The Government must reconsider amendments to the Electoral Act enabling party leaders to dismiss MPs from Parliament following today’s damning submission from leading political and legal academics, National’s Electoral Law Spokesperson Nick Smith says.
“This chorus of condemnation from such a large group of political and legal academics shows what a dog this Bill is. It is unprecedented for so many experts to come out so united against a Government electoral law change.
“These 19 academics, from five universities including seven professors, conclude that this Bill breaches the Bill of Rights.
“Their evidence is unequivocal that these electoral law changes are flawed, will harm our democracy and will give party leaders too much power. It rightly argues that voters, and voters alone, must reserve the right to hire and fire MPs through the ballot box.
“The Government would be wise to withdraw this Bill in the wake of such damning criticism. It is trying to fix a problem from 20 years ago when MMP was introduced and 25 MPs switched parties, but which has been resolved by voters ejecting the opportunists and re-electing those who did so on justifiable grounds.
“The Bill makes the flawed assumption that all MPs who fall out with their party are unprincipled and lack integrity. It undermines core Kiwi values of freedom of expression and tolerance of dissent.
“Governments must exercise restraint in electoral law changes and the convention has developed that significant changes require a supermajority. This Bill sets an awful and dangerous precedent where a party with only seven per cent support has used its leverage in government formation to force permanent changes to electoral law that undermine democracy.
“This is a crude power grab by Winston Peters to give him absolute power over his MPs in this fragile government, but which dangerously converts New Zealand into what the Inter Parliamentary Union calls a party dictatorship.
“Fundamentally this Bill is an attack on basic democratic values and centuries-old freedom of speech in our Parliament. National will oppose the Bill at every step and with every tool available.”
The Government’s policy of a billion more trees is being directly contradicted by its decision to scrap years of work on Māori land reform, National’s Forestry and Māori Development spokespersons Dr Nick Smith and Nuk Korako say.
“The Government needs a million hectares to deliver on its promised one billion more trees and has identified underutilised Māori land as the key opportunity. The problem is that it has just scrapped the very Te Ture Whenua reforms that would enable this land to be used for forestry – and admitted part of the problem is the difficulty of using Maori land,” Dr Smith says.
“Regions like Northland and the Bay of Plenty are the worst victims of this muddled policy. There is over 500,000 hectares of Māori land in these regions, with at least half of that suitable for forestry but inaccessible because of the bureaucracy of current Māori land law.”
“It is extraordinary that Forestry Minister Shane Jones is blaming the fact he can’t deliver on his 100 million trees promise this year on the difficulty of getting approval to use Māori land when his Government has just scrapped the very reforms that would solve this problem,” Mr Korako says
“Labour and New Zealand First only have themselves to blame for this mess. They have scrapped the six years of hard work put into the Te Ture Whenua reforms and must now accept responsibility for the lost economic opportunity for Māori – a work programme which would have helped create jobs and boost incomes and regional economies - and for not being able to deliver on their flagship billion tree promise.
“It is time for Labour and New Zealand First to do what is right for Māori. They played cynical politics by previously opposing the TPP, but with some window dressing, are now supporting it. They need to do the same on the Te Ture Whenua Bill and give Māori the tools to create wealth and jobs off their own land.”
The new Government’s target to plant a billion trees in ten years is rapidly turning into a fanciful mirage, National Party MPs Simon Bridges and Nick Smith say.
“We learnt on Friday that Regional Development Minister Shane Jones is now hoping to plant just five million extra trees this year,” Regional Development Spokesperson Mr Bridges says.
“At 5 million trees a year, it would take 200 years to achieve a billion trees. I know Mr Jones is not the hardest worker but stretching a ten year target out to 200 years would be an impressive under-achievement even for him.”
Forestry Spokesperson Nick Smith says this back down on the flagship forestry policy is hugely embarrassing and damaging to the Government’s economic and environmental credibility.
“The Government initially promised 100 million extra trees per year. This was then cut in half by including 50 million trees already being planted each year. The latest back down further reduces the new planting planned for this year to only five million,” Mr Smith says.
“The new target for 2018 is now no different from what is already happening. An average of 55 million trees were planted each year over the last seven years, increasing to 62.5 million in 2016, the last year of full data. The Minister’s new promise of 55 million trees being planted this year is barely any promise at all.”
