It’s disappointing the Government has rejected a proposed change to the Earthquake Commission Amendment Bill which would’ve streamlined the process for claimants after a significant natural disaster, National’s EQC spokesperson Stuart Smith.
“The previous Government built on the lessons of the Christchurch earthquake and the way in which New Zealand responded to an event of that size. Changes to the claim settlement process were made when the Kaikoura earthquake occurred and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and private insurers.
“This allowed claimants to immediately file a claim with private insurers rather than going through the slow and stressful process of filing a claim with EQC who would then pass it on to the insurer if it was assessed as being over cap.
“My proposed change would allow for the possibility of the MoU to be applied to all insurance claims, allowing future claims to be resolved efficiently and in a timely manner.
“EQC Minister Megan Woods has said in the past she wants to draw on the lessons learnt from the Kaikoura pilot approach to settling claims. But rather than making immediate changes, she is instead waiting for the next piece of EQC legislation to do this.
“But natural disasters don’t wait for bureaucratic processes.
“The success of the Kaikoura pilot approach was highlighted by the fact that 99 per cent of claims were assessed within three months, as opposed to taking over a year for the Christchurch earthquake.
“Private insurers are capable and have a far greater amount of domestic and international resources available to handle and assess a large number of claims, should another significant event occur.
“Assigning the responsibility of handing claims to private insurers would simplify the process and significantly reduce the stress associated with such events. It’s unnecessary for EQC to try and compete for resources with private insurers.
“Instead the Minister is prepared to leave Kiwis in limbo, dealing with an extensive, slow and painful settlement process.
“Dr Woods talked a big game in Opposition about speeding up processes. It’s disappointing because if another significant natural disaster occurs before the Minister legislates these new changes, Kiwi families will be the ones who suffer.”
Kaikōura MP Stuart Smith has welcomed the decision to move forward on Blenheim’s co-located colleges but says that documents released to him show a significant amount of time and money has been wasted by the Minister’s decision to stall the project unnecessarily.
“I’m very pleased that, after months of waiting for Education Minister Chris Hipkins to make a decision, we finally have some progress on this important project for our region. However, we’ve now lost 12 months during which we could have moved forward a great deal towards the original completion date of 2021.
“Documents released under the Official Information Act show that since February, Mr Hipkins had the opportunity to proceed with the co-location but instead he turned it down in order to begin an entirely new business case process.
“Mr Hipkins’ review means the community will now have to wait even longer for the new co-located schools that it voted for back in 2013 during the first consultation process. This also means the project will now be more expensive than the original $63 million set aside by the previous National Government.
“Before the Minister halted the project, plans for the colleges, including extensive community consultation, had been proceeding well as the work did not hinge on a site being identified.
“Instead of continuing with the plan, Mr Hipkins chose to take the entire project back to square one for reasons that are still not entirely clear.
“As the local MP I have fought for this project to ensure that students get access to top facilities and schooling provision. Now a site is secure I will continue to ask questions about the delivery to ensure that the project is delivered as soon as possible.
“National initiated this project because we know that if it is delivered well it can help change the lives of many young people in my region.”
The announcement of a public inquiry into the Earthquake Commission (EQC) headed by Dame Sylvia Cartwright is welcome, but it is unlikely to bring any new information to light, National’s EQC spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“It has always been our view that an inquiry of this nature is unlikely to reveal any new information that hasn’t already been revealed through the Auditor-General looking into how claims have been handled, the Ombudsman investigation into client rights and privacy or by the Chief Executive and Chair of EQC’s numerous appearances in front of Select Committee.
“The most important thing is that lessons are learned from how we responded to New Zealand’s largest seismic event. We are confident these lessons have been learned.
“We know EQC was not equipped to deal with an event the size of the Canterbury earthquakes. So changes to the client handling model were made and when the Kaikoura earthquake occurred a Memorandum of Understanding between EQC and private insurers was signed to ensure claims were resolved efficiently and in a timely manner.
“This was a different approach than the one used in Canterbury, but has shown to be incredibly efficient and effective. With the claim settlement process progressing much faster after the Kaikoura earthquake, we can see how important these changes were, and we know if another similar event was to occur, EQC is in a better position than it was.
“While New Zealand’s expertise in reducing disaster risks is internationally recognised, it is still important to look back and make sure should an event like the Canterbury or Kaikoura earthquakes happen again we are in the best position to recover afterwards.”
Today’s announcement the Government will pay uninsured former Residential Red Zone owners 100 per cent of their 2007/08 rateable value could create considerable risk for the Crown, National’s spokesperson for EQC Stuart Smith says.
