That the Crown Entities Reform Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the bill be considered by the Government Administration Committee.
The Crown Entities Reform Bill is an omnibus bill providing for machinery of government changes in the health and charitable sectors. The bill provides for the following structural changes. It establishes a new Crown agent, the Health Promotion Agency, to take on the functions of the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand, the Health Sponsorship Council, and the relevant functions of the Ministry of Health, and it disestablishes those councils. It also disestablishes the Crown Health Financing Agency and transfers some functions to the Ministry of Health, while other functions continue to be provided by Treasury’s New Zealand Debt Management Office. The bill brings forward to 30 June 2012 the date for disestablishing the Mental Health Commission and transferring the functions of the commission to the Health and Disability Commissioner, including establishing a new Mental Health Commissioner within the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner to carry out the advocacy and monitoring functions. The bill also disestablishes the Charities Commission and transfers its functions to the Department of Internal Affairs, with the exception of decisions relating to the registration and deregistration of charities, which will be carried out by an independent decision-making board of three persons.
The changes are consistent with the Government’s overall direction for the State sector and the Government’s aim of improving State sector performance. The New Zealand public’s expectations of what the State sector can do for them continue to rise. We expect the State sector to be organised in a way that makes it more accessible to New Zealanders and able to deliver its services more efficiently. A State sector that meets the needs of 21st century New Zealand is one based on the following principles of clear priorities—that is, focusing our efforts and Government funding on the things that matter most to New Zealanders today and in the future—of easy access to the Government and to high-quality front-line services, and of high-quality services, ensuring that public services are modern, responsive, and provide good value for money, of reducing waste, and ensuring that government administration is efficient, well organised, and resilient. The bill’s structural changes to the health and charitable sectors will improve services, reduce cost in the long term, and future-proof the long-term delivery of State services.
There are three parts to this bill. Part 1 covers the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000. Part 1 relates to the establishment of the Health Promotion Agency, the HPA, as a Crown agent and to the disestablishment of the Alcohol Advisory Council, the Health Sponsorship Council, and the Crown Health Financing Agency. The bill provides that the new Health Promotion Agency board will have at least five, but not more than seven, members appointed by the responsible Minister. Levy provisions carried over from the Alcohol Advisory Council Act 1976 enable the Health Promotion Agency to recover certain of its operating costs. In respect of the Health Promotion Agency’s alcohol-specific functions—that is, advice, recommendations, and research relating to problems associated with the misuse of alcohol—the agency will be required to have regard to Government policy when directed by the responsible Minister, rather than being required to give effect to Government policy.
Part 2 refers to the Mental Health Commission Act 1998. Part 2 relates to the expiry of that Act and the appointment of a Mental Health Commissioner under the Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994. The Mental Health Commission Act will now expire on 30 June 2012, rather than on 31 August 2015. The bill provides for the appointment of a Mental Health Commissioner under the Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994 and for the appointment of the chairperson of the Mental Health Commission as the first Mental Health Commissioner.
Part 3 looks at the Charities Act 2005. Part 3 disestablishes the Charities Commission and reassigns the functions and duties under the Charities Act 2005 to the Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs, with the exception of decisions relating to the registration and deregistration of charities, which will be carried out by an independent decision-making board of three persons. The decisions of the board will be subject to appeal to the High Court, as are the Charities Commission’s decisions now. The board will also retain the commission’s ability to publish details of possible breaches of the Charities Act or possible serious wrongdoings. The bill provides that the board members are not subject to direction from Ministers in performing or exercising their functions, duties, or powers, and that each member must act independently in exercising his or her professional judgment. This will ensure independence in decision making. The bill places a requirement on the board to actively consider delegations to the chief executive or another person, such as a board member. This will ensure the effective and efficient use of resources. Any delegations carry with them the same independent and professional judgment in decision making. The bill provides that the chief executive must supply all secretarial and administrative services required to enable the independent board to carry out its functions, duties, and powers.
