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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.

Highest inflation in over 30 years hitting Southlanders hard

January 28, 2022 Share

The highest inflation in 30 years will impact Southlanders at a time when people are already struggling with their spending, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“Inflation of 5.9 percent for 2021 is the highest it’s been in three decades. Inflation erodes purchasing power, it means your dollar won’t go as far and it makes us all poorer.

“For Southlanders high inflation means that petrol is more expensive, grocery prices will continue to rise and for many families they will have very little left over at the end of the week.

“The Government can and should address this record inflation by reining in their spending.

"Instead, we’ve seen the Government splashing money around. In fact spending has been 40 percent higher during Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s tenure than it was under his National predecessors, and this year he is planning to raise that by a staggering 68 percent more, to $128 billion. 

“This will impact on inflation and it will impact on Southlanders. Local businesses will see people spending less as they struggle to make ends meet and those who’re trying to save for a first home, or for their retirement, will find it increasingly difficult to do so.

“With wage growth of only 2.4 percent, well under half of inflation's growth, Southlanders are now going backwards - they’re working harder, but effectively earning less.

“Times are set to become much harder, but the Government could help us out by looking carefully at its finances and doing their bit to ease the record inflation that we’re currently experiencing.”

Western Star Column December 2021

January 10, 2022 Share

Originally published as a column in The Western Star

The effects of the Government's new Covid traffic light system are being felt by rural families with members in rest home care.

Confusion reigns amongst many rest homes and aged care facilities as how to interpret the new rules around access to these facilities.

Some homes, including places in Invercargill, are restricting sign-in entry despite vaccination certificates being provided.

This means family members wanting to visit their elderly loved ones have to make appointments well in advance of their arrival.

Unfortunately, at this busy time of year, this limits access for some families to get to their relatives.

Many of those living in rural areas make a trip to town and have a range of activities to fit into their day, with the new appointment system another hurdle for them to negotiate.

This has proved to be a huge difficulty for many people in my electorate, including Elwyn Jones who contacted my office this week. He was extremely upset that despite travelling all the way into Invercargill to see his 100 year-old Mother, he and his family were refused entry to the rest home.

Further, additional rules dictate that the visits must take place in designated meeting areas, rather than in the family member’s room. This presents an issue for more fragile patients who may not be able to leave their rooms easily or without undue risk.

I acknowledge that maintaining the safety of the vulnerable in our community is extremely important, however I believe poor communication from the Government has led to unnecessary confusion and stress for families in my electorate.

I believe this confusion and stress could have been mitigated if the Government had taken more time prior to instituting its traffic light system, allowed for public submissions and put regions into the traffic light that best defines their risk i.e. Green for Southland, not orange.

NZ Vet Shortage - Southland Times column

January 03, 2022 Share

Originally published as a column in The Southland Times

There’s a worrying shortage of vets across the country, but the Government’s lack of action in addressing this issue reflects a remarkable disdain for the sector, animal welfare and the farming community as a whole.

Vets provide a diverse and essential range of services, from the primary sector, to biosecurity and animal welfare, food safety and domestic pet care, and in a place like Southland they are particularly crucial.

Vets tell me that they are working harder and longer, finding it nearly impossible to get the extra staff that they need, with immigration rules and MIQ limitations further aggravating the problem.

There’s currently a shortage of up to 100 vets across the country, according to the NZ Vet Association (NZVA), with seasonal demands like calving and lambing, and a huge increase in pet ownership over lockdown, increasing workloads.

In October the NZVA reported that vets around the country were exhausted, “working 24/7, some at breaking point and doing their best to meet patient needs, including the demand for routine, emergency and after hours work.”

But calls for action have fallen on deaf ears, with a recent application by Massey University to train more vets to ease the shortage, being given little recognition by Government.

Massey University asked to increase the cap on student vet training numbers, change how the cap was decided by moving to a “workforce needs” approach, and extensively increasing funding.

In assessing the application, the Ministry of Education admitted that “increasing workforce pressure” justified a rise to the first year cap in the Veterinary Science programme, but warned that any increase needed to be considered against the “fiscal restraints across the tertiary education sector.”

In other words – there’s a definite need for more vet training in this country, but the Government doesn’t want to pay for it.

As a result, only 25 extra first year vet places, to a total of 125, were approved, effective from July next year, along with a meagre 10 percent funding increase.

Significantly the Government’s own MPI officials even said that they would have liked a more aggressive increase, supporting a doubling of first-year places to 200 by 2023.

Massey University also pointed out that veterinary training is high-cost and that any increase in student numbers, without a funding  rise, could risk its international accreditation, pointing out that in England and Australia funding rates for Veterinary Science are the same as for Medicine and Dentistry training.

In this country funding for a vet student is $29,506, while the training allocation for a dentistry student is $55,519, with the ten percent increase for vet students next year amounting to just $2956 per student.

Meanwhile, the Australian Government has granted exceptions for 800 overseas trained vets to enter the country. Here in New Zealand the Government approved 50 spots in July, but these have been worthless because of a lack of MIQ spots.

We all know the significance of farming to our economy - vets are a cornerstone of the rural sector and the Government needs to show greater support.

Southland Times November Column

December 27, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in The Southland Times

There has been some very concerning behaviour from the Labour Government recently, calling into question its ability to govern democratically.

I spoke out in Parliament last week about the Government’s Bill to give effect to the Traffic Light Framework, which was forced through with no select committee scrutiny or public submissions.

The Human Rights Commissioner and even the Speaker, Trevor Mallard, came out against the process for this Bill. It was contemptuous of Parliament and contemptuous of the NZ people.

In November the Auditor-General agreed with National, that the Government’s Budget documentation fell well short of the basic requirements for public transparency.

The Government has allocated huge amounts of taxpayer money, but on numerous occasions has failed to identify what actual initiatives the money has been used for.

Transparency around public spending is fundamental and this sets a worrying precedent.

At the same time the Government is taking a wrecking ball to district health boards, introducing a bill that will dissolve our health system.

Labour did not campaign on the removal of all DHBs and yet it proceeds to push them through.

The Three Waters asset grab is yet another example of the Government’s arrogance.

It will soon force through legislation to create four new water entities which will take control of our local water services and assets.

Despite huge opposition – the public’s views have again been ignored while the Government forces its decisions on taxpayers.

This is not democracy. This is not New Zealand - and I say it’s wrong.