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Western Star Column

July 05, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in The Western Star

Western Southland dairy farmers, like others around the province, are struggling to get enough staff.

Covid-19 and the subsequent changes to immigration have had a huge impact on local farmers being able to secure staff from overseas.

A Dairy NZ and Federated Farmers survey indicated that 49 percent of dairy farmer respondents were currently short-staffed and 46 percent had vacancies unfilled for more than three months.

New Zealand has had 9000 unused Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) rooms available since the beginning of this year, which could have been used to bring some of these much-needed workers into the country.

National believes the Government should have acted on this issue to support our biggest export sector and to support rural communities, like those in Southland.

We’re calling on the Government to open up 12.5 percent (500 beds per fortnight) of available MIQ rooms for skilled agricultural workers – particularly in the dairy farming sector, with a petition launched by my colleague Joseph Mooney Southland MP.

New Zealand’s primary industries have been working hard to attract Kiwis to work on farms, but unfortunately these initiatives don’t address the immediate problem.

I know that farmers need people on farms and on tractors right now, with the shortage causing mental health concerns for many people.

The petition asks that the House of Representatives urge the Government to provide for 500 spaces each fortnight in MIQ to bring in skilled migrant workers - before the commencement of calving season. It’s an essential strategy, I believe.

You can sign our petition today at:

https://www.national.org.nz/backing-our-farmers 

Southlanders react strongly to new car tax

June 14, 2021 Share

Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says her phone at her Invercargill office has been running hot, as Southlanders react strongly to the Government’s new Car Tax.

“Farmers, builders, contractors, and those on low incomes have all expressed their shock and anger at this latest move.

"The level of concern from local people around this issue has been massive. It has clearly hit a nerve.

“One woman says she needs a specific type of heavy vehicle to tow a horse float - something most electric vehicles would be unsuitable for. 

“An Otautau farmer has told me he has no choice but to run a 4-wheel drive vehicle on his farm and would now incur a tax on any future vehicles. 

“Another Invercargill woman said she was saving for a car to get her kids to school, but simply could not afford an electric vehicle and was worried about the extra costs she could face. 

“Labour’s car tax policy will unfairly hurt local farmers, tradespeople and low-income earners for whom low-emission vehicles will still be too expensive or unsuitable for their lifestyle.

“Now if Southlanders need a specific type of vehicle for work, family reasons, or because of where they live - they will pay the price.

“I’m disappointed at this punitive new tax, which once again hits Southlanders in the back pocket.”

Assoc Environment Minister must apologise to Southern Farmers

June 14, 2021 Share

Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds is calling on James Shaw to apologise and take back his divisive comments about Southern farmers.

“The Associate Environment Minister, in a recent radio interview about the establishment of Significant Natural Areas, said that there was ‘a group of Pakeha farmers from down south who have always pushed back against the idea that they should observe any kind of regulation about what they can do to protect the environmental conditions on their land . . .’

“Mr Shaw’s remarks are divisive and downright inaccurate. He should apologise.

“Southern farmers have undertaken some amazing work around conservation - fencing off waterways, undertaking native planting and establishing covenants and agreements with the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust, to protect areas of significance in this region.

“Not to mention Southland’s 23 farmer-driven Community Catchment Groups, which form a network covering 85 per cent of the Southland region, getting environmental projects off the ground and inspiring community action and education, to protect our land, water and air.

“These Southlanders - Pakeha and Māori - have devoted hundreds of hours voluntarily to protect our precious environment and to have a Minister of the Crown insult them and their work in this way will cause irreparable damage.

“The Government appears to be trying to incite racial disharmony and Mr Shaw’s comments do nothing to advance either good relations, or positive environmental change in the South.”

Removal of cheques - Whats on Invers Column

June 14, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in Whats on Invers

In this high-tech world many will say that cheques are outmoded, but I’m not convinced.

ANZ stops cheques at the end of this month, Westpac in June, BNZ in July and ASB in August.

I’m concerned for the elderly, those with disabilities, people in rural areas with limited access to internet banking, the Southland towns where banks have shut down, and those who haven’t got, or can’t afford, the technology for internet banking.

Despite what the banks say, cheques are still a useful and important part of people’s lives. A Rural Women NZ survey earlier this year revealed that 61 per cent of respondents were worried about the disappearance of cheques.

I believe this decision affects people’s independence, their dignity and will likely create social problems or abuse.  

