More people are moving onto a benefit but fewer sanctions are being imposed on those who fail to hold up their end of the bargain as the Government reduces the responsibilities placed on beneficiaries to help themselves, Opposition Leader Simon Bridges says.
“New figures show that since the Government took office, there has been a 21 per cent drop in the number of sanctions imposed, despite there being almost 2000 more people on the Jobseeker benefit.
“This isn’t a sign that more people on benefits are being more compliant – it’s a sign the Government is going soft.
“These figures show a reversal of the trend under National which saw over 70,000 people moved off benefits and into work between 2011 and last year, and the number of children living in benefit-dependent households reduced by 60,000.
“The Jobseeker benefit is there to support those who need it but it comes with obligations including looking for work, turning up to appointments and staying drug-free. They must fail repeatedly before they have their benefit cut or reduced, until they meet the obligations.
“We know benefit sanctions are an effective tool to help people into work, with 95 per cent of people who receive a formal warning meeting their obligations within four weeks.
“Ensuring that benefits come with obligations is a fair agreement with the hardworking New Zealanders who are willing to lend a hand to people willing to help themselves. But this Government clearly doesn’t think it needs to be a two-way street.
“That’s worrying and signals a return to a system where the Government just hands out cash and sends people on their way. People’s lives are improved when they get off benefits and into work and that must continue to be encouraged.
“It’s important to help our most vulnerable by providing income support when they are out of work but also by incentivising them to get into work and improve their lives. This Government seems intent on tipping the balance too far the other way.”
Health Minister David Clark going on holiday while nurses went on well-signalled strikes around New Zealand is the latest example of a Government failing to front up to New Zealanders.
“This is the first time in a generation there has been a nationwide nurse’s strike. New Zealanders are missing out on important health services while the nurses try and get an acceptable deal across the line, after the Government raised expectations around pay rises so significantly.
“But the Health Minister is MIA. At a time of one of the most serious disruptions in recent memory to healthcare in New Zealand he’s on holiday and leaving others to deal with the mess he’s helped create.
“This continues a concerning pattern of behaviour from a Government which is consistently failing to front up, to tackle the hard issues and to lead.
“Instead of making decisions it’s setup 134 working groups and reviews.
“Instead of telling the people of Taranaki that the Government was axing oil and gas exploration, the Prime Minister did it from Wellington then went overseas and still hasn’t held any public meetings in Taranaki to allow the people directly affected to share their views.
“The Prime Minister and Education Minister has failed to visit a single partnership school in spite of her Government’s callous decision to shut them down.
“And Statistics Minister James Shaw was also in the Pacific while the Census was conducted, in spite of serious concerns which have proven founded, with 400,000 New Zealanders left uncounted meaning serious flow on effects to everything from funding for hospitals and schools to electoral boundaries.
“And the Government is reducing its accountability by axing public sector targets meaning it won’t be held accountable for the quality of the services it delivers to New Zealanders.
“All of this shows a lack of courage and a lack of leadership and New Zealanders deserve better.
“National believes in accountability, it believes in fronting up and it believes governments should lead in the interests of New Zealanders.”
The Government’s borrow, tax and spend attitude means they will be increasing public debt by the equivalent of the cost to the previous Government of the Christchurch earthquakes, Opposition Leader Simon Bridges says.
“Grant Robertson’s loose and untargeted spending promises means the Government is planning to increase its borrowing by $17 billion over the next four years. That’s the same as the cost the National-led Government faced to rebuild following the Canterbury earthquakes.
“We need to continue to prudently manage the books, to ensure we’ve got enough in the bank to cover the next Global Financial Crisis or natural disaster. Instead, the Government is spending billions on diplomats, a tertiary fees policy that doesn’t deliver any more students, and a slush-fund for New Zealand First’s pet projects.
“National carefully managed the books to guide New Zealand through the Global Financial Crisis and then rebuild following the Canterbury earthquakes. We borrowed to ensure we could rebuild and continue to support vulnerable New Zealanders but we made prudent spending choices in order to get back to surplus and then begin to reduce debt.
