Stand Together for Better Public and Community Services - Political Forum wrap up

It’s election season! Electoral forums are popping up all over the country to help New Zealanders ask the tough questions of political parties and candidates. On Monday 28 August we hosted a Stand Together political forum. We wanted to hear about the Parties’ priorities for public and community services. The panel, chaired by Ara Taiohi’s executive officer Anya Satyanand, attracted a full audience of PSA members from around the Wellington Region.

The candidates who attended:

Brett Hudson- National Party candidate for Ōhāriu

Geoff Simmonds – The Opportunities Party candidate for Central Wellington

Jan Logie – Green Party MP

Grant Robertson – Labour Party candidate for Central Wellington

Tracey Martin  - New Zealand First party candidate

Before the forum we asked all attendees the following:

What will your party do to support the delivery of high quality public and community services? In particular we would like MPs to address what each party will do to:

  • Ensure adequate funding of public and community services

  • Support and develop the workforce necessary to deliver high quality public and community services

We gave each speaker 4 minutes. Here’s a brief summary of their key points.

Brett Hudson  - National Party candidate for Ōhāriu.

The National Party believes that to ensure a prosperous New Zealand we have to have the fundamental right to create opportunities for people to have aspirations and a belief that if they work hard they can meet those aspirations. For National this is underpinned by a strong economy creating jobs and raising incomes.

National believe that the less fortunate, deserve the care of New Zealand and the support of the government. This has been done through the likes of increases in benefits and initiatives like free doctor’s visits and free prescriptions for under 13s, and an extension of cheap visits to GPs for more people.

National believe the public sector works best with a social investment model. This is a fundamental difference in this Government’s approach to previous ones. This is done by using the data gathered by the state to operate in a way that’s meaningful to the individuals concerned. The social investment model is about taking difficult situations, challenging individuals and groups and applying the state’s resources in a different way to seek to change their lives. It will require a public service workforce that is able to address those needs and deliver to New Zealanders.

Geoff Simmonds – The Opportunities Party candidate for Central Wellington

 The Opportunities party say New Zealand was founded on a deal that we would look after each other and make sure we all had the opportunity to reach out potential (referring to Te Tiriti o Waitangi). But currently we aren’t living up to our potential, young people do not have the opportunities that older generations have had. Housing affordability, child poverty and youth suicide rates all are indicators of this.

The opportunities party feel this is partly because successive governments have been doing what their dogma tells them to do, not what the evidence is telling them. A great example is tax, successive governments have run two working groups on, yet no government has implemented any of the findings.

The Opportunities party want greater transparency in the Public Sector and to boost the OIA. They want to make sure all cabinet papers and reports are put online in a timely manner. They want to enshrine the independence of the public service. The public service should serve the public not solely the interest of ministers. The opportunities party want to make sure the public service is empowered to talk about the evidence.

The Opportunities Party also agree with National in theory about social investment if not in practice. However they think the government should fund things based on return on investment and not worrying about budget surpluses or meaningless debt targets.

Jan Logie – Green party MP

The Green Party is offering a strong state sector able to deliver on our collective aspirations informed by the experiences of people in our communities. They believe in a strong partnership between Government and the public sector. Government leaders should be informed by free frank and fearless advice from a strong public service. A strong public service can help transition the economy to a low carbon economy. They have a vision of a public and community sectors that actively strengthens our democratic processes and gives effect to our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The Green party is very concerned about the cultural views and ideas around the public service in recent years. People are being stifled, restrictions around what they can say and barriers in the OIA process make it hard for public servants to do their job. They are also hearing the same thing from community sectors, about contracts and funding been reviewed due to what they may have said in public.

The Greens believe that the way forward is good advice, more information and discussion. They want to change the government narrative about tax, they have a few taxes on the table, including a climate tax transfer, capital gains tax, water tax. They support legislation that requires consultation prior to outscoring or privatisation of any public sector service. They will be looking to unwind the current privatization of core public services. To have a chance to influence and deliver on collective wishes there needs to be control, and when it’s privatised it’s not.

Grant Robertson – Labour MP

What is at the core for Labour is a decent respectful, secure New Zealand and that is about Standing Together. In New Zealand for too long we have looked at ourselves as individuals rather than as part of a society where everyone is in it together. The core of Labour’s approach to the economy is shared prosperity, which has a core of strong public services.

Labour’s priority is to fund Public Services properly. We’ve had 9 years of gross underfunding of public services and while funding is not everything it is close to be the most important thing.  Labour are rejecting National’s tax cut package and instead putting in 8 billion in Health Sector, 5 million into families and 4 million into education.

They will be making injections into mental health not just in terms of programs and services but making sure that people are paid properly. Labour is concerned that the recent pay equity remit left out mental health support workers. If elected in Labour will be enquiring that the mental health workers who were excluded in the recent changes are put back in and they will be making a genuine and solid commitment to pay equity.

Labour feels that the State Sector Act needs to be looked at. The State Services Commission needs to play more of a role in enhancing and promoting the quality of the public service and making it be seen as a genuine career. Workforce planning is needed, we need to be planning for the work force retraining needs.

Labour plans to hold itself accountable and measure what matters, it is not just about surplus vs deficit but about how many children we lift out of poverty, how we have improved the overall health and wellbeing of NZ, or what have we done to improve the environment. Labour wants to reinvigorate the partnership between Government and the public service. And believes that we are all in this together.

Tracey Martin NZ First

NZ First wants to remove the fear factor that has entrenched itself inside community and public services. The fear factor where individuals and organisations feel they can not publically criticise the government, which to NZ First is the right off every citizen.

NZ first are very concerned to see that public service are pressured to change from being servants of the public to being servants of Ministers. They would like to see a culture shift. NZ first wants to think about how to support citizens rather than their entitlement in a dollar value. NZ First will reinvigorate the public service, so they will be free to work with New Zealanders to deliver positive outcomes for them.

With regards to Equal Pay New Zealand first is not supporting the current legislation proposed by the Government. They have made the same commitment that Labour and the Greens made to going back to the working party’s original recommendations. They will be having conversation about whether to amend the 1972 act to better reflect the today’s environment or whether another entire piece of legislation is needed.

Finally NZ Frist say that they need to look at the employment contracts act, especially the 90 day trial period which takes away all employees rights in the workplace.

To end the session Anya asked each Political candidate to describe what they would bring to the table if elected to government in one simple sentence.

Brett Hudson, National: “We want to back New Zealanders to achieve what they want to achieve”.

Grant Robertson, Labour: “It’s in the name – we’re here to make sure all New Zealanders, especially working New Zealanders, get a fair deal”.

Jan Logie, Green Party: “It’s our charter, our holistic worldview– honouring Te Tiriti, ecological wisdom, social responsibility, appropriate decision-making and non-violence and we will front up when we get it wrong”.

 Tracy Martin, New Zealand First: “It’s about working collaboratively. We bring respect without calling people names. Name-calling shuts down debate.”

Geoff Simmons, The Opportunities Party: “We will bring heart to the right and head to the left.”

You can watch the recording of the Livestream on our Facebook, which includes questions.

Jem Yoshioka