Mr Bridges says this change in target is on top of plans to change the overseas investment rules so the values of forest investments drop significantly. That will only decrease forest plantings.
“We are three months in and not a single tree has been planted - so the Government is around 24 million trees behind target already.
“The Labour-led Government is already getting a reputation for lots of talk and no follow-through in regional New Zealand. Labour MPs at their Caucus this weekend need to think about what they’re actually going to do for the regions.
“As with Mr Jones’ Work for the Dole scheme and the Government’s unclear plans for the Opotiki Harbour and regional immigration, this is another policy that is a slogan without anything behind it. It is simply a mirage,” Mr Bridges says.
Government Minister Dr Nick Smith has paid tribute to the New Zealand servicemen who fought in the Battle of Passchendaele a century ago at commemorations today in Belgium.
“The 12th of October 1917 at Passchendaele was the worst loss of life in New Zealand history, with 843 soldiers killed that day. We remember the courage and sacrifice of these brave men in atrocious conditions and pay tribute to their service to our country and the values they stood for,” Dr Smith says.
“The huge losses New Zealand suffered on the Western Front during World War 1 exceeded those for all other battles and all other wars, with Passchendaele being the worst. These tragic campaigns contributed to New Zealand having the highest per capita loss of life of any country during WW1.”
Dr Smith attended the official commemorations at Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery in the world, containing the graves of 520 New Zealanders. Prince William attended on behalf of the Queen and Princess Astrid of Belgium on behalf of King Philippe, along with many New Zealanders, including Speaker of the House Hon David Carter.
The New Zealand Passchendaele Centennial Memorial and Garden in Belgium were also opened as part of the commemorations. Ceremonies concluded at sunset at Buttes New British Cemetery in Polygon Wood, where 95 Kiwis are buried and where the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing records the names of 388 New Zealanders who died near there but have no known grave.
“The losses at Passchendaele were so huge that most New Zealand families have a connection to a fallen soldier. It has added poignancy to the commemorations and my visit to have found the gravesite of my wife’s relative, Private Nelson Newport of the 2nd Battalion Canterbury Regiment, who was killed in action during the Battle of Passchendaele.
“We owe it to the memory of the thousands of New Zealanders who died under horrendous conditions on the Western Front in places like Passchendaele to value the freedom, liberty and justice they fought for and to constantly strive for peace so as to avoid repeats of such tragic conflicts in future.”
Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith has today paid tribute to the service given by David Bedford as a commissioner, appointed councillor and chair of Environment Canterbury during the past seven years.
“Mr Bedford, who was appointed an ECan commissioner in 2010 in recognition of his strong commercial and governance experience, has resigned due to ill health. He and fellow commissioners have done an outstanding job in turning ECan from being one the worst performers in local government to one of the best,” Dr Smith says.
“I particularly acknowledge Mr Bedford’s work as ECan chair for the past year, during which time he has successfully transitioned the governance of the council to the mixed model of elected and appointed councillors in preparation for full election in 2019.
“Mr Bedford has played a pivotal role in advancing significant air quality improvements, assisting with regional transport issues and in implementing tighter water quality and allocation plans across the region.
“Canterbury is indebted to him for his years of service to ECan at a difficult time, involving major organisational changes and the challenges of the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes. I know the people of North Canterbury have been particularly appreciative of his work and his willingness to listen, and his work on the zone committees in Hurunui and Kaikoura.
“I have today thanked Mr Bedford for his service, on behalf of the Government. I also met today with chief executive and acting chairman Steve Lowndes. The intention is for ECan to continue with the acting chair until a new Government is formed and a decision made on Mr Bedford’s replacement.”
Claims by the Green Party that its polls show it is going to win the Nelson seat this Saturday shows just how desperate they have become since their slump in the polls says Nelson MP Nick Smith.
“The Green Party is push polling in an attempt to manipulate Saturday’s result with alternative facts in the last week before the election,” Dr Smith says.
“This sort of polling is banned in some countries and it reflects poorly on the Greens that they have resorted to this tactic to try and save themselves.
Push polling is when a poll is conducted in such a biased way that rather than trying to predict the election outcome, it tries to skew it by asking leading questions.