In the Committee of the whole House stage it is intended that this bill will be divided into the following separate bills: a New Zealand Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill, a Mental Health Commission Amendment Bill, and a Charities Amendment Bill.
This bill is part of the Government’s ongoing State sector reform focused on efficiency in the State sector, to ensure that government administration is efficient, well organised, and resilient. I commend the bill to the House.
It was interesting to hear the Minister of Civil Defence say that the principles that would underlie a good Public Service policy would be around developing high-quality services that were modern and responsive. I found myself saying: “Exactly!”. That is exactly what we need. We need a plan around the delivery of 21st century public services that are responsive to people and that are developed in consultation with those who receive the services and with the Public Service. But that is not what is in the Crown Entities Reform Bill, which is before us today. What is in the bill before us today is more shuffling around of agencies in the public sector in some kind of vain hope that this represents a plan to deliver better public services to New Zealand.
The sad fact is that the Minister now and the bill we have before us today have not made the case for why these changes need to go through. From Labour’s point of view we cannot support this bill, because we do not believe that the Government has made the case for why these changes need to be made. It certainly has not made the case for how this bill will deliver better public services to New Zealanders. We all want more effective, more efficient, and more responsive public services. But the approach the National Government has taken since it got into office has been simply to cut. The Prime Minister, when he came in, actually said the Government would cap but not cut the public services. He said it would cap but not cut. Instead, he has gone back on his word. Here we are—2,000 people have lost their jobs, and public services have not got better.
What we see from this Government, rather than a plan to actually improve public services, is just a series of indiscriminate cuts. I would welcome a plan that said how the Government was going to deliver more effective public services. But that is not what we have seen from the Government. What we have seen from the Government is cuts: “We will cut.”
This Government said it does not need policy advice. Bill English told us that he could run Government by Google. He does not need policy advice; he will just get advice off the internet. That is what Bill English told us. That will not deliver good quality public services to New Zealand. It will simply deliver fewer public servants, fewer programmes, and fewer services. The Minister tells us when he stands up that this is about the new Public Service of the 21st century. Well, it is not; it is the shuffling of agencies while the Government goes on with its indiscriminate cuts to public services.
Let us look at a couple of examples in the bill. The first is around the creation of the so-called Health Promotion Agency. At a time when the country and the House are debating one of the greatest public health crises of our time, the abuse of alcohol, this Government comes to the House with a plan to get rid of the one agency in Government that is actually focused solely on alcohol issues. It is an unbelievable proposition that for this Government, which claims to be concerned about the harm that alcohol is causing in our communities, its big plan for the public sector is to get rid of the one agency that is actually focused on alcohol. But, again, the case is not made by the Government as to why this is the right thing to do.
We see also that the public health responsibilities of the Ministry of Health will now be folded into this Health Promotion Agency. I can tell members that there are not many people left in the Ministry of Health working on public health measures, because this Government has systematically cut funding from public health: $124 million—
—$124 million was taken out of the public health budget by this Government. The Healthy Eating - Healthy Action programme is basically gone and the Government has no plan to ensure that we keep New Zealanders healthy. That is what public health is about. It is actually about the Government supporting New Zealanders to keep New Zealanders healthy. But public health has basically gone from the ministry and it will now all disappear into an agency that will have mixed priorities and will not necessarily be able to give the focus to these issues that New Zealanders want.
I challenge the members on the other side who are interjecting: is alcohol abuse a problem in New Zealand? Is it something the Government should be working on? If the answer to those two questions is yes, why is this Government proposing to get rid of the one agency that is actually focused on that work? When it comes to the new Health Promotion Agency, Labour is yet to be convinced that that idea will actually deliver good quality public services to New Zealanders. Certainly, it will mean that the one agency focused on dealing with alcohol problems in New Zealand goes out of existence.
