Latest News

Forest and Bird Southland court action premature and heavy handed

August 10, 2021 Share

Forest & Bird is premature in taking the Southland District Council to court over coal exploration in Western Southland and local ratepayers will pay the price, says Invercargill National MP Penny Simmonds.

“Forest & Bird is seeking a judicial review of a decision by the Southland District Council to grant a coal company access to forestry land near Nightcaps, citing climate change concerns.

“Forest & Bird is being overhasty in its legal action against the SDC. The council has simply granted exploratory access to the land at this time – any future removal of coal would still require a new publicly notified resource consent process.

“For Forest & Bird to seek a judicial review of a decision which is yet to actually involve coal mining is premature and heavy-handed, because decent Southlanders could face a hefty legal bill.

“It’s also disappointing that Forest & Bird has chosen litigation in the first instance, before even approaching the council with its concerns.

“Last year we imported more coal into our country than we have in 14 years, and it’s anticipated that this year coal imports will break that record. This makes a mockery of Forest & Bird’s court action.

“Of course we must transition to more sustainable energy sources, no one is debating that, but in the meantime if we’re not producing coal here it’s likely it will be imported into our country anyway.”

Treatment of Auckland academics veiled censorship

August 04, 2021 Share

The treatment of a group of Auckland University professors, who raised concerns about proposed changes to science in the school curriculum is nothing short of veiled censorship, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

Seven professors signed a letter raising concerns about an NCEA working group's proposed changes to the school curriculum that would ensure parity for ‘mātauranga putaiao’ (Māori knowledge) with science and have been widely criticised.

“Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the views of these academics, it is their treatment in the wake of the publication of their views that is of huge concern,” Ms Simmonds says.

“Our universities are legislated to be the critic and conscience of society and are therefore obligated to engage in debates such as this. Freedom of speech is the backbone of our democracy.

“To have these academics reviled and shut down by organisations such as Auckland University and the Tertiary Education Union is a form of censorship which moves us into very dangerous territory.

“History has shown us what happens to countries that control the freedom of speech of academics – we do not want to encourage that kind of suppression in New Zealand.”

Media contact: Julia Stewart 021 869 537

Concerns that nursing shortages risk patient safety

August 02, 2021 Share

The Southern District Health Board (SDHB) is putting patients at risk due to a shortage of nurses on hospital wards, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“A new report presented to the Southern District Health Board paints a distressing picture of the impact poorly staffed wards are having on patients at both Southland and Otago hospitals.

“Patient safety is being compromised and it is a huge concern.

“Hospital patients are vulnerable and rely on staff for support - to have inadequate nursing numbers on a ward is both unacceptable and worrying.

“It’s also unfair to put the nurses themselves under this pressure, especially with the risk of errors increasing as staff are stressed and overworked. 

“The SDHB needs to make addressing these nursing shortages a priority - to leave the issue is to sacrifice safety and put lives at risk.”

Southland Times column

July 19, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in The Southland Times

Roads are our lifeblood. I’m particularly concerned about the economic impact on Southland if our roading infrastructure can’t be kept up to scratch.

The Southland District Council is currently grappling with some tough decisions around the future of our aging road network after the Government recently cut funding by $7.5million.

The situation in Southland is dire and the statistics make sober reading.

There are currently 1081 bridges, including 239 stock underpasses, across the province. Of those 161 are reaching the end of their lives and need replaced. To fix them all would cost $34 million – money Southland ratepayers can’t afford, while the Government appears to have turned its back on the problem.

Already five bridges have been closed, including Welsh, Scott, Nelson, McLeish Roads and Thomson Crossing Road West, and another 66 bridges are on weight restrictions, meaning heavy trucks must use a detour.

And the news is not good, with the Government’s recent road funding cuts likely to force more bridge closures and increased use of detours.

For example, the Dipton-Mossburn Bridge needs to be replaced within 12 months – and currently involves a 20Km detour.

