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Watching Brief - December 2020

Home Insights Watching Brief - December 2020

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Published on: December 15, 2020


Matter of opinion

Who pays when the Speaker (mis)speaks?

The Speaker's use of taxpayer funds to settle a defamation case has highlighted recent changes made to the rules that govern the entitlement of MPs to be indemnified for legal costs.
Parliament has extensive operating costs, which include costs incurred by MPs. Whether an activity can be reimbursed from taxpayer funds depends on a range of procedures under the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Act 2013 that allows for determinations and declarations to set services and funding entitlements for travel, accommodation, administrative services and support services, among other things. The exact scope of those entitlements is subject to change, reflecting a need to balance a range of principles set out in the legislation such as the efficiency and effectiveness of MPs, Parliamentary integrity and fairness to the taxpayer.
The indemnification of MPs for legal costs made headlines following news that Speaker Trevor Mallard has racked up a taxpayer bill of approximately $330,000 in settling his defamation case, with some claiming these changes were made by stealth. Back in August, the Speaker (in accordance with the legislation) expanded the relevant directions to clarify that a MP's "legal costs" associated with defending civil proceedings include the award of damages or a settlement, provided it is approved by the Speaker, Chief Executive and the relevant party leader. The new rules apply from 18 October 2020 (which is long after the decision was made for the Speaker to be indemnified in this case). The changes (as with many matters of technical Parliamentary procedure, perhaps understandably) had gone largely unnoticed by the public and media.
Notably, the new directions are not that far from the earlier position. Previously, the relevant direction had allowed for claims for expenses incurred to defend legal proceedings (ie, lawyers' fees), where approved by the Speaker and relevant party leader. However, any wider claim (for example, for settlement funds) relied on the Speaker's discretion to cover members' legal costs in accordance with policies prescribed by the Speaker from time to time. That is – cover for settlement costs was not impossible, but was not explicitly covered by directions under the relevant legislation.
This kind of formal cover has long existed for Ministers, with the Cabinet Manual explaining when Ministers can be indemnified for legal fees, damages and costs associated with legal proceedings brought against them in their role as a Minister. Generally, this will involve a judicial review of a Minister's actions or decision where indemnification is automatic, but the Cabinet Manual acknowledges this can extend to legal challenges of a more "personal" nature, including defamation suits. In such cases the Cabinet Manual is clear that not every action by a Minister is indemnified: that is, just because a Minister says he or she was acting as a Minister, that doesn't mean the Crown will open its purse, and there is a formal process to obtain Cabinet approval.
Whether the formal clarification of the indemnity for MPs will be relied on extensively – to the taxpayers' detriment – remains to be seen. MPs are normally careful when making statements that are not covered by Parliamentary privilege. Further, access to reimbursement for legal costs will not be automatic: sign off from the Speaker, Chief Executive of the Parliamentary Service and the relevant party leader should act as a check on excessive taxpayer-funded bills.

In the news

Update to the New Zealand Government's COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy

The Government's COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy relies on advance purchase agreements to secure vaccine supplies for New Zealand. In late November, the Government confirmed that it had agreed, in principle, to purchase up to five million COVID-19 vaccines from Janssen Pharmaceutica. Two million doses will be available in the third quarter of 2021, with the option to purchase another three million to be delivered throughout 2022. The agreement is conditional on the outcome of the vaccine's clinical trials and regulatory approvals in New Zealand.
The Government's vaccine portfolio already includes an agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech for 1.5 million doses of vaccine, and negotiations with other pharmaceutical companies are in progress.
The key point of difference for the Janssen vaccine is that it is likely to be administered as a single dose and it is compatible with existing vaccine storage methods, which will allow for efficient distribution. The Janssen vaccine can be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, whereas the Pfizer vaccine is required to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius.
The Ministry of Health is considering the most suitable order of distribution for the public. The Government has acknowledged that they must take an equitable approach, considering those who are at an increased risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, ensuring the protection of Māori and Pacifika, and those most vulnerable such as older people, disabled people, health workers, essential workers and border staff.
The Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, Hon Dr Megan Woods, expressed confidence in this vaccine as Janssen Pharmaceutica and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson, have continuously produced safe and effective pharmaceutical products. A formal advance purchasing agreement is to be finalised in the coming weeks.
The Minister's press release is available here.

Ko tō tātou kāinga tēnei: Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch masjidain

The Royal Commission's (Commission) Report of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch masjidain on 15 March 2019 (Report) (found here) was publicly released, after being presented to the House on 8 December 2020. The responsible 'individual' (as referred to in the Report), has since been convicted of terrorism, the murder of 51 people, and the attempted murder of 40 people.
The Government directed the Commission to investigate three broad areas: the individual's actions, the relevant public sector agencies' actions, and any recommendations of changes that could prevent such an attack in the future.

Following an inquiry (which included consultation with Muslim communities), the Commission concluded that there were no failures with any Government agencies that would have allowed the individual's planning and preparation to have been detected. However, it made 44 recommendations, focusing on five key aspects: the firearms licensing system, the country's counter-terrorism effort, the continuing needs of those most affected by the attack, the country's response to increasing diversity, and the implementation of these recommendations.
The Government has agreed in principle with all recommendations and the Minister of Health, Hon Andrew Little is responsible for coordinating the Government's response. The National Party has also expressed their support for many of the recommendations.
The Government has indicated immediate response to the following recommendations:

  • establishing a Ministry for Ethnic Communities;
  • establishing an ethnic communities graduate programme;
  • providing wrap around services to continue to support the families of the 51 shuhadah, victims and survivors of the attack;
  • establishing a national centre of excellence to focus on diversity, social cohesion, preventing violent extremism, and reducing radicalisation;
  • establishing the New Zealand Policy programme Te Raranga, The Weave, to manage hate crime;
  • filling the gaps in hate speech legislation, such as changes to the Human Rights Act;
  • implementing the Multi-Agency Coordination and Intervention programme, to prevent terrorism and violent extremism; and
  • strengthening counter terrorism legislation. The proposals include making amendments to clarify the definition of "terrorist attack", creating a new offence to criminalise planning or preparation for a terrorist act, creating a new offence to more clearly criminalise terrorist weapons and combat training and extending the eligibility for a control order to include individuals who have completed a prison sentence for a terrorism-rated offence if they continue to prevent a real risk of engaging in terrorism-related activities.

