First details of $1 billion investment in Kiwirail
First details of the $1 billion Budget spend on Kiwirail were announced last week, with New Zealand First proud to be spearheading the campaign to get rail back on track after years of decline.
At an event in Wellington, ministers with shared responsibility for rail kicked off the process with the announcement of 100 new locomotives and 900 new container wagons, replacing and repurposing old and outdated stock.
“We’re addressing the last three decades of under-investment in our rail system, and enabling growth that will ensure rail is sustainable,” said Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.
New locomotives will mean more reliable services and lower maintenance costs. New, larger flat-top container wagons will give KiwiRail a more competitive freight service, he said.
In addition to updating the rolling stock, the Government is committed to investing in supporting infrastructure around the country to make train services more reliable.
The Government’s Rail Plan to be released later this year, will outline the strategic vision and provide details of a 10-year programme of indicative investments and benefits.
The regions are first in line to see the benefits of the revitalisation of rail. The Napier-Wairoa line was only reopened two weeks ago, but already four jobs have been created, with more to come. It is also expected to replace 15,000 truck journeys on our roads each year.
The Government has a vision for rail as the backbone of a sustainable 21st century transport network, which will unlock regional economic growth, reduce emissions and congestion, and increase safety on the roads.
Community Law Centres get additional funding boost
The valuable worked performed by Community Law Centres has been recognised with an additional $8.72 million in Government funding over the next four years.
The announcement builds on the extra $2.2 million provided in last year’s Budget, and brings the total annual funding to $13.26 million.
Each year, community law centres and their lawyers provide free legal advice on up to 50,000 cases, with demand continuing to grow.
“Safeguarding the future of the law centres was a key commitment secured by New Zealand First in the Coalition Agreement and we are proud to be part of the Government delivering on that promise,” said Law and Order Spokesperson Darroch Ball.
“We recognise that one of the most important pillars of a modern, effective and robust justice system is ensuring access for all, but many can’t afford the expense of getting the right advice,” Mr Ball says.
“We cannot let cost be a barrier for those on low incomes, and believe that adequate secured funding for the Community Law Centres is essential.”
Government welcomes OECD Report
The latest OECD Survey of New Zealand, released this week, found that current wellbeing was “generally high”.
The OECD carries out country surveys every two years to review its members’ economic policies. The report found that New Zealand’s performance was “very good for employment and unemployment, perceived health, social support, air quality and life satisfaction”.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the findings fitted with the Coalition Government’s focus on reducing unemployment and getting Kiwis into work; supporting families with the costs of living through policies like the Families Package, paid parental leave and cheaper doctors’ visits; and investing in our health system.
“It was interesting to see that many of the OECD’s recommendations were covered by policies announced in and around the Wellbeing Budget, he said.
New deposit protection scheme for NZ banks
The Government is making the banking system safer for Kiwis’ hard-earned savings through a new deposit protection regime.
It will increase public confidence in the banks and will bring New Zealand in line with international best practice.
The scheme is part of Phase Two of the Review of the Reserve Bank Act, which is making sure the 30-year-old laws regulating our banking system are up to scratch. It will see a proposed limit of protection of between $30,000 and $50,000 which would cover 90 percent of individual bank deposits.
“A Review of the Reserve Bank Act was a key component of the Coalition Agreement and has been a longstanding policy of New Zealand First,” said New Zealand First Deputy Leader and Associate Finance Spokesperson Fletcher Tabuteau.
“New Zealand First has long campaigned on the issue of depositor protection, as we believe the banking system must work for the benefit of all New Zealanders.”
“The Coalition Government has already delivered on Phase One of the review by updating New Zealand’s monetary policy settings to require the Reserve Bank to focus on employment outcomes as well as price stability. So it is great to see the continuation of planned improvements under Phase Two of the review,” he said.
Increased funding for learning support
More young children will benefit from a major boost in funding for learning support, made possible through the Wellbeing Budget 2019.
An extra $24.8 million over the next four years will be channelled into “early intervention”, for pre-school children who have communication, behaviour, development or disability needs. The latest funding package comes on top of an extra $21.5 million for early intervention services in Budget 2018.
With demand for early intervention services increasing year on year, Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin said the package would include funding for recruitment of additional specialists across the country and scholarships to build the workforce.
“But it’s not just about investing more money, we are also changing our practice to provide services more quickly to these children and their families,” Ms Martin said.
End of Life Choice Bill passes second reading
The controversial End of Life Choice Bill, which would legalise voluntary euthanasia, passed it second reading in Parliament, 70 votes to 50. Labour and National MPs voted with their conscience on the issue, while New Zealand First and Green MPs all voted in support.
The Bill now faces its biggest hurdle – the Committee of the Whole House stage – when amendments can be added and debated. This could be a lengthy process.
The Bill’s sponsor, ACT MP David Seymour, wants to amend it at this stage to limit the option to only those who are terminally ill with less than six months to live. As the Bill currently stands, assisted dying would also be available to those with a grievous and incurable medical condition who are declining.
New Zealand First believes the issue is one which should be decided by the New Zealand public, and will be seeking an amendment requiring a referendum.
The lobbying for and against the Bill is likely to fierce in the coming months. The Bill will then either face its final vote in the third reading, or go to a referendum.
Major shake-up for Public Service
The Public Service is facing its biggest reform in 30 years.
The State Sector Act is to be repealed and replaced with a new Public Service Act which will entail a restructuring and modernisation of the Public Service.
Under the changes, boards, made up of chief executives from relevant government agencies, will be established to tackle the most pressing issues. These boards, or joint ventures, would be accountable to a single minister and receive direct budget appropriations. Public servants from across the system will be deployed as required.
“These reforms will make groups of chief executives jointly accountable for delivering on complex government priorities. This can’t happen under the current Act,” said State Services Minister Chris Hipkins.
The shift to a single, unified public service approach would be complemented by cultural change, he said.
“Principles such as political neutrality, free and frank advice, and merit-based appointments are important. I believe these changes will have a unifying effect on the Public Service.”
The Public Service Bill will be introduced to Parliament later this year.