“But at the same time economic uncertainty is increasing internationally this Government is taking the opposite approach – spending up large now and hoping that the next rainy day doesn’t happen under its watch. That’s irresponsible. There’s a difference between borrowing to respond to economic shocks as National did, and borrowing to fund loose and untargeted spending as this Government is doing.”
The extra debt is made up of $11 billion of additional core Crown debt, and a further $6 billion hidden off the balance sheet in Crown entity borrowing.
“On top of the extra $17 billion of debt, the Government is also raising an extra $2 billion through higher taxes on fuel and housing, with more and higher taxes likely.
“This is a Government that is borrowing more, taxing more and spending more. Unfortunately it has no plans for how we as a country can earn more and in the meantime it’s reducing New Zealand’s ability to cope with international and domestic economic shocks.”
Opposition Leader Simon Bridges has appointed new MP Dan Bidois as National’s Associate spokesperson for Workplace Relations and Safety and Simeon Brown as Associate spokesperson for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment.
“Dan Bidois has had an accomplished career as an economist and will make a real contribution to National’s fight against the Government’s backward and bad changes to New Zealand’s industrial relations laws.
“Supporting National’s Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson Scott Simpson, Dan will help businesses fight the proposed changes which will take the power to run their own businesses away from hardworking New Zealanders and give it to Labour’s union members.
“Simeon Brown will help National develop new and forward-looking tertiary policies, in support of National’s Deputy Leader and Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment spokesperson Paula Bennett.
“The Government has blown $2.8 billion to make tertiary education free, and bought nothing but the status quo, with only a 0.3 per cent increase in the number of students.
“Both MPs will play an important role in holding the Government to account and coming up with the plans and policies to help National earn the right to govern in 2020.”
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis’ claim that he hadn’t seen the latest prison population forecast before making the decision to slash the number of new beds at Waikeria Prison beggars belief, Opposition Leader Simon Bridges says.
“Mr Davis has claimed that the first time he saw the latest prison population forecast report – which says the forecast muster is set to be 2000 prisoners higher than the last projection – was last night as a result of a media query.
“This is despite justice sector officials having finalised the report last October – well before the Government made the decision to reduce the number of new beds at Waikeria Prison by around 1000.
“It’s hard to believe that Corrections would not have given its Minister this crucial information at a time when the Government was making a decision on how many prison beds to build.
“But even if what Mr Davis says is true, he has the new forecast now so what is his plan?
“The Government was not building enough beds to meet the previous forecast. Now its decision to build 1000 fewer beds has been shown to be downright reckless. It simply won’t have enough beds to lock away all the serious offenders it needs to to keep New Zealanders safe.
“The options are simple. He can either do the right thing and build the required number of prison beds while also coming up with a real plan to reduce crime, or he can make it easier for criminals to get out of prison and harder for them to get there in the first place.
“Softening the bail, parole and sentencing laws will make New Zealanders less safe but Labour has made it clear this is what it wants to do.
“And it will need the support of New Zealand First. So where does Winston stand?
“Either way this Government’s reckless endangering of the public and its incompetent handling of law and order needs to stop.”
Revelations that the Government has known since last year that the prison population is set to rise by 2000 more than the last forecast suggested makes its decision to downsize the new Waikeria Prison all the more egregious, Opposition Leader Simon Bridges says.
“The Government has sat on a report for over six months showing that the prison population is forecast to reach 14,400, up from the previous forecast of 12,200, yet in that time made the decision to reduce the planned number of beds at Waikeria Prison from 1500 to just 600.
“Responding to a forecast increase of 2000 more prisoners by reducing the number of new beds at Waikeria Prison by almost 1000 shows a disconnect with reality and disregard for the safety of New Zealanders.
“On top of all this, there are more cops being added to the force which will raise the prison muster further and a shortage of around 200-250 Corrections Officers. A perfect storm is on its way to our criminal justice system and safety within and outside prison is in peril.
“It’s no wonder the Government chose to quietly dump the forecast report online without a word on Saturday.
