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.”
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.”