally established by the Clark Government in 2007 and represented important priorities from the Government to provide focus and accountability. They drove improvements in areas of the health sector that were important to the public.
“This Government clearly does not value the improvements and accountability that come from the targets and the Minister of Health has cynically axed them.
“Tremendous gains were achieved when they were set and performance against them was published. These targets had clear and significant benefits. Research indicates that 700 lives per year have been saved by the target to shorten stays in Emergency Departments.
“Childhood immunisation rates have risen from 67 per cent to 92 per cent, cancer treatment waiting times are now at world best standards and people no longer have to travel to Australia for basic treatment – as was the case under the previous Labour Government - and tens of thousands of extra elective surgeries were performed.
“We believe in the success of these targets and want to ensure they continue. My Bill requires the Minister of Health to set between 6 and 12 targets after consulting with stakeholders and periodic public reporting progress in achieving the targets, including an explanation for non-achievement.
“I urge Government parties to support this Bill, especially the Labour Party, given many of the Bill’s provisions are modelled on the Prime Minister’s Child Poverty Reduction Bill.
“This is a Bill which also places a high value on the importance of setting and achieving targets. I hope the Prime Minister will be consistent in seeing the same merit in my Bill and support it into law.”
Immigration Minister Iain-Lees Galloway’s refusal to investigate how widespread visa fraud is among Sri Lankan students is another example of Labour going soft on things Kiwis care about, National’s Immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“Immigration New Zealand is currently investigating a major visa scam involving Sri Lankan student applications, including the potential involvement of education agents in Sri Lanka.
“Documents released to me under the Official Information Act show that in March officials advised Mr Lees-Galloway of a serious matter relating to student visa applications from Sri Lanka.
“Fraudulent behaviour was discovered in 88 pending applications and 83 were declined on those grounds, with a finance company frequently used by Sri Lankan applicants at the centre of the fraud.
“But Mr Lees-Galloway is refusing to investigate how much further it goes, and review the hundreds of past visas given to Sri Lankan students.
“This is the same Minister who in Opposition cried foul on every decision the previous Government made on immigration and stated we ‘desperately need to take a breather’ on migration. Now he can’t even be bothered to dig into this very serious matter.
“When I asked how many applications were received in 2017 where the same finance company was used, Mr Lees-Galloway claimed that the effort required to answer would require substantial collation which he thought was not in the public interest.
“In a follow-up question, he admitted that no investigation was underway into how widespread the fraud was. This is lazy and unacceptable.
“By my estimate there could be hundreds, if not thousands, of applications approved where fraudulent documentation was supplied. Surely it is in the public interest to know how widespread the fraud is.
“Our immigration system relies in part on the honesty of the applicants, but also on targeting and eliminating fraud when it occurs.
“Mr Lees-Galloway should be ordering an investigation into how widespread the offending is to reassure the public that he isn’t just talk when it comes to the integrity of the system.”
The international education sector risks losing up to $40 million a year if the Government implements changes to make it harder for international students studying graduate diplomas to get post-study work visas, National MPs Michael Woodhouse and Simeon Brown say.
“International students are a critical revenue stream for our Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs), and those studying graduate diplomas alone bring in as much as $40 million a year,” Immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“A change proposed by the Government to require students studying Level 7 graduate diplomas to study in New Zealand for at least two years before becoming eligible for post-study work visas fails to recognise the higher calibre of those studying graduate diplomas.
“Many of these students have already obtained bachelor’s degree and should get the same post-study work rights as those graduating from bachelor’s degrees in New Zealand.
“If the Government doesn’t make this change to its proposal, some in the international education sector estimate that student enrolments could drop by at least 50 per cent in 2019, which would see the industry and our economy lose out on millions of dollars. The ITPs have been clear that this policy would destroy a significant part of the sector.”
Associate Tertiary Education spokesperson Simeon Brown says Education New Zealand estimates the proposed change could affect up to 17,000 international tertiary students and cost almost $500 million in export earnings per year.
“ITPs are already under financial pressure due to a strong labour market and the Government’s proposal will put even more financial pressure on the sector,” he says.
“International students studying graduate diplomas bring a wealth of experience to New Zealand and often fill vital skill shortages. By completing post-graduate diplomas, they are able to add to their knowledge and broaden their skillset.
“Where there are issues of quality or student exploitation, these should be addressed through individual examination of providers, not whole-scale immigration policy changes that will have unintended consequences for the sector and the wider economy.
“The Government must urgently exclude international students studying Level 7 graduate diplomas from the requirement to study for two years in order to obtain work rights, before it starts to have a real impact on enrolments.”
Revelations that the Government had to call in the army to prop up its hospitals during the recent nurses’ industrial action is further evidence that this Government has lost control of the health sector, National’s spokesperson for Health Michael Woodhouse says.
“News that nurses from the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) were used to plug the gaps during the nationwide nurse’s strike is not only unprecedented, but it raises far more questions than the Minister has answered.
“It has been nearly a fortnight since that strike and the public was only told today that Defence Force personnel were propping up our health service. It just shows how much of a mess the Government’s management of the nurses’ industrial dispute has become.
