Good people


Yesterday I was in parliament’s public gallery for six valedictory speeches.

National MPs Shane Ardern, Phil Heatley, Paul Hutchison, Eric Roy and Tony Ryall, and Labour’s Ross Robertson delivered their reflections on their time in parliament.

All were very different but there was one similarity – all had come to parliament, motivated by their desire to serve their constituents and improve their country.

Politicians in general are often derided. Sometimes individuals deserve that derision.

But listening to all the speeches yesterday reminded me that most are good people and most do good work, some in smaller ways, others are able to achieve something bigger.

It also reminded me that there is a lot of common ground on ultimate goals. The divisions are often much less about where we’re going and far more about how to get there.

Valedictory roster


Parliament’s Business Committee has released the roster for valedictory speeches from retiring MPs:

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

(At the conclusion of the General Debate)

4.00pm – 4.15pm Dr Cam Calder

4.15pm – 4.30pm John Hayes

4.30pm – 4.45pm Chris Auchinvole

4.45pm – 5.00pm Colin King

5.00pm – 5.15pm Hon Chris Tremain

5.15pm – 5.30pm Hon Kate Wilkinson

Thursday, 24 July 2014

4.45pm – 5.00pm Dr Rajen Prasad

5.00pm – 5.15pm Darien Fenton

5.15pm – 5.30pm Hon Dr Pita Sharples

5.30pm – 5.45pm Hon Tariana Turia

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

(At the conclusion of the General Debate)

4.00pm – 4.15pm Dr Paul Hutchison

4.15pm – 4.30pm Hon Phil Heatley

4.30pm – 4.45pm Eric Roy

4.45pm – 5.00pm Shane Ardern

5.00pm – 5.15pm Hon Tau Henare

5.15pm – 5.30pm H V Ross Robertson

5.30pm – 5.45pm Hon Tony Ryall

The Herald opined that valedictories should be the preserve of “deserving” MPs:

No fewer than 14 National MPs are retiring at the coming election, plus a couple from other parties. While the turnover is refreshing for public life, it carries a cost if every departee gives a valedictory address. . . .

Few voters could name many of those retiring this year. Many are leaving because they have not been able to make much impact and accept that they should give others a chance. More credit to them, but valedictory time should be reserved for those who have made their mark and will be missed.

That is very ungracious and also shows a depressing level of ignorance about the role of MPs.

Most of the good work MPs do never makes the headlines, much of it can’t because it’s helping people over matters which must remain private.

Maiden speeches and valedictories are among the best speeches given.

All MPs deserve the opportunity to do one and in doing so show their work and parliament in a far better light than it’s normally portrayed.

Wilkinson, Shanks won’t seek re-election


National MPs Kate Wilkinson and Katrina Shanks have announced they won’t be seeking re-election.

Kate entered parliament as a list MP and won the Waimakariri electorate in 2011.

She was Minister of Labour and Conservation until earlier this year.

“It has been a fantastic privilege to have been both an MP and a Cabinet Minister in the John Key-led Government,” Kate Wilkinson said.

“It has been humbling and satisfying being able to help constituents in the area – especially following the Canterbury earthquake events, when we all learnt so much as a region and as a country.

“One of the most satisfying achievements was obtaining funding for the North Canterbury Health Hub and I certainly want to see that through.

“I first stood as the National Party candidate for Waimakariri in 2005, taking Waimakariri from being a Labour stronghold to ultimately becoming a National seat. Winning the electorate vote in the 2011 election was an absolute thrill.

“I had in mind in 2005 that I would stand for election for three terms. I feel that it is now time to consider fresh challenges and opportunities. I will remain focused on working for the people of Waimakariri until the election and look forward to supporting National’s new candidate.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Waimakariri for their ongoing support and for providing me with the opportunity to be a part of so many exciting projects which have assisted in making Waimakariri such a special place.”

Katrina has been in the unenviable position of standing in Ohariu but not seriously contesting the list vote in order to help Peter Dunne hold the seat.

“It has been an incredible privilege to serve in the John Key-led Government,” Katrina Shanks said.

“New Zealand now has one of the strongest economies in the world, an education system which focuses on every child, a healthcare system which is responsive to patients’ needs in a timely manner, and most importantly considers families to be the cornerstone of this great country.

“Working as an MP it has been an honour to be able to meet so many great New Zealanders, especially those who give to our communities through their volunteer work and make a real difference to so many people’s lives.

