Latest News

Food price increases hit Southlanders hard

March 14, 2022 Share

No wonder Southlanders are struggling at the supermarket with annual February food prices recording the largest increase in over a decade, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“According to Stats NZ food prices rose 6.8 percent in February, the largest annual increase since July 2011.

“Fruit and vegetables went up a whopping 17 percent compared to February 2021, meat and chicken was up by 7.1 percent and general groceries by 5.4 percent.

“Goodness knows how families are feeding their kids at the moment, particularly with essentials like fruit and vegetables being so pricey.

“Inflation is at a thirty year high, with other necessities like petrol and housing costs all going through the roof.

“This means many people are just scraping by from week to week and it’s virtually impossible for families to get ahead – they’re just working to survive.

“We also can’t blame vegetable growers for the massive price increases – with many of them saying energy, wage, transport and Government audit costs are pushing them to the brink.

“It’s also gauling that the Government is doing nothing to ease these costs.

“At the upcoming Budget the Finance Minister should adjust the bottom three income tax thresholds to account for the inflation we’ve seen in the past four years under Labour.

“These tax cuts would ease the current cost of living crisis and make things a little easier for Southern families in need.”

End of SIT sponsorship a backward step

March 14, 2022 Share

Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says her worst fears have been realised with the Southern Institute of Technology ending its long-term sponsorship of Southland’s three professional sporting teams.

“I’m hugely disappointed that SIT has withdrawn this funding support from the Southland Stags, the Southern Steel and the Southland Sharks. These have been positive and collaborative relationships over up to 20 years and I don’t believe the decision to end them is the right one.

“Unfortunately, as I predicted back at the outset of the Government's polytechnic megamerger, there would be ramifications for the province and for SIT and its students, with the loss of local input, local control and the management of local assets and funding.

“I would also point out that SIT had a $2million surplus last year, and yet feels unable to support the Southland community through sponsorship deals like this, and it makes me question what outside pressure or influence has been placed on the board in making this decision.

“As a former CEO at SIT, I was involved in establishing all of these sponsorship deals because I could see the benefit in the relationships - not only for the institute and its students, but also from a marketing perspective in reinforcing the SIT brand and from a social perspective in supporting sport in Southland.

“This to me is a backward step and another example of SIT withdrawing from the Southland community, and the collaborative relationship that once existed, as it prepares to become swallowed up in the Government’s megamerger juggernaut.”

Southlanders struggling with cost of living crisis

March 10, 2022 Share

Many Southland families have their backs to the wall as they struggle to make ends meet during the current cost of living crisis, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“Inflation is at a thirty year high, with the cost of everyday basics like food, petrol and housing all going through the roof, and it’s worrying that the average Southland family is now worse off than they were 12 months ago.

“In fact there are estimates that people have spent between $4000 and $5000 extra, in the past year, on basic items such as food, fuel, rent and mortgage costs.

“Couple that with additional back to school expenses, like laptops, uniforms and sports fees, plus time off work for Covid, and it’s no wonder many Southland families are really finding it tough.

“While the Prime Minister might deny that there’s a crisis, it would be more productive for her Government to look at ways to help families who are hurting,

“At the upcoming Budget the Finance Minister should adjust the bottom three income tax thresholds to account for the inflation we’ve seen in the past four years under Labour.

“A family with two adults on the average wage would benefit by over $1,700 a year, while someone earning $55,000 a year would pay $800 less tax. Everyone earning over $78,100 would be better off by over $1,000 a year. In addition, the couple rate for NZ Super would go up by $546 per year on top of the scheduled increase this April.

“No one will get rich, but these tax cuts would ease the current cost of living crisis and make things a little better for local families in need.”

Western Star Column February 2022

March 07, 2022 Share

Originally published as a column in the Western Star

Struggling Western Southland businesses, who rely on tourism and visitors to the area for a large part of their income, will find little to celebrate with the Government’s decision to open up New Zealand’s borders.

It’s been a tough couple of years for local operators with Covid lockdowns and the Government’s traffic light system taking their toll, and while domestic visitor numbers have helped boost revenue, many local operators tell me that they’re really starting to feel the pinch.

Unfortunately the Government has overlooked the urgent needs of businesses in places like Western Southland, Fiordland and Stewart Island, with its latest announcement.

The five-stage phased reopening of our border will see tourists from Australia, and other visa-free countries, allowed in no later than July, while travellers from the rest of the world will be kept out until October.

