Labour and the Green Party have been standing in the way of tougher penalties for peddlers of synthetic cannabis, despite National’s Psychoactive Substances Amendment Bill having majority support in Parliament, MP for Pakuranga Simeon Brown says.
“My Bill passed through the Committee of the Whole House this evening, but will not be debated again before March next year, as Government MPs blocked the passage of the Bill to Third Reading.
“The Government is putting politics ahead of community safety. Over the past year we have seen a dramatic increase in people being admitted to hospital, and over 50 people dying as a result of synthetic drug use. Yet the Government is dragging its feet and blocking my Bill which will make our communities safer, faster.
“My Bill will increase the maximum prison sentence for those caught dealing synthetic drugs from two years to eight years. This has been increased to 14 years following NZ First’s amendment which was a condition of their support for the Bill. This will deter suppliers and give our justice system more power to keep these criminals away from the vulnerable people they prey on.
“While my Bill was drawn from the Ballot eleven months ago, the Government has failed to put any serious policy in place. In July, the Deputy Prime Minister called for urgent action to address this issue, yet we have seen no action from the Government.
“If the Government was serious about taking action it would adopt my Members Bill which would see longer sentences for the people who supply these drugs. Instead the Government is all talk and no action.”
The Labour-led Government has confirmed it will follow through with more tax hikes, this time one which will have serious impact on the International Education sector, National’s Associate Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment spokesperson Simeon Brown says.
“The Government has today announced its decision to nearly double the levy for Private Training Establishments from 0.45 per cent of tuition fees to 0.83 per cent.
“An increase of this size will see the overall amount of tax that many of these providers pay increase by up to 30 per cent. This is a serious blow to the sector, particularly some of the providers who are operating on small margins.
“These increases are unwarranted, and an enormous burden to bear for many providers which could lead to even more PTEs cutting staff and going out of business.
“While more than $1 million was raised for the levy in 2017, the Minister now admits it has been spent. Individual institutions that drew on the levy are primarily at fault, which means good providers are subsidising the bad ones. This isn’t the way to support the sector.
“International education is worth over $5 billion a year to our economy, and PTEs alone employed more than 7500 staff last year. Despite the size of the industry, such a significant increase in the levy will greatly affect the profitability of a number of these institutions, particularly the smaller education providers.
“National understands the need for quality assurance and the costs associated with maintaining a strong international education brand for New Zealand, but mismanagement of the fund is what has led to its depletion, with funds being spent on activities which could be easily cut.
“The Minister needs to focus on creating an environment where PTEs can thrive, and not just putting the burden of more taxes on the sector.”
Statistics revealed by the Ministry of Health show the number of hospitalisations resulting from synthetic drug use is rising, yet the Government continues to sit on its hands, MP for Pakuranga Simeon Brown says.
“Over the past two years we have seen a dramatic increase in those being admitted to hospital as a result of synthetic drug use, after an initial drop following the original implementation of the Psychoactive Substances Act.
“This is the clearest indication yet that the Act needs fixing with tougher penalties for those who supply these dangerous drugs. That is exactly what my Bill will do, by increasing the maximum penalty for supply from two years to 14 years.
“Of particular concern is the number of minors (those aged 0-14 years) who are being caught up by these drugs. Over the past five years 17 children have been admitted to hospital with poisoning from synthetics, even one child is one too many.
“The statistics released under the Official Information Act show that in the 2016/17 year there were roughly 40 hospitalisations from synthetic drug use, and last year there were more than 80. Hospital admissions were as low as 10 in the 2015/16 year after the Psychoactive Substances Act was introduced.
“The correlation is clear between the large increases in hospital admissions and manufacturers of synthetic drugs continually coming up with deadlier strains. Labour and the Greens continue to ignore the seriousness of this issue, and if it wasn’t for New Zealand First’s continued support of my Bill these numbers would likely rise again.
“I am again calling on the Labour and the Greens to get behind my Bill which will be back in Parliament before the end of the year and take real action on an issue which has led to the deaths of 50 New Zealanders this past year.”
The Labour-led Government is currently working on more tax hikes, this time one which could have a dramatic impact on the International Education Sector, National’s Associate Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Spokesperson Simeon Brown says.
“Consultation on proposals to nearly double the levy for Private Training Establishments from 0.45% of tuition fees to 0.83% has recently closed.
“An increase of this size increases the overall amount of tax that many of these providers will be paying by up to 30 per cent with many providers operating on small margins. These increases are unwarranted, and an enormous burden to bear for many providers which could lead to even more PTEs either going out of business or having to cut staff.
“While more than $1 million was raised for the levy in 2017, the Minister himself now admits it has been used. Individual businesses that drew on the levy are primarily at fault, and now good providers are having to subsidise the bad ones.