I turn for the remainder of my speech to the proposal to disestablish the Mental Health Commission. The Mental Health Commission was due to end its work in 2015. If we were standing here today saying that the good news is that everything is done, the mental health blueprint has been fully implemented, and mental health policy and systems are going well, then maybe we could agree to the commission being ended in 2012. But the truth is that under this Government, focus on mental health has declined. There is no longer any kind of nationwide priority or target for mental health.
District health boards have responded to the Government’s lack of interest in mental health by shifting resources away from mental health. Here in the Capital and Coast District Health Board region in Wellington, most of the agencies that deliver mental health services in the Wellington and Kāpiti communities have had their funding cut. Wellink, the organisation that provides supported housing for mental health consumers, has had its budget cut by one-third. It has had to close one supported housing facility on the Kāpiti coast and is looking at closing another one in Wellington City.
Mental health is simply not a priority for this Government, and closing the Mental Health Commission 3 years early simply signals that mental health is the poor cousin of the health system under this Government. That is wrong, because mental health issues in New Zealand are becoming more and more important by the day.
If we needed an example of the lack of attention given to mental health, we saw it in the House today from Associate Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman. He decided to avoid answering questions in the House about a serious assault on a family in Auckland by a person released from the acute mental health unit of the Auckland District Health Board. He hid behind parliamentary procedure and said that the question of whether he received an email from a member of this family was a matter before the court. Well, I can assure the House that Mr Coleman’s receiving of the email is not the matter that is before the court. Mr Coleman received that email last Monday, and it told him that this woman and her husband had nearly been killed by a patient who had been released from Te Whetu Tawera, the Auckland District Health Board’s acute mental health unit.
The Minister stood up in the House the next day to say there had been a marked improvement in the way patients were being managed at that unit. The Minister stood up and said that, the day after he had received that email from a woman who said she had nearly been killed. The truth is that the Auckland District Health Board mental health unit is in crisis. The number of beds has been reduced from 58 to 52, because staff do not feel safe in that unit. This woman and her family have raised concerns, and the Minister has refused to answer them. I think that is disgraceful.
It goes back to the fact that mental health is not a priority issue for this Government. The changes being made in this legislation to end the activities of the Mental Health Commission are a sign of that. I want Minister Coleman to take some responsibility and explain to the people of New Zealand and the people of Auckland how he will ensure that patient safety, family safety, and community safety will be assured with the reduction of acute mental health beds, and whether community mental health services in Auckland will get additional resources to deal with the patients who are now being released from the unit because there are not beds for them there. There need to be some answers from Minister Coleman; he cannot hide behind parliamentary procedure.
Labour will not be supporting the first reading of the Crown Entities Reform Bill. We do not believe that the case has been made for these changes. We certainly do not believe that these changes will lead to more effective, more efficient public services. They will certainly not turbocharge the economy. These changes are a shuffling around of agencies. They will not deliver better outcomes for New Zealanders, and therefore should not go through.
I stand to debate the first reading of the Crown Entities Reform Bill. The purpose of the bill is to amalgamate the functions of a number of existing agencies for greater efficiency, and to streamline bureaucracy and focus on better public services. This omnibus bill provides for structural changes in the way the Government is organised across the health and charitable sector.
New Zealand currently has 38 Government departments, over 150 Crown entities, and more than 200 other agencies. There are clearly efficiencies to be gained by merging entities or transferring their functions to other agencies. The National Government has already set up the Better Public Services Advisory Group to provide support and advice to the Minister of State Services, and to help ensure that the changes we make improve results. The group has clearly focused on value for money, innovation, high-quality service provision, and effective change management. We have made pragmatic decisions to merge Government departments and agencies, with ongoing savings. These amalgamations alone will deliver a saving of $92 million over 4 years, and ongoing savings of $22 million per annum. We have already amalgamated the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. We have also agreed to merge the Ministry of Fisheries and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. These changes will improve the efficiency, coordination, and quality of public services.
I am very pleased that under National we have 300 more police officers in Counties Manukau, and we are on track to have 600 more by the end of the year, which includes those 300 in Counties Manukau. I have heard from the people of Manukau that they feel safer with these new deployments. These improved circumstances are due to those agencies delivering good front-line services where they count. I support this bill.
