A coordinated approach across health, education, law and order and border control is needed to counter the complex issues around drugs in New Zealand, National’s new spokesperson for Drug Reform Paula Bennett says.
“The Government’s confused, contradictory and ad hoc policy on drug reform is likely to cause more harm and shows that a measured, sensible and coordinated approach is needed.
“As we see changes coming in by stealth, along with the upcoming referendum there are many unanswered questions and no evidence that the Government is thinking them through.
“Meth has become a scourge on our society. When I was Police Minister I did extensive work on the ‘Meth Action Plan’ which would crack down on drug dealers and stop trafficking at our borders, while ensuring those who need rehabilitation get access to the best services.
“Drug reform needs to consider health, education and justice. We need rehabilitation available for those affected but we also need to hold the people who peddle drugs into our communities accountable, so it makes sense to have someone overseeing the work.
“When it comes to legalising marijuana, there are serious questions around drug driving, the effects of younger people accessing and using, youth mental health, and how this fits with our ambitions to be smoke free.
“What would a regulated industry look like? Will gangs be able to grow and sell marijuana? Will THC levels be regulated? Will drug testing be done on the roadside? What will the legal age be?
“There is evidence from other jurisdictions that have legalised marijuana that road deaths have increased, younger people have increased consumption and there are negative neuro-psychological issues for teenagers that use marijuana while their brains are still developing.
“National has shown that it understands the issues around drugs through our Members Bill around medicinal marijuana which was widely recognised as superior to the Government’s legislation.
“We welcome a debate on legalising marijuana however I am concerned that the Government has gone into this half-heartedly and as a distraction. The debate needs to be informed and at this stage all we have seen is an announcement by the Prime Minister about a referendum without her even knowing what the question will be.
“I will be holding her and the Labour-led Government to account.”
National is disappointed by the news that the Taratahi Institute of Agriculture is going into interim liquidation, National MPs Paula Bennett and Nathan Guy say.
“The Government is bribing students into tertiary education through its fees free programme and yet is now allowing one of our biggest agricultural tertiary education providers to fold,” National’s Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment spokesperson Mrs Bennett says.
“This will have a huge impact on the around 900 students and 250 staff who were due to start and facilitate courses at Taratahi this summer.
“We believe Taratahi approached Ministers for cash flow of $4 million to keep it afloat but this Government has failed to support it. Taratahi needed just a fraction of the $2.8 billion fees free bribe or the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund and yet Ministers couldn’t find the money to keep Taratahi training students while it worked through its issues.
“This Government has badly let down rural communities, students and staff. It talks up its support of the regions but has once again turned its back on them when it matters.”
“Wairarapa-based Taratahi and Southland’s Telford have a long-standing and valued place in primary sector education,” National’s Agriculture spokesperson Mr Guy says.
“This is a sad day for New Zealand agriculture. The performance of the primary sector is critical to our economy, and that depends on having well qualified, motivated and high-quality workers.
“We hope that Taratahi can be salvaged. The agricultural sector is dependent on farming graduates to serve the industry. Taratahi plays an important role in providing those graduates.
“The primary sector is growing and New Zealand needs 1,100 new workers each year. The much needed industry skills pipeline is now in jeopardy with around 900 fewer graduates.”
The Government’s fees free scheme is not only an educational failure, it is also wasting tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers money on free gap years and late withdrawals, National’s spokesperson for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Paula Bennett says.
“The Tertiary Education Commission today confirmed at its annual review that around 5000 students who received a year of free tertiary education have failed this year at a cost of $35 million to the Government.
“The TEC also confirmed that once you add in the costs from the 2619 students who withdrew from their courses after using the fees free scheme, the taxpayer will be stumping up over $50 million for nothing.
“Taxpayers will be rightly unimpressed at over $50 million being flushed down the drain instead of being used to help settle pay disputes or going into funding their multiple broken promises in health. This from a Government which has said over and over again there’s no more money and that its Ministers should be cutting one per cent from their budgets.
“Finally, the TEC today revealed they are considering prosecuting up to 20 students for attempting to rort the system and get a free year of study by falsifying their applications. This number could also increase as more data comes in.
“The fees free policy is a $2.8 billion failure that has done nothing but reduce the number of students studying, and increase the number having a holiday courtesy of the taxpayer. Minister Hipkins needs to immediately reconsider his ill-thought out bribe before New Zealanders spend billions more on years two and three.”
The Labour-led Government’s election bribe of fees-free tertiary education has been a complete failure, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paula Bennett says.
“Education Minister Chris Hipkins’ own numbers show there are 2,400 fewer students in tertiary education and training than a year ago.
“This expensive policy was designed to attract more students into tertiary education and it has completely failed.
“This policy is costing taxpayers $2.8 billion dollars and we’re going backwards. They should never have over promised and should be spending this money in education areas where it is really needed.
“Will they be going ahead with making the second and third years free as they have promised? It’s time to admit failure and put money where it is really needed.
“Universities have had only ten more students enrol, Wānanga have decreased by 1,188 and PTEs have decreased by 674.
“More worryingly, there are 4,740 fewer people undergoing Industry Training at a time where we’re desperately short of skilled workers.
