Hundreds of students have been ripping off the Government’s Fees Free policy and getting their tertiary fees covered despite being ineligible, National’s Associate Tertiary Education spokesperson Simeon Brown says.
“The Government has paid $23,000 to three students who were ineligible for Fees Free, and another student $3000. While these students made false declarations on their applications, they have been able to keep the funding and face no consequences for breaking the law.
“It’s unfathomable these individuals have been able to get off scot free.
“Even though it is an offence, 473 applicants have made false declarations about their eligibility for Fees Free in the first two years of the policy. Despite this number, less than one percent of those who made false declarations have been charged.
“The Government is sending a message to students that you might as well try your luck at receiving Fees Free funding, regardless of your eligibility, because not only will you not face any punishments, you could get some free cash out of it.
“Ineligible students who have had their tertiary fees covered should either pay back the money or have it transferred on to their student loan. It isn’t fair that they’ve merely had a telling off, if that.
“Education Minister Chris Hipkins has some serious questions to answer about how this scheme operates. We know almost 500 people have been caught, but how many more have got away with lying on their application, and how much more taxpayer money has been paid out when it shouldn’t have?
“This sets a terrible precedent for the future. If Chris Hipkins is serious about helping tertiary students he should be looking into this as a matter of urgency and putting a stop to people abusing the system, rather than letting them get away with it penalty free.
“Fees Free has been an expensive failure. Taxpayers are not only paying for a policy that has resulted in fewer students, they’re also paying for students who shouldn’t have been eligible in the first place.”
A Members Bill that will allow lines company vehicles to use flashing lights when responding to electrical emergencies, requiring traffic to give them priority, has been drafted by National’s Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown.
“Congestion across New Zealand, particularly in Auckland, is making it difficult for lines companies to respond to electrical emergencies quickly when someone’s life is in danger.
“When power lines are brought down by a car crash, Fire and Ambulance responders often arrive in a hurry but can’t assist until the lines company shows up to disconnect the power.
“Lines company workers are often stuck on the motorway or in traffic caused by the crash. In Auckland, a car crash involving a power pole takes place every day, on average.
“There are also cases where people are dependent on electrical machines to keep them alive, and if the power is cut off then any delays getting it reconnected can be the difference between life and death.
“This bill will give vehicles responding to these type of electrical emergencies the ability to display a flashing light, which would require other vehicles to give way to them as they do for doctors, midwives, and some nurses.
“I have written to the Minister of Transport requesting his support for this proposed new law. I hope we can work together to make this sensible change.”
The Minister of Education’s proposal to establish a National Centre for Student Voice would be a waste of public funding as its purpose is unclear and questionable, National’s Associate Tertiary Education spokesperson Simeon Brown says.
“National believes student voice needs to be at the centre of our tertiary system, however an organisation like this will become a taxpayer funded political training ground for Labour Party activists.
“The tertiary system is already heavily politicised. Out of the 16 Labour Cabinet Ministers, four were presidents of their university Student Associations, including Minister Hipkins himself, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, and previous Labour Party Leader Andrew Little.
“We are glad the Minister has rejected proposals to reinstate compulsory student membership but, in the same vein, the Government shouldn’t be using taxpayer money to fund student politicking.
“Students voices are already integrated into our tertiary system through student unions/associations, University and Polytech Councils, and other entities. It is up to these bodies to represent students in different contexts and provide any professional development that they see fit, not the taxpayer through another expensive centre.
“This however could all be a guilty response to the Review of Vocational Education which is proposing to dismantle regional academic boards and the student voice on those boards. Instead of wasting more taxpayer dollars, the Minister should ditch these reforms.
“National believes it is important students have strong voices and that those voices are heard and taken into account, however an organisation like this will end up as a publically funded political training ground for future Labour Ministers.”
The Government has failed New Zealanders by voting down my Bill which would have ensured harsher penalties for those who deal and manufacture synthetic drugs, MP for Pakuranga Simeon Brown says.
“Synthetic drugs have killed dozens of people and destroyed lives. The people who manufacture and deal these drugs are peddling misery.
“Last month, the Coroner released new figures showing as many as 80 deaths were attributed to synthetic drugs in less than two years, with a countless number of people also being admitted to hospitals requiring treatment due to harmful side effects.
“This needs to stop. However the Government has chosen to let the paltry penalties that are currently in place stand. How is it fair that someone who peddles these dangerous drugs that can kill will get just two years in prison but eight years in prison for dealing marijuana?
“While the Government has introduced legislation that will reclassify two strands of synthetic drugs as class A drugs, drug dealers will quickly change the chemicals to supply new synthetic drugs.
“These substances can change day to day and dealer to dealer- tinkering around the edges by reclassifying two strands is not enough. Blanket penalties are required to get them off the streets and this is what my Bill would have done.
“With National’s support, the Government passed new gun laws in just four weeks following the Christchurch Mosque attacks. We need the same sort of commitment and urgency to address this significant issue after more than 80 deaths from these drugs.
“My greatest concern is for the young people that will continue to be hounded by dealers that are undeterred by the current penalties. Parliament needs to be united in our ambition to care for and protect the vulnerable in our communities. This is what the Government has failed to do.”
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.”