The Prime Minister's press release, including a link to the Government's proposed response, is available here. More information about strengthening New Zealand's counter-terrorism legislation is available here.

Redesigning resource management in New Zealand

The Resource Management space has seen numerous policy and legislative changes this year with comprehensive reform of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) on the horizon. The new Labour Government formalised its intention for reform in the recent Speech from the Throne (found here), which included a commitment to repeal and replace the RMA and reinforced that the Randerson review will provide the platform for the Government to advance the reform work. In the first six months of 2021, the Government intends to release an exposure draft of what is expected to be called the Natural and Built Environments Bill.
The key elements of the Review Panel's recommendations include its proposals around Strategic Integration, National Direction, Freshwater Allocation, Consents, Compliance, Monitoring & Enforcement, and the Risk to Infrastructure.
The upcoming reform process will be the most significant change to the planning and environmental framework in New Zealand since the introduction of the RMA in 1991. The new system will bring a wide array of opportunities but also potentially increase the risks for development.
Interested stakeholders will have opportunities to make submissions on the new legislation in 2021.

Privacy Act 2020 comes into force

On 1 December 2020, New Zealand's Privacy Act 2020 (Act) came into force. The Act, aimed at affording New Zealanders greater privacy protections, places additional obligations on organisations. The Act also extends the powers of the Privacy Commissioner to ensure compliance with the new regulations. With these new powers, the Commissioner can now issue notices to enforce compliance.
The Act also includes the following notable changes:

  • Criminal Offences: there are now fines of up to $10,000 if an individual misleads an agency in order to access information, or if information is destroyed while having knowledge of a request that has been made for it.
  • Notifiable Privacy Breaches: it is now mandatory for organisations to report notifiable privacy breaches (to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and to affected individuals), which are breaches that they believe have caused or are likely to cause serious harm to affected individuals.
  • Disclosing Information Overseas: under a newly introduced Information Privacy Principle, an organisation may only disclose personal information outside of New Zealand if the receiving agency is subject to similar safeguards to those in the Act, or the organisation can ensure (through an agreement or otherwise) that the agency will protect the information to the same standard. If not, the organisation will have to explicitly tell the individuals that their information may not be secure.
  • Extraterritorial Effect: businesses or organisations that are "carrying on business" in New Zealand are now subject to the Act's obligations even if they do not have a physical presence in New Zealand.
  • Direction of Organisation: The Privacy Commissioner now has the power to direct an organisation to confirm if they hold personal information about an individual, and to give the individual access to that information.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards noted that the Act reflects changes in New Zealand's wider economy and society, as well as a modernised approach to privacy.

Government releases priorities for the education system

In November, the Government released its priorities for the New Zealand education system, with a clear focus on Vocational Education and Training (VET) in the context of the COVID-19 rebuild. This includes the introduction of the Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund (that provides free trades training for certain sectors) and the Apprenticeship Boost (that provides monetary incentive for employers to keep and take on new apprentices).
The Government's approach is set out in two key documents – the National Education Learning Priorities (NELP) and the Tertiary Education Strategy (TES) – issued under the Education and Training Act 2020. The documents highlight five areas of focus:

  • Centring education on learners. Ensuring that places of learning are inclusive, safe and free from discrimination, and having high aspirations for learners supported by co-designed curriculums to ensure responsivity.
  • Creating barrier-free access to education. Reducing barriers to education for Māori, Pacifika, the disabled, and those with supported learning needs. Ensuring every learner has foundational skills in language, literacy and numeracy.
  • Cultivating quality teaching and leadership within education. Meaningfully incorporating Te Reo Māori and Tikanga into everyday learning, and developing leadership and educational capability;
  • Enhancing a focus on the future of learning and work. Collaborating with industry partners and employers to enable enhanced insight into employment.
  • Developing a world-class and inclusive education system. Enhancing the contribution of research and mātauranga Māori in addressing challenges.

The Education Minister's press release, including a link to the full NELP and TES, is available here.

Holidays (Increasing Sick Leave) Amendment Bill introduced to extend sick leave to 10 days a year

The Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, Hon Michael Wood, introduced the Holidays (Increasing Sick Leave) Amendment Bill (Bill) in Parliament on 1 December 2020, in a bid to encourage workers to stay at home if they're sick.
If enacted, the Bill would double the legal minimum of paid sick leave entitlements from five days to 10 days a year. The Bill would maintain the maximum amount of sick leave that can be accrued by an employee at 20 days annually, as under the current law.
In a recent press release, the Minister stated that employees will receive their increased entitlement depending on when they started with the employer, allowing businesses time to prepare for the law change. Under the proposed extension, new employees would be entitled to 10 days’ sick leave after their first six months.
The Minister expects that the law will be passed in mid-2021 and the changes will come into force two months after Royal Assent. The closing date for submissions is 28 January 2021.
The Minister's press statement is available here, and the Bill (including a link to submissions) is available here.

Criminal charges laid against multiple parties over the Whakaari/ White Island eruption

WorkSafe recently laid criminal charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 against 13 parties over the Whakaari/White Island eruption. The eruption occurred on 9 December 2019 while 47 people were on the active volcano, of which 22 were killed and 25 survived but suffered severe injuries.