However, it’s the 10 day self-isolation period, required for all travellers, that is causing tourist operators the most concern.

In fact, some believe that the continuing requirement for self-isolation means that New Zealand will remain essentially off the map for international travellers, because nobody will consider coming here on holiday if they have to sit in a hotel room for 10 days.

Once again the Government hasn’t listened to local people, or provided local solutions that are fit for purpose.

SIT support for city important - Southland Express Column

March 07, 2022 Share

Originally published as a column in The Southland Express

As Invercargill’s inner-city upgrade progresses, attention is now being focussed on the associated streetscape work.

The Invercargill City Council is considering extending this work along Esk Street to the Southern Institute of Technology’s Centre of Creative Industries, which opens this month.

This is an innovative option which would channel students back into the centre of town.

However, it will also cost an additional $1.9 million, most of which will come out of Invercargill ratepayers pockets.

I would suggest that at least some of this expense should in fact be covered by SIT.

There is precedent for this, with the Tay Street pedestrian crossing and sculpture project jointly funded, by SIT and the ICC, several years ago.

I would like to see SIT use this opportunity to continue to be a good corporate citizen and contribute to the wider inner-city development for the benefit of its students and the local community.

Further to that, in February last year when the SIT board scrapped its Kelvin Street apartment proposal, it stated publicly that funds earmarked for this project would remain available for future use by SIT in our region.

Supporting this streetscape project would be a good test for the new SIT board, and the new combined polytechnics structure.

It would demonstrate whether SIT funds can actually be used for positive change in the Invercargill community, or whether this local money will be siphoned off to prop up cash-strapped polytechnics in Wellington and Auckland.

I know which option most Southlanders would prefer

New orthopaedic outpatient programme number shuffling

February 25, 2022 Share

Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says she believes the Southern District Health Board is using its new orthopaedic outpatient programme as a way to hide the huge numbers of Southland people needing surgery.

“As part of the orthopaedic programme physiotherapists are running outreach clinics to reduce the number of people added to the surgical wait list, but I would suggest if you’re on the list because you need surgery - then you need surgery.

“I see this is an attempt by the Southern DHB, to hide Southland’s horrendous orthopaedic waiting list numbers, when the board should actually be working to get those waiting lists down.

“According to Southern DHB figures there are 990 patients in Southland and Otago waiting longer than the recommended timeframe for their orthopaedic surgeries – 715 in Dunedin and 275 in Southland.

“Moving these people off the orthopaedic surgery waiting lists and back into the community might make the Southland DHB look good – but it’s just number-shuffling, doing nothing to help the hundreds of people in our community living with pain.

“Seeing a physiotherapist and taking a person off the waiting list is not going to make their problem go away – if you need a new knee, or a new hip I’d suggest a few exercises is not going to change that.

“In fact, specialists have told me that in the later stages of arthritis, when people’s joints are wearing down, increased activity simply becomes more painful and debilitating for people and that those on these waiting lists are so far beyond physiotherapy that it would be inhumane to subject them to it.

“It takes months of GP visits, X-rays and specialist consultations, to get near the orthopaedic waiting list these days – I just cannot see how patients will benefit from being taken off that list to face more delays and rehabilitation in the community.

“The Southern DHB needs to work on their waiting lists, not spend money on number-shuffling.” 

Government negligent in failing to support university students during Covid

February 21, 2022 Share

On the eve of hundreds of students travelling to Otago University to begin the academic year it's astounding that the Government is still to provide guidelines to accommodation providers on how to operate under phase 2 of the Omicron response, National's Tertiary Education spokesperson and Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

"Thousands of students from Southland and around the country will converge on Otago University this weekend, with Omicron and the spread of COVID-19 uppermost in everyone's mind.

"Yet while university halls of residence have provided students with information on arrival protocols, to keep themselves safe, the halls say they are still waiting for support and guidance to come through from the Government.

"I think it's astounding that the Government has failed to provide these halls, and the students that will be staying in them, with appropriate and up-to-date support and advice.

"There's a great deal of uncertainty amongst parents and first-time students as they begin university under the cloud of Covid and I think it's appalling that the Government has failed to acknowledge them in this way.

"The Government has had weeks to organise support for university halls and students, providing them with the level of protection that they need in these uncertain times, to keep Covid infection rates at a minimum.