“The National Government had used these forecast reports in making our decision to build a 1500-bed facility at Waikeria. That’s what a responsible Government that prioritises public safety does.
“Ignoring the latest forecast in its decision to downsize Waikeria Prison is the latest example of this Government dismissing evidence and advice it doesn’t like – but is perhaps the most shocking example because of the impact it will have on public safety.
“New Zealand will be hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of prison beds short which means the Government won’t be able to put away all the serious offenders it needs to.
“It also shows that the Government’s Criminal Justice Summit in a few months is nothing more than a public relations exercise – it has already pre-determined the outcome and that’s to loosen up our bail, parole and sentencing laws.
“The Government will be making it easier for criminals to get out of prison and harder for them to get there in the first place, which means it is failing its most fundamental obligation to keep New Zealanders safe.”
This Government continues to show if you’re not on one of its 130 working groups or you disagree with its bad ideas then it’s not willing to listen, Opposition Leader Simon Bridges says.
“Last week it was business groups launching a campaign against the Government’s destructive industrial law changes, and this week it’s school principals demanding a say on the overhaul of NCEA after being shut out of the process by the Government.
“When 40 of Auckland’s school leaders unite to speak on a matter as important as how our kids learn, the Education Minister Chris Hipkins needs to front up and listen to them – and not tell them they can just send in their thoughts on some web portal.
“The views and expertise of New Zealand’s principals matter. They’re at the coalface so they know our education system and they know what’s good for our children and young people far better than Mr Hipkins and his colleagues and the Government needs to recognise that.
“For the Government to refuse to even meet with them is arrogant and putting politics ahead of our children.
“National is open to good ideas but those who know the system best should be involved.
"But just as the Government is dismissing genuine business concerns as ‘junk’ and an issue of ‘perception’ from businesses only, it’s also telling principals that their views don’t matter.
“This a Government which continues to arrogantly show it doesn’t want its ideas challenged and that’s bad for New Zealand.
“National stands with school principals, and with boards of trustees and parents. National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye has written a letter to Mr Hipkins raising the concerns of some principals and highlighting the need for direct engagement.
“Education is a partnership and the Government needs to treat our school principals with respect and listen to what they have to say.”
The worrying increase in strike action under this union-friendly Government will slow our economy, make it harder to do business and affect the access of New Zealanders to public services, Opposition Leader Simon Bridges says.
“After less than nine months of this Government 32,000 workers have been involved in industrial action, or signalled their intention to be – compared to just over 27,000 that undertook strike action in the entire nine years of the previous Government.
“And the strike action is escalating.
“Today 4,000 core public servants at MBIE and IRD as well as 150 Wairarapa meat workers announced they would undertake industrial action, following on from the likes of bus drivers and cinema and port workers who have repeatedly disrupted businesses.
“On top of this, around 49,000 teachers are also considering their options.
“That’s around 81,000 workers involved in or considering strike action this year.
“All this is going to make it harder for New Zealanders to do business and access public services like healthcare.
“National supports higher wages and the average wage increased by $13,000 under the previous Government, but the way to do that is to grow the economy while this unrest unleashed by the Government will just slow it down.
“Already the uncertainty is impacting peoples’ quality of life and ultimately the economy. With business confidence already low Labour needs to put the needs of the public and economy first, not its union backers.
“The situation will only get worse when Labour’s proposed employment law reforms are implemented, which are specifically targeted at strengthening unions and weakening the ability of New Zealanders to run their businesses.”
The Government needs to start thinking about the impact of its tax and bad economic policies on Kiwi families and stop loading the costs on to their weekly bills, Opposition Leader Simon Bridges says.
“The Government’s policies are costing Kiwi families over $100 a week and that’s an unacceptable burden on New Zealanders who are trying to get ahead.
“The biggest immediate hit will come from the double whammy of the new petrol taxes, with the legislation to impose it progressing through Parliament this week. Nationwide petrol tax increases at the same time as a new regional fuel tax that is already being felt around the country, together adding around $15 a week to the cost of living, is too tough.