“The Minister’s own actions aren’t helping the situation. Earlier proposals around post-study work rights threatened to rip 1,000 jobs and $1.4 billion out of the export education sector.
“International education is worth over $5 billion a year to our economy, and PTEs alone employed more than 7,500 staff last year. Despite the size of the industry, such a significant increase on the levy will greatly affect the profitability of a number of these institutions, particularly small education providers.
“National understands the need for quality assurance and the costs associated with maintaining a strong international education brand for New Zealand, but mismanagement of the fund is what has led to its depletion, with funds being spent on activities which could be easily cut. The Minister needs to focus on creating an environment where PTEs can thrive, and not just putting the burden of more taxes on the sector.”
The Government needs to reconsider its decision to can a key strategic transport network in Auckland, the East-West Link, as congestion in the city continues to worsen, MPs for Pakuranga and Maungakiekie Simeon Brown and Denise Lee say.
“Despite the business case for the East-West Link stacking up, the project was left out of the Government’s transport plan. Commuters are facing rising petrol costs due to the regional fuel tax, but aren’t seeing the investment in significant roads like the East-West Link,” Mr Brown says.
“The East-West Link would have had an enormous benefit for local and national economies. By cancelling the route, the Government has clearly signalled it does not take congestion in Auckland seriously.
“The new route would have improved safety and accessibility for cycling and walking and provide transport choices for people in our communities.
“Transport continues to be one of the most important issues for residents in my electorate of Pakuranga, with many working at or owning businesses in the area that would have benefitted from this project.”
“East-West Link would provide a new transport connection, making it easier for local business owners, freight and customers to get in and out of the Onehunga – Penrose area, supporting the movement of goods, services and people for Auckland,” Ms Lee says.
“There are over 6000 daily freight movements on Church Street alone. We need to get these trucks off our suburban roads for the sake of local residents and businesses.
“The area targeted by the East West Link employs over 130,000 people and contributes roughly $10 billion a year to Auckland’s economy. The key aspect of the project was to create a further connection between SH1 and SH20, and improve connections to rail and freight hubs in the area.
“Commuters are under pressure from rising petrol costs and increasing congestion. It simply isn’t right for them to pay that price without the Government reinvesting it into the roads they’re using. Transport Minister Phil Twyford has been asleep at the wheel in finding an alternative solution.”
Synthetic drugs are a blight on our society, and those who deal and profit from them have been put on notice today as the Psychoactive Substances Amendment Bill passed its second reading, MP for Pakuranga Simeon Brown says.
“More than 45 deaths have been attributed to synthetic drugs this past 12 months alone, with a countless number of people also being admitted to hospitals requiring treatment due to harmful side effects.
“This needs to stop. One of the key principles of Government is the protection of its citizens from things that would do them harm, and I’m pleased to see that at least a small part of the current Government acknowledges that.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank New Zealand First for their continued support of my Bill and for standing with National as we seek to protect New Zealanders from these harmful substances.
“My Bill will increase the maximum prison sentence for those caught dealing synthetic drugs from 2 years to 8 years, which will deter suppliers and give our justice system more power to keep these criminals away from the vulnerable people they prey on.
“We cannot simply reclassify a couple of strains here and there and hope the problem goes away. Illegal manufacturers have had little difficulty reworking their drugs to differentiate them from those we’ve identified and regulated, so blanket penalties are required to get them off the streets and this is what my Bill will accomplish.
“Enough is enough, and it’s time for the rest of the Government to get on board and take this issue seriously before more irreversible harm is done. As a Parliament we need to be united in our ambition to care for and protect our fellow New Zealanders, and my Bill is an important step in the fight to eradicate harmful synthetics.
“I’m calling on the Government to support my Bill when it returns for its third reading to send a clear message that dealing deadly drugs will no longer be tolerated in New Zealand.”
The Government will have the opportunity to take action against the growing damage caused by synthetic drugs when the Psychoactive Substances Amendment Bill returns to Parliament tomorrow for its second reading, Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown says.
“With more than 45 deaths attributed to synthetic drugs in the past 12 months it has become clear that this is a very serious issue facing our communities, and immediate action needs to be taken.
“I am calling on the three Government parties to support my Bill tomorrow and ensure it sees a third reading. Action needs to be taken to deter suppliers from dealing these drugs and we must give the courts the power to keep these criminals away from vulnerable New Zealanders.
“Too many Kiwis have died and too many families have been left heartbroken by the loss of their loved ones, all because of drug dealers who couldn’t care less about the harm they are causing.
