Shameless Shane Jones is not just rolling out the pork for Northland, but focusing that pork in his own close neighbourhood to help him get around, National Party Regional Development Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Today’s announcement that there will be a Government subsidy for the Kerikeri airport expansion just over the fence from Shane Jones house follows the $9 million announcement of the Waipapa roundabout which is just up the road from the same house,” Mr Goldsmith says.
“And once again, no criteria, no process by which the money is assessed, just a Minister writing out taxpayer cheques when he feels like it.
"The Kerikeri airport upgrade was listed in the previous Government's regional action plan for Northland - but it was clear it was the responsibility of the airport owner, Far North Holdings.
“In this country airports pay for their upgrades out of their own pockets. Why is Kerikeri airport different, beyond it being the airport Shane Jones uses?
“It’s the same with the Waipapa roundabout project. Why was that chosen to be able to dip into Shane’s fund over the myriads of other roading projects around the country?
“Is there a plan now for all airport expansions to be subsidized, or all roundabouts? How do airport companies and councils apply? What are the criteria?
“This announcement comes hard on the heels of the news that Defence Minister Ron Mark was using the Air Force as his private taxi service, and the decision to use an Air Force Hercules to take eight Ministers to the Chatham Islands to open the new wharf.
“This behaviour is quite shameless,” Mr Goldsmith says. “It would be laughable if it wasn’t about the serious use of taxpayers’ money.
“The Prime Minister needs to enforce the rules around the use of public money and put some proper disciplines around the allocation of money from the Provincial Growth Fund.
“If she doesn’t, her Ministers will think they have an ongoing right to put money into whatever takes their fancy and take hardworking New Zealanders for a ride.
"The National led Government was very focused on a comprehensive action plan to grow Northland. We just took the view that Northland was bigger than an area within a 5 kilometre radius of Shane Jones’ place."
The list of reasons why Labour’s fees-free policy is one of the most wasteful and badly-executed policies in decades keeps getting longer, with the calculation that $38 million a year will be spent on university dropouts, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Not only has this $2.8 billion policy had no real effect on enrolments, it has been so poorly designed that $38 million will be wasted on students who fail to finish their first year of study.
“This is taxpayers’ money going straight down the drain – all because Labour was so desperate to rush the policy through in its first 100 days, it didn’t bother to do the work needed to ensure that the $2.8 billion investment would be spent wisely.
“That $38 million could have otherwise gone towards improving our schools, roads, and hospitals or on investing in our tertiary sector so that it remains genuinely world-class.
“With academic performance requirements not being introduced until 2021 and the Government expecting more people to enrol in the second year of the policy, the amount of money being wasted on dropouts could reach up to $58 million a year.
“It’s not surprising that Education Minister Chris Hipkins wouldn’t appear on camera to explain to New Zealanders why his Government is frittering their money away.
“It must be rather embarrassing to be spending so much money and gaining almost nothing from it.”
Revelations that a $261 million hit to the New Zealand economy each year is the best case scenario under the Government’s plan to cut the number of international students will be of little comfort to our international education industry, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The international education industry is now our fourth largest export industry, worth about $4.5 billion to the economy and employing around 30,000 people.
“I’d have thought this was something to celebrate but the new Government appears intent on downsizing the industry by cutting the number of international students and limiting the work rights of prospective students.
“These changes would make the New Zealand international education industry uncompetitive and have far-reaching impacts, including shortages in our hospitality and retail workforces.
“If a $261 million hit to our economy each year is the best we can hope for under the Government’s plans, I’d hate to consider what the worst case scenario would be.
“The ‘best case scenario’ is based on a reduction of 10,000 international students and assuming that changes to work rights are successfully targeted to the lower-value tertiary sector.
“But Labour was clear during the election campaign that its policy was to reduce the number of international students by between 15,000 and 22,000 per year – that’s around a quarter of all incoming students which would mean a significantly larger impact on the economy.
“It demonstrates a reckless attitude by the Government thinking that it can undermine big parts of our successful economy without real impacts on real people.”
