Newly released figures show that under the previous National Government’s watch, the level of women’s participation on state sector boards and committees reached a record high of 45.7 per cent, National’s spokesperson for Women Paula Bennett says.
“National has led the charge on promoting women and developing policy settings that have encouraged more women into leadership roles.
“Under our Government, women were represented in over 45 per cent of governance roles appointed by Ministers onto state sector boards and committees.
“These are smart, talented, formidable women who were appointed into these roles based on merit and the value they could bring to the role, not based on quotas.
“It’s good that this Government wants to continue this work and build on the enormous gains made by women in recent years, but there’s still more to do and it’s important to recognise that change comes from the top.
“So it’s a shame that there are fewer women in senior Cabinet positions under this Labour-led Government than there were under National.
“And it’s a bit of an irony that they are setting targets on the number of women on state sector boards where positive change is already happening, yet in areas like health and crime they are dropping targets which were having a real impact.
“National has led by example. We had a strong line-up of women in senior Cabinet positions which we’ve carried through to Opposition shadow portfolios, and will continue when we return to Government.”
The Government must concede its $2.8 billion fees-free policy has been a resounding failure with just 0.3 per cent more students at university – well short of the Government’s expected 15 per cent increase, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paula Bennett says.
“There was never any evidence that cost was a significant barrier to entry for most students, yet this was the justification Labour gave for spending $2.8 billion on making university free for students.
“In what is typical of this Government, it did no cost-benefit analysis of the policy nor did it listen to experts, and that’s come back to bite it with Tertiary Education Commission figures showing there has been almost no increase in university enrolments and a 3.2 per cent drop in enrolments at polytechnics and institutes of technology.
“That includes no increase in university enrolments by those that the Government would have expected to target with this policy, like Māori, Pasifika or those from low-socio economic backgrounds.
“As Universities New Zealand Executive Director Chris Whelan has said, this means the Government is simply subsidising higher education for kids from wealthy families who would have gone to university anyway.
“Not only that, but University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon has estimated that the policy has cost our universities around half a million dollars because of the work they had to put into determining who was and wasn’t eligible.
“That might have been worth it had there been an increase in students, but there hasn’t and the Government has provided no extra money to the universities to cover these costs, nor to help them improve the quality of their courses.
“No matter how the Government tries to spin it, this policy has been a complete failure and arguably the biggest waste of taxpayers’ money in the last few decades.”
The Ardern-Peters Government continues to arrogantly show it doesn’t want its ideas challenged and that it’s willing to insult those who disagree with its ministers, National’s Deputy Leader Paula Bennett says.
“In the latest example of arrogance, Justice Minister Andrew Little has called Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar ‘loopy’.
“That’s no way for a Minister of the Crown to act. He might not agree with Mr McVicar but he should have a thicker skin and respect the right of people to disagree with him – and refrain from insulting those who don’t. That stifles debate and will mean the Government’s bad ideas aren’t properly tested.
“Concerningly, it’s become a pattern of behaviour from this Government.
“Mr Little has previously, repeatedly said that every constitutional law expert in the country is wrong and only he is right about concerns Winston Peters’ Waka Jumping Bill breaches the Bill of Rights.
“Housing Minister Phil Twyford recently slammed the ‘kids’ at Treasury who were ‘fresh out of university and … completely disconnected from reality’ when they halved their forecast for the impact of the KiwiBuild policy would have on residential construction.
“And Economic Development Minister David Parker has claimed that ANZ's business confidence surveys are ‘junk’ and ‘you should throw them away’ because he didn’t like their findings. This is on top of other ministers like Stuart Nash and David Clark admitting they don’t even read official advice.
“This arrogant dismissal of experts and people who don’t agree is wrong, it’s arrogant and it’s got to stop.
“For a Government that is outsourcing the vast bulk of its work to working groups and reviews – more than 120 and counting – it had better start considering advice, allowing its ideas to be tested and working in the best interests of New Zealanders rather than itself.”
The Government’s characterisation of an indecent assault on a female Corrections Officer by a male prisoner as a ‘pinch’ trivialises the offence and undermines the victim, National’s Women spokesperson Paula Bennett and Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell say.
“The victim had her buttock grabbed hard and held by the offender and when she tried to get away, the offender followed her and grabbed a gate to stop her from leaving. In her own words, this left her feeling degraded, vulnerable and uneasy at work,” Ms Bennett says.
“Yet Justice Minister Andrew Little has repeatedly defined this serious assault as merely a ‘pinch on the bottom’, with Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter today defending Mr Little.
“Ms Genter first avoided questions about whether she agreed with characterising the grabbing of a woman’s bottom for a prolonged period as merely a ‘pinch’. When pushed, she acknowledged the offence was serious but failed to condemn Mr Little’s comments.