That was a tragic attempt at a valedictory, and I am very disappointed that the member Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi chose to talk about an increase in police in some parts of the country when the Crown Entities Reform Bill is about destroying the lives and careers of hundreds of public servants, who are dedicated to ensuring that all New Zealanders have access to high-quality public services. That member got up and defended this bill. He should be ashamed of himself. We have already seen nearly 2,500 Public Service jobs lost because of the direct actions of Ministers in his Government at a time when our unemployment rate is rising dramatically. How stupid can that member and his colleagues be? Well, the answer is “extraordinarily stupid”, actually. There is no sense, at all, in cutting back jobs and access to services in our communities during a recession, when we are trying to grow our economy, or for the Government to say: “We will show leadership in this area. Let’s cut a whole lot of jobs. Let’s make a whole lot of people unemployed. We’ll give them great career options in Australia, where they do pay their public servants well, and they do offer them strong career prospects.”
That member defends it. It is just short-sighted, stupid, and wrong, and that is why Labour is opposing this legislation. We want to see high-quality public services delivered in New Zealand communities in an accessible way. People are entitled when they pay their taxes to know they will get access to high-quality information in a way that makes sense to them, as a result of their contribution. That is how a healthy society works. That is why some members on the other side of the House have lived as public servants for years, and I am sure they thought they were doing very fine work. In fact, I have heard some of them say how good their work was. Then they come into Parliament and think that everyone else is a slug and should lose their jobs, and that all of these departments are suddenly so inefficient and need to be merged. This is just short-sighted nonsense. It has not improved the delivery of services one single dot, nor will this work, at all.
For that member, who used to have high standards and principles and was prepared to stand up for reasoned debate—
My colleague says it has been a while—that is true. I remember that member standing up to his colleagues for values he believed in, but he is now prepared to see both the Alcohol Advisory Council and the Mental Health Commission—two critical areas in the lives of a healthy society—lose their mandate. How can that member justify that, when his Government has been so timid in implementing the Law Commission’s alcohol recommendations, and when it has been castigated around the country for parading a problem but not being prepared to present an answer? National is now taking away our country’s No. 1 alcohol watchdog. The group that —
—has been empowered to lead this debate is now being gutted. The current member—soon to give a valedictory—for Rangitata, Jo Goodhew, who has been paraded in her home town for not fronting up to public meetings on this very issue, is prepared to back it, as well. She will go in with her hand up on the vote for this legislation.
It is the same with the Mental Health Commission. Despite what Jonathan Coleman, the Minister, said in this House, we know that mental health needs to be protected and treasured, and that the Mental Health Commission has done an internationally well-regarded job of ensuring that mental health is no longer the Cinderella of the health ball. There are always huge competing demands in the health system. There are always areas that will put political pressure on the Minister of Health, and that will raise concerns in our community—and rightly. Mental health is never seen to be the issue that will light up public awareness. People will align themselves far more with something that is seen as an attractive health issue to back. Mental health must be an issue that the whole of Parliament continues to give priority to.
I have never been as proud of two women of opposing parties as I was when I saw how the Rt Hon Jenny Shipley and the Rt Hon Helen Clark—from completely different sides of the political spectrum—both put mental health as a priority within our health system. Their record on that should be continued to be admired. But instead we are seeing Tony Ryall saying we have finished the work in mental health. The work will never be finished. I think that having that focus undermined, and rejecting the value of the Mental Health Commission, is just wrong.