“At the moment New Zealand has substantial cover for disaster insurance, with most building owners paying for disaster cover meaning should there be another event like the Canterbury Earthquakes, we are in a good position to respond and if necessary rebuild.
“For example at the time of the Canterbury Earthquakes, 99 per cent of Red Zone home owners were insured against a disaster, having taken out individual insurance policies.
“However today’s announcement that the Crown will pick up the entire cost for those who hadn’t taken out their own insurance could set a concerning precedent.
“This is fundamentally unfair to those property owners who did pay for their disaster insurance.
“Should people take this as a signal they don’t need disaster insurance, the Crown could end up taking on considerable fiscal risk in the future.
“The previous National government announced the uninsured properties in the Residential Red Zone would be paid 80 per cent of their pre-earthquake (2007/08) rateable value.
“We considered a range of factors, including fairness, financial responsibility, protecting the value of insurance and the homeowner’s wellbeing.
“Each of those homeowners had already been paid 100 per cent of the pre-earthquake value of their land.
“There is now a risk property owners will choose not to pay for disaster insurance and instead wait for the Crown to bail them out.”
The Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal Bill is underwhelming and doesn’t provide any substantive relief for people with outstanding EQC claims, National’s EQC spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“Justice Minister Andrew Little confirmed in Parliament’s Question Time today that the bill fails to offer anything different to what is already available to people with outstanding EQC claims.
“The Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal can only decide on simple cases which are not already before the courts, ruling out a vast majority of EQC claims.
“Surprisingly, the Tribunal also has the power to transfer cases to the court if they are too complicated or entirely new to the system. This means the Tribunal has limited powers to make its own decisions and can easily palm cases back to the District Court or High Court.
“The reality is we have 3,600 claims which are still outstanding from the Christchurch Earthquakes, and the vast majority of these are incredibly complex.
“How is a Tribunal supposed to solve these if they are required to transfer complex claims to the courts? This is not ‘speedy, flexible and cost-effective’ as the Government claims.
“What the Government has presented to us is essentially a double up of the existing court structure. Experts and lawyers will be stuck between the Courts and the Tribunal which will only slow things down even more.
“One issue which has dominated headlines is on-sold homes, yet the Government has specifically excluded anyone bringing a claim relating to one of these properties. These people deserve answers, and again we see big promises from the Government, but they have failed to come up with the goods.
“This Tribunal will not be up and running for another year, meaning it has taken this Government over 18 months to get anything started. It’s time they stopped playing games and rolled up their sleeves.”
A Bill to update outdated legislation that governs friendly societies and credit unions passed its third reading today unanimously, Kaikōura MP Stuart Smith says.
“I am proud to see the passing of this legislation which will see friendly societies and credit unions fall into line with modern practises adopted by other financial institutions,” Mr Smith says.
“Some of the most important changes include allowing credit unions to become bodies corporate, allowing them to lend and provide services to other small and medium enterprises, and streamlining the position of associations of credit unions.
“Considerable thought has gone into ensuring this Bill both modernises the existing legislation and ensures credit unions are able to conduct business more effectively and efficiently. These changes will make life much easier for friendly societies and credit unions.
“By streamlining the previously complex regulations, Parliament is handing a vote of confidence to our financial institutions to give them the best chance of success. Credit unions will still be subject to the legal and regulatory requirements under various forms of financial legislation.
“This Bill has been a collaborative effort right across the industry, and also across Parliament. I would like to thank everyone who has been involved throughout the process.”
The Government’s backward and ill-thought through changes to overseas investment regulations are having a perverse effect and driving more land into the hands of overseas investors, National’s Spokesperson for Viticulture Stuart Smith says.
“Forestry is getting an easy pass under the Overseas Investment Act which allows for significant foreign investment in land.
“Meanwhile, other primary industries like viticulture are suffering because the profit à prendre scheme – which allows for the extraction of value from Kiwi-owned land while ensuring it remains in the hands of New Zealanders - is being tightened up.
“Viticulture is an industry which aims to keep land ownership within New Zealand by using profits a prendre. This means Kiwis own the land while overseas companies use it to grow grapes to make wine. This ensures more economic benefit remains in New Zealand while still encouraging overseas investment which creates jobs and boosts incomes.
“But the Government’s changes will make it harder for foreign investors to make a profit by working with New Zealand landowners. This will only mean more of them will look to buy the land they are using, taking jobs and investment with them.
“Additionally, Minister of Land Information Eugenie Sage has confirmed in select committee this week that we need more land to be freed up in order to meet the Government’s promise to plant a billion trees. She has ruled out using steep land for forestry, meaning productive farmland will be used for trees instead of grapes or cows.
“Other industries, including viticulture, are paying the price because of Shane Jones’ pet project. This is a kick in the guts for the regions.
