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PM outlines her plan for New Zealand

Author
NZ Herald,
Section
Politics,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 12 February 2019, 2:09p.m.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has talked up the Coalition Government's progress in delivering its first-term work plan, and what is still to come, in her Statement to Parliament this afternoon.

As is usual on the first day of the sitting year, the Prime Minister's Statement to Parliament was tabled when the House resumed at 2pm.

The 11-page statement held no surprises but provided an update on the Government's work plan, which Ardern outlined during a speech in September.

In her statement today, Ardern said that looking back over the 15 months since her Speech from the Throne, the Government had made good progress but there remained much to do.

It is the same line she used repeatedly in her speech at Waitangi last week.

Ardern went into detail, under the three themes of economy, wellbeing and leadership, about what had been achieved so far, mostly under the Government's 100-day plan, and what was yet to come in this term of government.

The Government was "acutely aware of the risks posed by the global economy, and the need to ensure we are well prepared to withstand global uncertainty".

Careful management of the government books and sticking to the self-imposed budget responsibility rules meant the Government was able to invest in vital public services and ageing infrastructure, Ardern said in her statement.

On the economy, the Government is still waiting for a number of working groups to report back before taking action. The Tax Working Group's final report will be released on February 21, with the Government responding in April.

And while it will pass the Equal Pay Act this year, the Government is yet to consider the recommendations of the Fair Pay Agreement Working Group.

The Welfare Expert Advisory Group's report on the reform of the welfare system is due shortly and a review of retail electricity retail pricing is due to report back later this year.

Ardern reiterated the effect of the Families Package which, by the time its is fully implemented in 2021, would boost the incomes of 385,000 families by $75 a week.

The minimum wage will also rise in April to $17.70 an hour, another step towards the promised $20 per hour from April 2021.

On transport, the Government will continue to roll out its $4 billion package, and the Future of Rail review will also be completed. It also expected to make further headway on the Hamilton to Auckland commuter rail project and investigate other regional rail options.

The working group on the Upper North Island supply chain strategy is due to report back this year. That would inform decisions on the infrastructure needed to support growth in the Auckland and Northland regions, Ardern said.

On the environment, Ardern said the Government would this year progress a freshwater national policy statement and national environmental standard.

It will also look at how it can resolve outstanding issues around the proposed Kermadecs marine reserve.

The Government will also pass the Health (Drinking Water) Amendment Bill to improve water supply safety, and work with councils to achieve that.

This year marks the Government's first so-called Wellbeing Budget, an approach being watched with much interest from abroad.

Arden outlined the five priority areas for the Budget:

  • Creating opportunities for transitioning to a sustainable low emissions economy
  • Lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills and opportunities
  • Supporting a thriving nation in the digital age through innovation
  • Reducing child poverty, improving child and youth wellbeing, including addressing family violence
  • Supporting mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders, particularly those under 24

The Budget will have the first reporting on its expected impact on child poverty, following the passing of the Child Poverty Act late last year.

Later this year the Government will release its first strategy for improving the wellbeing of all children.

But it will be February 2020 by the time the impact of Government initiatives are having on legislated child poverty measures.

Ardern said there would be a closer focus on Māori this year. That, together with the Budget priority of boosting Māori and Pacific outcomes, will be welcome given there was little in Budget 2018 that was specifically targeted to Māori.

That Budget priority will see new initiatives for improving Māori and Pasifika incomes and opportunities.

"We will continue this year to work towards a closer, more enduring relationship between Māori and the Government by listening and working together, and taking concrete steps to improve services and outcomes for tangata whenua," she said in her statement.

Remaining Treaty of Waitangi claims are expected to be completed "with those who wish to settle" within the next three years.

The new Office for Māori Crown Relations, Te Arawhiti, would help the relationship move beyond the settlement of grievances into "what it means to work together in true partnership".

On foreign affairs and trade, Ardern said the Government would this year consider the future of its extended deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and any other future contributions.

The missions were last year extended to June and September respectively.

"New Zealand has a long and proud history of involvement in peacekeeping and peace support missions, as part of our commitment to the rules–based international order," Ardern said.

The Government was also working to upgrade its free trade agreement with China, and hoped to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership this year.

"We will also be pushing for additional , progressive free trade agreements to extend our coverage of exports and deliver benefits to all New Zealanders.

"New quality agreements, including with the European Union, the United Kingdom – when it is in a position to negotiate – the Pacific Alliance of Latin American countries, and Southeast Asian countries, can open up new overseas markets for our businesses and create more jobs at home" Ardern's statement said.

Ardern said New Zealand was starting the year in an enviable position, compared to many countries.

"Our economic fundamentals are strong. More people are in work, earning more for the work they do. We have already begun rebuilding public services and investing in the social issues that are holding other nations back."

 

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