"For the Government to fail to provide any guidance, when we are just days out from what is effectively the busiest time of the university year for thousands of young New Zealanders, is negligent and short-sighted."

Three Waters plan delay - victory for South

February 21, 2022 Share

Three Waters plan delay - victory for South

 

The latest delay in a Three Waters bill being introduced to Parliament is a victory for the South, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says. 

 

“The Government has admitted, in a Three Waters update, that it now anticipated introducing legislation by mid-2022, after it had originally been promised for December last year.

 

“I believe Government has realised the unpopularity of the three waters reforms and it’s now trying to quietly sink them.

 

“This of course is great news and I believe it’s a victory for the people of the south - who made their opposition clear.

 

“There was little support for these unworkable and unpopular reforms across both urban and rural Southland and now it seems the writing is on the wall.

 

“Labour’s Three Waters plans are doomed and more delays trying to fix these fundamentally flawed reforms won’t work. 

 

“The Government should consider practical alternatives like encouraging collaboration, contracting and CCO models, as National has raised.

 

“National is opposed to Three Waters because it steals local assets and strips power from communities. "

MIQ system penalises Southern family

February 14, 2022 Share

The flaws of the MIQ system have been highlighted in a Southern family’s traumatic and lengthy battle to return to their home, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“My heart goes out to the Williamson family, who spent 26 days in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) in Auckland, at the Novotel Ellerslie.

“This Dunedin family, with links to Invercargill, has endured what can only be described as MIQ hell – suffering the fiasco that managed isolation has become in this country.

“I say it’s wrong and that it highlights why MIQ is no longer viable.

“The Williamson family entered MIQ on January 16, after returning from Australia having all tested Covid-free. However, their nightmare began five days later when daughter Luca (9) tested positive with Omicron, which her mother Casey believes she contracted at the crowded MIQ testing area where the family were placed on arrival in New Zealand.

“Daughter Sam (11) then tested positive on January 28, which meant the family’s stay was extended again.

“Finally after health staff advised her husband Mike, who remained Covid-free, to isolate in a separate hotel room, he and the two older girls were able to return home to Dunedin on Thursday. Then in a new development, Casey confirmed to me yesterday that she and Maya (5), both who had also been Covid-free for the entire 26 days, were given medical permission to leave early and return home today (Saturday).

“During their isolation in Auckland I offered my support to Casey, who grew up in Riverton, because I believe the MIQ system unfairly penalised this family.

“And despite being hugely relieved at finally heading home, Casey tells me she is frustrated at how her family’s MIQ stay transpired - with what should have been a 10-day stint blowing out to almost a month. She says it was total overkill and completely unnecessary.

“I say the system is broken and punitive – especially now that Kiwis around the country can isolate at home, while this family and others have been forced to languish in a hotel in Auckland for weeks.

“National continues to call for MIQ to be scrapped and for isolation stays to be shortened.

“Families, like the Williamson’s, should not have to endure this kind of unnecessary hardship and misery, reflecting how flawed and ineffective MIQ is.

“It’s wrong that Kiwis should be suffering in this way with a Government that just isn’t prepared to show any compassion, or common sense, when it comes to ending the misery that managed isolation has become.”

It’s 2022 - let’s hope this year brings us better things. Whats on Invers column

February 07, 2022 Share

Originally published as a column in Whats on Invers

It’s 2022 - let’s hope this year brings us better things.

Over the past 18 months, Southland’s economy has been hammered by Covid-19.

Businesses have suffered and events have been cancelled.

The closure of the border slashed $20 billion from NZ’s economy almost overnight with the loss of international tourists and students.

Our agriculture sector lost access to seasonal workers and businesses were cut off from skilled migration.

Some of the economic damage has been masked by massive government borrowing and spending.

In just 18 months New Zealand has doubled its debt.

The country is now shifting to a new period in our Covid response.

We need to continue to focus on getting our vaccination and booster shot rates up - suppressing cases and treating the sick.

We also need a new economic strategy.

The Government cannot just continue to borrow while locking down our economy and hoping for the best.

We need to back business and back the regions.

Business is really just people. People with an idea, some capital, and the confidence, talent and courage to take a risk.

National’s economic team has developed a comprehensive plan that will save livelihoods and unleash our economy.

We strongly urge the Government to adopt it immediately so New Zealanders can back businesses, like those in Southland, to succeed and flourish.

Let’s make 2022 a better year.