My Column: archive 2010

Monday 12 April 2010

Tax package to help families get ahead

New Zealand needs better economic growth to create jobs, boost incomes, improve frontline public services, and help Kiwi families get ahead.

But we face some big challenges. New Zealand spends more than it earns. Over the past five years the economy has become hopelessly lopsided. There has been too much low-quality government spending, and too much borrowing to buy investment properties.

New Zealand's over-investment in property is not healthy for our economy. It pushes up house prices, which push up our debt to the rest of the world. It also makes it harder for young families to buy homes.

National is focused on tilting the playing field towards productive investment, exports, and new jobs. We've set out a balanced programme to achieve this – including options to reform the tax system in next month's Budget.

Tax is a powerful lever to boost economic performance. Our starting point is that lower personal taxes across the board will give families more choice, and help them get ahead.

The tax system can also help the economy grow by encouraging saving and productive investment and discouraging spending – because New Zealand spends much more than it earns.

The right mix of taxes will help our export and import-competing sectors – the parts of our economy that earn New Zealand's living with the rest of the world and create sustainable jobs.

Options being considered for the Budget include personal tax cuts across the board, changes to the taxation of investment property, and a possible rise in GST.

We agree with the Tax Working Group that there is a gap in the taxation of property investments where income is being earned but, in total no tax is being paid.

Estimates suggest that in 2008 the value of rental property was more than the value of the entire sharemarket. However, this large asset base generated tax revenue losses for the Government of $150 million. Most taxpayers would view that as unfair.

We believe property investors play an important role in the economy. But we don't want people investing in property for tax reasons, and we want property investment taxed on the same basis as other activities.

No final decisions on tax changes have been taken. But the Prime Minister has ruled out a comprehensive capital gains tax, a land tax, and a risk-free rate of return method. He has also said that if GST rises, there will be immediate compensation for beneficiaries, Superannuitants, and Working for Families recipients.

The Government's tax package will be focused on lifting New Zealand's economic performance, being fair to taxpayers, and helping Kiwi families to get ahead.

Thursday 1 April 2010

Our foreshore and seabed

New Zealand's coastline is important for us all. It is part of our history, our daily lives, and our national identity.

Ownership of the foreshore and seabed has been a controversial issue since 2004 when the Foreshore and Seabed Act was passed.

Many New Zealanders believed the law was unfair. The Government is working to balance the interests of all New Zealanders, and resolve the foreshore and seabed issue once and for all.

The foreshore is the 'wet' part of the beach that is covered by the ebb and flow of the tide. The seabed is the ocean floor out to 12 nautical miles.

National and the Maori Party agreed to review the Act as part of our Relationship and Confidence and Supply Agreement. On 31 March, the National-led Government released a consultation document outlining its preferred option for moving forward.

Our bottom line has always been public access to the foreshore and seabed. But we also want to put in place a way for iwi to have their interests recognised.

The Foreshore and Seabed Act defined the area of the public foreshore and seabed, and gave absolute ownership to the Crown. The ability for Maori to go to the courts to seek recognition of customary title was taken away.

We believe everyone has a right to use and enjoy our beaches and coastline. Ownership is one way of clarifying who can do what, but it is not the only way to provide clarity, or certainty.

Our proposal is that no one owns, or can own, the foreshore and seabed. The name would be changed from 'foreshore and seabed' to 'public domain', or takiwā īwī whānui.

The public domain proposal would provide public access for all, and restore the right of Māori to go to court to establish customary title. It would assure respect for rights and interests, such as recognition of customary rights, and protection of fishing rights. Existing use rights, such as coastal permits, would be protected until the end of their term, and parts of the foreshore and seabed already in private ownership would not be affected.

National urges you to have your say on our proposals. The consultation document and further information about making a submission can be found on the Ministry of Justice website.

Submissions close at 5pm on 30 April 2010.