Education Minister Chris Hipkins would have been wise to follow his own advice that “anecdotes are not always a good way of making Government policy”, with virtually no extra students taking up tertiary study under his Government’s $2.8 billion fees-free policy, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The Government’s rationale for this hugely expensive policy was that the cost of tertiary education was a barrier to entry for many, based solely on anecdotal evidence.
“The 2018 academic year is now underway and Universities New Zealand has revealed that the policy has had no real effect on enrolments. This is hardly surprising and means the Government is spending $2.8 billion to solve a problem that simply doesn’t exist.
“It ignored the fact that tertiary education in New Zealand was already among the most accessible in the world. The money for fees could be borrowed interest-free, and students from low-income families received weekly allowances that weren’t required to be paid back.
“The Government might have realised this was a bad policy had it undertaken a cost-benefit analysis but it was revealed in Select Committee earlier this month that it hadn’t bothered, despite the policy coming with a hefty price tag.
“Now we have a situation where $2.8 billion is being spent on students who would have gone into tertiary education anyway and were prepared to contribute to the cost of their study.
“If the purpose of this massive new investment is to increase participation in tertiary education, then the Government has failed.
“It’s a textbook example of why anecdotes are not always a good way to make Government policy.”
Labour’s ideological opposition to privately delivered services has reared its ugly head with the removal of a clause in the Education (Tertiary Education and Other Matters) Amendment Bill that treats public and private providers of tertiary education equally, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The clause established the principle for providers of tertiary education with similar offerings and outcomes for students, no matter whether they are public or private providers, to receive the same rate of funding.
“Education Minister Chris Hipkins has said publicly that private training establishments often do a better job than the polytechnics.
“So it makes no sense that he would now punish them by removing the clause that ensures they receive equal funding to their public counterparts.
“I can see no reason why the Government has removed this clause from the Bill other than pure ideology.”
Just when everyone thought the Government had run out of things to review it has announced a review of the education system, complete with more taskforces and summits but scant of any real detail, National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye and Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith say.
“It is concerning that this major review will be led by a Minister who has a track record for being big on ideology but bad at process, as demonstrated by the partnership schools and National Standards debacles,” Ms Kaye says.
“It is unfair and disruptive to students, parents and teachers that every time there is a new Government, there are major changes to the education system which is why National wants to work with the Government on these reforms to ensure there is better political consensus.
“We know there are areas that need improvement but we shouldn’t make change for change’s sake. The Government must recognise that there are areas of education that are working very well. For example, Maori and Pasifika achievement has increased significantly in the last decade so we must continue that momentum.
“We have already said we would be keen to work with the Government on areas where we can get cross-party agreement, such as the 30-year plan. However the process matters and it needs to involve collaborative decision-making rather than tick-box consultations with the Opposition and other stakeholders.
“So far there is very little information about what exactly the Government will be reviewing and the devil will be in the detail.”
Mr Goldsmith says it’s all very well for the Government to review vocational education and the need for quality research in the tertiary education sector, but the funding levers available to them will be severely limited.
“Given the Government has already decided to spend all of its $2.8 billion tertiary education investment on grossly untargeted student support, it will be severely short of cash to make any real investment to improve the quality of education.
“Rather than grandly announce more reviews, Mr Hipkins should explain what exactly New Zealanders are getting from the massive investment in tertiary education. Early indications suggest virtually no extra students are enrolling, which must be hard for the institutions and providers to stomach given they are getting no new funding to improve their quality.
“The Government must provide more detail about its review and prove that it’s not simply a smokescreen to distract from the fact it has little cash left to make any real improvements.”
It is concerning that the Government is making it easy for students to abuse its $2.8 billion fees-free tertiary education policy by softening the penalties for those who are caught lying on their statutory declaration, National's Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“At the moment as many as half of the prospective students must sign a statutory declaration to say they have done less than half a fulltime year of tertiary study, and that requires a witness to back up the applicant’s declaration. The penalty for anyone caught lying is up to three years in prison.
“This is by no means a rigorous enough system to ensure that the fees-free policy is not abused, yet instead of toughening up the system, the Government is now making it easier for those few unscrupulous people to not only lie in their applications, but to get away with a lighter penalty if caught.