“As a Parliament we need to stand up and say enough is enough. My Bill will increase the maximum penalties for those caught dealing synthetic drugs from 2 years in prison to 8 years but will more importantly send a message to these merchants of death that their enterprise will no longer be tolerated.
“New Zealanders need their Parliament to take real action against crime, and simply reclassifying a couple of synthetic strains won’t cut it. Illegal manufacturers have proven they have no difficulty reworking these drugs to bypass regulated strains, so blanket penalties on them and their suppliers are required to deal with the issue once and for all.
“I hope the Government will support my Bill as a significant first step towards tackling what is fast becoming an epidemic.”
The Government needs to explain why it hasn’t started a review into the Psychoactive Substances legislation despite it being legally required to, Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown says.
“When the National Government passed the law to make synthetic drugs illegal it added a clause that the law must be reviewed every five years.
“The reason that’s so important is because the ingredients of the drugs, how they’re supplied and the technology used are always changing, which means we need to make sure the law remains fit for purpose.
“The Coalition Government claims that it is taking urgent action around synthetic drugs, however this review was meant to start two months ago. I’ve asked questions of the Ministers of Health, Police, Customs and Justice which show no work has been done.
“When Winston Peters was the Acting Prime Minister he promised ‘urgent action’ after the deaths of up to 45 people and yet nothing has gone to Cabinet.
“If this Government was serious about taking action it would adopt my Members Bill which would see longer sentences for the people who supply these drugs. Instead the Government is all talk and no action.”
Today’s announcement that the financial viability of Whitireia and WelTec are considered at risk is due to the Government’s reckless election promise to arbitrarily slash immigration while paying the tertiary fees of wealthy students, National’s Associate Tertiary spokesperson Simeon Brown says.
“The Government’s campaign on slashing immigration and international student numbers has sent a shock through our tertiary education sector.
“National warned it would have a chilling effect on our $4.4 billion international student market and today’s announcements has proven that demonstrably true.
“It is disturbing to hear that the viability of institutions like Whitireia and WelTec are considered at risk which could affect hundreds of jobs and thousands of students.
“Proposals to clamp down on post-study work rights for international students were heard in overseas markets, dampening interest in New Zealand and spooking the sector, with the likes of Manukau Institute of Technology also warning of major financial impacts.
“This is all down to the Government’s priorities. Budget 2018 was the first in a decade not to increase funding for the sector as the Government chose to spend $2.8 billion on free fees instead.
“Now we see the immediate impact of that decision, compounded by its reckless and cynical approach to immigration policy.
“The Government needs to put its reforms on ice and deal with the reality of a tertiary sector which relies on exporting education to the international market.
“Instead, it’s doubling down, dissolving councils, progressing changes to in-study work rights for international students, and committing to extending the fees free scheme to the second and third year of study.
“These changes are putting hundreds of jobs in the tertiary education sector at risk, and come on top of the Government’s other anti-growth policies which are making businesses less confident to invest, to lift wages and hire new workers.”
The Government’s major backdown on post-study work rights for international students is welcome, but the damage to New Zealand’s international reputation has already been done, National’s Immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse and Associate Tertiary Education spokesperson Simeon Brown say.
“Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has been forced into a U-turn on his proposed changes to post-study work rights after he was told it could cost more than $1 billion a year,” Mr Woodhouse says.
“We told Labour before the election that its policy to slash the number of international students would gut the international education sector and grind our economy to a halt.
“Yet it still went ahead with proposing to require students studying Level 7 graduate diplomas to study in New Zealand for at least two years before becoming eligible for post-study work visas, which would have seen a major drop in student enrolments.
“Thanks to the chorus of voices that joined National in warning the Government that this proposal could result in 50 per cent fewer student enrolments next year at a cost of almost $500 million in export earnings per year, the Government has finally backed down.
“Had it not backed down, thousands of students studying one-year graduate diplomas would have had all post-study work rights removed. This would include, for example, teachers qualified overseas doing a one-year course to gain teacher registration in New Zealand.”
Mr Brown says the change would have had a significant impact not only on international education sector but on other sectors that relied on those skills so the backdown is welcome.
“But it’s too little too late, with news that the number of Chinese students coming to New Zealand fell for the first time since 2013 cutting millions of dollars from the sector,” he says.
“Given the Education Minister has signalled closures of polytechnics, institutes of technology and private training establishments, and Chinese student numbers could continue to fall by at least 30 per cent, the sector is already in real trouble.
“The previous National Government introduced measured, sensible changes to prevent student exploitation and improve the quality of private training establishments.
“It’s a relief that the Minister has now recognised that was the correct path to follow. There is no need for further reckless changes in order to meet an arbitrary immigration reduction target conjured up during an election campaign.”