Penny Simmonds April 05, 2021
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.