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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.

Govt can’t expect Southland businesses to police traffic light system

December 02, 2021 Share

The Government can't expect Southland’s small business owners to enforce its new traffic light system, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“Before the system even rolls into effect on December 3, local business owners say they’re feeling overwhelmed about how they’re going to enforce the new regulations. 

“The traffic light system was announced over a month ago and yet the Government has done nothing to ensure that it runs seamlessly for small business owners, or that the public has a clear understanding of what’s required of them.

“It’s creating a lot of extra stress and administration for Southland business owners, and in the busy lead up to Christmas, it’s the last thing that most of them need.

“Whether you’re a hairdresser, a cafe or a gym, your workload increases under this new system and you could lose business.

“Some owners say they’ll have to employ an extra person on the door just to check vaccination certificates. Others have already been told that they will be losing long-term customers, who have chosen not to get vaccinated, or who see the request for a vaccination certificate as an invasion of privacy.

“Worse, some operators have already received abuse from people who are not vaccinated and feel unhappy about the new rules. This is clearly not on and shows that the Government has failed to clearly communicate to the public what is required.

“I have also heard that those who have requested a paper copy of their vaccine certificate have been told they won’t receive them until next week – but where does that leave businesses when trying to enforce the rules?

“These are just extra pressures that business owners and their staff should not be subjected to and it’s ridiculous that the Government has assumed local operators have the knowledge, the time, or the inclination, to be promoting this new system on the Government’s behalf.”

Farming and the Economy - Southland Times Column

November 29, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in The Southland Times

The contribution of farming to our economy has become more important than ever as Covid-19 decimates tourism and slows down Auckland.

Strong farm gate milk prices and increased Chinese demand for our logs has meant that the rural sector, in places like Southland, has continued to achieve strong export revenue, despite the current Delta challenges.

For a small country we punch well above our weight in terms of exports and as a nation feed ten times our population.

The rural sector has also shown resilience, despite challenges such as supply chain and food service disruptions, and the tight labour market.

At odds with this, some political parties seem determined to regulate farming out of existence, instead of working collaboratively with farmers to make science-based environmental decisions going forward.

But Covid-19 uncertainty reinforces the need for stable and predictable domestic regulation to avoid putting pressure on the rural sector whose exports are critical to the economy.

Last month Statistics NZ highlighted an almost 10 percent increase in the value of exports from our country – and this was a new high.

Goods exported grew by $1.4 billion - mainly due to key commodities - milk powder, butter, and cheese, logs and wood, meat and mechanical machinery.

Of those commodities, dairy products, and logs and wood, have shown consistent growth since the June 2020 quarter lockdown.

While Beef +Lamb NZ forecast New Zealand's receipts from exporting red meat will be about $8 billion, slightly down on 2020-21, while lamb export receipts are forecast to increase by 2.2 per cent on 2020-21.

Our farmers should be celebrated, holding their heads high for the wonderful economic contribution that they make – instead this Government continues to vilify them.

And all this despite a Ministry for Primary Industries Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries in June reinforcing that farming is the driving force behind New Zealand’s economic recovery.

It goes on to forecast that export revenue for our food and fibre sectors is set to hit a record high of $49.1 billion in the year to June 2022, driven mostly by strong demand for our dairy, forestry, and horticulture products.

Further to that, sustained growth is forecast year on year, hitting a further record of $53.1 billion for the year to June 2025.

However, increased Government emphasis on environmental considerations, such as carbon emissions, threaten to constrain further growth in agricultural output.

Our farmers are already extremely environmentally efficient in a world-wide sense.

However, as Federated Farmers points out, unless there are significant science breakthroughs – further reductions in farming’s greenhouse gas emissions are only going to come at the cost of production and profitability.

Now, as Covid-19 uncertainty reinforces the need for stable and predictable domestic regulation, the question must be asked is this the time to put pressure on the farming sector whose exports are so critical to our economy at this time.

Three Waters - Western Star column

November 22, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in The Western Star

I had the pleasure of visiting Western Southland last week.


The productive farmland, the rolling hills, lambs and calves out enjoying the sun - it was an idyllic scene.


But there are dark clouds on the horizon for communities in rural areas like this, with the Government’s three-waters reforms set to change the future management of our water resources forever.


One of the big issues is that people simply don’t understand the implications of these reforms.


Put plainly, they are nothing short of an asset-grab by the Government. You, as ratepayers, have invested millions of dollars over many decades in developing and maintaining local drinking, waste and stormwater systems – these are the three waters.


Now the Government wants to take these assets over, strip local control away from communities and local councils, and put power into the hands of four regional authorities. None of which will be based anywhere near Southland, I might add.  


Of course we all know that nothing good has come out of centralisation for Southland - whether it’s health, education or water – we tend to get ignored and forgotten.


I strongly believe it is better to keep local water assets in local control, and protect community decision-making. 


Labour’s plan would bundle your assets into regional mega-entities and put community control at arm’s length.


Many councils around the country don’t support these reforms and many have called for a pause, but Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has completely ignored their pleas.


