Latest News

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.

Southland hunters shut out of the maimai

April 28, 2021 Share

Southland hunters who haven’t already got their firearms licenses now, will be shut out of the maimai this duck shooting season, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“The duck shooting season begins in Southland this Saturday (May 1), but not everyone will be able to shoot, with increased paperwork and complicated government regulations meaning police are taking months to process firearms licenses.

“It’s really disappointing for hunters to be side-lined because of these administrative delays.

“One constituent who contacted me said he was told by the Invercargill firearms office it would take his son up to six months to get his license – effectively shutting him out of the maimai this season.

“The duck shooting season in Southland only runs for ten weeks, to 11 July, so anyone who hasn’t already got their firearms license sorted by now, will effectively miss out.

“Southland duck hunters didn't have a season last year, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, now it looks like some will not be able to shoot again this year.

“I want hunters to do the right thing and adhere to the rules, but this system failure is disappointing and unacceptable.”

Mrs Simmonds said renewal of current firearms licenses in Southland was also taking four to six months, and she urged hunters to get in early to ensure that their licenses did not lapse, meaning they would no longer be able to store their guns on their property.

“Southland figures aren’t available, but across the country in December there was a backlog of 9700 firearms applications, and as of last week that number was still sitting around 9600,” Ms Simmonds says.

Elderly being discharged from hospital at midnight

April 19, 2021 Share

It’s unacceptable elderly people in the South are being discharged from hospital in the middle of the night, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“National‘s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti has revealed that District Health Boards across the country have been discharging patients over the age of 80, between 1am and 8am – and I am shocked to learn the Southern DHB was one of the main culprits.

“The Southern DHB had the eighth highest discharge rate amongst the country’s 20 DHBs – and in the month of January alone discharged 11 people aged over 80, in the early hours of the morning.

“While there may be some people who are self-discharging to other facilities, there is nothing safe about discharging people over 80 in the very early morning.

“Transitions of care between the hospital and the community are often complex, but especially so for our elderly where we know confusion can be increased at night, especially if social networks aren’t active and they’re in an unfamiliar environment.

“At this time support services are virtually inaccessible and pharmacies are closed.

“There isn’t any good reason to be discharging a person over 80 from hospital in the early morning.

“The Government needs to urgently explain the circumstances around these figures and reassure our elderly community that they won’t be left out in the cold in the middle of the night to free up a bed for someone else.”


Table 10730 (2021). Breakdown of patients aged 80 years and older whose time of discharge fell between 1am and 7.59am during the month of January 2021 by Ethnicity.

Provider Agency (DHB)


Non Māori






Bay of Plenty








Capital and Coast




Counties Manukau




Hawke’s Bay




Hutt Valley












Nelson Marlborough








South Canterbury




























West Coast








National Total





Please note this excludes those patients who passed away in hospital or who were discharged/transferred to another service or facility. These numbers also exclude patients who present at an Emergency Department between these hours and were not admitted to hospital.

This data was extracted from National Minimum Dataset on 30 March 2021 and includes elective, arranged and acute admissions, and casemix Included events only. Data is by DHB of Service.

Wait times for mental health services putting young Southlanders lives at risk

April 12, 2021 Share

Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says a dramatic increase in the waiting times for young Southlanders to access mental health services could be putting lives at risk.

"I'm hearing regularly from people about their struggles to access vital mental health services for children and young people  - they're worried for the safety of their families and they're often left with nowhere to turn.

"Southern DHB wait times for young people needing mental health support have increased since Labour's election in 2017, by a massive 61 per cent. In 2016/17 the wait time to access mental health services was 18 days, but by 2019/20 that had ballooned out to 29 days.

"These are frightening statistics. It's very concerning that young people are waiting so long for help, it's putting their lives at risk.

"Our suicide rates are already too high. Stresses on this age group are increasing, from fears about Covid-19, to worries about the latest changes to NCEA, getting a job, student loan debt and social media pressure.

"Some young people do feel those pressures more than other and it impacts on their mental health, they should be able to receive the help they need much quicker.

"If we can't provide the right support for our children and adolescents, then we're failing them.

"We're constantly told by the Government it has invested hugely into mental health. But what we can see from the community and services is that money is not flowing in and not making the difference it should.

"The Government must urgently address these shocking mental health service delays - to do nothing is to play Russian roulette with our children's lives."

Beehive Column April 2021 - Southland Times Opinion Piece

April 05, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in The Southland Times

Health is an issue at the forefront of many Southlanders’ minds. Last week I visited the Rotorua District Health Board looking at their hospital and services. This was particularly relevant to our region, given the detail I am seeking from the Health Minister regarding local hospital waiting times, compared to other similar sized populations.

I am starting to piece together information which indicates that our hospital was built too small for our population, with census data at the time inadvertently forecasting that our population would decline.

Clearly that has not happened and it looks like we are about 80 beds, and 2 operating theatres short, in comparison to the average rates of other similar sized populations. Clearly this has had a major impact on the services we receive, waiting times for surgery and the length of stays at the hospital.

I am aware that senior clinicians and nursing staff are extremely frustrated by this and what it means for their patients. I am determined to gather more information in the coming weeks and keep the community informed.

This week I took National’s Agriculture spokesperson David Bennett on a tour of the area, visiting a number of farms, farmers and rural industries. The innovation and resilience shown by everyone we visited was inspiring. Farmers are already implementing many environmental initiatives and following best practice, without the threat from Environment Minister David Parker imposing his poorly thought out regulations.

The frustrating thing for farmers is that Minister Parker has demanded farmers’ improve winter grazing practices, animal welfare, and runoff reduction, or else. He has failed to indicate acceptable science-based benchmarks, or outline what definitive level of improvement is required in the South, effectively leaving farmers’ out on a limb with little recognition of the positive work that has already been done.

I spent a day in the Hawkes Bay recently visiting Watties processing plant and a number of growers and orchards. The lack of Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) workers there is chronic. Fruit is being left on trees, vegetables are taking longer to harvest meaning significant amounts are not of a good quality to process, while parts of the processing plant have had to be shut down for days while enough workers are found to process critical crops, and labour costs are escalating.

Growers and managers are tired, frustrated and angry that the Pacific Islands bubble that National has been advocating has not been opened, allowing more RSE workers in to improve productivity and give some relief. I also worry about the implications of these delays on the Central Otago region, which also relies heavily on RSE workers to harvest fruit.

Meanwhile, Pacific Island communities are losing up to 80 percent of their income as tourism disappears and RSE worker income declines. At the same time New Zealand’s horticulture sector is losing productivity, wasting good food, while the cost of our local produce increases. It seems like a ‘no brainer’ to open up the Pacific bubble, let more RSE workers in and help our horticulture sector, our economy and our Pacific neighbours.

The Government has just slapped ‘mum and dad investors,’ in the face. They make up 79 percent of rental property owners who are using their investment as a way of saving for their retirement, with the Government now penalising them by removing their ability to claim interest as a genuine business expense for tax purposes. It’s a real betrayal.

Finally, to everyone who took the time to listen to, watch or read my maiden speech last week, a sincere thanks for your support. It was a very special occasion and I felt an enormous sense of pride and responsibility representing you all.

For now, I wish you all a Happy Easter – may you enjoy a safe and restful time with your family and friends.