  • 10 organisations have been charged with failing to do what was reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of workers and visitors, and each face a maximum fine of $1.5 million.
  • Three individuals, as officers of the organisation, each face a single charge for failing to exercise due diligence in ensuring the organisation meets its health and safety obligations, and a maximum fine of $300,000.
In a press release, WorkSafe Chief Executive Phil Parkse has noted that the charges conclude the most extensive and complex investigation ever undertaken by WorkSafe. The investigation was focused on the events leading up to the eruption, and did not consider the rescue and recovery of victims after the eruption - no enforcement action has been taken on such matters. WorkSafe has met the 12-month time limit within which charges had to be laid.
The first hearing is scheduled for 15 December 2020 in the Auckland District Court.
WorkSafe did not name any of the parties charged due to the parties' rights to seek name suppression at the first court appearance. However, the following parties have confirmed that they are among those charged:
  • GNS Science;
  • The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA);
  • White Island Tours;
  • Volcanic Air Safaris; and
  • The company that owns White Island, Whakaari Management Limited (associated with family ownership of the Buttle family), and its directors: James, Peter and Andrew Buttle.

WorkSafe has stated that the investigation report will not be publicly released as it will be central to the legal proceedings relating to the charges.
WorkSafe's press release is available here.

Electricity Authority releases the Hedge Markets Enhancements Consultation Paper

The Electricity Authority (EA) recently published the Hedge Market Enhancements: Permanent market making back stop consultation paper (Paper) (available here). The EA has proposed to amend the Code to implement a permanent mandatory backstop obligation on market makers and to procure commercial service providers, in pursuance of an enduring market making approach.
Under the current arrangements, market making is voluntarily provided by four gentailers: Contact, Genesis, Mercury and Meridian. However, a temporary regulatory backstop was implemented between 3 February 2020 and 3 November 2020 through an urgent Code amendment, where the existing market makers were compulsorily required to provide market making services if their voluntary performance did not meet the EA's standards.
Given that the temporary backstop has since expired, the EA is proposing a permanent mandatory backstop. The EA considered other options, but found that the enduring market arrangement is the best approach as its net benefits outweigh the costs, providing long-term benefit to consumers.
The Paper proposes two key changes to the market making arrangements. These include:

  • A Code amendment to implement the permanent mandatory backstop (which replicates the obligations on the four retailers under the temporary backstop).
  • Procuring one or more additional market making providers on a commercial basis, who will provide services for payment as the EA intends to transition towards commercial providers of market making services in the long run.

Submissions on the Paper close on 18 January 2021.

Health and Disability Sector Review: Update from the new Government and the Health Minister

The new Minister of Health, Hon Andrew Little, plans to lead the implementation of recommendations from the Health and Disability System Review (Review).
Among other things, the Review recommended that:

  • a Māori Health Authority and a new Crown entity (provisionally called Health NZ) be established;
  • the number of District Health Boards (DHBs) be reduced to between eight and twelve;
  • a health and disability system charter be developed;
  • the Ministry of Health assume a stronger leadership role and, for example, take over some of the functions performed by the Health Promotion Agency;
  • approaches to, and responsibilities for, funding be adjusted; and
  • the regulatory system for health practitioners be updated.

In the State Opening of Parliament, the Government signalled that initial policy decisions are expected to be made in 2021. The Governor General's Speech from the Throne reaffirmed the need for fundamental reform of the health system, indicating that this would be a priority for the new Government.
The Minister has promised to fast track some of the recommended reforms, reducing the five year timeframe suggested by the Review to 18 months-two years. However, the President of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists has expressed concern of such a major structural change as it could add more pressure on DHBs and clinicians.
We will be publishing more information on the Health and Disability Sector Review and reforms in the upcoming weeks. The Report is available here.

Border exception for seasonal workers in the horticulture and wine industries

From January 2021, up to 2,000 experienced Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme workers (RSE Workers) from the Pacific will be allowed to enter New Zealand to address labour shortages in the horticulture and wine growing sectors, and to assist Pacific Island nations in the wake of COVID-19.  
RSE Workers will require an exemption to the Government's ongoing border restrictions. Class exemptions are only considered where there is a critical workforce gap that cannot be filled domestically, there is no displacement of New Zealanders, and where industries can demonstrate a plan for education, training, wages and other activities that will attract New Zealanders into their sector.
The RSE Worker border exception will feature conditions including:

  • agreements from employers to pay workers at least $22.10 an hour;
  • employers to meet costs of their RSE Workers’ managed isolation;
  • the RSE workers will be paid the equivalent of 30 hours work a week while in managed isolation; and
  • the countries wanting to send experienced RSE workers under this border exception must have agreed plans in place to take back both their workers coming under the border exception as well as other RSE workers already in New Zealand from their countries when the 2020/21 season ends.

As there is limited capacity in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, entry will be staggered. The Minister of Immigration, Hon Kris Faafoi, has indicated that the Government will continue to engage with the primary sector and others, and is open to making additional adjustments, where they can be made safely.
The Ministers' press release is available here.

Government extends business debt relief to October 2021

To aid ongoing economic recovery from COVID-19, the Minister of Finance, Hon Grant Robertson, announced that the Government will continue the business debt hibernation scheme until 31 October 2021. The scheme was introduced earlier in the year as part of temporary relief measures to allow businesses which may be nearing insolvency due to COVID-19 to put their existing debt on hold for up to seven months, provided they meet the relevant criteria.
The Ministers' press release is available here.

New vaping law comes into effect

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act 2020 (Act) came into force on 11 November 2020.
This Act broadens the scope of products under the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 to include vaping products and heated tobacco products. The Act acknowledges that vaping products and heated tobacco products have lower health risks than smoking, and so looks to strike a balance between discouraging young people from vaping and allowing smokers the option to switch to less harmful alternatives.