National would reverse these reforms. We have launched a petition which demands that the Government stop asset grab and the more people who sign it and make a stand, the stronger position we are in to fight them.


I encourage everyone who has concerns about 3-waters to sign the petition now.

Health Minister fails Southlanders waiting on surgery

November 02, 2021 Share

Health Minister Andrew Little has failed to address the chronic waiting list problem at Southland Hospital, despite a commitment seven weeks ago to get it fixed, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“In fact in the seven weeks since Mr Little made his promise waiting lists have ballooned even further with the Southern DHB now 681 surgeries behind.

“That’s 681 Southland people, suffering in pain, or chronic illness, that the Health Minister has turned his back on, with the waiting list problems actually getting worse and not better since he made his commitment.

“These numbers also expose his staff at the Health Ministry, and their internal Intensive Support Programme, which the Southern DHB has been a part of since February, and which Mr Little claimed would bring the province’s long waiting lists under control.

“Despite his promises, in September, that there would be ‘significant performance changes’ – including financial, operational and clinical management - our health service continues to decline and people in this province are paying with their lives.

“These deteriorating services have been going on for years. Our hospital is now at a point where it must stop.

“I’ve had desperate surgeons, GP’s, families and individuals begging me for assistance, while at least 20 percent of the constituent issues that I’ve dealt with this year have been health related.

“We must see some real change and I call on the Health Minister to start doing his job and provide Southland people with the safe, timely and appropriate surgeries that the rest of the country takes for granted.” 

Youth MP - Southland Express column

November 01, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in The Southland Express

I'm looking for a Youth MP - maybe it's you.

This is a wonderful opportunity for a young person living in the Invercargill electorate to learn first-hand how democracy works and to represent your community and young people across the province.

The Youth Parliament, which is held every three years, will occur next year and we're looking for a student who will still be at secondary school in the Invercargill Electorate in 2022 to undertake this role.

Youth Parliament is a unique opportunity for young New Zealanders to learn first-hand about democracy, how to influence government decision-making, and to have their voices heard.

The six-month tenure runs from March to August 2022 and it includes a two-day event at Parliament in July, where youth from across the country will represent their communities as Youth Members of Parliament. There are also separate opportunities to be members of the Youth Press Gallery, or as the first Youth Clerk of the House of Representatives, which can be found on the Parliament website.

The ideal candidate will be engaged, enthusiastic and keen to help Invercargill. They do not have to agree with all of my political views, however we will need to be able to work together in a professional, collegial atmosphere.

If you think you've got what it takes, or know of someone who would love to do this, make sure you apply, or encourage them to do so.

To request an application form, as well as an information booklet with more information and the full eligibility criteria, please email [email protected].

Applications are currently open and close midnight Sunday 17th October, following which there will be an interview process. The successful candidate will be chosen by Tuesday 12th November.

Nothing good for Southland in mandatory Three Waters Reforms

October 28, 2021 Share

Nothing good will come out of the mandatory Three Waters reforms that the government has rammed through today, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds MP says said.

“I am hugely disappointed and genuinely concerned for communities around Southland in the wake of these reforms.

“This is nothing short of an asset grab that will take power and control away from local communities.

“The  government has given councils, like those in Invercargill and Southland, no guarantees around local input or local decision-making - or indeed around the fair distribution of assets and this is deeply concerning.

“If decisions around water management are based on population, a region like Southland has a lot to lose, in comparison to the bigger centres. We also know that centralisation, in any form, has never been positive for our region.

“The four entity model is still fundamentally broken and unworkable, but the Government is forging ahead and introducing a bill to establish these entities, without having looked properly at alternative solutions. It now seems inevitable that it will be forced on councils.

“National will continue to oppose the Three Waters Reforms with everything we’ve got. We will repeal the entities in Government and we’ll return seized assets to councils.”

SIT Creative Centre - Whats on Invers column

October 25, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in Whats on Invers

Watching the new Southern Institute of Technology’s $17 million Centre of Creative Industries develop is tremendously satisfying.

As CEO I worked closely with the previous board in developing this new inner city facility for students, and indeed for the whole of Southland, to enjoy.

It will be one of the most contemporary creative education sites in the country, housing SIT’s school of music and screen arts school, and including a new café which will be open to the public. It is being built in and around the historic St John's Anglican Church on Tay Street. 

As one of my last major SIT projects it is special to me, but now as Invercargill’s Member of Parliament, I feel an even greater sense of satisfaction as this development nears completion.

Funded entirely from cash reserves, with no external funding sources required, this is Southland money, funding a Southland project.

Unfortunately SIT’s remaining reserves are now under threat with the Government’s new polytechnic merger programme set to take that Southland money and effectively use it as working capital for other troubled tertiary institutions.

I am therefore satisfied that we managed to get this project off the ground, using some of those reserves for our own community’s benefit.

At SIT we got on and worked out how to make our polytechnic successful - a leader in tertiary education in New Zealand – with our zero-fees scheme, innovative distance education SIT2LRN, and International education focus.

Those initiatives, and astute management and investment, allowed us to build a substantial reserves fund.

Those funds might soon be gone, but the Government cannot take this amazing facility away from Southland.