Pike River re-entry confirmed
Eight years almost to the day after 29 miners died and were trapped in the Pike River Mine explosion, the Government has confirmed that it will attempt re-entry and recovery of their bodies.
This is great news for families of the miners who have fought for years to recover the bodies of the men, and to understand the cause of the explosion in the mine. It also fulfils a New Zealand First election promise and coalition agreement commitment with Labour.
The National Government and state-owned mining company Solid Energy determined manned re-entry could not be done safely and the decision was made to seal the mine permanently.
The Coalition Government established the Pike River Recovery Agency in January with a budget of $23 million. Of the three options, it recommended to the Government that the safest approach for re-entry was single entry through the existing drift.
Cabinet last week approved an additional $14m for the re-entry attempt which will begin in earnest in February, although considerable preparatory work has already been undertaken.
Minister in charge, Andrew Little, said it would be an "extraordinarily complex" undertaking, but the process to make it safe had been robust.
The families of the dead men are elated with the Government’s announcement. “We fought really hard for our men for a very long time, and today this is a victory for the families and the little people in New Zealand,” said families’ representative Anna Osborne.
Manawatu-Whanganui latest region to benefit from Provincial Growth Fund
On Thursday, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced a $48 million Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) package for Manawatū-Whanganui.
It is the latest in a raft of multi-million dollar funding announcements for the regions this year and will support projects across a range of sectors including transport, food and beverage, digital connectivity and tourism. The largest investment is for KiwiRail, to advance work on establishing a regional freight hub near Palmerston North.
The $3 billion PGF was a flagship New Zealand First election policy and a key coalition agreement with Labour. This Government is committed to reversing years of neglect under National and to creating new employment and economic development opportunities for those living outside of our cities.
It aims to contribute to community wellbeing, lift productivity, encourage more private sector investment, and help meet New Zealand’s climate change targets.
Peters attends Armistice ceremony, opens embassies in Europe
Foreign Minister Winston Peters joined world leaders for the official ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, held at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Representatives of the countries that fought and supported the war effort all attended.
“These commemorations, 100 years on, are an opportunity to join together in remembrance of the great sacrifice made in the First World War,” Mr Peters said.
Three out of every five New Zealanders who fought in the war sustained casualties. More than 18,000 service men and women lost their lives.
He also attended the inaugural Paris Peace Forum convened by French President Emmanuel Macron as part of the centenary events. Intended to be an annual event, its aim is to provide a platform for world leaders to reflect on current global security challenges and foster international co-operation.
While in Europe, Mr Peters also opened New Zealand embassies in Stockholm and Dublin and met with Swedish and Irish leaders.
The opening of the embassies is part of the Government’s commitment to strengthen its representation globally. In Budget 2018 MFAT secured an extra $150 million over four years, needed to rebuild expertise and resourcing to better equip New Zealand to respond to an increasingly turbulent global environment.
“At this time of global uncertainty, New Zealand needs to work more closely with friends and
partners who share our values and our commitment to fair and rules-based global order.” Mr Peters
Government celebrates “excellent” employment stats
Job figures released on Tuesday show that unemployment has dropped to 3.9 per cent in the latest quarter, down from 4.4 per cent at the end of June. It is the lowest unemployment rate in a decade.
And employment is up, with 29,000 more people employed since the June quarter. At 68.3 percent overall, this is the highest rate since the statistics series began more than 30 years ago.
Other economic indicators have shown strong and widespread growth this year. We've seen population growth in the regions, reports of more job ads, high levels of migration and tourism, growing retail sales, and rising exports.
While admitting that employment figures can be volatile, ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said the data “flies in the face of what business confidence has been saying for the last year”.
"As yet we haven't seen any material signs coming through yet that weaker business confidence is impacting on the broader economy."
Finance Minister Grant Roberston described the figures as “excellent”, and a reflection of the success of the Government’s policies which back businesses to invest and hire, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said they were reason to celebrate.
Royal Commission terms of reference extended
The Government has agreed to expand the scope of a proposed inquiry into the abuse of children in state care, to include those abused in church care.
The inquiry will now be called the Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-Based Institutions. It was initially established in February to be chaired by the former Govenor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, but the full terms of reference and budget were only revealed this week after an extensive period of public consultation.
The terms of reference were extended as a result of lobbying by survivors of abuse while in faith-based care who felt they had been left out by the original proposed scope of the inquiry, and by the Catholic and Anglican Churches who felt it should be “fully inclusive”.
It will begin hearing evidence from January next year, with the first interim report to be presented by the end of 2020. A final report will be submitted to the Governor-General in January 2023.
The inquiry has a budget of $78.85 million over four years, which includes more than $15 million to help participants by providing counselling and support.
The inclusion of church abuse in the scope of the inquiry has been welcome by past victims, with one describing it as “a gamechanger”.
Pacific Reset picks up pace with $10 million fund
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters announced the establishment of a $10 million Pacific Enabling Fund.
The fund will allow engagement with Pacific partners on a diverse range of activities outside the Government’s formal aid funding arrangements, such as cultural and sporting diplomacy, people to people links, and some military cooperation activities.
“The Coalition Government is committed to rebuilding New Zealand’s standing in the Pacific, supporting our Pacific partners, and continuing to deliver on our Pacific Reset priorities,” Mr Peters said.