The Act:

  • establishes different advertising and marketing restrictions for vaping products and tobacco products;
  • introduces a notifying regime for manufacturers and importers of vaping and heated tobacco products;
  • prohibits the sale of vape or smokeless tobacco products to people under the age of 18; and
  • prohibits the use of vaping or smokeless tobacco products in early childhood education centres, schools or indoor workplaces;

The Act also allows for retailers earning 70% of their sales from vaping products to be approved by the Director-General of Health as specialist vape retailers. Compared to general retailers, specialist vape retailers benefit from more relaxed sale and advertising restrictions. For instance, specialist retailers may:

  • sell any flavour of vaping liquid (whereas general retailers may only sell tobacco, menthol or mint flavours);
  • use trading names that include the words vape or vaping;
  • provide discounts and loyalty points; and
  • allow customers to sample vaping products.

The changes introduced by the Act will be phased in over a 15-month period through to February 2022. Regulations are needed to implement some parts of the Act. Public consultation on the proposed regulations is expected to take place by early 2021.

Speeches of note

The last three weeks have been jammed-packed with speeches – including the Speech from the Throne, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Address in Reply Debate Speech in which she pointed out the diversity of the new Parliament, and Opposition Leader Judith Collins' restatement of National's intention to hold the Government to account. 24 new MPs have made their maiden speeches so far, with notable mentions including Māori Party co-leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi, whose candid speeches indicated that the Māori Party intends to be more than just a pebble in the Government's shoe; Labour MP Ibrahim Omer with a striking account of his journey from refugee to Parliamentarian that made international headlines; the Green's first Pasifika MP Teanau Tuiono, who spoke of his bicultural upbringing; and ACT's Nicole McKee, who again raised her now-familiar views on gun law reform.  

Outside the pomp and ceremony (and drama) of the House, the Government is getting back to business, with Ministers addressing industry, academics and world leaders at a range of events over the last few weeks.
Prime Minister addresses Primary Industries Summit

The Prime Minister spoke at the Primary Industries Summit on 24 November in Wellington, in her first official speech since the October election.
She emphasised the strong mandate delivered by the election – acknowledging both the attendant responsibility and opportunity this presents.
Aside from the continued messaging around the Government's COVID-19 recovery plan, the Prime Minister highlighted action already taken in 2020 to address long-term issues faced in New Zealand, including:

  • new national directions on freshwater, which came into effect in September;
  • financial assistance for the implementation of the new clean water standards through a $700 million fund;
  • a boost to the Ministry for Primary Industries’ flagship funding programme, the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund;
  • $1.1 billion in the Jobs for Nature programme in Budget 2020;
  • $111.2 million through Budget 2020 to provide support for rural and fishing communities; and
  • the conclusion and signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the largest free trade agreement in the world.

The Prime Minister made clear her view that the primary sector is one of the Government's key partners, and notably indicated an openness to tweaking freshwater regulations – which have come under heavy criticism from the farming sector – where regulations are shown to be impractical, unclear or unworkable.
A full transcript of the Prime Minister's speech is available here.

Minister Woods outlines strategy to improve housing supply at Infrastructure NZ Symposium

On 19 November, Minister of Housing Megan Woods outlined her view that increasing supply is the most significant lever to addressing the continued rise of house prices in New Zealand.
She identified a range of barriers that have impacted on supply over a number of decades, including under investment in community infrastructure, an expensive and inefficient resource consent regime, and a deficit of investment in public and affordable housing builds.
Emphasising the work done to date – including the implementation of a more "cohesive" approach to the Government's delivery of housing and urban development project through Te Tūāpapa Kura Kāinga Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and Kāinga Ora Homes and Communities – Minister Woods outlined the Government's strategy for tackling housing supply. Key features include:

  • ensuring a large and well-trained workforce is available for new builds;
  • the allocation of a $350 million Residential Development Response Fund, intended to give developers greater options to finance developments when needed;
  • improvements in the way infrastructure is financed, planned and consented – including through law changes through the repeal and replacement of the Resource Management Act, and changes introduced via the Infrastructure Funding and Financing Act, Urban Development Act, National Policy Statement – Urban Development and COVID-19 fast-track legislation.

Minister Woods said industry can expect the Government to release an updated Public Housing Plan in the coming months, and the commencement of the Commerce Commission's market study into building supplies towards the end of 2021.
A full transcript of Minister Woods' speech is available here.

Minister Mahuta opens APEC 2021

Hosting her first major event as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister Nanaia Mahuta welcomed representatives of APEC to the virtual event hosted by New Zealand on 1 December 2020.
The Minister emphasised the goals for New Zealand's host year, including by promoting inclusive trade and economic growth (especially in relation to women and indigenous peoples) and sustainability, including a green economic recovery from COVID-19.
Māori economic growth was front and centre, with Minister Mahuta acknowledging its growth in the twenty years since New Zealand's last hosting of APEC in 1999 and offered her willingness to share New Zealand's experience in expanding the participation of indigenous communities in trade and economic activity to APEC members.
The pōwhiri is one of the only in-person events for APEC 2021, with the event instead taking place largely online. The first virtual APEC 2021 meeting, the Informal Senior Officials Meeting, was held on 9 December.
A full transcript of Minister Mahuta's speech is available here.

Minister O'Connor addresses Auckland Trade and Economic Policy School

Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damien O'Connor gave the keynote address at the University of Auckland Public Policy Institute's annual Auckland Trade and Economic Policy School on 4 December.
The Minister highlighted the importance of trade to New Zealand's success in meeting the new Government's three overarching objectives: to keep New Zealanders safe from COVID-19, to accelerate our economic recovery and to lay the foundation for a better future.
The major focus of the Minister's speech was the key aspects of the Government's Trade Recovery Strategy, which is based on four pillars:

  • Retooling support for exporters: New Zealand companies need to be in the best possible position to recover quickly and seize new opportunities.
  • Reinvigorating the international trade architecture: The Government considers the key avenue to reinvigoration is the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as the premier institution through which New Zealand can influence international trade rules. Other opportunities include Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement with Singapore and Chile, and open plurilateral agreements such as the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability.
  • Refreshing key trade relationships: The Government is focused on further trade diversification, building New Zealand's national brand and reputation, and providing new and strengthened FTAs.
  • Resilience: New Zealand businesses need to be prepared for, and resilient to, future global disruptions.

