PM dismisses vaccine target, fears over rent rises in post-Cab press conference

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 29 Mar 2021, 2:57PM

PM dismisses vaccine target, fears over rent rises in post-Cab press conference

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 29 Mar 2021, 2:57PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has begun this afternoon's media conference saying the minimum wage will increase to $20 an hour on April 1.

She said 175,000 New Zealanders will receive the increase.

Ardern touted the Government's record on lifting the minimum wage over its term in Government.

She said benefits will increase this Thursday as well.

Some 82,000 people will be better off, after changes to abatement thresholds, which also come into force this week.

"There is still much more to do," she said.

But, heading into the recess week in Parliament, Ardern said the changes represent "real and long overdue changes".

Ardern said the level that the previous benefit rates were set at were "far to low for people to survive".

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said there "is more to do" but also trumpeted the Government's record while in office.

Sepuloni said bringing the minimum wage up to $20 an hour was a 2017 election promise - a promise now fulfilled.

Asked if more minimum wage increases were on the cards next year, she said that Cabinet had not considered that yet. "We haven't gone beyond that at this stage," she said.

Sepuloni said there has been a decline of people in the benefit since the beginning of the year - this was "heartening".

The majority of these people are going into work, she said.

Ardern said the Government has been moving on income adequacy measures.
She cited the family tax credit and the abatement thresholds.

She said the last thing that she wanted to see was a reversal by a subsequent government of the changes that Labour puts in place.

Benefit increases, she said, "are forever" - once they are raised, they essentially cannot be undone.

Ardern said the "starting point was tough" when Labour came into Government in terms of benefit levels and the minimum wage.

Asked again on minimum wage, Ardern all but confirmed that there would be an increase next year. But she said she couldn't say how much it would be.


Ardern said the DHB data breach was not an issue that has occurred in any other DHBs, other than Canterbury.

Ardern said this was not the same system that will be used when it comes to the national vaccine rollout - "we are moving at pace".

She said anyone coming back to New Zealand will still need to stay in MIQ - even if they have been vaccinated.

Ardern said there is still not a lot of data on the post-vaccination process. "We're keeping an open mind," she said.

The Government is facing pressure about the effectiveness of the Government's pre-departure Covid-19 testing regime after 11 passengers, all travelling to New Zealand from India, tested positive for the virus after day 0/1 testing. This is despite the requirement for everyone overseas to produce a negative Covid-19 test before they get on a plane to New Zealand.

Ardern said the Government hasn't seen evidence of fraud when it comes to testing data, but pre-departure testing has never been relied on to be fool-proof.

In New Zealand, there is a "very cautious approach", she said, and that might not be the case in other countries.

She said the Government always asks questions of airlines, when lots of people test positive in one trip.

On the Brisbane lockdown, Ardern said the new outbreak demonstrates why it's important New Zealand gets its planning right.

On vaccines, Ardern said the Government is basing its rollout on experts, not the opposition. The National Party wants the Government to set a target of having 70 per cent of all adults in the country vaccinated by the end of the year, but the PM said "a number alone is not enough".

"We are asking experts to help us work that plan up," she said, and those experts have already said a singular target is not helpful.

Ardern said when the general public roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine occurs, there would be more frequent updates on the vaccine numbers.

At the moment, the numbers are only released weekly.

Effect of housing policy changes on rent

Pressure has been mounting on the Government, following its housing announcement last week, when it comes to the issue of rents.

Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen told TVNZ last week that he expected rents to go up - ASB's chief economist Nick Tuffley told Newshub "you are more likely than not to see rents going up faster than what they already have been".

Questioned on capping rent increases, Ardern said the Government has "no further plans" around the issue of rent.

She said there has been a lot of speculation about this - but that is all "speculative".

In terms of rent, Ardern said price increases had not mirrored house prices rises - it's been closer to wage increases.

But she would not provide a single number when it comes to what level of growth she would be happy with.

This morning, an email accidentally sent to Stuff by the Government's media team, revealed a concern that there was a perception that the housing policy will raise rents.

Ardern's chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, asked his staff to put together a list of quotes from economists that could be used to "[argue] against the assumption rents will go up".

In addition to this, both Act and National are both worried after Finance Minister Grant Robertson refused to rule out rent control measures.

"We'll keep an eye on that," he told the Nation.

Foreign policy

Questioned on Myanmar, Ardern said what has been observed has been "devastating".

The Government has taken "all the measures we can" to ensure the Government is not engaging with those responsible for the coup, she said.

On Afghanistan, Ardern said New Zealand has been there for decades and has played an important role.

"But the time has come," she said, on NZ's forces pulling out.

Asked if New Zealand should sanction China for alleged human rights abuses, she said New Zealand does not have a "autonomous sanction regime".

But she said she has raised the issue "directly with the [Chinese] President".

"It's a concern we have raised, and will continue to raise," Ardern said.

Timber shortage

Ardern said ministers are looking into the issue around lumber and to see if New Zealand can have more lumber processing in New Zealand.

Ardern will be spending most of her time in Auckland during recess week in Parliament, but she was in Wellington today chairing her Government's weekly Cabinet meeting.