The Parliamentary week that was, 11 December, for Pacific communities

Parliament has been very busy trying to pass quite a few pieces of relatively uncontentious legislation over the last couple of weeks. Select committees have also been very busy.

Wednesday 12th December was the last day that the House sat for the year, which means the various parties made their adjournment speeches. Greens Co-leader Metiria Tūrei gave a beautiful speech talking about the sort of country we are leaving for our children, which you can read or watch by clicking here.

New Bills to watch

Human Rights Amendment Bill

This bill would make two changes. The first of which, which the Greens support, is the creation of a Disability Commissioner. Unfortunately, the bill also contains a complete restructuring of the Human Rights Commission, which would turn the dedicated Disability, Race Relations and Equal Opportunity commissioners into Human Rights Commissioners with no guarantee that they would work fulltime in those specific areas. We are deeply concerned about this. This could impact on Pacific communities’ ability to make complaints about human rights issues, especially where there are workload issues inside specific portfolios.

Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill

Green Co-leader Metiria Tūrei spoke against the first reading of this bill, as did our Courts spokesperson David Clendon. Metiria noted in her speech that the bill is:

strongly focused on saving money and much less focused on saving women and children from the risk of violence. There is an obsessive user-pays ideology that pervades these reforms, and, of course, that is what will hurt these families.

The expected costs for families who go through the new Family Disputes Resolution Process could be around $5000, making it prohibitive for many families, especially those reliant on benefits or minimum wage work.

Select Committee

Welfare reform: We’ve heard over 100 submissions almost all of which opposed the proposed changes to welfare. I have already written blog posts summarizing the first day of submissions, and an overall report on the disability related issues raised by submitters, and it is overwhelmingly clear that the individuals and organisations have a clear and important critique of the Government’s beneficiary bashing agenda. With Pacific Island communities experiencing 15.6% unemployment and disproportionately high rates of benefit reliance, this Bill would have an especially large impact on family incomes.

Marriage equality: My colleague Kevin Hague has been listening to submissions on this bill which would allow for same-sex marriage in New Zealand. There have been a large number of written submissions (over 20,000!), and the oral submissions have included a number of deeply moving stories from the submitters own lives.

Youth Minimum Wage: Green MP Denise Roche sits on the Select Committee that is hearing submissions on this bill, which would reinstate youth rates for those aged up to 19, who could be paid at only 80% of the minimum wage (this currently equates to $10.80 / hour). Combined with the 90 day fire-at-will bill and the risk of losing your benefit if you decline a job, this Bill will make things even harder for youth, especially those with families who depend on their income to survive.

Members Bills

We saw two really good bills that could have helped Pacific communities both here and in the Pacific, voted down by the Government.

The Climate Change (New Zealand Superannuation Fund) Bill from Green Co-leader Russel Norman would have required the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to take climate change into account when deciding where to invest its considerable funds. Pacific islands are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels, but this Government has repeatedly shown that it does not care about the impacts of climate change.

Another Member’s Bill that was voted down by the Government was the Employment Relations (Protection of Young Workers) Amendment Bill. This Bill would have ensured that under 16 year olds had the same protections at work as any other employees. Currently employers can pay under 16s whatever they want, and the Council of Trade Unions estimates thousands of our children are working for as little as $2 or $3 dollars an hour! Along with supporting youth rates, voting against this bill is another attack from a Government that doesn’t think our youth deserve the same pay for the same work as older people.

From all of us here at the Green Party, we wish you a merry Christmas, a happy holidays and a great new year. We look forward to talking and working with you further in 2013.