“Women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence and instead of downplaying and trivialising this assault, the Government should be advocating for women to ensure that they feel safe and supported to speak up and know that these offences will be taken seriously.”
Mr Mitchell says it’s unacceptable that Mr Little has repeatedly misrepresented this indecent assault case as a ‘pinch on the bottom’ and dismissed it as ‘not violent’ and ‘low level’.
“In the days since he first made these comments, many women who have been victims of similar assaults have told me they feel undermined and marginalised by the Government.
“He today admitted that he based his comments on stories in the media and hadn’t bothered to read the sentencing note that detailed the significant impact of the assault on the victim.
“When Mr Little was today offered the chance to apologise to the many women who have said they are hurt and offended by his comments, he refused.
“Indecent assault is never acceptable and suggesting otherwise sends completely the wrong message to victims and offenders. Mr Little and Ms Genter should be ashamed.”
New Zealand’s universities risk slipping further down the international rankings if the Government doesn’t urgently address its misplaced spending priorities, National’s Tertiary Education Spokesperson Paula Bennett says.
“For the first time in nearly two decades universities in New Zealand have received no increase in Government funding, not even to keep up with inflation, instead directing $2.8 billion into the failed policy to increase student numbers.
“This means that universities are being forced to make cuts to staffing, with the anticipation that there will be more to come. These cuts will negatively impact the ratio of staff to students and jeopardise the quality of tertiary education delivered in New Zealand.
“If our universities are unable to maintain the number of staff they have had as a result of a lack of Government funding they will continue to slide down the international rankings. This will make it harder for them to attract staff, which will cause the quality to drop even further.
“The Government needs to consider what is really important here, participation numbers or the quality of our tertiary education.
“We can be sure that if we don’t maintain the quality of our tertiary education institutions, the best and brightest students will just take their enrolments overseas.
“The Minister has put all his eggs in a misplaced basket with his badly targeted $2.8 billion fees free policy and hasn’t considered the funding needs of the tertiary education sector.
“National is committed to ensuring quality education is delivered in New Zealand and our tertiary education system is supplying the skills we need to support our growing economy.”
For the first time in two decades universities in New Zealand will receive no real increase in government funding, while $2.8 billion is being spent on the failed policy to lift participation in tertiary education, National’s Tertiary Education Spokesperson Paula Bennett says.
“The Government’s $2.8 billion fees-free bribe has proven to be the biggest waste of money in recent history, with Treasury’s Budget documents revealing that the number of students in tertiary education is forecast to decline by almost 1000 in 2018/19.
“At the same time, the Government is doing nothing about investing in the quality of our universities – not even increasing funding to at least keep up with inflation.
“The sector has estimated that with no increase in government funding, for tuition and research it will cost some universities around $5 million-$10 million next year which is equivalent to 50-100 jobs. For the university sector itself, it could cost between $18 million and $36 million.
“There’s no point getting more students into tertiary education if the institutions aren’t even funded enough to stay afloat, let alone to provide quality education in keeping with international standards.
“We cannot compromise the quality of education for the volume of enrolments.
“In this case, the Government is compromising quality but getting fewer students in tertiary education so it’s a lose-lose situation.
“That’s because it didn’t bother to do any cost-benefit analysis of the fees-free policy – if it had, it would have realised how wasteful the $2.8 billion spend would be and perhaps redirected the funding into ensuring the quality of education.
“We can be sure that if we don’t maintain the quality of our tertiary education institutions, the best and brightest students will just take their enrolments overseas.”
The Government must be upfront with the public that it wants to stop using data and, in doing so, will throw away the greatest opportunity in a generation to improve the lives of vulnerable New Zealanders, National’s Spokesperson for Social Investment Paula Bennett says.
“Minister Sepuloni today said that the Government will work with the ‘social sector to develop a single shared set of rules and tools for the use and protection of personal information in the social sector’.
“National has already done that – it’s called the Data Futures Partnership, and it delivered a report on the use of data in August 2017. ‘A Path to Social Licence’ made a number of recommendations to help organisations work with data in a way that builds trust with individuals and the community.
“The report reflects what thousands of New Zealanders told us as we engaged with people across the country. Now, the Government wants to ignore that and restart the conversation – presumably because it didn’t tell the Government what it wanted to hear.
“The only explanation for the Government’s decision today to form yet another working group, after years of work on how we use and protect data, is because they fundamentally don’t believe data will make a difference to the delivery of social services.
“The Social Investment model is a tool designed to break down silos to ensure vulnerable New Zealanders get access to services targeted to their specific need.
