The Government in Action – June 21st

Farm Debt Mediation Bill helps struggling farmers


A new scheme which will help farmers facing foreclosure is at the heart of the Farm Debt Mediation Bill which was announced last week.

Under the Bill creditors, including banks, would have to offer mediation before putting farms into receivership or liquidation. The mediators would be overseen by the Ministry for Primary Industries but the cost for mediation would be shared by the parties.

New Zealand First has long advocated for a scheme such as this. The current legislation started life as a Member’s Bill in the name of primary industry spokesperson Mark Patterson, but was subsequently taken on and reintroduced as a Coalition Government Bill. It is modelled on legislation that is already working well in Australia.

Total NZ farm debt stands at $62.8 billion – up 270 per cent on 20 years ago. Unlike other sectors, farmers are vulnerable to factors outside their control, including weather, market price, pests or diseases like Mycoplasma bovis, said Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.

The key is early intervention, a far better option than forced foreclosure, he said.

“The Bill sets up a fairer system and is in the best interest of all parties,” Mr Patterson said.

It has received support from both Federated Farmers and the New Zealand Bankers' Association, and will be introduced to Parliament this week.



Northland celebrates two major PGF milestones


Northland celebrated two major Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) milestones this week  – the official opening of the new Bay of Island Airport terminal and the completion of the first stage of the Hihiaua Cultural Centre in Whangārei.

“The PGF invested $1.75 million towards the new terminal building, which will ensure the airport is well positioned to make the most of expected future growth, said Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.

Stage one of the Hihiaua Cultural Centre in Whangārei received $1 million from the PGF.

“Plans for the Cultural Centre at Hihiaua have been in the pipeline for about a decade, but an injection of capital from the PGF finally allowed construction of the project to get underway”

“It’s timely that both of these projects have been completed to coincide with Matāriki, the Māori New Year. This is a time to reflect and celebrate new life – and for Northland, the future’s looking bright,” Minister Jones said.



NZ ratifies agreement to fight illegal fishing in the Pacific


New Zealand has ratified an agreement to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Pacific.

Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs Fletcher Tabuteau announced New Zealand’s ratification of the Multilateral Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA), while he attended the annual ministerial meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Committee in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Combatting illegal fishing remains a key priority for New Zealand, and the solution lies in a collective regional approach, Mr Tabuteau said.

New Zealand will further support efforts to combat IUU fishing in the Pacific through co-operative surveillance activities and the exchange of fisheries information,” Mr Tabuteau said.



Racing Reform Bill passes into law


The Racing Reform Bill passed into law on Thursday. It was the first of two bills which restructure the racing industry in New Zealand. The second is due later this year.

This Bill dissolves the New Zealand Racing Board (NZRB) and replaces it with the Racing Industry Transitional Authority (RITA), which will be mandated to drive change in the industry.

It also provides a basis for collecting revenue from offshore betting operators and provides safeguards relating to offshore charges.

The select committee which considered the Bill recommended amendments requiring the racing Minister to consult with the Minster for Sport and Recreation before recommending changes to regulations that determine how betting profits are distributed to racing and sports, and by providing for regulations to determine the distribution of betting profits resulting from the repeal of the totalisator duty.

New Zealand First has always been a staunch supporter of the racing industry, which contributes about $1.6 billion a year to the economy, employs tens of thousands of New Zealanders, and boosts the country’s exports. Last year’s Messara Review, commissioned by Racing Minister Winston Peters, found that it was in serious decline and in need of substantial restructuring.

“It is important that the industry is revitalised and placed on a sustainable footing for the future,” Mr Peters said.



Portfolio announcements by Minister Martin


It was a busy week across the Internal Affairs, Children’s, and Associate Education portfolios held by Minister Tracey Martin.

First up, was the announcement of a $4 million-a-year package to recognise the contribution made by Fire and Emergency volunteers to communities across New Zealand. It includes an annual payment of $300 to all volunteers to recognise expenses incurred as part of their activities, access to a network of discounts on products and services, and access to health insurance options.