The other spin that the Minister has quite unsuccessfully put on this story is that we are cutting backroom services and increasing front-line services. But we can see up and down the country, in health, in inland revenue, and, most recently, in conservation, where front-line services—particularly in provincial towns—have been destroyed. I have yet to hear the members of Parliament for Whanganui, Napier, Tukituki, or Wairarapa stand up for their communities anywhere. They could come in here, under parliamentary privilege, and say: “I think the Minister got it wrong in my town.” They might get away with it. They are probably so scared that they would be placed low on the list, having been rejected by their community as being a total waste of space because they never stand up for their community. They should just come into this House, and at least go out on a proud note—at least be seen to stand for something. But none of those members of Parliament have ever raised concerns in this House during any debate about the direct loss of their constituents’ access to services.
We cannot get more front-line than a local tax office—the local office of the Inland Revenue Department—where people used to be able to go in with their concerns. They did not have to be put on to an 0800 call centre, wait for an hour, and put in a whole lot of numbers. Those members should get into their local office of the Inland Revenue Department. Those services have gone. They were front-line. Not one National member of Parliament stood up and said: “My constituents deserve access to services.”, and, what is more: “My constituents want to keep their jobs.” They have been doing those jobs well for years and they should continue to do them.
We know that front-line services are being reduced and not bolstered. We have lost them in the Department of Conservation just in the last sitting week. I challenged the current Minister of Conservation to tell us why the scientists who were doing the work on the protection and management regime of the North Island kiwi were losing their jobs. The Minister came back with an extraordinary answer. She said that I should be aware that Genesis Energy had recently fronted up with some money to better support the blue duck. Well, that was extraordinary news. That was very interesting. Of course, everyone in the House already knew about it because it had been in the paper, but having Genesis supporting the blue duck, good though it may be, does nothing to help the scientists who are doing the protection and management programme of the endangered North Island kiwi, and those scientists are losing their jobs.
New Zealand prides itself on our regard for our endangered species, and so we should. Various parties leading the Government have said that we need to commit ourselves to ensure that New Zealand does not rank highly on the list of nations that have got rid of a whole lot of species. We put in some energy and effort into protecting those species. What does this Minister of Conservation do? Scientists—just flick them off—not important. They are critical not only to the future reputation but also, literally, to the future existence of our most endangered species.
What this legislation shows most of all is that John Key and Tony Ryall are out of touch with New Zealand communities, which know that they want and value public services that are accessible in their community. Labour opposes the first reading of this bill.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak in the first reading debate on the Crown Entities Reform Bill. The Māori Party has campaigned long and hard for a system of Government that is cost-effective, transparent, and accountable, so we want to be clear from the outset that our focus has always been that we want to see more community services and less Government bureaucracy for the outcome of whānau restoration. Our emphasis has always been on reinvigorating ourselves and restoring to ourselves the possibility of achieving the aspirations we set for ourselves.
This bill moves some way towards putting in place the machinery of government changes to increase the efficiency of the Public Service while delivering better services. In doing so, it will help enable us to focus on what is really important: outcomes rather than inputs; the results rather than the activities. In this way it is actually consistent with many of the initiatives that we have advanced during this term of Government, particularly, of course, Whānau Ora.
In our 2008 policy we looked at the opportunity for the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General being required to report annually on the effectiveness of interventions targeted at Māori, Pacific, refugee, and migrant communities, as well as young people. This is a way of holding kāwanatanga to account, ensuring that the Government really does serve the public, and all members of the public, to the best of its ability. By implication, the party supports the effective administration of government, particularly State sector Crown entities. The party supports a cost-effective public sector, but not at the expense of people’s mental and physical health and of State sector workers’ rights and jobs.
The first tranche of changes introduced in this bill are enclosed in Part 1, addressing the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act. The bill authorises the disestablishment of related bodies to establish a single Health Promotion Agency. The entities that will be merged into one body include the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand—more commonly known as ALAC—the Health Sponsorship Council, and related aspects of the Ministry of Health. The key for us is that the dedicated commitment of the individuals and the work programmes encompassed within both ALAC and the Health Sponsorship Council must be supported to continue, even though the infrastructure around these agencies is dissipated. So we will be keeping a watching brief on the way in which advice, recommendations, and research related to problems associated with the misuse of alcohol will be included in this new agency, as well as the priorities of the Health Sponsorship Council.