Older people may trust friends or family with their online banking - potentially opening themselves up to security risks and exploitation, if personal information or PINs are given out. Grey Power Southland shares my concerns.

We also don’t want people, particularly seniors, drawing large amounts of cash from their accounts and keeping money at home, with the obvious safety issues involved.

Labour has recently voted against an inquiry into how banks and government agencies will make sure people can still manage their finances without cheques.

Sadly this reflects the Government’s disregard for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

National is pushing for an investigation and I intend to put my full support behind it.

Roading funding cuts will hit Southlanders in the pocket

June 13, 2021 Share

A $7.5 million cut to road funding, could see Southland ratepayers picking up the tab, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says, and all this while the Government stumps up hundreds of millions for a new cycling and walking bridge in Auckland.

“I’m so frustrated at the Government’s lack of foresight here. Southland needs good roads to get its agricultural and manufacturing goods to market. 

“But now our roads and bridges are set to take a hit with the Southland District Council receiving only 85 percent of what it requested from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency – that’s $7.5 million less that ratepayers may have to find through rates rises, or less roading infrastructure.

“Southland must have good roading infrastructure if we are to continue to make the contribution that we do to New Zealand’s GDP. How can the Government justify cuts to essential services like this?

“The condition of our rural roads and bridges is deteriorating, it’s a major concern for many of our communities, and this massive cut from Government will do nothing to address those issues.

“The Government is also effectively taxing Southlanders twice, with locals already paying road user charges and fuel taxes - and now possibly extra rates to fund roading maintenance that the Government should be funding.

“And all this while $785 million is being dished out for a new cycling and walking bridge, so that a few extra Aucklanders can bike to work.

“These cuts are another slap in the face to hard working Southlanders and once again demonstrates that this Government has got its priorities all wrong, failing to support the roading infrastructure that this region needs for continued economic growth.”

Southland Health - Southland Times column

June 07, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in The Southland Times

We all value our health and all Southlanders want improved access to a health service which delivers better outcomes for everyone.

This is a major issue for our region and there is no doubt that we can and must do better.  

However, the recently announced Government shake-up of the health sector has sounded warning bells because I fear our region will lose its voice, its funding and much of its autonomy.

The country’s 20 District Health Boards (DHBs) are set to be replaced by a single national health body, Health New Zealand, while a new separate Māori Health Authority has also been announced. It will have the power to commission health services and monitor Māori health.

So on one hand the Government is claiming that it wants to create a single, harmonious health system, yet on the other it is advocating a separate Māori Health Authority.

National firmly believes in the delivery of health services based on need, not on race.

This debate has been further clouded by recent leaked information around a new Government report, called He Puapua. This report has not been made public, but it looks at how the Government can uphold tangata whenua rights by giving effect to Māori sovereignty.

National Party leader Judith Collins has uncovered some concerning details particularly in regards to health, but also across several other areas.

Rewriting the history curriculum and making it compulsory was a recommendation of He Puapua. The Waitangi Tribunal has just made a decision that we must have a separate child welfare service for Māori - another recommendation of He Puapua.

Labour’s justice working group has also recommended separate justice systems, while there are moves to revisit ownership of the foreshore and seabed, along with questions around water and the conservation estate – all linked to He Puapua.

There is no doubt that the Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document and has an important role in our society today.

National believes that through the settlement process we must continue to right the wrongs of the past, but we must also look forward.

Enabling New Zealanders to work together will see our inequities addressed and outcomes like health improved for all.

I want to see the contents of the He Puapua report openly released and the public given a say on its recommendations.

One Parliament must represent all of New Zealand and Government services must be provided for all.

I am pleased that National would repeal a separate Māori Health Authority because we believe those with the greatest need should receive the appropriate resources.

In the meantime, we have no idea how much the Government's health plan is going to cost, or indeed how much pressure and disruption it will cause an already stressed health service.

My concerns are such that I have invited National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti to Invercargill this Friday to discuss Southern health services and to raise awareness around the serious issues which we face under this Labour Government.

Guidance counsellors filling mental health gaps in South - Gumboot Friday

May 28, 2021 Share

Some young Southlanders are being referred to school guidance counsellors for mental health support as the system struggles to cope, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“Southern DHB wait times for young people needing mental health support have increased by 61 per cent since 2017.