The Minister outlined the Government's medium-term objectives, which include:

  • supporting the WTO;
  • embedding New Zealand in key economic architecture through FTAs;
  • pursuing a programme of concerted open plurilateralism;
  • supporting global public goods that enable trade norms – such as APEC and the OECD;
  • supporting New Zealand businesses to succeed offshore; and
  • enhancing New Zealand's engagement with the public on trade, so trade policy reflects the needs and views of New Zealanders.

A full transcript of Minister O'Connor's speech is available here.


In Trade

Government signs Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership


On 15 November, New Zealand signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) together with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.
The new free trade bloc will be bigger than both the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the European Union, covering a market of 2.2 billion people with a combined size of 30% of the world’s GDP.
Nature of the Agreement
At its heart, RCEP proposes to eliminate a range of tariffs on imports over the next 20 years. Despite the size of the agreement, however, its immediate economic benefit is uncertain. This is because tariff rates for most Parties trading in the region are comparatively low. New Zealand already has trade agreements in place with many RCEP signatories, meaning that preferential tariff rates for our exporters can be lower still.
RCEP also appears to be less ambitious in eliminating non-tariff barriers compared to other recent agreements. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), for example, proposed a comprehensive set of domestic policies and regulations on labour and environmental issues, among other things. RCEP does not include chapters on labour or the environment, and doesn't open up markets operated by government owned monopolies.
Although it may not be as ambitious as CPTPP, RCEP is an impressive agreement that consists of diverse economies both big and small, advanced and developing. While China already has a number of bilateral trade agreements, this is the first time it has signed up to a regional multilateral trade pact.  
The agreement has the potential to create stronger regional integration between these diverse players. Exporters currently grapple with a complex web of different standards and rules of origin when they trade in the RCEP region. RCEP delivers a single set of rules covering all 15 markets and sets common terms of reference for regulatory policies, which should make trade simpler and see exporters realise efficiency gains by reducing compliance costs.
The harmonisation of rules should also improve supply chain networks across the region. Even under existing regional free trade agreements, businesses with global supply chains might face tariffs if their products manufactured in one place contain components that are made elsewhere. For example, a product produced in Malaysia that contains Australian parts might face tariffs elsewhere in the ASEAN free trade zone. The harmonisation of rules of origin under RCEP will help to ensure that parts from any Party are treated equally. As a result, companies operating in RCEP countries may be incentivised to partner with suppliers in the region.
Benefits for New Zealand
Although RCEP does not deliver significant new market access for goods exports as a result of tariff cuts, the Government has said a range of New Zealand industries will directly benefit from the new agreement. These include:

  • the education sector, which is guaranteed new access opportunities into large ASEAN economies including Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines;
  • primary industries, which will benefit from the new expectation that Customs authorities will release perishable goods within six hours of arrival, helping to reduce spoilage and save money;
  • the meat industry, which will benefit from the elimination of specific meat products into Indonesia.

New Zealand also secured a number of positive strategic outcomes. For example, China and ASEAN countries that are not party to the CPTPP will be making investment market access commitments for the first time to New Zealand. New Zealand was successful in reaching agreement that such access is subject to New Zealand's investment screening regime, and that Investor-State Dispute Settlement would be excluded from RCEP.
A further key benefit for New Zealand is the outcomes on geographical indications (GI), which extend advantages previously secured in CPTPP to a wider group of trading partners. These outcomes would ensure that New Zealand exporters have the ability to challenge the protection of a name as a GI in another RCEP Party, if the name is known to consumers in the Party concerned as the common descriptive term for the relevant good. This protects the ability of New Zealand exporters to use common descriptive terms for their goods.
Next steps
The Government must now complete the following steps to confirm RCEP and pass it into law in New Zealand:

  • International treaty examination of RCEP. The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee is now considering RCEP and will draw any matters of interest to the attention of the House. The public are able to submit on the examination process here.
  • Amendments to local law. The treaty would require some minor amendments to the Tariff Act, and the Customs and Excise Regulations. These changes would be made after the committee has presented its report to the House.
  • Ratification. Once the Committee and Parliament have completed the examination process and implemented the necessary domestic legislative changes, it will deposit its instrument of ratification. RCEP will enter into force 60 days after the date on which at least three non-ASEAN signatories and six ASEAN signatories have completed their necessary domestic procedures, and notified the Depositary (ie the Secretary-General of ASEAN) that they are ready.

In The House

In the House

The House rose for the year following the adjournment debate on Wednesday 9 December. It is scheduled to return on 9 February 2021.
The House must sit for around 90 days in the year, with the first day being no later than the last Tuesday in February.
The House has approved the sitting calendar for 2021:

  • February 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, and 25;
  • March 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, and 25;
  • April 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, and 15;
  • May 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, and 20;
  • June 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 22, 23, 24, 29, and 30;
  • July 1, 6, 7, and 8;
  • August 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 24, 25, 26, and 31;
  • September 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, and 30;
  • October 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, and 28;
  • November 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, and 25;
  • December 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, and 16.

Select Committees

Select Committees of the 53rd Parliament

Select committees are made up of MPs from across both government and opposition parties in Parliament and function as Parliament's 'engine room', examining, scrutinising and improving bills between their first and second reading. Committees are appointed at the start of each Parliament, after a general election.
Several changes to the way in which select committees operate were implemented by the Review of Standing Orders 2020, most significantly through establishing a new Petitions Committee. These changes are detailed below.
The membership of the new Parliament's select committees were determined by the House Business Committee on 2 December. Committees usually have between six and twelve members each. The overall membership across committees is proportional to the number of seats political parties hold in the House. The membership of each committee is also detailed below.