The Māori Party believes that we must really focus on the long-term outlook, the intergenerational shift, that will ensure we reduce alcohol-related harm right across the whānau. The New Zealand Medical Journal in June this year reported that a large proportion of New Zealanders report having had the experience of physical, social, economic, and psychological harm because of the drinking of others. This broader context of whānau ora must be considered in the discussion of alcohol policy and of how it will be implemented in the new Health Promotion Agency.
We need to invest in well-being and to study the motivators and triggers that are associated with alcohol use within the whānau. It is about denormalising drinking and distancing our communities from the grasp of the alcohol industry. When I spoke on the Alcohol Reform Bill a couple of weeks ago I referred to an interesting comparison made by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu with the regime of environmental management. It was their contention that the rights protected under article 2 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi included the capacity to protect and preserve the well-being of our greatest taonga: our people. Accordingly, their view is that iwi have a right to be decision makers on the supply and regulation of alcohol within their respective ancestral land. We will be considering these issues further as this bill progresses to the select committee stage to enable a tighter focus on how health promotion activities and targets will be determined in association with mana whenua.
The second part of the bill relates to the expiry of the Mental Health Commission Act 1998. It provides for the appointment of a Mental Health Commissioner under the Health and Disability Commissioner Act and for the appointment of the chairperson of the Mental Health Commission as the first Mental Health Commissioner. It also seeks to transfer the advocacy and monitoring functions of the Mental Health Commission to the Health and Disability Commissioner. We want to know how the mental health sector relates to these proposals, and, in all honesty, a key way of being able to achieve that will be in ensuring this bill enters into a process of robust consultation, to which we are confident that advocates and consumers in the mental health community will contribute.
The third part of this bill moves to disestablish the Charities Commission and transfer its functions to the Department of Internal Affairs. It also proposes to transfer the process of registration and deregistration of charities and for it to be carried out by an independent decision-making board of three persons. Although we understand the inevitable, we have to admit to being greatly disappointed that the autonomy and independence of the Charities Commission is being compromised by its integration into the administration of a central government agency. We do have to wonder how the community and voluntary sector will respond to this latest change, particularly as it is hot on the heels of the Office of the Community and Voluntary Sector moving into the Department of Internal Affairs.
The Māori Party has always considered it one of our most critical priorities to empower communities, whānau, and hapū to develop responses to issues impacting on them by trusting them and resourcing them. Communities and their relationships with central and local government are critical to our assessment as to the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the proposals contained in this bill.
I am mindful of the agreement for a first-principles review of the Charities Act 2005, which is to be completed by 2015. The review will consider whether the legislation is fit for purpose and reflects the needs and composition of our charities sector. An inevitable issue that arises for us is whether we are placing the cart before the horse: are we dismantling the Charities Commission before we actually know whether the current mechanism is fit for purpose?
The Māori Party will support the bill in its first reading in order to allow time for all Māori groups and individuals who have a stake in this issue to tell the Government Administration Committee what they think of this bill, and how they think it may affect any of these services to Māori in the future. However, our voting in the future will consider these public submissions. In the meantime, to enable this bill to be open to the full, free, and frank scrutiny of the community, we support the bill at its first reading.
I think this debate needs a dose of honesty and integrity, and a bit of plain speaking. First of all, I am very pleased that the Crown Entities Reform Bill will apply to all New Zealanders equally. Secondly, the point has been made in the House this afternoon that the removal of the Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) will cause huge trouble, but that is just not the case. ALAC’s independent, evidence-based, advisory function is retained within the new entity—the Health Promotion Agency.
Alcohol harm reduction programmes will continue to be funded through a levy on alcohol consumption.
That member also said earlier, in her somewhat fossilised view of the world, that mental health services were going to be reduced. I tell her they are not. The functions of the Mental Health Commission will continue to be performed by the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner, and we have specifically provided for the role of the Mental Health Commissioner within the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner.