Monday 29 March 2010

Outstanding candidate chosen for Youth Parliament

I am very pleased to announce Northland's representative to Youth Parliament 2010 is Carolyn (Cally) Henry, from Kaitaia.

Cally was chosen from eight outstanding candidates who submitted essays to me about issues that are important to Northland youth.

Held once every Parliamentary term, Youth Parliament provides young New Zealanders with the opportunity to learn about our democracy and influence public decision-making.

But more than that, it provides us Members of Parliament with an insight into the issues that concern our young people.

Reading the essays submitted to me was enlightening. What strikes a chord for me in Cally's essay is that while she is aware of the issues for youth here in Northland, she is also immensely proud of being a Northlander. Her opening line was, "I love Northland. This is where I was born. It's also home to my family, going back many generations. It's home."

Issues the candidates covered included: domestic violence and child abuse; high unemployment in Northland; health funding cuts; coastal development; education; giving youth a voice and actually listening to them; violence in Northland including the murder of Liberty Templeton; differences for urban and rural youth; managing litter; engaging youth in sport to prevent problems; drinking, drugs and driving; lack of public transport holding youth in Northland back; and laid back attitudes in adults adversely affecting youth.

Our young people are certainly paying attention to what is happening in their communities. They have good ideas and I agree with them that community leaders need to engage in listening to them. Adults should think about engaging with young people in their communities; both parties benefit from the exchange of youthful optimism and wisdom and experience.

With mass communications at their finger tips, our young people are well read and well informed. While there is a tendency for media to "demonise" them as being mostly up to no good, in fact, the majority of our young people are getting a good education and being well prepared for life.

Youth Parliament is one of the opportunities to celebrate the good things our young people do. As a Northlander I am enormously proud of the achievements of our youth – from winning a local game of sport, through to representing the region or the country in academic or sporting arenas.

Cally is 16 and attends Kaitaia Abundant Life School, where she is in Year 12. She will join Parliament in Wellington in July and this year for the first time, Youth MPs will deliberate on a Bill that is currently before the House. This is a significant opportunity for young people to have meaningful input in the passage of a piece of legislation.

I will keep you posted on Cally's progress and I know she will represent us well.

Monday 15 March 2010

Getting tough on truants in Northland

As Northland MP I welcome the Education Minister's plans to help schools crack down on truancy.

The Ministry of Education's recently released 2009 truancy survey shows that just over 30,000 students are truant from state and state-integrated schools on any given day.

Unfortunately Northland features in the top four regions for truancy rates in New Zealand with a total absence rate of 13 percent, against an average of 11.6 percent. Those with higher rates are Gisborne (14.9%), and Waikato and Bay of Plenty (both 13.6%).

Northland also has one of the highest total unjustifiable absence rates of 4.8 percent, compared with the national average of 4.2 percent.

This is not good enough. Evidence shows that regular attendance in school is the biggest factor in student achievement. We want to see Northland children and young people participating and achieving at all levels. Parents, caregivers and family need to pay attention to what is happening in young people's lives and encourage them to succeed. Ask them about their day. Act early if there seems to be some reason why they don't want to go to school, for example, bullying. Ask questions that allow them to tell you if anything is worrying them.

A pattern of regularly not going to school puts students at risk of poor achievement, early dropout and then the possibility of unemployment or low paid work. It can lead to negative outcomes later in life such as violence and substance abuse.

We want better for our young people.

National is determined to get tough on truancy. That's why we have doubled the amount of funding to tackle the problem.

An additional $4 million per year will help schools throughout New Zealand introduce stronger and more proactive measures to reduce the number of students wagging school.

Initially the funding will go towards extending the use of electronic attendance registers, the Early Notification text message System, and one-off funding of $1.5 million to reduce the time it takes to get students absent for 20 consecutive days back into school.

A small amount has also been set aside to help schools prosecute parents of children who are persistently absent from school without justification.