Review of Standing Orders 2020

Before the end of the 52nd Parliament the Standing Orders Committee recommended a series of changes to the select committee process through the Review of Standing Orders 2020. The recommendations focused on the further integration of technology into existing processes, changing the practice and participation of committees and improving efficiency. A new Petitions Committee has also been created.
Integration of technology
The experience of the COVID-19 lockdown this year has strengthened the integration of technologies into parliamentary and governmental processes. The positive opportunities they present have been recognised and these adaptations are proposed to become permanent changes, incorporated into the recommendations:

  • Select committees now have the option of meeting remotely. Even if a meeting is held in a physical location, some members may choose to participate remotely. This flexibility is intended to encourage committees to meet on non-sitting weeks, making compliance with the current sitting patterns easier.
  • Potential issues regarding voting, maintaining quorum, confidentiality, technology problems and secret evidence have all been addressed in the review. The Business Committee will be empowered to determine rules for any novel procedural issue that may arise from remote meetings and participation.

Improving the effectiveness of select committee practice and procedures
Key changes designed to improve effectiveness and efficiency include:

  • Committee membership is decreased overall as it was regarded to be larger than necessary. In turn, there will be greater flexibility for other members to participate. Members not represented in a committee may participate as a non-voting member, while members in charge of business before that committee (such as bills) should be able to participate in relevant committee proceedings.
  • An essential feature of the subject select committee system, at its inception, was its ability to initiate investigations and scrutinise Government. The review encourages subject select committees to initiate more investigations and be more proactive in scrutinising the Government and broader issues in New Zealand.
  • Ministerial involvement in committee business is rare but this has been recommended to change. Ministers should participate in initial briefings on Government bills and discussions on significant policy changes.
  • Differing views within a committee should be reported if the minority member/s wish to do so, subject to the Chairperson's rules on matters of order.
  • The review has suggested that committees seek alternative methods of engagement to increase participation. Targeting certain groups, creating more accessible processes and providing feedback to acknowledge contribution are just some of the suggested considerations.

Petitions Committee
This new committee oversees and coordinates the petitions process, and considers petitions and any related matters. The Petitions Committee will either publish a report to Parliament about every petition that it considers, or ask a specialist subject committee or Minister to do so. In its report, the committee can make recommendations to the Government about law or policy changes it wishes to see, or actions it believes the Government should take, in response to the matters raised by the petition.
The Petitions Committee for this term will be chaired by National Party MP Jacqui Dean, and includes members from Labour, National and the Greens.

Select Committee Membership

Parliament has 18 different select committees, including 12 subject-focused select committees and 6 specialist committees. Parliament can also create ad hoc committees for specific purposes, such as to consider a bill or an inquiry.
Of the 12 subject committees tasked with reviewing legislation, there are 10 Labour Party Chairs, 1 National Party Chair and 1 Green Party Chair. Government parties hold a majority on all subject committees bar the Primary Production Committee, which contains three Government and three Opposition MPs. Labour holds an outright majority on 7 of the 12 committees.
The purpose, membership, and chairing arrangements of each select committee is as follows (note: committee members are ordered by Chair / Deputy, followed by alphabetical order by last name):

Select Committee


Government members

Opposition members

Subject Committees

Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee

This committee looks at business related to business development, tourism, Crown minerals, commerce, consumer protection and trading standards, research, science, innovation, intellectual property, broadcasting, communications, and information technology

  • Jamie Strange (Labour Party, Chairperson)
  • Naisi Chen (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Glen Bennett (Labour Party)
  • Melissa Lee (National Party)
  • Todd McClay (NationalParty)

Education and Workforce Committee

This committee looks at business related to education, training, employment, immigration, industrial relations, health and safety, and accident compensation.

  • Marja Lubeck (Labour Party, Chairperson)
  • Camilla Belich (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Jan Logie (Green Party)
  • Jo Luxton (Labour Party)
  • Ibrahim Omer (Labour Party)
  • Angela Roberts (Labour Party)
  • Chris Baillie (ACT Party)
  • Paul Goldsmith (National Party)
  • Erica Stanford (National Party)

Environment Committee

This committee looks at business related to conservation, environment, and climate change.

  • Eugenie Sage (Green Party, Chairperson)
  • Rachel Brooking (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Tamati Coffey (Labour Party)
  • Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki (Labour Party)
  • Deborah Russell (Labour Party)
  • Tangi Utikere (Labour Party)
  • Angie Warren-Clark (Labour Party)
  • Simon Court (ACT Party)
  • Debbie Ngarewa-Packer (Māori Party)
  • Scott Simpson (National Party)
  • Stuart Smith (National Party)

Finance and Expenditure Committee

This committee looks at business related to economic and fiscal policy, taxation, revenue, banking and finance, superannuation, insurance, Government expenditure and financial performance, and public audit.

  • Duncan Webb (Labour Party, Chairperson)
  • Barbara Edmonds (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Ingrid Leary (Labour Party)
  • Anna Lorck (Labour Party)
  • Greg O'Connor (Labour Party)
  • Chlöe Swarbrick (Green Party)
  • Helen White (Labour Party)
  • Andrew Bayly (National Party)
  • Damien Smith (ACT Party)
  • Nicola Willis (National Party)
  • Michael Woodhouse (National Party)

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee

This committee looks at business related to customs, defence, disarmament and arms control, foreign affairs, trade and veterans’ affairs.