One Southland farmer could face a 10Km detour just to get from one side of his farm to the other - if his bridge is closed, while one working mum has told me a nearby bridge closure has added an extra 20 minutes on her return trip to work.

Naturally communities don’t appreciate these detours – adding additional kilometres to the many hours’ rural people already travel, not to mention additional road user charges and fuel costs.

While the forestry, sheep, beef and dairy sectors all need good roading infrastructure to remain competitive and viable.

These are serious issues which affect the economic viability of our communities. Southlanders pay their taxes, just like Aucklanders, and yet time and again we are short-changed.

The gross domestic product, generated per capita in Southland, is amongst the most significant in the country.

According to Stats NZ, in the year ended March 2020, of the 15 regions in NZ, Southland had the fifth highest rate of GDP per capita, with only Taranaki, Auckland, Wellington, and Malborough ahead of us.

We pull our weight economically, that’s why the Government’s road funding cuts are such a bitter blow because they undermine the productive heart of this region, they sabotage our ability to grow Southland’s economy and they erode our strength as an agricultural and manufacturing region.

This coupled with details of a $765 million spend for a cycling and walking bridge in Auckland and the recent car taxes on vehicles which are not electric, has really impacted the South and created huge concern.

I have been overwhelmed by calls from local people and my Facebook page has been inundated and I intend to take these community concerns to Wellington.

National is calling on the Government to can its multi-million dollar Auckland cycling and walking bridge and I intend to campaign hard to get more funding to keep our roads and bridges open.

Aged Care Shortage - Whats on Invers column

July 19, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in Whats on Invers

There’s a critical aged care nursing shortage in Southland.

I want to find a way to help our community address this problem and encouraging overseas trained nurses, already living in this region, to upskill could provide a solution.

It’s understand that there are a number of overseas trained nurses living in Southland who currently don’t have New Zealand recognised qualifications to work in local facilities.

I’m currently talking with local organisations, including SIT, Great South and Presbyterian Support Southland, on a solution which could see these nurses given support to up skill to New Zealand qualifications through a local bridging course.

Anecdotal evidence suggests there may be up to 30 overseas trained nurses living in Southland, if we could get even some of these people up skilled to work at local rest homes, it would be a positive step forward.

I am encouraging any oversea trained nurses in the South to come forward and discuss the options.

I have already had meetings with local and national aged-care providers who are genuinely worried about whether they can continue to provide care for vulnerable elderly people in Southland.

The Labour Government’s focus appears to be elsewhere. It is more willing to spend $486 million on layers of bureaucracy and health restructuring, rather than on investment where it’s needed, by backing nurses and the aged care sector.

Support farmers standing up to the Govt

July 14, 2021 Share

Support farmers standing up to the Govt 

Farmers have had a guts full of this Government, Invercargill MP and National’s Associate Agriculture spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

I pledge my support for the ‘Howl of a Protest’ gatherings in Gore, Invercargill and Te Anau on Friday.

“Let’s show this Government that we’re not going to sit back and take it!

“Farmers tell me they’re sick and tired of the on-going political interference in their businesses.

“The unnecessary and punitive rules, regulations and taxes are forcing some farmers to the brink - both financially and mentally.

“We all feel it’s time to stand up and make ourselves heard - if you take farming out of the economy then this country will be brought to its knees.

“This is the message that needs to be driven home to this Labour Government and I am right behind Southland farmers in making sure that they’re heard.

“The protests are being organised by Groundswell, a community based group formed as a result of the unworkable Freshwater reforms in Southland. It has expanded nationwide and the recent Ute Tax announcement has seen urban communities become involved as well.

“It’s clear Labour doesn’t understand how farms operate, or the work farmers are doing in order to achieve better environmental outcomes.

“Farmers recognise the need for environmental change and are actively working to achieve these goals. Unfortunately they’re getting no credit and instead more and more heavy handed regulations are being hammered home.

“National understands and we value farmers. We are the Party for rural New Zealand, the Party whose foundations were built on the farming families of New Zealand.

“I will be at the Invercargill protest on Friday.”

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: 

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.