Let us just go back a bit. Under the 9 years of the Labour Government the number of public servants increased by 50 percent, or by 1,800 public servants per year. We have to keep in mind that this country is smaller than Australia. We have 4 million people. We cannot afford an unlimited, non-capped Public Service. Before the last election National said: “No. 1, we’re going to reduce taxes, No. 2, we’re going to simplify the RMA, No. 3, we’re going to get rid of bureaucracy and red tape.” We said: “We’re going to improve infrastructure.” Go and have a look at Rimutaka Hill Road and see that improvement happening. We said: “We’re going to bring in standards for education, and we’ve got NCEA. We’re going to reduce crime,. We’re going to bring in broadband.” We have delivered those things but, still, we must remove the overcapacity of our Public Service. If we are going to chase John Key’s aspiration of achieving Australia’s income levels, then we have to run a very efficient Government administration. The Government is committed to improving the efficiency, coordination, and quality of public services.
It was said in the House two speakers ago that nobody from the Wairarapa would stand up and say there has been an improvement in health services. Well, I invite that member to look at the delivery statement of the Wairarapa District Health Board, which is second to none in this country in most areas of its operation. Certainly, in 3 years I have not had a person come into my constituency office in Masterton and say they are not getting health service delivery. But “not getting health service delivery” was a consistent theme for the 3 years that I was in Opposition and when the Labour Government was in power.
Second, I think we have to focus Government efforts and funding on things that matter most to New Zealanders and on making sure that we do them well.
The member constantly brings me into the debate. You cannot use the word “you” or “your”.
Let us review the question around gift duty. This was a tax that cost $70 million a year to collect and in the last 12 months generated $1.7 million. It cost $70 million, so it makes no sense to be in that space.
We are going to continue to streamline bureaucracy and focus on front-line services. I particularly congratulate Tony Ryall and his people in the health sector for really doing that very well. This Government has a very clear focus—on efficiency, coordination, and the quality of public services. As managers of the economy, as managers of people’s taxes, we have a responsibility to the community to do that.
I thoroughly commend this first reading of the bill and its provisions to the House. We want the State sector to be focused on very clear priorities, we want it to deliver high-quality services, and we want to eliminate waste across the public sector. Thank you.
That member, John Hayes, challenged us to be plain-spoken. Well, we could not get more plain-spoken than this. The Crown Entities Reform Bill is just a meagre attempt to cost-cut, with no reason or demonstration of benefits to the public. Cut public services, cut public sector jobs, and cut the role of the community and voluntary sector and non-governmental organisations out of the equation. It is as simple as that.
I want to confine my contribution to this debate to the aspects relating to the Charities Commission, because what the bill proposes to do is absorb the Charities Commission into the Department of Internal Affairs. I am a great believer that form follows function, and the question that must be asked of members on the other side of the House is why they are absorbing the Charities Commission into the Department of Internal Affairs, when the non-government sector itself has raised concerns about that, when it has asked the Government to implement the review that was promised under the Charities Act 2005 when the Charities Commission was set up, and when it has asked to be consulted on this particular issue, because, yes, although there are concerns in non-governmental organisations about the way in which the Charities Commission is undertaking its role, there is time for the review to be implemented to get feedback from the sector and work with the sector, just as Labour did when we initiated the Charities Commission, to ensure that the progress of legislation, and the form and the role of the Charities Commission, can work alongside the very important role of the community and voluntary sector and non-governmental organisations. I urge the Māori Party member who spoke before me, Rahui Katene, to read the letter from the Association of Non-Governmental Organisations of Aotearoa that was sent to Tariana Turia urging her to pause on this particular issue, because the association has very real concerns about the lack of autonomy and independence that may eventuate from absorbing the Charities Commission into the Department of Internal Affairs.