“I came into Parliament wanting to put the spotlight back on families and highlight the important role which they play in our society today. The work I have performed both in my select committee roles and policy development has allowed me to contribute greatly in this area.

“Working across three Wellington electorates has meant that I have made many friends and been supported by many people. I thank these people for their support of the work that I have undertaken.

“I have decided that now is the right time to leave my career in politics, and look to spend more time being closer to my young family. I look forward to taking up new challenges outside of Parliament.”

These announcements follow similar ones from Chris Tremain, Chris Auckinvole, Paul Hutchison, Cam Calder  and Phil Heatley, and Bill English’s decision to seek a list spot rather than contesting the Clutha Southland seat.

National lost a lot of MPs in 2002 but had big intakes in 2005 and 2008 as well as some new MPs in 2011 and two since then.

This is providing good opportunities for renewal which is healthy and will enable National to campaign with a lot of fresh faces.

Phil Heatley retiring from politics


Whangarei MP Phil Heatley is retiring from politics at the next election.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges of being an MP and a Cabinet Minister. It has been an honour to serve the people of Whangarei, the place of my birth, since 1999. And I was very privileged to serve in Cabinet under Prime Minister John Key for four years,” says Mr Heatley.

Mr Heatley was Minister of Housing from 2008 to early 2013, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture from 2008 to 2011, and Minister of Energy and Resources from 2011 to early 2013.

“My greatest satisfaction has been getting good outcomes for local constituents, and being part of a National team that is building a stronger economy and improving the public services families rely on.

“I am particularly proud of the legislative reforms I drove for marine farming. Growth in this industry is important for New Zealand. It was critical to better manage competing demand for coastal space and to deliver on the Maori Commercial Aquaculture Settlement for iwi. 

“As Housing Minister, updating the rental rules of the 1986 Residential Tenancies legislation and extending them to boarding houses was very rewarding, as was modernising the 1972 Unit Titles legislation that regulates the way apartment blocks are managed. It was also essential to begin social housing reforms to better involve community providers, and introduce ‘reviewable tenancies’ to Housing NZ, a policy that set aside the decades-long notion of a state house-for-life. And I was very pleased to develop a policy that will now see every state house insulated by the end of the year.

“In energy and resources I have enjoyed working with practitioners, Councils, and iwi. Last year I introduced reforms to the Crown Minerals Act to promote, and not simply manage, the exploration of oil, gas, and minerals. The reforms are now in law. I am delighted the new annual ‘block offer’ process I introduced for awarding oil and gas exploration permits is continuing. 

“It has been fantastic working with the people of Whangarei and her satellite towns. That will be my focus until the Election. I thank Whangarei residents for their support and for co-opting me onto so many fascinating projects.”

Mr Heatley took Whangarei from marginal seat status to a majority of 1934 votes in his first election in 1999, which grew to reach a majority of 12,447 in 2011. 

“National’s Whangarei electorate committee will be selecting a new candidate. I look forward to supporting that person in the campaign, and working hard to ensure a John Key-led Government is re-elected in 2014.

“As an MP and Cabinet Minister I’ve achieved much locally and nationally. At 46, it’s now time to move on to fresh challenges and opportunities in the private sector.”

Among Phil’s strengths is his interest in and rapport with people.

That is one of the reasons he’s been such an effective and popular electorate MP.

Four National MPs have already announced they won’t be seeking re-election next year which is good for on-going renewal of the caucus.

None from Labour have yet.

That’s an indication that National MPs understand there is life beyond politics and shows they are more employable in the real world than some from other parties.

#gigatownoamaru appreciates employable people.

Kaye, Woodhouse in, Heatley, Wilkinson out, Smith back, Carter Speaker


Prime Minister John Key has announced a bigger Cabinet reshuffle than anticipated:

Mr Key confirmed the Government’s nominee for Speaker to replace the departing Lockwood Smith will be long-serving National MP and Cabinet Minister David Carter.

“I’m pleased to announce David Carter as the Government’s nominee for Speaker and I’d like to thank him for his service as a Minister,” Mr Key says.

“I have taken the opportunity presented by the change of Speaker to look at the Cabinet line-up as a whole, in the context of the Government’s priorities.

“As we begin a new year I am optimistic about the progress we can make, while being mindful of the challenges created, in particular, by the uncertain international economic environment.