The National-led Government is working on a long-term approach, aimed at keeping more children engaged at school, rather than having to get truants back into the system once they have become disengaged.

But parents, caregivers and family play the biggest role in ensuring children and young people value education, are excited to learn, benefit from the social aspect of school and have hopes and dreams that can be fulfilled by a good foundation in education.

You can view the 2009 truancy survey, which was carried out in June 2009 to inform the Ministry's work on improving student engagement in education.

Thursday 4 March 2010

Benefit and Super increases to more than a million Kiwis

The Government's increase to beneficiaries, students and Superannuitants will help more than one million New Zealanders, including many of you in Northland.

This Government is committed to making sure that people who rely on government support get a fair deal, particularly given the current economic climate.

The increase keeps benefits and pension rates in line with the cost of living, which is measured using the Consumer Price Index. For the year ending 31 December 2009, the Consumer Price Index increased by 1.96 percent.

New Zealand Super and Veterans' payments will actually be increasing by more than two percent, keeping them at 66 percent of the net average weekly wage.

Currently the Government is only required to keep these payments at 65 percent of the net average wage. National promised to maintain them at 66 percent, and we're sticking to that promise.

A married couple both receiving New Zealand Superannuation will receive an increase of $11.04 a week, taking their payments to $489.42.

As well as benefits and Super payments, the increase will apply to foster care allowances, student allowances and loans, and the income thresholds for the Community Services Card.

The increases mean that New Zealand will be spending an additional $240 million a year on benefits and pensions.

The National-led Government is committed to a fair system for the people who need it.

You can view further information about the increases to benefit rates, NZ Super, Veterans' Pensions and student allowances.

Monday 1 March 2010

Northland reacts well to warning

Northland was one of the areas that felt the tsunami effects that hit our coasts in the wake of the Chilean earthquake at the end of February.

I am pleased to say that Civil Defence Emergency Management in Northland went exceptionally well. I received a report from Taupo Bay when I was in the National Emergency Management Centre (or the bunker as we call it around Parliament) that it had its best evacuation to date.

There were 130 people registered to the Welfare Centre including 100 extras from out of town in the area for a wedding, so they had an exciting diversion. The community rallied around and fed all the people quite well by all accounts.
It is great to hear that in Northland this event was taken seriously and that all the systems worked well, including access to the national team in Wellington and information from the media.

Unfortunately not everyone realises the power of nature and the unpredictability of the sea after such a huge earthquake, even if that earthquake was a long way away.
A national warning is not issued lightly. We were aware of powerful water surges that are typical of a tsunami and rapid water-level rises and decreases in some areas, including Northland. If people had been allowed in the water there may well have been a different outcome but as it was, while a couple of people had scares, no one in New Zealand died as a result of this event.

There was definitely potential for loss of life and it is a credit to the team who managed this event that that didn't happen. Mostly, they were able to warn people and to keep them off the beaches and out of the water. Living as we do so close to the sea in Northland, we are pretty aware of how quickly it can change from calm to dangerous.

I am proud of how the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency, local Civil Defence Emergency Management groups, police, fire, coastguard, and volunteers worked together to manage the situation.

The tragedy of this situation is what has happened in Chile. Our distance from the earthquake meant we had plenty of time to prepare and we were well prepared.

However, if an earthquake of this magnitude strikes 20 kilometres away from New Zealand's coast, there will be no warning time. We have some of the best civil defence emergency planning in the world, but in this event, there would be a period of time when households and communities might be isolated and without essential services.

Reality for New Zealanders is that we are vulnerable to certain unpredictable natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis. We are also geographically isolated from our nearest neighbours on whom we might call for help, so any international emergency response might take days.

Every household should have an emergency plan that includes knowing what to do during and immediately after a significant earthquake. The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management's website has excellent and potentially life-saving information.