“The changes from the Government will only drive more land sales into the hands of overseas investors – the very thing the Government claims it is trying to stop. It is typical of this Government to say one thing and do the opposite.
“It needs to start giving more thought to the policies which affect New Zealanders not making things up on the hoof. All industries must be subject to the same overseas investment regulations so that no one is at a disadvantage.”
The report by the Independent Ministerial Advisor for the Earthquake Commission (EQC) released today is a step in the right direction, but requires the Government to take immediate action, National’s EQC Spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“The people of Christchurch have had their voices heard and now it’s time for the Government to act quickly on the recommendations to ensure remaining claims are settled.
“There are still around 2,600 claims outstanding from the Christchurch earthquakes and people deserve concrete answers rather than mere suggestions.
“This is a complex issue due to the unprecedented nature of the events in Christchurch, but it is important that settlements are made quickly and fairly. This is a time for cool heads.
“The report makes a number of recommendations, however there is a lack of clarity about the issue of on-sold homes.
“This issue is one that has dominated headlines and is particularly concerning. The report fails to hold anyone accountable for the cost and homeowners are still being left in the dark.
“It is up to the Minister to clarify the Government’s position on on-sold homes and explain who will be picking up the bill. Making a recommendation only leaves the people affected out of pocket while they are forced to live in homes that have suffered subsequent damage.
“The Minister has communicated to the interim chair of EQC, Dame Annette King, that the recommendations need to be implemented right away, however she has failed to provide a timeframe.
“The Government must not leave this issue to fester any longer. The Minister needs to give us more information about when she expects the changes to be made. There is no point having another inquiry into an inquiry.”
Education Minister Chris Hipkins has taken the Marlborough Colleges co-location project back to square one and is now stalling on progress, Kaikōura MP Stuart Smith says.
“Documents released under the Official Information Act (OIA) show that since February, Mr Hipkins has had the opportunity to proceed with the co-location but instead has turned it down in order to begin an entirely new business case process, for which we have not been given a timeframe.”
The documents include a report prepared by the Ministry of Education for Mr Hipkins dated 20 February 2018, recommended two actions: to seek Cabinet approval for additional spending to continue the co-location; or to update the business case options, including any other feasible options and confirm whether co-location is still the preferred option.
“The Marlborough community already voted for its preferred option – co-location - back in 2013. Mr Hipkins’ decision is a significant backwards step and one that is hugely disappointing for Marlborough, particularly as the original $63 million budget to build our colleges, with a completion date of 2021, had already been agreed on by Cabinet.”
Mr Smith says the report states additional funding would have come from existing ministry baseline funding, with financial approval incorporated in Budget 2018.
“Given the Budget was announced last week, Mr Hipkins has now foregone this opportunity and it is unlikely he will seek further funding approval from Cabinet for our colleges any time soon.
“This is little more than a stalling tactic on a very important project for our region. I will continue to put a great deal of pressure behind this issue.”
The co-location of Marlborough Boys’ College and Marlborough Girls’ College is under threat with the Ministry of Education confirming the project is under review, say National’s Associate Education Spokesperson Simeon Brown and Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith.
“In 2015 the previous Government announced plans to co-locate Marlborough Boys’ College and Girls College’ onto one site. The $63 million project is now in serious doubt as the new Government has put it under review despite overwhelming public support,” Mr Brown says.
“The two schools and the community have worked hard with the Ministry of Education on the design of the campus, which was expected to be built through a Public-Private Partnership. We know that PPPs can provide cost savings and deliver more innovative facilities.
“The Ministry has been in discussions to secure land for the campus since 2015. However, with the failure to secure a site and uncertainty created by the Government around the future of PPPs, the community is understandably worried about the co-location project.”
Mr Smith says news that the project is now under review will only fuel these concerns.
“The co-location is a great opportunity for Blenheim to build on our already excellent educational facilities by providing a more modern, innovative and state-of-the-art campus for the young people in our community,” he says.
“It is very disappointing to learn that the project has been put under review, especially given several years of community consultation and overwhelming public support.
“Staff, students and parents have poured their hearts into developing plans for the co-location of their schools and it would be a real shame for all their hard work to go to waste.
“The Government has allowed the Whangārei Boys’ High School redevelopment to go ahead as a PPP as originally planned – Marlborough Boys’ and Girls’ Colleges deserve the same treatment.
“This is about ensuring our young people get the best opportunities to be successful. The Government needs to put aside its contempt for PPPs and allow this project to go ahead.
“I will be hosting a public meeting with Nikki Kaye and Simeon Brown on May 6 at 4.30pm, venue to be confirmed. We want to hear from the community their thoughts on the review and the best way forward.”