As Associate Minister of Education, she announced details of a $9.8 million package from Budget 2019 which will target students at risk of disengaging from their learning at school.

The funding, which will be available from July 1, includes an additional $5.8 million funding over four years for Alternative Education providers, $1.4 million over the next three years for attendance service providers, and $2.6 million over four years for Te Kura’s pilot programme for at-risk students.

As Minister for Children, Ms Martin announced the terms of reference for the Oranga Tamariki –Ministry for Children review into the case of the Hawkes Bay mother and the attempted uplift of her baby by the agency.

The review will be led by the Chief Social Worker at Oranga Tamariki. A person appointed by Ngāti Kahungunu and with the relevant expertise, mana and connection will provide independent oversight. The Children’s Commissioner will also provide input into the design, progress and findings.

“I know many people have been deeply impacted by the recent events in the Hawkes Bay,” says Minister Martin. “The review will provide an opportunity for the voices of the mother, father and whānau to be heard and for their views to be considered.”

As well as focusing on the engagement with whānau, iwi and other professionals and key stakeholders, the review will examine the quality of the assessment and planning, the manner and method of processes undertaken, and how Oranga Tamariki worked as part of a wider interagency group.

It is due to be completed by the end of July.



Firearms buy-back scheme strikes fair balance


The Government has announced details of the firearms buy-back scheme proposed in the aftermath of the March 15 terror attack.

Under the six-month buy-back and amnesty, licensed firearms owners will get fair compensation for weapons handed in, said Police Minister Stuart Nash and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

The buy-back price will reflect the brand, make and model of the prohibited firearm; its base price; and its condition. In developing the price list, Police sought independent advice from KPMG who consulted with farmers, hunters, dealers, auctioneers and gun clubs.

“The approach to prices balances fair compensation for people’s firearms and a fair cost for the taxpayer,” Mr Nash said.

“The compensation scheme recognises licensed firearms owners are now in possession of prohibited items through no fault of their own, but because of a law passed by almost the entire Parliament.”

The fund available for the buy-back and amnesty has increased by $40 million through a contribution from ACC. The total set aside for the scheme is now over $200 million.

There is still considerable uncertainty about the overall cost of the scheme, as it is not yet known how many guns will be handed in, their type or condition. Mr Robertson said the Government would top up the fund if needed.

The collection of firearms from the community is a huge logistical exercise and is expected to get underway in mid-July. The buy-back and amnesty runs until December 20.



Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal launched


Justice Minister Andrew Little announced the launch of the Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal which will provide a fair, flexible and cost-effective way for long-suffering Canterbury homeowners to resolve outstanding insurance claims relating to the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.

The launch follows the allocation of almost $3.4 million in last month’s Budget for the establishment of the tribunal in the 2019/20 year.

The tribunal will be chaired by former District Court Judge Chris Somerville. Cases can be transferred from the High Court to the Tribunal, and homeowners can choose to have a representative to receive communications for them and an advocate who can speak on their behalf.

“This tribunal will be a circuit-breaker for those disputes that have dragged on for too long and for people who deserve closure and to move on with their lives.” Mr Little said.



Expanded mental health and addiction services for offenders


The Government announced a $128.3 million expansion of Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) services in prisons and the community.

At the heart of the Wellbeing Budget was the Government’s commitment to doing things differently to break the cycle of offending and keep communities safe, and this investment aims to achieve that.

“This expansion of services will help reduce reoffending by targeting some of the key drivers of crime and barriers to rehabilitation,” said Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis.

“If we support people struggling with mental health or addiction issues, we make it easier for them to engage in education, employment and rehabilitation activities, and develop positive relationships with whānau and support networks. That means they can get their lives back on track.”

Once fully implemented, the expanded mental health services will support up to 2310 additional offenders with mild to moderate mental health needs per year.



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