“The Ardern-Peters Government gutted the Privacy Act reforms championed by Amy Adams, and ignored recommendations and advice from the Data Futures Partnership and their own Social Investment Agency.
“It seems ideologically driven to not make any changes that would see data utilised for the betterment of New Zealanders.
“All we will see while the Government blocks important reforms to data usage is more vulnerable New Zealanders missing out on opportunities to move out of dependency.”
The New Zealand Parliament now boasts the highest proportion of women in its history, and that’s cause for celebration National’s spokesperson for Women Paula Bennett says.
“With the recent return of West Coast-Tasman list MP Maureen Pugh and the swearing in of Wellington Central list MP Nicola Willis, the proportion of female MPs has now grown to 40 per cent.
“National leads the charge on promoting women and developing policy settings that have encouraged women to make the enormous gains that they have in recent years.
“Under our watch, women held 45 percent of governance roles appointed by Ministers onto State sector boards and committees, and we had a strong line-up of women in senior Cabinet positions which has continued in Opposition shadow portfolios.
“We have come a long way since women gained the right to vote in 1893 and first female MP was elected in 1933 - but there is still more work to be done to ensure gender equality.
“Pay equity goes right to the heart of equality issues. It is very disappointing that this Ardern-Peters Government has now twice blocked progress to address pay equity. First, by putting pay equity legislation introduced last year on ice and most recently by voting down Denise Lees’ Private Members Bill that would have reintroduced that legislation.
“I want to congratulate Nicola on her election to Parliament.
“Along with the 18 other women in National’s Caucus, Nicola is a great example of a strong, resourceful and capable politician. Change comes from the top and more women in Parliament will only help this,” Mrs Bennett says.
On a day dedicated to celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, National is proud to be setting the parity agenda, Spokesperson for Women Paula Bennett says.
“It’s International Women’s Day and I stand proud alongside my fellow wahine as a mother, a grandmother, a politician, a wife and a fisherman (in no particular order) as an example of what we can do and what we can be given the opportunities.
“It’s a fact that in the National Party we have a number of very smart, formidable women who’ve carved out some exceptional careers for themselves both inside and outside of Parliament – and it’s a real focus of ours to ensure we promote talent in our Caucus based on merit, and not just to meet quotas.
“National’s done a great job in developing and promoting policy settings that have encouraged women to make the gains that they have in recent years.
“Under our watch women held 45 percent of governance roles appointed by Ministers onto State sector boards and committees, and we had a strong line-up of women in senior Cabinet positions, which has continued in Opposition shadow portfolios.
“The New Zealand economy has undergone robust growth in recent years and it’s no accident that the labour force participation rate for women is almost 65 percent, the highest rate ever.
“The gender pay gap has reduced by 16.3 percent in 1998 to 9.4 percent – but we all agree, there’s still more to be done to close that. The $2 billion pay equity settlement that National made last year to 55,000 aged care workers has meant that some of our hardest working women received an average of $100 a week more in their hand.
“Change comes from the top and it’s a shame to see there are now fewer women in senior Cabinet positions under the Labour-led Government than there were under National.
“The Prime Minister is a great example of how women are more than capable of grabbing opportunities and running with them. I hope that her words turn into action when it comes to equal pay for women and she continues the work that National started,” Mrs Bennett says.
It beggars belief that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today admitted she has no idea whether her Education Minister, Associate Education Minister or Employment Minister have declared actual or perceived conflicts of interest in relation to partnership schools, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Paula Bennett says.
“Declaring actual or perceived conflicts of interest with the Cabinet Office is an incredibly important part of protecting both ministerial interests and the organisations that Ministers are involved in.
“It ensures there are no improper interactions between a Minister exercising their responsibilities as Minister and organisations that might have an interest in decisions made by the Government.
“Ministers who are local MPs have, in the past, registered their perceived conflicts of interest in dealing with local schools.
“Associate Education Minister Kelvin Davis has admitted to the House that he has been involved in negotiations and conversations with partnership schools in his electorate. This despite the very clear guidance from the Cabinet Manual which says ‘Where the member also holds the relevant portfolio or is the Associate Minister, further measures, as set out in paragraphs 2.73 – 2.74, are likely to be needed to manage any possible conflict.’
“This clearly shows that Kelvin Davis should have declared his actual or perceived conflicts in relation to partnership schools.
“And yet today, when pressed on whether she had checked the register of conflicts of interest – or even asked the Cabinet Office - the Prime Minister admitted that she had not and felt no need to.
“Frankly, I’m surprised that the Cabinet Office hasn’t proactively addressed this with the Prime Minister.
“This is a serious matter and the Prime Minister should deal with conflicts of interest appropriately and within the parameters of the Cabinet Manual,” Mrs Bennett says.