“New Zealanders expect their elected Government to get on, and not only do what it has promised to do, but to do so with a sense of urgency and purpose, with real energy and new thinking along the way.

“It is in this context I have decided to make changes to the Ministry.”

Two other Ministers will also be leaving Cabinet on 29 January – Phil Heatley and Kate Wilkinson.

“Phil and Kate have both made a real contribution to the Government in their four years as Ministers and I’d like to thank them for that,” Mr Key says.

“I have made the judgement that it is time for fresh energy and ideas, and for other members of our talented 59-strong caucus to be given an opportunity.”

Returning to Cabinet is Nick Smith, who will take on the Housing and Conservation portfolios. Mr Key says Dr Smith will bring his trademark energy to housing market and social housing issues, which are of real public interest.

“I have also asked Social Development Minister Paula Bennett to work with Nick as Associate Housing Minister, reflecting the strong links between these two areas. Tariana Turia will remain as Associate Minister and a part of that housing team.”

Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye will be appointed to Cabinet where she will become Minister for Food Safety, Youth Affairs and Civil Defence. She will also be Associate Education Minister, reflecting her work as Chair of the Education select committee.

Senior Whip Michael Woodhouse will be the third new Minister, serving outside Cabinet as Immigration and Veterans Affairs’ Minister as well as Associate Transport Minister.

“I’d like to congratulate Nikki and Michael on their promotions, which are both well deserved,” Mr Key says.

The remaining position inside Cabinet will be filled by Simon Bridges, who will be promoted from outside Cabinet and take on the Labour and Energy and Resources portfolios.

“Simon has had a very good first year as a Minister and is ready to step up and take on more responsibility,” Mr Key says.

Nathan Guy will pick up the Primary Industries portfolio to be vacated by David Carter, with Jo Goodhew assisting him as Associate Minister.

Mr Key says Chris Tremain will be appointed as Local Government Minister and is well placed to work with the sector on the Government’s well-advanced reforms.

Mr Key says he had also decided to make a change in relation to Novopay.

“I share the concerns of teachers and principals at continuing problems in the operation of Novopay, and fixing this as quickly as possible is a priority,” he says.

“A fresh set of eyes is needed and I have asked Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce to take on this responsibility.”

The change will be done through a transfer of responsibility to Mr Joyce under section 7 of the Constitution Act.

“Getting Novopay working as it should may take some time, given what appears to be the systemic issues involved. I can assure teachers that we want to get Novopay sorted as soon as possible.

“With this change and Nikki Kaye’s appointment, there is no need for Mr Foss to remain as Associate Education Minister. I have instead asked him to pick up the role of Minister of Consumer Affairs, which will link in with his existing responsibilities as Commerce Minister.”

Mr Key says there are also two notable promotions in terms of Ministerial rankings in the Cabinet changes – with Jonathan Coleman rising to 10, and Amy Adams to 15.

The resignations of Mr Carter, Mr Heatley and Ms Wilkinson will take effect on 29 January, and all the other changes will take effect on Thursday 31 January, when the Governor-General appoints the new Ministers, and the necessary paperwork will have been completed.

Mr Key says it is anticipated that a new Senior Whip will be elected at National’s first caucus meeting of the year on 29 January 2013.

“This refreshed Ministerial team is ready to continue the Government’s focus on its four key priorities for this term – responsibly managing the Government’s finances, building a more competitive and productive economy, delivering better public services within fiscal restraints, and supporting the rebuilding of Christchurch,” Mr Key says.

“I will have more to say about how we intend to meet these priorities in coming days.”

The promotion of David Carter to speaker and Nick Smith’s reinstatement aren’t a surprise.

The other changes are unexpected but refreshment is a good.

Nikki Kaye and Michael Woodhouse have earned respect as chair of the Education Select Committee and Senior Whip respectively.

Promotions always cause disappointment for those who miss out but these two are deserved.

State houses not for life


Housing New Zealand has suspended 75 former tenants from applying for a state house since the introduction of its suspensions policy a year ago, Housing Minister Phil Heatley said.

The policy, introduced on 30 November 2011, allows Housing New Zealand to suspend former tenants from applying for a state house for one year after their tenancy ends, as a result of serious breaches of their tenancy agreement.

“The policy applies only to the most serious breaches – such as unlawful or anti-social behaviour, fraud or significant vandalism, not one-off incidents like breaking a window, or missing a rent payment,” Mr Heatley said.