“And it’s on top of already rising fuel prices. The Government needs to cancel it and get the transport agency and Auckland Council to do a lot better job of prioritising their spending.
“Today we also have confirmation from the University of Otago that basic healthy food costs for a family of four in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin increased by up to $21 a week over the past year. Much of this is due to the higher costs flowing from government policies and regulations, in addition, new fuel taxes are only going to push prices up further.
“You also have rents rising by an average of $20 a week and that will only get worse as Labour drives mum and dad investors out of the housing market with its changes to tax policy and more regulation. And its restrictions on overseas investment and the increasing uncertainty around KiwiBuild policy will slow housing construction and drive prices up further.
“On top of that every middle income family is missing out on the thousand dollars a year – or $40 a week that Labour cancelled to give money to first year university students. That is money these families could have used right now.
“Finally, with slowing GDP growth leaving families around $10 a week worse off, and fewer jobs being created as a result of this Government’s low growth policies, there will be fewer opportunities for New Zealanders to get ahead.
“Together, these bad policies and poor priorities are leaving New Zealand families significantly worse off.
“The Government can’t pretend it’s concerned about New Zealand families, particularly those on lower incomes, and then turn around and implement policies that make things worse.
“They are placing themselves squarely in the firing line as the cause of cost of living increases. They need to cancel their fuel tax increase and start thinking about Kiwi families.”
Thank you for having me here.
My time as Economic Development Minister underlined for me the importance of the primary sector and regional New Zealand.
There can be a lot of talk from politicians about diversification away from primary industries – moving away from farming into areas like IT and finance.
Promoting other industries is good, but we must remember that you are the engine room of the economy.
Other industries could take lessons from how the primary sector operates.
It is full of people that are outward looking and back themselves.
People who constantly innovate so they can be the best at what they do.
People who care about conservation and the environment.
People who know that if you put in the hard yards, you reap the rewards.
These values are at the heart of what it means to be a New Zealander.
These attitudes are part of the reason why New Zealand is filled with fantastic opportunities right now.
They’re why in the two years before the last election, 10,000 new jobs were being created every month.
Why the average annual income increased by $13,000 between 2008 and 2017 – twice the rate of inflation.
They’re why the proportion of Kiwis in work is the third highest in the developed world.
New Zealand is a successful, prosperous, confident country, filled with people and businesses that can foot it with the best in the world.
I know that as Leader of the Opposition I’m supposed to complain about everything.
But that’s not my style.
I genuinely believe we are doing really well as a country, although we can always do better.
This success wasn’t always the case – ten years ago 30,000 people were leaving New Zealand every year to move to Australia, because that’s where the opportunities were.
As of last year there are more coming the other way.
We’ve made great progress – but we must keep pushing hard to ensure all Kiwis enjoy the gains.
I’m concerned that more and more of the Ardern-Peters Government’s policies will put those opportunities at risk.
While they talk a lot about good intentions, the policies like higher fuel taxes and a reversion to 1970s style pay agreements are anti-growth. They’ll shut down opportunities for our young people to get a job, and they’ll increase costs on New Zealand families.
Almost half of businesses believe the economy will deteriorate over the next six months. Half. That’s not an environment where people are hiring another employee or investing for growth.
I talked about values earlier, and there is one other value that I believe makes New Zealand so special.
And that’s our belief in doing the right thing, in giving a helping hand to those in need.
People like the single parent who needs taxpayer support to help raise their children.
And the worker who has just been laid-off and is trying but struggling to find their next job.
Most recently we’ve seen it in the primary sector too, with the M Bovis outbreak.
This is an extremely challenging time for farmers and the rural community.
These are animals that you have bred and cared for, and now your livelihoods are on the line.
I’m not going to dwell on how we got where we are, but I am pleased that farmers finally have certainty.
I feel for those who are having their stock culled – truly taking one for the team
For National’s part, we’re not going to play politics with this issue. That’s my commitment to you.
Our primary sector team of MPs, led by Nathan Guy, is here to support farming families and to advocate for you through this painful process.
I want to talk about more than just M Bovis today.