“The poll question ‘Which candidate between the Green’s Matt Lawrey and Labour’s Rachel Boyack will beat Nick Smith?’ will never give a fair reading of public opinion on who is going to win the election,” Dr Smith says.
“The poll question is also at odds with the Memorandum of Understanding between Labour and the Greens, undermining how they could work together in any Government.
“I have been contacted by dozens of Nelsonians offended by the poll and this underhand tactic, who rightly refused to participate. The fact that most respondents when faced with such a biased question, still indicated their support, shows the strength of my support.
“Green Party Leader James Shaw needs to distance himself from his Nelson candidate rather than support him for his poor judgement or risk even further degrading the Green Party’s already seriously damaged brand.”
The roll-out of a soft plastics recycling scheme in Nelson today means New World, Countdown and Pak’nSave supermarkets in the South Island will offer the service, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.
“The Love NZ Soft Plastics Recycling Programme is the next logical step for households in reducing waste. It means people can take the likes of bread bags, shopping bags and frozen vege bags to these supermarkets for collection, re-manufacture and re-use,” Dr Smith says.
“Most households now recycle paper, cardboard, glass, metal cans and hard plastic containers, and the extra challenge with soft plastics was finding a practical way of collecting them and keeping them clean enough for re-use. The programme is already running in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Canterbury and will now roll out to stores from Nelson to Invercargill.
“These additional South Island locations mean the programme reaches its goal of 70 per cent of New Zealanders having access to a drop-off facility within 20km of their home.
“A Government Waste Minimisation Fund grant of $700,930 supports this joint initiative between the retail sector, the packaging industry and the Government to enable the recycling of soft plastics.
“The soft plastic collected is turned into useful products such as benches and bollards, extending the life of this valuable resource. The programme will now be available at more than 350 stores nationwide, and includes South Island New World, Countdown and Pak’nSave supermarkets.
“This initiative builds on the work we have done with hard plastics, like the opening last month of the Flight Plastics processing facility in Lower Hutt, which received a $4 million Government grant. This facility has the capacity to turn more than 200 million plastic drink bottles a year into high grade food-safe packaging.
“The soft plastics programme is a great example of how businesses can make positive changes that enable every-day New Zealanders to divert plastic waste from ending up as litter or landfill. Its North Island roll-out will continue next year, with Rotorua, Tauranga and Palmerston North.
“The success of the programme to date clearly shows New Zealanders’ enthusiasm for reducing waste to landfill. This year more than 200 tonnes of soft plastics have already been collected for recycling.
“It is needed regardless of the debate on single use shopping bags. I welcome the announcement yesterday by Foodstuffs that they are exploring a charge on single use supermarket bags but the soft plastics problem is far larger than just the single use supermarket bags.
“This innovative and collaborative approach has proved successful in other locations and I’m looking forward to seeing Nelsonians embrace it,” Dr Smith concluded.
National will make it easier for first home buyers to get a deposit by doubling the financial support available when buying an existing house, and increasing it for new builds, Ms Amy Adams and Dr Nick Smith say.
“National believes every New Zealander should be able to buy their own house if they want to – so we are building on our existing suite of measures to support first home buyers,” Housing New Zealand spokesperson Amy Adams says.
The changes mean a couple will be eligible for an extra $10,000 of Government HomeStart Grants, taking the grants to $20,000 for an existing home or $30,000 for a new build.
The additional grants mean there is funding to help a further 80,000 people into their first home over the next four years, on top of the 31,000 people the scheme has already helped.
Building and Construction spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says HomeStart Grants complement other Government measures to support first home buyers, including:
- Welcome Home Loans, which allow first home buyers to access Government-backed mortgages with a 10 per cent deposit
- KiwiSaver FirstHome Withdrawals, which allow New Zealanders to access all of their KiwiSaver funds to put towards a deposit.
“Take a couple on the average wage in Auckland who have been in KiwiSaver for five years and are looking to buy their first home,” Dr Smith says.
“Between the $20,000 HomeStart Grant and their KiwiSaver withdrawal, they will have around $60,000 for a deposit for an existing home.
“Add in a Government-backed Welcome Home Loan, which means they only need a 10 per cent deposit, and they have enough for a house worth up to $600,000 – the Auckland HomeStart cap for existing homes - without needing other savings.
“That’s significant support for those New Zealanders, particularly given 18 per cent of home sales in Auckland in the past year were below $600,000.