“Neighbours are sick of some of the behaviour that they have had to put up with and we know that a strong line on this is very welcome in our communities.

“Housing New Zealand is the country’s largest landlord. It has a responsibility to ensure its tenants are safe and secure in the neighbourhoods they’re in. That also means tenants have an obligation to behave responsibly and respectfully.

The only surprise in this is that the policy was only introduced a year ago.

State houses shouldn’t be the tenants’ for life and they certainly shouldn’t be for anyone who who abuses their tenancy with unlawful or anti-social behaviour, fraud or vandalism.

Does anyone in Labour understand the numbers


Labour’s Finance spokesman got the numbers around the party’s building policy wrong in trying to score a point in parliament:

 . . . Finishing off the session, Labour Party finance spokesman David Parker decided to question Heatley’s figures.

“I would ask, Mr Speaker, whether the Minister checked his arithmetic coming to the House. Because by my reckoning, if there was going to be one house built every hour, for every hour of the day, seven days a week for ten years, there would be a build of 613,000 houses, not the 100,000 houses that the Labour Party says we’re going to build,” Parker said.

Parker now probably wishes he hadn’t brought it up. Heatley said he supposed the press gallery would go and determine who was correct.

There are potentially two answers, given the way Heatley worded the equation:

Twenty-four houses built every day over ten years (and excluding any leap years – 24 x 365 x 10) gives 87,600 houses. About 13,000 short of what Labour was proposing, and in line with Heatley’s math.

Another way of doing it would give 87,360 houses: 1 x 24 x 7 x 52 x 10. Pretty much the same.

Either way, quite a bit off Parker’s 613,000.

If the finance spokesman can’t do fairly basic calculations, with or without a calculator, it’s no wonder the party’s policies don’t add up.


Why would new development be more risky than existing ones?


Energy Minister Phil Heatley gave some interesting numbers during his speech to the National Party conference at the weekend:

In Taranaki tourism earns $124 million a year and provides 1838 jobs.  Resource exploration earns $2.5 billion a year and provides 5,090 jobs.

Don’t tell the doom merchants but that resource exploration is from oil wells at sea and it’s not endangering the environment.

He also spoke about the Marsden Point refinery which earns large amounts of export dollars for us.

Don’t spoil the doom merchants’ story but last year there was only one environmental incident there – a pot of paint fell off a wharfe.

The doom merchants would have us believe we can’t drill or mine here because of the environmental dangers.

But we’re already doing it with no problems.

Why would new developments be any more risky than existing ones?

Fairer policy for state housing


Changing the way state houses are allocated is both fairer and more sensible.

Housing Minister Phil Heatley said those in greatest need (A and B) will be eligible for a state house, those with lower needs (C and D) will be helped into other types of housing.

“All applicants (A’s, B’s, C’s and D’s) will continue to be recorded on a Housing Needs Register so that we maintain a clear picture of wider housing need” says Mr Heatley.

“But whereas once C and D tenants would languish on the waiting list with no real prospect of getting a state home, they will now be given assistance to find a home outside state housing, and we think this is a positive,” he said.

“Housing those not eligible for state housing means working very closely with third sector providers of niche, social and affordable housing to significantly grow the volume of social housing available.

“We want to ensure that tenants with the greatest need have timely access to a state home for the duration of their need,” says Mr Heatley.

The first priority for state help should be those in greatest need.

Under the current system those with lower needs would be on the waiting list even though there was little if any chance of ever getting into a state house. The new system will stop the pretence that there might be something available one day and give them help now.

Another welcome change is the introduction of reviewable tenancies for all new tenants from 1 July.

“A tenant’s circumstances will be reviewed once every three years to ensure their housing needs are being properly catered for. When their circumstances improve significantly and they are able to afford a home outside state housing they will be assisted to move – freeing up a state house for someone in greater need,” Mr Heatley said.

“Elderly tenants and those with significant disabilities will be subject to a desk top review only as their circumstances are unlikely to have changed, and we don’t want to worry them unnecessarily,” he said.

This means that people occupying a larger house will have to move if, for example, children leave home meaning they no longer need so many bedrooms.

This is much fairer than the current situation which allows a single person or small family to continue occupying “their” state house when larger families are in need is unfair.

A tennnt renting a privately owned home wouldn’t expect to live their for life, nor should someone in a state house.

