Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf should have offered his resignation following the early release of Budget information, and at the very least should apologise for how he handled it, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Paula Bennett says.
“Mr Makhlouf had a responsibility to keep Budget information confidential. It is disappointing that he has taken no responsibility for the incompetency he has shown.
“It is clear the State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes felt he should offer his resignation. If Mr Makhlouf wasn’t already leaving, his position would be untenable.
“He will now likely leave the country, having collected a remuneration package of at least $640,000 a year, without any public apology for overseeing one of the biggest blunders in the Treasury’s history. The New Zealand public deserve better.
“Questions now need to be asked of Finance Minister Grant Robertson. He is ultimately responsible for the Treasury and the Budget, and the buck stops with him. It’s clear he did not ask the right questions of Mr Makhlouf and only heard what he wanted to hear – which was that the National Party was engaged in systematic hacking. He was happy to sit on that lie for more than 36 hours. He has never corrected his false statement.
“Mr Robertson is the one who publically linked the National Party to a false hacking claim. Given Mr Hughes felt it appropriate for a resignation to be offered by Mr Makhlouf, the Prime Minister should expect the same level of accountability from her Finance Minister.
“At the very least, Mr Robertson owes an apology to all New Zealanders, not just the National Party.
“The handling of this by the Treasury and the Minister has been incompetent. New Zealanders deserve better from what is arguably this country’s most important and influential Ministry.”
Women’s Minister Julie-Anne Genter has confirmed that women are paid less than men at the very Ministry that is focussed on eliminating the gender pay gap, National’s Women’s spokesperson Paula Bennett says.
“Julie-Anne Genter told a Select Committee that the men at her Ministry are paid six per cent more than the women. The pay gap at the Ministry has changed in favour of men since this Government came into power.
“If Julie-Anne Genter wants to have any credibility criticising private businesses or other Government departments, she needs to sort out her own Ministry first.
“This is another example of hypocrisy by Green Party Ministers who have swallowed more dead rats than a hungry stray cat. They supported the Waka-Jumping legislation, they didn’t get their Capital Gains Tax and there’s been no progress on the Kermadecs.
“Under a National Government the Gender Pay Gap decreased from 12 per cent to 9 per cent. It hasn’t changed under this Government.
“There are only 30 per cent women in this Government’s cabinet, fewer than under the National Government. The Prime Minister has the opportunity to address this tomorrow in her reshuffle.
“The Greens were incredibly vocal in Opposition but they’re finding the reality of Government much harder. It’s time for them to start walking the walk, because until now they’ve been all talk.”
Finance Minister Grant Robertson and GCSB Minister Andrew Little need to tell the truth about what information they received from the GCSB and Treasury about how sensitive Budget information had been accessed, National’s Deputy Leader Paula Bennett says.
“Reports this morning that there was a desperate 11th hour phone call to Andrew Little from the head of the GCSB to say Treasury’s website had not been hacked shows that senior Government Ministers knew they were releasing false information to the public.
“It is inconceivable that the GCSB Minister didn’t immediately phone Finance Minister Grant Robertson and the Prime Minister to give them that information.
“The fact that Grant Robertson went ahead and released a statement implying National had been releasing hacked information shows he was out to smear the National Party. He now needs to be up front about what information he had before he released that statement.
“If Mr Robertson received the information from Andrew Little after he released his statement, he should have immediately corrected it.
“We shouldn’t have to wait for the State Services Commission. Grant Robertson and Andrew Little, who claim to be part of the most open and transparent Government ever should tell us now what they knew. It’s time they stopped covering this up and let us know exactly what happened.”
The Prime Minister must be open and transparent about what questions she has asked her Finance Minister since spurious allegations were made that National acquired Budget documents through criminal activity, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Paula Bennett says.
National has written to State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes requesting the SSC widen its Budget investigation into Treasury and its Secretary to address a number of serious questions about the behaviour of both the department and the Finance Minister.
“The GCSB’s National Cyber Security Centre has said publically that it told Treasury its computer system was not compromised, yet both Gabriel Makhlouf and Grant Robertson chose to issue statements implying National carried out a ‘systematic hack’,” Ms Bennett says.
“Among the many questions that still need answering is what information Treasury and the Finance Minister had at their disposal before they issued those statements.
“The SSC inquiry should also include a complete review of all communications between the Finance Minister’s office and the Prime Minister’s office under the ‘no surprises’ approach.
“It took 36 hours for Treasury to come clean that it was sitting on a lie, and the Prime Minister needs to explain why she allowed her Government to mislead the public for so long.
“Did she and Grant Robertson ask the right questions of Gabriel Makhlouf, or did they take a ‘see no evil, speak no evil’ approach to all of this?
“It is concerning that even after Treasury admitted the Budget information was obtained without any hacking, its statement failed to offer an apology or take responsibility, and continued to disparage the Opposition in an entirely inappropriate way.
“The Government has botched both the handling and content of this Budget. Despite claiming to prioritise wellbeing its first act was to legislate for an extra $360m in fuel taxes over two years.
“It is also imposing more taxes on hardworking New Zealanders struggling with the rising cost of living, including a $71m tax on anyone using mobile phone overseas and a $57m workplace levy on businesses.