I urge you all not to delay your emergency planning and to take warnings seriously when they are issued and follow the precautions recommended until such warnings are reduced and then lifted.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Maori home loan deal good news for Northland

A new partnership between Housing New Zealand Corporation and Kiwibank, announced by the Government this month, puts owners of multiple-owned Maori land on a level playing field with other people who apply for mortgages to build homes. I believe this innovative agreement brings good news to many families in Northland.

The mortgage underwriting scheme, called Kainga Whenua, is available solely through Kiwibank. Borrowers must meet a number of criteria to be eligible.

A Kainga Whenua loan from Kiwibank can be up to 100 percent of the house building costs or the purchase price of the house, up to a maximum of $200,000.

The borrower must have the right to occupy the land, a valuation from a registered valuer, and a satisfactory building contract.

This Government considers Kāinga Whenua an extension of the Welcome Home scheme it introduced last year. Welcome Home has been well received by low income families who might otherwise find it difficult to purchase a home.

Up until now, many Maori who are multiple-owners of land have been unable to use that land as collateral for a mortgage, because they are not the sole owners.

For many people who want to build a home on a piece of land that they own, they can use that land as collateral for a mortgage to pay for the cost of construction. But the special nature of Maori land and the ownership of it mean it cannot be sold, so multiple-owners have not previously been able to meet the standard requirements for mortgage security.

Kainga Whenua means many Maori will now be able to develop multiple-owned land, and move into home ownership, where before they may not have been able to.

National has been working closely with the Maori Party to turn Kainga Whenua into a reality, and to help Maori multiple-owners meet the same requirements as other people who apply for home loans.

There are criteria to be met but the multi-borrower option, which allows for three or more borrowers in a single household to apply for the loan, makes a loan more feasible for multi-generational householders.

There is more information available on the Housing Corporation New Zealand website.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Keeping On – Raising awareness about elder abuse and neglect

Protecting the rights and interests of older people by raising awareness about elder abuse and neglect is one of my key priorities as Minister for Senior Citizens.

Awareness of this form of abuse and neglect of older people on a wider community scale is relatively new. The structure of families has changed rapidly in the past 50 years, perhaps making older people more vulnerable. Economic pressures, small families and families living away from their traditional homes and older relatives all contribute to a changing landscape for senior citizens.

Many senior citizens are leading longer, healthier and more active lives than their parents or grandparents. However, there are people who might have traditionally been looked after by extended family as they aged, but that is no longer happening.

Without someone to champion them, older people who may be unwell in some way may not be able to manage the basics of daily life. They may be hungry, lonely and unable to care for themselves. Neglect is insidious and not always as obvious as abuse. But it is equally cruel.

Tackling elder abuse and neglect starts with raising awareness, talking about the problem and thinking about responsibility. Sadly, much of the abuse and neglect comes at the hands of family members – sons and daughters or husbands are the main perpetrators – who are the very people we would expect to be offering respect and care.

Abuse can be physical, psychological, sexual and/or financial – the stripping of assets and leaving older people in poverty, unsafe and fearful.

As a relatively well-off nation, New Zealanders at family, neighbourhood and community levels should be thinking about the older members of their communities. If you have an older neighbour and you notice dramatic changes in their behaviour or you don't see them for some time, perhaps you should check out what is happening. Pop round or start a conversation.

Age Concern's website has a lot of information about signs of elder abuse and neglect and where to go for help. If the situation seems serious, the first call should always be to the Police. District Health Boards are another source of information and assistance.

Government funding is not the total panacea for elder abuse and neglect. As with reducing other forms of abuse and neglect, changes in attitudes and behaviour are essential and this takes time.

But behaviour as neighbours and community members is something we are all responsible for as individuals. Are we really in such a hurry that we can't take five minutes for our neighbours? If we were alone and in trouble wouldn't we hope our neighbours would notice and care?

Our senior citizens have much to contribute with wisdom knowledge and experience; in employment, as mentors and as volunteers. Let's value and protect that.



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