  • Jenny Salesa (Labour Party, Chairperson)
  • Golriz Gahraman (Green Party)
  • Ingrid Leary (Labour Party)
  • Louisa Wall (Labour Party)
  • Gerry Brownlee (National Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Simon O'Connor (National Party)

Governance and Administration Committee

This committee looks at business related to parliamentary and legislative services, Prime Minister and Cabinet, State services, statistics, internal affairs, civil defence and emergency management, and local government.

  • Tangi Utikere (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Rachel Boyack (Labour Party)
  • Naisi Chen (Labour Party)
  • Barbara Kuriger (National Party, Chairperson)
  • Nicola Grigg (National Party)

Health Committee

This committee looks at business related to health.

  • Liz Craig (Labour Party, Chairperson)
  • Tracey McLellan (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Elizabeth Kerekere (Green Party)
  • Neru Leavasa (Labour Party)
  • Sarah Pallett (Labour Party)
  • Gaurav Sharma (Labour Party)
  • Chris Bishop (National Party)
  • Matt Doocey (National Party)
  • Toni Severin (ACT Party)
  • Simon Watts (National Party)

Justice Committee

The Committee looks at business related to constitutional and electoral matters, human rights, justice, courts, crime and criminal law, police, corrections, and Crown legal services.

  • Ginny Andersen (Labour Party, Chairperson)
  • Vanushi Walters (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Emily Henderson (Labour Party)
  • Willow-Jean Prime (Labour Party)
  • Arena Williams (Labour Party)
  • Simons Bridges (National Party)
  • Simeon Brown (National Party)
  • Nicole McKee (ACT Party)
  • Nick Smith (National Party)

Māori Affairs Committee

This committee looks at business related to Māori affairs and Treaty of Waitangi negotiations

  • Tamati Coffey (Labour Party, Chairperson)
  • Arena Williams (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Paul Eagle (Labour Party)
  • Shanan Halbert (Labour Party)
  • Tuiono Teanau (Green Party)
  • Joseph Mooney (National Party)
  • Todd Muller (National Party)
  • Rawiri Waititi (Māori Party)

Primary Production Committee

This committee looks at business related to agriculture, biosecurity, racing, fisheries, productive forestry, lands, and land information.

  • Jo Luxton (Labour Party, Chairperson)
  • Steph Lewis (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Anna Lorck (Labour Party)
  • David Bennett (National Party)
  • Mark Cameron (ACT Party)
  • Ian McKelvie (National Party)

Social Services and Community Committee

This committee looks at business related to social development, social housing, income support, women, children, young people, seniors, Pacific peoples, ethnic communities, arts, culture and heritage, sport and recreation, voluntary sector.

  • Angie Warren-Clark (Labour Party, Chairperson)
  • Glen Bennett (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Emily Henderson (Labour Party)
  • Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki (Labour Party)
  • Ricardo March (Green Party)
  • Terisa Ngobi (Labour Party)
  • Karen Chhour (ACT Party)
  • Maureen Pugh (National Party)
  • Louise Upston (National Party)

Transport and Infrastructure Committee

This committee looks at business related to transport, transport safety, infrastructure, energy, building and construction.

  • Greg O'Connor (Labour Party, Chairperson)
  • Julie Anne Genter (Green Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Paul Eagle (Labour Party)
  • Shanan Halbert (Labour Party)
  • Terisa Ngobi (Labour Party)
  • Helen White (Labour Party)
  • Christopher Luxon (National Party)
  • James McDowall (ACT Party)
  • Mark Mitchell (National Party)
Specialist Committees

Petitions Committee

This committee oversees and coordinates the petitions process, and considers petitions and any related matters.

  • Shanan Halbert (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)
  • Rachel Boyack (Labour Party)
  • Liz Craig (labour Party)
  • Teanau Tuiono (Green Party)
  • Jacqui Dean (National Party, Chairperson)
  • Tim van de Molen (National Party)

Business Committee

This committee recommends when Parliament meets and when matters are debated (the order of business). It decides who the members of select committees are. It also determines if Parliament meets for extended periods of time (extended settings).

  • Trevor Mallard (Labour Party, Speaker of the House, Chairperson)
  • Chris Hipkins (Labour Party)
  • Jan Logie (Green Party)
  • Kieran McAnulty (Labour Party)
  • Duncan Webb (Labour Party)
  • Michael Wood (Labour Party)
  • Chris Bishop (National Party)
  • Matt Doocey (National Party)
  • Debbie Ngarewa-Packer (Māori Party)
  • Maureen Pugh (National Party)
  • Brooke van Velden (ACT Party)

Standing Orders Committee

This committee reviews and considers the rules that govern how the House operates. These are known as the Standing Orders.

[This committee sits in the third year of each term of Parliament, and membership will be appointed at that time. It is chaired by the Speaker of the House.]

Regulations Review Committee

To keep New Zealand running efficiently, law making powers are often given to bodies that are not Parliament. The Regulations Review Committee makes sure that all these rules have been made fairly and are used consistently.

  • Rachel Brooking (Labour Party, Deputy Chairperson)

  • Steph Lewis (Labour Party)

  • Eugenie Sage (Green Party)

  • Vanushi Walters (Labour Party)

  • Chris Penk (National Party, Chairperson)

  • Penny Simmons (National Party)

Privileges Committee

This committee focuses on the rights and freedoms that allow the House of Representatives to do its work and make laws free from outside interference. These are collectively known as “parliamentary privilege”.

  • Trevor Mallard (Labour Party, Speaker of the House, Chairperson)

  • Chris Hipkins (Labour Party)

  • David Parker (Labour Party)

  • Duncan Webb (Labour Party)

  • Poto Williams (Labour Party)

  • Chris Bishop (National Party)

  • Matt Doocey (National Party)

  • David Seymour (ACT Party)

Officers of Parliament Committee

This committee oversees the officers of Parliament and recommends persons for appointment as officers of Parliament to the House.

[This committee only meets in relation to specific matters of importance, and will have representatives from each party. It is chaired by the Speaker of the House. The size will be determined by the Business Committee.]

