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.”
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.”