Labour believes that there is a very strong role that the Charities Commission can play in the long term. In fact, the education role that it currently plays to upskill volunteers and strengthen the governance and financial management role in our voluntary organisations is a good one. We are concerned that the Government has made no commitment whatsoever in this area to continue this role, and we are very sceptical, in fact, that by absorbing the Charities Commission into the Department of Internal Affairs, that arm’s-length independence will be lost. Now, we do not believe that the independent role of the Charities Commission should be done because it is a nice thing to do. No. By virtue of the work undertaken by the charitable sector, by the community and voluntary sector, and by non-governmental organisations, in terms of the advocacy that it undertakes, which sometimes criticises Government policy, it should be at arm’s length and should remain autonomous and independent. That is why. I do not think that the views of the sector have been listened to very well at all by the Government. The sector is certainly listening to this debate and questioning what the go-forward opportunity is with this Government.
The issue of the Kia Tūtahi Standing Together Relationship Accord and how that, as a working document for the community and voluntary sector, is supposed to partner with the community sector is not being upheld by what is being achieved here today. I also wanted to point out that in so far as feedback from community organisations on this matter is concerned, it is worth mentioning that they have advocated to a number of Ministers over this year about ways in which constructive opportunities to review the role of the commission and how it can better function as we go forward, that feedback has been offered time after time after time. But has the Government listened? No. In this instance, it is introducing a measure that is not supported by the sector, that does not demonstrate gains back to the community and voluntary sector, and that, most important, fails to recognise that a comprehensive review of the Charities Act could, in fact, have been reached if the Government had accelerated the review date that is already set down in the Charities Act.
Although it would be too easy to skim over this particular part of the bill, I think we owe it to our community organisations—the 25,000 that have already been registered—to provide some type of reason as to why the Government is taking the steps that it has today to absorb the Charities Commission into the Department of Internal Affairs. Nobody can really understand the reasons for that, and that is the least that could be done for those 25,000 organisations throughout the country. They play an important role, especially in tough times, when families are struggling, and every member in this House knows who picks up the slack: our community organisations, the community and voluntary sector, and our non-governmental organisations. In fact, what they will be telling a number of members in this House—and certainly the members in the Labour team—is that they are picking up far more slack with less pūtea than ever before. So while the Government is washing its hands of any responsibility to fund the capacity of the community and voluntary sector and non-governmental organisations to do their job well and to be able to respond to the needs of vulnerable families out there, what is the Government doing? It is hiding all its commitments by making this meagre change, which is not supported by the sector and may continue to erode the very important role community organisations are actually taking up in our communities.
Without prolonging my contribution I can quite confidently say that a number of organisations in the community and voluntary sector will be making submissions on this part of the bill. I look forward to that. We will not be supporting the bill, because we do not believe that cost-cutting measures that aim to cut public services and jobs in the public sector will indeed deliver the benefits that the Government thinks they will.
One last thing: here is a little example of an organisation that was deregistered that is making a particular contribution in the area of social housing. Labour was particularly concerned that Minister Phil Heatley refused last year to intervene to restore charitable status to Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust. The trust plays a very important role in the area of social housing and providing community housing. At a time when the Minister could have shown leadership about the important role that organisations like that have in our communities, to put a high urgency and obligation on providing community housing, emergency housing, and social housing in our communities to respond to those very important needs, the Government did nothing. The Minister did nothing, and he could have intervened to turn that situation round. We cannot see situations where the Government or the Minister fail to take leadership on important obligations and roles that are being undertaken by the charitable sector. That is just not good enough, and we will not tolerate it.
I believe this bill has enormous implications for other organisations that are undertaking these types of charitable obligations, and we do not want to see that trend continue. I hope that that becomes the subject of the submissions that are raised in the select committee, and I especially invite those organisations that have been deregistered to present their views to the select committee, so that they can be heard in full.
Having outlined quite specifically the nature of our concerns, I am pleased to say Labour will not support this bill. We do not believe it will deliver any benefits. In so far as the community and voluntary sector goes, I back it, but the Government does not; Labour backs it, but the Government does not.