“If that couple lived in Palmerston North, they would have enough for a 20 per cent deposit on a $300,000 house, without the need for a Welcome Home Loan.”
Ms Adams says National will also combine HomeStart Grants and Welcome Home Loans into one HomeStart product, so first home buyers can get all the support available to them from one place.
“We will simplify the application process for Welcome Home Loans to allow accredited banks to approve these 10 per cent deposit, Government-backed loans on the spot – rather than going through an often time-consuming process with Housing New Zealand,” Ms Adams says.
Dr Smith says National’s policies are helping 200,000 new houses be built over the next six years – the equivalent of four extra Dunedins.
“We are increasing our support for first home buyers, and making it easier to access, to further help young New Zealanders achieve their dream of owning their first home.”
The changes will come into force on 1 January 2018. They are expected to cost $74 million per year, to be met from the 2018 Budget allowance. Costs in 2017/18 will be met from the between budget contingency.
A re-elected National-led government will introduce new fit-for-purpose urban planning laws separate from the Resource Management Act to encourage more responsive planning, faster development, and better protection for the environment in our growing cities, Infrastructure spokesperson Steven Joyce and Environment spokesperson Nick Smith say.
“New Zealand is growing strongly and we want to make it easier to build the housing and infrastructure for that growth while still ensuring our urban environments are some of the most liveable in the world,” Mr Joyce says.
“To do that we need to give our cities the ability to adapt and develop faster, while respecting and improving the urban environment - and the current planning system is not allowing that.
“The RMA’s one-size-fits-all approach has restrained the development of our cities, dragged on their economic performance, and restricted the supply of much-needed housing and infrastructure.
“So National will establish a fit-for-purpose planning system that allows our cities to evolve in a way that improves the quality of the local environment, and makes them great places to live and work.”
Dr Smith says the new planning legislation will have clear and separate objectives for regulating urban and natural environments.
“Over the past nine years we’ve simplified the RMA and made it easier to build but the RMA is only one part of the planning system, and we have reached the end of what can be done by making incremental changes to the Act,” Dr Smith says.
“We agree with a number of stakeholders that it is time to develop fit-for-purpose planning legislation dedicated to urban environments that includes the relevant parts of the Local Government Act and the Land Transport Management Act in one piece of legislation.
“So we will set up separate planning and environmental regulations specifically designed to encourage growth while tackling the environmental challenges found in cities, such as air pollution and storm water surges,” Dr Smith says.
“This new legislation will work in parallel with our plan to put in place urban development authorities to redevelop specific brownfields areas in our cities to allow for more housing – the work for which is already underway.
“While the focus of this reform will be on urban planning we will keep a close eye on what changes may also be applicable to non-urban and rural areas through the existing RMA. National will start its urban planning reform process by consulting with key stakeholders, local government, iwi, experts, and the public to develop fit-for-purpose legislation that works for cities.
“The successful Auckland Unitary Plan and the Independent Hearings Panel review process shows we can put sensible rules in place that work for everyone. We want to use the same collaborative formula to create an urban planning system that enables growth, gives businesses the confidence to invest, and adapts to the changing needs of cities,” Dr Smith says.
Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith is hailing today’s pest control operation in the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary as a win for the survival of New Zealand’s native birds.
“The Brook Waimarama Sanctuary Trust has fought long and hard for today’s pest control operation. It has had to go to court three times as a result of action by the Brook Valley Community Trust to try to stop it, and three times the court has backed the Sanctuary Trust,” Dr Smith says.
“The science is clear that the only way birds like kiwi, kokako, kea and kaka will survive is to effectively control the pests that have decimated their populations. I can appreciate people’s angst at killing rats, stoats and possums but every year these pests brutally kill 25 million native birds.
“It’s a credit to Sanctuary Trust members that they have persevered through these court cases and vandalism of the sanctuary to carry out today’s operation. They have toiled for 15 years, raising more than $5 million and spending thousands of hours volunteering to realise their vision, and I commend them for their efforts.
“I wish the sanctuary every success with this challenging operation. It is a huge technical challenge to successfully eradicate every single rat, stoat and possum. If we can successfully get through this controversial phase, we will soon as a community be able to share the joy of reintroducing birds to Nelson’s backyard that have been absent for a century.”