You know we always have to look ahead – to next year and the year after, to how you want your farm to be operating in five years’ time, and perhaps even to how your children and grandchildren could take over one day.
Just like you, much of what I do is driven by what I want for my kids when they grow up.
My wife Natalie and I have three amazing young children. Emlyn who is six, Harry who’s four, and little Jemima who is a whole six months old.
As a politician sometimes there are sacrifices you make, and that includes spending less time with your children.
But it also means that when I go to Parliament, I’m driven by the desire to make New Zealand an even better place for all our kids when they grow up.
One of the big long-term challenges we face is protecting the environment.
In a hundred years, when we’re all long gone, I want to be sure our grandchildren will be living in a New Zealand that is still the envy of the world because of its stunning natural environment as well as its prosperity.
I want them to live in a pristine New Zealand, where they can take their children to swim at Piha, or tramp in the Waitakere ranges like I did growing up.
I want our grandchildren to know that all of us have done what we can to protect the environment - our most precious natural resource.
I doubt there are any New Zealanders who don’t think like this.
We can have the best sportspeople, the finest scholars, and the most innovative entrepreneurs.
We can have a world class economy and the prosperity to pay for education, hospitals, infrastructure, social services and care for our vulnerable.
But none of that is worthwhile if we haven’t protected the natural environment as well.
I’ve charged our environmental MPs, led by Scott Simpson, Todd Muller, Sarah Dowie and Erica Stanford with the task of modernising our approach to environmental issues. To run a ruler over our policies. To ask the questions and to push us harder.
And that is also true of climate change.
I know there might be some surprises about a National leader talking about climate change at Fieldays.
But I know this sector is committed to conservation and environmental sustainability.
You don’t get enough credit for that.
We’re not doing anyone any favours if we can’t have a robust conversation about the steps we need to take to protect our natural resources.
New Zealand feeds the world. We produce more food per person than any other OECD country.
Unfortunately being a large food producer means our per capita emissions are high.
But we are also the most efficient food producers. The world needs to be fed and we know how to do it well.
But simply being the most efficient isn’t enough. We need to do more to reduce emissions further. I know that, and every farmer I talk to knows that too.
Despite our small individual profile of one fifth of one per cent of global emissions, our size does not abdicate us from our responsibility.
National recognises the importance to New Zealanders – present and future – of addressing climate change, and playing our part in the global response.
We’ve made good progress recently, but we need to do more.
We implemented the world-leading Emissions Trading Scheme, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining economic productivity.
When I was Transport Minister I implemented a significant package of measures to increase electric vehicle usage, so that we use fewer fossil fuels.
New Zealand is a great place for electric vehicles, because almost 90 per cent of our electricity is renewable. That’s the fourth highest in the developed world.
There are now as many new electric vehicles in New Zealand each year as there have been in Australia, ever.
I want us to do more of that.
Since 2008 our greenhouse gas emissions fell, despite a growing economy and growing population.
That is a big deal. In the previous 18 years emissions increased by 25 per cent.
But we now need to wrestle them down further.
I am proud to have been a part of the previous National Government which signed New Zealand up to the Paris agreement with its ambitious challenge of reducing our emissions to 30 per cent less than 2005 levels by 2030.
I was there in Paris as the Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues and I stand by our commitment.
It will be challenging to achieve, and will require an adjustment to our economy. But we must do so.
In order to drive long-lasting change, broad and enduring political support is needed for New Zealand’s climate change framework – on the institutional arrangements we put in place to support a reduction in emissions.
Both the Productivity Commission and Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment were clear about this.
Stability is required to allow people and businesses to plan and respond.
It requires a consensus between the major political parties on the overall framework through which we address climate change issues.
Today I have written to the Prime Minister and James Shaw, offering to work with them to establish an independent, non-political Climate Change Commission.
I want to work with the Government to make meaningful bi-partisan progress on climate change.
This will be challenging. It will require compromises on both sides.
It will require us all to listen and engage respectfully.
But the prize is too great not to try, and the consequences on our economy, jobs and the environment are too serious if we don’t do so responsibly.