“In 2016/17 the wait time to access mental health services in Southland was 18 days, by 2019/20 that had ballooned out to 29 days, now I understand the wait time in this province is up to two months.

“But some young people - not serious enough to be seen by the DHB’s Child, Adolescent and Family mental health Service - are instead being referred back to school guidance counsellors.

“Unless these young people have a mental health disorder that is classified as moderate to severe, their care is being passed on to their local schools.

“This effectively means a young person’s mental health has to become quite serious before they can get the help that they need - while our schools are left to pick up the pieces.

“One local couple said their child was initially denied support by the Southern DHB and referred back to their school counsellor. It wasn’t until their daughter expressed suicidal thoughts that she was actually seen by Southern DHB staff.

“This highlights how broken mental health services are and is a sorry reflection on a Government who is not prepared to put its money where it’s mouth is.

“The staff and the clinicians are doing their utmost to care for our young people, but are finding that the lack of Government funding support is running this crucial service into the ground.”

Mrs Simmonds said she would be supporting today’s third edition of Gumboot Friday - an initiative raising money to provide free counselling for young people.

“It’s disappointing that despite campaigning on improving New Zealand’s mental health services, the Government has failed to make a difference.”

Removal of cheque payments could increase in exploitation of the vulnerable

May 18, 2021 Share

The removal of cheque payments could see an increase in exploitation of the elderly and vulnerable, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“Cheques are still a useful and important part of many people’s lives. A Rural Women NZ survey earlier this year revealed that 61 per cent of respondents were worried about the disappearance of cheques.

“This includes the elderly and not digitally-enabled, those with impairments such as sight, or conditions such as dyslexia, those who cannot afford electronic devices, and those with poor internet connectivity.

“I believe this decision affects people’s independence, their dignity and will likely create social problems or abuse.

“Older people may trust friends or family with their online banking - potentially opening themselves up to security risks and exploitation if personal information or PINs are given out.

“Grey Power Southland shares my concerns around this issue.

“We also don’t want people, particularly seniors, drawing large amounts of cash from their accounts and keeping money at home, with the obvious safety issues involved.

“Labour last week voted against an inquiry into how banks and government agencies will make sure people can still manage their finances without cheques.


“Sadly this reflects the Government’s disregard for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

“National is pushing for an investigation and I intend to put my full support behind it.”

TV3 Newshub Dunedin Closure will hit Southland

May 17, 2021 Share

It’s a shame that TV3 has made the decision to close its Newshub office in Dunedin, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“Local news coverage not only keeps Southlanders informed, but it also raises the region’s profile nationally.

“I also think that the media has a role to play in our democracy – highlighting and giving voice to significant issues, which affect our community, to Wellington’s decision makers.

“Information around the underperformance of the Southern District Health Board and the closure of the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter would not have been as widely disseminated if it weren’t for the coverage by locally-based news organisations like this.

“The costs of flying in reporters in from further North will likely affect decisions around whether Southland news events will be covered by TV3 Newshub.

“I hope some changes will be made to make sure local content in Southland isn’t diluted.”

Invercargill Hospital - Whats On Invers and Western Star Column

May 03, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in Whats On Invers and Western Star

Is Invercargill hospital too small?

I am carefully making my way through a raft of documents, having discussions with key clinicians, as well as visiting comparable hospitals. On the face of it, my answer is YES - our hospital is too small.

Back in 2000, when planning was underway for the new hospital, our population had been declining over the previous decade. Rogernomics, rural communities losing farm workers, and rural services and businesses in decline, had taken their toll.

I remember the arguments we had trying to convince Government officials in health and education that this was not a long term trend and should not be used as the basis for planning purposes including closing schools and building health infrastructure. 

Through a range of changes in farming practices and other initiatives like SIT’s Zero Fees scheme, our population grew again. Unfortunately the Government officials stuck rigidly to the census forecasts, predicting a continuing decline. Unfortunately some schools closed, when they shouldn’t have, and our hospital was built too small.

Looking at the average sizes of hospitals serving similar populations, the comparisons are alarming. On average, we are 90 beds short and have two less theatres. This manifests itself in a number of terrible ways for our people. For instance, using the national points scale for hip replacements, if you are in the Canterbury DHB area you will get your hip replacement at 50 points. However, in Invercargill it takes 70 points. That’s additional suffering, in debilitating pain, for our people and it’s not good enough.

This is just the start of a really important issue which I intend to pursue.