“Chris Hipkins needs to admit that his flagship policy is a failure and redirect the billions of dollars to where it’s actually needed.”
Today is a day for all New Zealanders to take some time to reflect on women’s rights, National’s Women’s spokesperson Paula Bennett says.
“I’m so proud to live in a country where we were the first to give women the vote. Kate Sheppard and the other suffragettes did us proud.
“I’m also proud to live in a country where women continue to be high achievers on the world stage.
“It’s a privilege to be in a Parliament which now boasts the highest proportion of women in its history. But we can’t lose sight of how much further we have to go.
“The gender pay gap is still too high and it will remain too high until it no longer exists.
“The National-led Government introduced pay equity principles and settled a $2 billion pay equity claim for 55,000 care and support workers. We will continue to fight for pay equity and equality.”
With the number of jobs being created and the economy slowing and business confidence plummeting it’s becoming increasingly clear the Government has no clue what to do about it, National’s Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment spokesperson Paula Bennett says.
“Employment Minister Willie Jackson’s appearance on The Nation this morning was another clear sign this Government is flailing and has no ideas as it waits for its 160-odd working groups to report back with instructions on how to arrest New Zealand’s economic decline.
“When asked how he plans to get people into work - or put simply, do his job – Mr Jackson was left waffling about asking Grant Robertson for more money, trying to change Winston Peters’ mind about targeted funding for Māori and talking to employers ‘in terms of the seasons and what’s happening’.
“But he can’t say what his plans are for to turn around job creation which has plummeted 60 per cent since the election, what his target is for Māori unemployment, how many jobs will be lost as a result of the Government’s pledge to raise the minimum wage to $20 by 2021 or how he will help employers fill labour shortages during peak seasons.
“What’s worse is even then he’s at odds with his colleagues. He says the answer to labour shortages isn’t to bring labour in from overseas when his colleague Shane Jones is saying he wants to do exactly that to help plant his trees.
“Like the rest of his Government Mr Jackson is all talk, though he is even less convincing than most. What’s becoming increasingly clear is this Government has no clue about how to arrest plummeting business confidence, declining job creation and a slowing economy - much of which can be sheeted home to its anti-growth policies.
“All this adds to the uncertainty gripping business. The Government’s economic management is clearly in disarray and New Zealanders are paying the price.”
National supports efforts to get hard to reach young people into work but believes they must also be held accountable for that extra support and to get their lives on track, National’s Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment spokesperson Paula Bennett says.
“National had a real focus on getting those young people not in employment, education or training into work and had many successes in tough times. We know they are often the hardest to reach and face real challenges around getting into work and staying there.
“Many need intensive support and wraparound services to deal with issues like a lack of role models, education, mental health and drug and alcohol issues. And while many employers want to help these young people it is these issues which also stand in their way, and they will need support to deal with that.
“But these young people must also bear some of that responsibility, as well as obligations for the extra support and there are questions around this that the Government needs to answer.
“For example will there be repercussions for young people who refuse to take up the scheme or who start it then fail to continue? Will they be able to go straight back onto welfare? What about for those who repeatedly fail to turn up and what sort of checks will be in place to ensure they do?
“This Government is already removing fair sanctions for beneficiaries who fail to meet reasonable obligations and that’s not fair to those who need more support or to taxpayers.
“We already know the Government is struggling to understand the issues – it woefully underestimated the cost, with the budget blowing out from an estimated $13.2 million to up to $64 million a year.
“How can taxpayers have any faith they’ll get the rest of the detail right?”
The Government’s proposed changes to post-study work rights for international students could cost New Zealand 1000 jobs and up to $1.4 billion, just as the economy starts to cool and unemployment starts to rise, say National’s Tertiary Education spokespeople Paula Bennett and Simeon Brown.
“The Government’s proposed changes to post-study work rights have prompted forecasts from Aspire2 that show there could be a direct hit to the economy of up to $1.4 billion and result in a loss of up to 1000 jobs,” says Mrs Bennett.
“Today we’ve seen unemployment rise for the first time since 2016 as business confidence drops to its lowest level in a decade. Despite this, the Government seems intent on decimating a $4.5 billion sector.
“The Government’s changes are being made on the basis of preventing exploitation, which they should rightly be concerned with, but they should use some of their free-fees funding to boost the New Zealand Labour Inspectorate, instead of potentially crushing the sector.
“These changes risk driving education exports to countries like Canada who have clear and attractive policy settings for international students. Is the Government happy for Canadians to benefit from that $1.4 billion spend rather Kiwis?”
“Aspire2 also estimate that enrolments will drop by up to 90 per cent, forcing them to cut jobs and close a number of campuses which may force them out of the sector altogether,” says Mr Brown.
“Manukau Institute of Technology have also warned the Government that the proposed changes put their institution at risk of becoming financially unviable.
“The sector has made it clear that unintended consequences of the changes will also negatively impact the tourism and hospitality, horticulture, and agriculture industries.
“Ministers must reconsider these changes immediately before they put New Zealand’s fourth largest export earner at risk right when the economy is starting to wobble.”
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.”