The Climate Change Commission would support New Zealand’s emission reductions by both advising the Government on carbon budgets, and holding the Government to account by publishing progress reports on emissions.
The Commission would be advisory only, with the Government of the day taking final decisions on both targets and policy responses.
There are a number of details I want to work through with the Government before the Commission is launched – such as ensuring the Commission has appropriate consideration for economic impacts as well as environmental, and that the process for appointments to the Commission is also bipartisan.
But I am confident that we can work constructively together to establish an enduring non-political framework for all future governments when considering climate change issues.
But just getting the institutional arrangements right isn’t going to be enough – the question is the steps we take to reduce emissions over time.
And of course there will be ongoing debate about what is and isn’t appropriate. It is right there will be different views on this.
National want practical, sensible solutions, not extreme policies that could damage the economy and unnecessarily drive up costs for Kiwi households.
National has five principles that we believe should guide New Zealand in moving to a low carbon economy, to help ensure economic growth and improving the environment go hand in hand.
Firstly, I want New Zealand to take a pragmatic, science-based approach to tackling climate change.
We will get better results focusing on what works.
Success comes in tangible improvements to the environment, not how closely we can stand by a particular ideology.
Our second principle is that innovation and technology will be crucial to meeting any target.
Technological change will drive much of the solution to climate change – and a National government I lead will invest more in this.
We are already seeing opportunities to shift our transport sector to renewable energy through the uptake of electric vehicles.
Households can generate renewable energy themselves with micro-hydro, solar and wind.
And at Oxford University they’re developing natural gas electricity generation that actually strips carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Our third principle is that we need to get the incentives right to drive long-term changes rather than imposing short-term shocks.
Households and businesses, scientists and entrepreneurs should all contribute to a low-carbon solution.
The best way to do that is to continue to use market-based price signals such as the ETS where it helps to drive behaviour change.
But we should also recognise that where technology does not exist to mitigate emissions, adding a tax just makes that industry worse off without reducing global emissions.
Fourth, New Zealand must act, but never in isolation.
Climate change is a global issue that requires a global response.
Moving ahead of other countries risks pushing industries from New Zealand to overseas – meaning we simply export emissions offshore rather than driving global change.
That’s exactly what we’ve seen with the Government’s oil and gas decision – ending natural gas exploration here will simply result in more coal being burnt in China, actually increasing global emissions.
And finally, we must always consider the wider impacts on the economy – on jobs and incomes for New Zealanders.
The solution cannot be limited to driving up costs on New Zealand households so they use less energy.
We can and must ensure that the environment and the economy are mutually supportive.
These five principles:
- technology driven
- long-term incentives
- global response, and
- economic impact
will inform the work we do on policies to reduce emissions.
That applies to future targets for emission reductions.
The previous Government set an ambitious 2050 target for emissions reductions, which will already be challenging to achieve. Any change would need to meet the test of the principles I have set out.
Similarly, those five principles are the tests that need to be met before agriculture faces costs under the ETS.
The policy doesn’t currently meet that threshold.
On science, the main emission from agriculture is short-lived methane, not long-lived carbon dioxide. The two gasses should be treated differently – as recommended recently by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and the Productivity Commission.
On incentives, the current lack of mitigation options means the only behaviour change it will likely drive is the culling of herds – which risks simply moving food production overseas, where taxes haven’t been imposed. Moving from efficient Kiwi farmers like you, to offshore farms that pollute more.
Each of these factors may change over time – so while it doesn’t meet the threshold now, it may do in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen.
I am very upbeat about the agriculture sector’s capacity to deliver a less carbon intensive future, and continue to showcase our innovation to the world – if we stick to a science-based, technology-driven, global response.
I believe Government should partner with the primary sector to develop practices and technologies to improve our environmental footprint
Addressing climate change isn’t easy. We all know that.
But if we are all pulling in the same direction we can make a difference and ensure that our beautiful natural environment is preserved for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.
There isn’t a silver bullet solution to environmental problems. It’s always complex, but there’s never any answer unless you prioritise the problem.
I will be doing that.