“When Health Minister David Clark said that the talks to prepare for the nurses strike were an ‘operational issue' between DHBs and nurses and the Government was taking a keen interest, he clearly should have told the public that the Government was making arrangements to call in the army to fix the situation that he had helped create.
“The nurses’ strike action is a result of the Government completely mishandling the situation. It raised wage expectations and then failed to meet them, instead prioritising other spending.
“While the health of New Zealanders is a top priority, it shouldn’t be left to the NZDF to cover for this Government’s failings.
“In a time when we are asking our Defence Force to do more, both domestically and internationally, it’s not appropriate that the Government is trying to cover up the consequences of their mishandling with nurses who have roles and responsibilities elsewhere.”
The Government’s failure to reach an agreement on pay rises for 27,000 nurses means that strike action will commence in less than 48 hours as a result of the Government significantly raising expectations in Opposition, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.
“The effect of this strike on patients and the wider health sector will be extremely significant. All elective surgeries will be cancelled and only life-preserving services will take place in our hospitals for 24 hours.
“The elective surgeries that have been and are being cancelled in preparation for the strike include cardiac surgery, surgeries for cancer and joint replacements. These patients may have been waiting some time for their procedures and will be devastated to learn that they are no longer going to take place.
“This will have a significant impact on patients and their families who would have made arrangements, taken time off work and otherwise emotionally prepared for their scheduled surgery only to have it cancelled.
“It’s clear that nurses were unhappy with the Government simply shifting the deck chairs on the original offer and they have now decided to push for more Government money.
“The nurses were also frustrated that the Government entered the facilitation process saying ‘that’s all the money there is’ and this is the effect of it. This move did not reflect good faith bargaining and it is now unclear how the situation will be resolved.
“The DHBs requested a reconvening of facilitation, however, NZNO has decided that due to the lack of additional funding to support an improved offer this is not appropriate.
“The Government has completely lost control of the process due to its mishandling. Because the Government restricted the facilitation process it is now likely to be unavailable to aid in resolving the negotiations.
“It is unclear where the process goes from here now that facilitation seems to be unavailable. The Government must regain control of the situation and settle with the nurses as soon as possible to minimise the impact of this strike on patients and the sector.”
The impact of nurse’s strike action will be felt from tomorrow even though the Government is still claiming that the strike may be averted, National Party spokesperson for Health Michael Woodhouse says.
“Health Minister David Clark not only had the audacity to stare down the nurses over their last offer but the Workplace Relations Minister Ian Lees-Galloway claimed in select committee today that these strikes are still likely to be averted.
“Let’s be realistic here. The effects of this strike will be felt from tomorrow. There has been advice that all elective services will need to be cancelled in advance so the wards are as empty as possible in order to transition to the life preserving service provision level for the July 5 strike.
“Elective surgeries that are likely to be cancelled include cardiac surgery, surgeries for cancer and joint replacements. These patients may have been waiting some time for their procedures and will be devastated to learn that they are no longer going to take place.
“The Minister must clarify whether those patients will be pushed back with a knock on effect on all elective surgeries or if those who miss out will be bumped to the bottom of the list.
“Due to the fact that the next day of striking is only a week later, these complex surgeries may be postponed and by more than a fortnight causing considerable disruption.
“While the main impact of this strike is on the patients, the health sector will be forking out considerable sums of money for staff rostered while elective procedures are cancelled for up to a fortnight.
“We are now at zero hour; unless the strike is averted now patients will suffer even if it doesn’t go ahead.”
Labour’s reprehensible demonisation of foreigners prior to the election has been laid bare by confirmation today that its promise to slash migration was nothing but a cynical attempt to win votes from NZ First, National’s Judith Collins and Michael Woodhouse say.
“Prior to the election Labour cynically blamed foreigners for rising house prices, including through its infamous ‘Chinese-sounding surnames’ campaign, and it threatened to slash the number of migrants by up to 30,000 a year,” Mr Woodhouse says.
“All along employers and the National Party told them they were wrong and that we needed the skills and capital those migrants bring.
“Today Labour has admitted they were wrong when they said we needed to ‘take a breather’ and while we welcome the belated realisation, the fact is the changes announced today are nothing more than a branding exercise.
“Construction sector occupations were already on the skills shortage lists meaning it was already easier for construction workers to come here because National knew they were important all along.”
“The announcement comes after Housing Minister Phil Twyford yesterday told Parliament there were no plans to bring foreign tradespeople into New Zealand to work on KiwiBuild houses,” Ms Collins says.
“This indicates either an unwillingness to tell the truth or that Mr Twyford didn’t know his own policy or what his colleagues were doing.
“KiwiBuild has staggered from failure to failure and Mr Twyford has continued to show he has no idea what he’s doing.
“In the last few days he’s confirmed some KiwiBuild-backed apartments might be sold to foreigners, that they might be built by foreign flat-pack companies, that he’s been meeting with Chinese banks to fund them and now he says they’re going to be built by foreigners.
“This is a shameless climbdown and there’s nothing Kiwi left in KiwiBuild.”