“There is barely enough money to keep the lights on for DHBs, more school classrooms but no teachers to fill them, no new roads and a $200m fund to drown farmers in tough regulations and excessive bureaucracy.
“National would prioritise frontline services in Health and Education, Infrastructure and take steps to help address rising living costs. More taxes on middle New Zealanders does not increase wellbeing.”
No matter how the Government tries to spin it, the referendum on legalising marijuana will not be binding, National’s Drug Reform spokesperson Paula Bennett says.
“The Government’s decision to go with option three means that while legislation will be drafted, it won’t go through the House, meaning Parliament won’t have the opportunity to improve the legislation through the Select Committee process, expert advice and public submissions.
“The Cabinet Paper leaked to the National Party was written pushing for option four which would see enacted legislation, this is also what the Greens were recommending. Instead the public do not get certainty and the advantages of a full Parliamentary process.
“Justice Minister Andrew Little has received advice from the Ministry of Justice that the only way a referendum can be binding is if legislation has gone through Parliament.
“It is too early to be having a debate about legalisation. We should have waited to see the evidence from Canada who only legalised in October. Since a referendum has been promised, we believe the public should have as much information and certainty as possible. This option does not deliver that.”
A Cabinet Paper leaked to National which will be considered by the Government tomorrow shows New Zealand will head into the recreational marijuana referendum with many unanswered questions, National’s Drug Reform spokesperson Paula Bennett says.
“Cabinet will tomorrow consider four different options for the referendum but no matter which option it choses, there are huge holes.
“The Cabinet Paper is clear that smoking marijuana when you’re under the age of 25 is detrimental for development of the brain, and yet it recommends that the legal age should be 20. The legal age seems to have been plucked out of thin air.
“The paper acknowledges that regular marijuana use increases the risk of developing depression, psychosis and schizophrenia and is especially harmful to those under 25-years-old. It also acknowledges that there is a one in six chance of young people becoming dependent. This would result in further demand for mental health services.
“There is no mention about what level of tax will be imposed on marijuana, will it be the same as tobacco and alcohol? Will it really get rid of the illicit market if it’s taxed at 40 or 50 per cent? Will a much higher tax rate be needed if they will test 10 per cent of the product to ensure THC levels are low?
“The Government hasn’t identified any budget for ensuring the public knows about the pros and cons of legalisation in the lead up to the referendum. Given how much this would impact our communities, New Zealanders need to know what they are voting for.
“Only one of the options being considered will give New Zealanders some certainty about what they’re voting for – the other options will mean a huge lack of information.
“Every option takes us straight to legalisation instead of decriminalisation. Many other countries consider decriminalisation first before leaping straight to legalisation.
“National understands that as usual with this Government, the coalition has been unable to reach a consensus and the decision around which option they will choose has been holding up the process.
“The problem with that is there isn’t time for yet more coalition disagreements on an issue this important.”
Notes to editors: Below are the four options presented in the Cabinet Paper:
The 2020 Cannabis Referendum proposals outline four options including;
- A general question consistent with the undertaking in the Confidence and Supply agreement: “Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis?” This would not be accompanied by any legal framework or other policy decisions and it would be left to a subsequent Parliament to determine what to do in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.
- A questions referring to a specific policy framework document setting out the basic principles of what legalisation for personal use of recreational cannabis in New Zealand would entail: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with [published policy document]?” A ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact law changes consistent with that policy document;
- A question referring to draft legislation that outlines the regulatory model for cannabis: ‘Do you support legalising the personal use of recreational cannabis in accordance with [published draft legislation]?” Similar to option 2, a ‘yes’ vote would result in the duly elected government and Parliament having some moral imperative, but no obligation, to enact the legislation.
- A question referring to legislation already enacted but conditional on an affirmative vote on the referendum: “Do you support legalising recreational cannabis in accordance with the [Drug Reform] Act 20XX?” A ‘yes’ vote would trigger the legislation coming into effect.
Submissions to the Health Select Committee today made clear that the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill is de facto decriminalisation of all drug possession, National Spokesperson for Drug Reform Paula Bennett says.
“Submissions on the Bill confirmed National’s assertion that it is an attempt to sneakily decriminalise all drugs. New Zealand Law Society Criminal Law Committee representative Chris Macklin told the committee that he ‘couldn’t foresee any prosecutions being taken for drug possession if this law was passed’.
“The New Zealand Police Association President Chris Cahill said that it would effectively mean ‘compulsory discretion’ for officers and said that it goes ‘too far’.
“National are firm believers in both greater rehabilitation and tougher sentences. Treatment and deterrence should go hand in hand when it comes to drug use.
“New Zealand Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell told the Health Select Committee he could not think of a single drug user that would not benefit from a therapeutic approach.
“The Government says it’s putting the legalisation of cannabis to the public in a referendum, yet at the same time it has introduced a Bill that says Police should not prosecute anyone in possession of all drugs, including P and heroin.
“Decriminalising the possession and use of hard drugs is a serious decision and needs thoughtful discussion and debate, but the Government is trying to bypass this important step.
“The Government need to front up on what their intentions are and have this important conversation with the public.”
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.”