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.
National will support the Government’s proposed child poverty legislation to its first reading but won’t guarantee any ongoing support unless it agrees to amendments that will ensure it measurably improves deprivation, National’s spokesperson for Children Paula Bennett says.
“National is committed to reducing child poverty, achieving tangible results and promoting policies which are evidence-based and we know actually work,” Mrs Bennett says.
“The current Child Poverty Reduction Bill is full of positive intentions and virtue signalling but contains no substance to address the drivers of deprivation. We want to see it include succinct elements to make progress more measurable and ambitious.
“We will support the Prime Minister’s Bill through its first reading today, but further support will be contingent on the Government supporting our Supplementary Order Papers (SOPs) which require the legislation to include Better Public Services targets.
“These targets will require substantial reduction in a number of measures of poverty.
“A further requirement of our support is that the Government sets more ambitious targets to reduce the number of children in material hardship.
“As it stands the ten year targets the Prime Minister has set will actually lift fewer children out of material hardship than National’s Family Incomes package, which the Government legislated against, and will actually take longer to take effect.
“We want to see the number of children in material hardship reduced from 150,000 to 50,000 in three years.
“We also want to see the number of children living in low income households reduced. National proposed to lift 100,000 children out of low income households by 2020, whereas the Labour Government only aims to lift 70,000 out. We believe that with prioritised, targeted spending, our target of 100,000 can be achieved.
“National believes our Social Investment approach is essential to targeting spending to lift children out of poverty. We will therefore be tabling a further SOP requiring the Government to use Social Investment to direct funding to families and communities so they get the resources to assist them in the way which works for their families.
“I have written to the Prime Minister outlining National’s conditional support of her Bill and my expectation that, in the spirit of bipartisanship - and of taking the politics out of child poverty – she will consider our proposals.
“A plan that will really, truly tackle child poverty must address the drivers of social dysfunction and hold the public service accountable, not just rely on the Government’s good intentions,” Mrs Bennett says.
The new Government has taken a good first step in helping support our vulnerable kids by picking up where National left off, the Party’s spokesperson for Children Paula Bennett says.
“Tracey Martin’s announcement that the Government is putting $27 million to better support children and young people in care is a welcome move.
“I’m glad to see she’s picking up where we left off but she shouldn’t pretend these are new initiatives.
“This money is all contingency funding that we set aside in last year’s Budget.
“In 2017 the then Minister, Anne Tolley, announced $434.1 million in funding over five years for Oranga Tamariki, to support vulnerable children and young people – that was an 18 per cent funding increase over two years.
“That money was set aside to do so much more than what Ms Martin has announced today.
“Thanks to our economic stewardship, the National Government was able to fund the Ministry to provide additional support for caregivers, to expand Family Start and continue Children’s Teams, to improve accommodation for young people on remand, and enhance feedback and complaints processes.
“Ms Martin talks a lot about early intervention so it makes sense for the Government to adopt National’s world-leading Social Investment toolkit to root out the causes of hardship.
“The Government also has great opportunities to further reduce child poverty with the strong job growth and budget surpluses we left behind,” Mrs Bennett says.