“The Government now plans to allow future prospective students to simply sign an ordinary declaration which will not require a witness. And if they are caught, the maximum penalty is a $5000 fine.
“It’s not only the maths students who can work out that the fine is less than the value of many university fees.
“It is simply extraordinary that the Government is prepared to put millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money at stake like this.
“The Government has not given any thought to how it will maintain the integrity of the system. It would have been much more sensible if it had taken its time, considered the policy carefully and designed a system that wasn’t open to such rorts.”
With the 2018 academic year drawing near, questions remain around how our science laboratories will maintain a world-class standard given all the Government’s tertiary spending is going into student support with no extra money for the institutions themselves, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith and Science and Innovation spokesperson Parmjeet Parmar say.
“Surely the Government’s priority for tertiary education should be to improve the quality of education, which means investing more in the universities and polytechnics so that they can deliver world-class education that equips young New Zealanders to be globally competitive,” Mr Goldsmith says.
“Funding science laboratories to maintain the highest quality of education and facilities is essential if we are to ensure that budding Kiwi scientists can keep up with the world’s best.”
But Ms Parmar says that with all the new tertiary spending going into student support, we can be sure that there will be little to no money left to invest in maintaining and developing the quality of our science laboratories.
“Setting up a science laboratory with all the right equipment can cost tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the annual running costs of such laboratories. But it’s money well spent if it means that New Zealand can continue to produce world-class scientists.
“It’s difficult to see the point of getting more students into tertiary education if the institutions are not even funded enough to be able to keep up with international standards. We should not be compromising quality of education for volume of enrolments.
“What makes this all harder to stomach is the fact that there will be barely any increase in enrolments so the Government can’t even justify the reasons why there will be no extra money for science laboratories.
“Not only this, but if we cannot maintain the quality of our facilities we can be sure that serious aspiring scientists will be taking their enrolments overseas,” Dr Parmar says.
With unemployment at its lowest in nine years, the job for the new Government must be to ensure that it doesn’t take this progress for granted, National’s Employment spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The new Government inherited a very strong labour market and it’s encouraging to see that unemployment has continued to fall. That’s a credit to the hard work of all our businesses and workers.
“The unemployment rate is now 4.5 per cent and the average full-time wage has increased 3.2 per cent over the last twelve months, now $60,642 per year.
“This means more Kiwis are in jobs and getting ahead, which is a solid platform for New Zealand to keep building on.
“The key now is to ensure that Labour’s incoming changes to employment laws do not put this all at risk.
“Our flexible labour market encourages businesses of all sizes to grow their workforces and with unemployment at a nine-year low, it’s difficult to see why Labour’s reforms are needed at all.
“It’s up to the Government to explain why it is making changes that will undermine the strong results we’ve seen today.”
The Government’s U-turn on their international students policy has given the international education industry a last minute reprieve, but questions remain about why Labour cynically stoked anti-immigrant sentiment during the campaign with promises it never intended to keep, says National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith.
“Labour was told all along that removing the work rights of international students was unfair and would jeopardise one of New Zealand’s biggest export earners and an industry which provides thousands of jobs, but they jumped on the anti-immigration bandwagon anyway.
“Not providing options for bright graduates to work in New Zealand would have damaged the competitiveness of New Zealand with other top English language study destinations.
“The international education industry is worth $4.5 billion to the New Zealand economy and employs around 30,000 people so it’s good that Labour have finally seen sense and backed down on the policy to remove the work rights of international students.
“But what it shows is that Labour’s campaign was a cynical effort to target migrants and it adds to the evidence that this is a Government that can’t be trusted to do what it says it will.
“It is still unclear whether they intend to follow through on their campaign promise to reduce the number of international students by between 15,000 and 22,000, which represents about a quarter of incoming students.
“With the Government’s immigration policy constantly shifting, there is no way of knowing what their policy actually is. The academic year is upon us and people in the international education industry need certainty so it’s time the Government gave it to them.”