Progress of legislation

Bills introduced

COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill
Type of Bill: Government
Member in Charge: Hon Chris Hipkins
This Bill has received Royal Assent. See 'Acts Assented' below for a summary of the resulting legislation.
Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Bill
Type of Bill: Government
Member in Charge: Hon Andrew Little
This Bill has received Royal Assent. See 'Acts Assented' below for a summary of the resulting legislation.
Holidays (Increasing Sick Leave) Amendment Bill
Type of Bill: Government
Member in charge: Hon Michael Wood
This Bill would:

  • Increase the availability of employer-funded sick leave for qualifying employees from 5 days to 10 days per 12 months. 
  • Reduce the number of sick leave days which may be carried over into the next 12 month period from 15 days to 10 days.
  • Maintain the maximum entitlement a qualifying employee could accumulate in any year at 20 days.

The Bill was referred to the Education and Workforce Committee on 1 December 2020.  The Select Committee report is due on 6 April 2021. 
Taxation (Income Tax Rate and Other Amendments) Bill
Type of Bill: Government
Member in Charge: Hon David Parker
This Bill has received Royal Assent. See 'Acts Assented' below for a summary of the resulting legislation.


Bills awaiting first reading
Bills lapsed/withdrawn
Bills before Select Committee

Note: as the 52nd Parliament has now adjourned, all closing dates for submissions will be determined by the 53rd Parliament after the September election.

Submissions open


Select Committee

Closing date for Submissions

Arms (Firearms Prohibition Orders) Amendment Bill (No 2)

Justice Committee

29 Jan 2021

Child Support Amendment Bill

Social Services and Community Committee


Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill

Environment Committee

22 Feb 2021

Education (Strengthening Second Language Learning in Primary and Intermediate Schools) Amendment Bill

Education and Workforce Committee

28 Jan 2021

Electoral (Integrity Repeal) Amendment Bill

Justice Committee

29 Jan 2021

District Court (Protection of Judgment Debtors with Disabilities) Amendment Bill

Justice Committee

29 Jan 2021

Gas (Information Disclosure and Penalties) Amendment Bill

Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee

15 Jan 2021

New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Fair Residency) Amendment Bill

Finance and Expenditure Committee

16 Dec 2020

Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Bill

Justice Committee

28 Feb 2021

Holidays (Increasing Sick Leave) Amendment Bill

Education and Workforce Committee

28 Jan 2021

Protected Disclosures (Protection of Whistleblowers) Bill

Education and Workforce Committee

28 Jan 2021

Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill

Justice Committee

29 Jan 2021

Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill Transport and Infrastructure Committee 26 Feb 2021
Maori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Amendment Bill Māori Affairs Committee TBD
Reserve Bank of New Zealand Bill Finance and Expenditure Committee 04 Feb 2021
Social Security (Financial Assistance for Caregivers) Amendment Bill Social Services and Community Committee TBD
Water Services Bill Health Committee 2 March 2021

Submissions closed


Select Committee

Report Due

Building (Building Products and Methods, Modular Components, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill

Environment Committee

4 Mar 2021

Fair Trading Amendment Bill

Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee

Released without report

Food (Continuation of Dietary Supplements Regulations) Amendment Bill

Primary Production Committee

11 Feb 2021

Insurance (Prompt Settlement of Claims for Uninhabitable Residential Property) Bill

Governance and Administration Committee

12 April 2021

New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Bill

Privileges Committee

4 Mar 2021

Oranga Tamariki (Youth Justice Demerit Points) Amendment Bill Social Services and Community Committee

21 Jan 2021

Organic Products Bill

Primary Production Committee

4 Mar 2021

Overseas Investment Amendment Bill (No 3) Finance and Expenditure Committee 4 Mar 2021
Taxation (Annual Rates for 2020-21, Feasibility Expenditure, and Remedial Matters) Bill Finance and Expenditure Committee 4 Mar 2021

Bills awaiting second reading
Bills awaiting third reading
Bills awaiting Royal Assent
Acts assented

COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Act 2020
This Acts amends the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020.  It aims to align with the new COVID-19 Response portfolio.
The Act makes the following changes:

  • The Minister responsible for the administration of the Act is no longer specified to be the "Minister of Health" but is defined to be a Minister granted authority by the Prime Minister or under a warrant. 
  • Any COVID-19 order must be made in consultation with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Health and any other relevant Minister (to the discretion of the responsible Minister). 
  • COVID-19 orders usually require a 48-hour notice period, with an exception if the Minister or Director-General is satisfied that the order is urgent.  This exception has been expanded to include any order which is only to the effect of removing or reducing requirements imposed by an order.

Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Act 2020
The Drug and Substance Checking Legislation Act amends the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013.  This omnibus Act enables drug and substance checking service providers (Providers) to operate legally in New Zealand.  Under the prior framework of the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Psychoactive Substance Act, organisations and individuals who conducted drug testing were at risk of facing charges of possession or supply if they handle drugs or substances, as are event organisers.  The Act enables the Director-General of Health to appoint Providers to handle controlled drugs and unapproved psychoactive substances without committing an offence.  The Bill does create an offence if a Provider breaches, without reasonable excuse, any terms or conditions of their appointment, or operates as a Provider without being appointed as such.
Taxation (Income Tax Rate and Other Amendments) Act 2020
This Act:

  • Amends the Income Tax Act 2007 and the Tax Administration Act 1994 to introduce a new top personal income tax rate of 39% on annual income that exceeds $180,000.  The new rate applied for the 2021-22 and later income years.
  • Strengthens information-gathering rules by enabling the Commissioner of Inland Revenue to collect information solely for tax policy development purposes as well as introducing the ability to collect further trust information from trustees.
  • Increases the minimum family tax credit threshold for the 2020-21 and later tax years.
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