 Other changes that HNZ are making include:-

• A suspension period to prevent tenants who are issued a ninety day notice, for abusing their state home or for ongoing anti-social behaviour that affects communities, from reapplying for a state house for up to a year; and
• Stronger measures to detect and prevent fraud.

“The Government wants the state housing system to be fairer, more focussed and more efficient,” Mr Heatley said.

“These changes are fairer to people in greatest need, more transparent to C and D applicants and give a clear signal to the other social housing providers that we need them,” says Mr Heatley.

“A state home and the Income Related Rent that goes with it amounts to a considerable taxpayer subsidy for a household. We want to make sure this benefit goes to those in the greatest need, for the duration of that need,” he said.

 This policy will result in a much better match between people and housing.

It also sends an important signal that state house are for those in greatest need while in need. That might be forever for some people but it won’t be for all.

One ministry – who’ll be minister?


State Services Minister Tony Ryall has confirmed the merger of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry with the Ministry of Fisheries to give one voice for primary industries.

“Ministers have agreed that the merger of these two organisations will deliver better results for New Zealanders by reducing back-office bureaucracy and lowering the cost of delivering government services.

“The merger is planned for 1 February 2012 to allow adequate time to engage with stakeholders, consult with staff and make the necessary planning and legislative changes.

“This merger is part of the Government’s ongoing programme to improve public services during times of increasing financial restraint and rising public expectation of service delivery.

“It will reduce duplicated and overlapping functions between the two organisations – and it will create an agency with better abilities to give support to primary industries.

It is expected that the annual savings from the merger will be at least $10 million, with further savings expected over time through merging corporate administration processes and rationalising accommodation. One-off costs of transition will be met from within existing baselines without impacting on service delivery.

Agriculture Minister David Carter says the move will give an efficient and co-ordinated voice for primary industries.

“Most importantly, it will provide integrated policy advice to better support the Government’s agenda for long-term economic growth from our primary producers. New Zealand’s future prosperity relies on the strength and productivity of our primary industries.

“The new agency will be better equipped to work with primary sector stakeholders, including iwi, local Government and international trading partners on regulatory, food and biosecurity issues.

“The merger will also reduce duplication and operational costs, and I expect a proportion of these savings will be shared with the sectors the agency works with to reduce the costs of doing business,” says Mr Carter.

Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley says the merger will lower costs and   create an agency with greater capacity and capability.

One voice, improved capacity, lower costs – what’s not to like?

The only question is, who will be the Minister?

Little things are the big things


A reading often used at wedding includes the line: the little things are the big things.

That is at least as applicable to politics as marriage.

A pair of underpants played a major role in Tuku Morgan’s undoing and a couple of bottles of wine led Phil Heatley to resign.

Yet Phillip Field hung on for months in the face of charges which eventually led to his conviction for corruption and Winston Peters clung on to the baubles of power with major questions over his behaviour and trustworthiness.

One reason that there’s been swifter action over something relatively trivial is that this is a different person and this is a different administration with different standards.

But why do little things become big things?

Perhaps because everyone can relate to little things, our own lives are full of them.

That’s one of the reasons the media focuses on what might seem to be very minor matters while giving at best cursory attention to major ones.

But little things are silly things. While never condoning major wrong doing we might understand how someone thought a big gain was worth the risk, but why bother for something trivial?

I’m pleased the Auditor General has been asked to examine all the spending.

I hope that regardless of what he finds she is able to make recommendations which ensure that misuse of credit cards, by ministers, their staff or anyone else in the public service is picked up immediately if it happens and repayment demanded.

It’s no use having rules if the people charged with applying them don’t do so without fear or favour.

Ministers should know the rules and keep them. But the system should provide a backstop should they get something wrong.

From state house to own home


Housing Minister Phil Heatley says State House tenants now have the right to buy the house they live in should they wish to.

“This is a great opportunity for state house tenants who are in a position to consider home ownership.  While we don’t expect huge or rapid take up, it makes sense that those earning enough to pay market rents know they could buy the state house they’re living in,” Mr Heatley said. . .

“Tenants are under no obligation to buy, but I would urge those who can afford it to think seriously about it so they can own their own home and we can reinvest the proceeds into replacement houses,” Mr Heatley said.

When this policy was first announced there were howls of anguish about privatisation from people who want to keep others down. But the policy will provide an opportunity to get ahead and become independent for those able to take it up.

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