This morning, Governor-General Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy delivered the Speech from the Throne at the State Opening of Parliament.
The State Opening of Parliament and Speech from the Throne allows the Government to set the tone for its legislative policy agenda and focus for the next three years. It follows yesterday's Commission Opening of Parliament, where Parliament is formally opened and Members take the Oath or Affirmation of Allegiance to the Crown, and marks the return of MPs to the rigours of the debating chamber after a long election campaign.
The Speech from "the Throne" reflects New Zealand status as a constitutional monarchy, noting it is pre-written by the new Cabinet, and merely delivered by the Governor-General as the Queen's representative in New Zealand.
The Speech from the Throne does not bind the Government in any way – it is merely a statement of intent at the outset of the Parliamentary term. As 2020 has reminded us all, circumstances change, and so can the legislative agenda or Government priorities.
Given Labour's historic election victory and ability to govern alone, the tone and content of the speech largely repeats the Labour Party manifesto with some new focus on housing affordability reflecting more recent developments around how to manage significant and ongoing housing price increases not previously forecast or anticipated. The focus is on COVID-19, economic recovery, climate change, housing affordability, homelessness and child poverty. Free of confidence-and-supply and coalition agreements (a significant feature of the last Government), no compromises on Labour's agenda were required (noting there is still a working agreement with the Greens).
Following the State Opening of Parliament and Speech from the Throne, MPs commence the first major debate in reply to the Governor-General's speech, known as the "Address in Reply". The debate will last for 19 hours in total, and will span approximately three weeks as it is interspersed with legislative business. For those who won't be making the time to watch the full 19 hours, you may like to check out the highlights – including the speeches from party leaders (which will open the debate this afternoon), as well as the maiden speeches from the 40 new MPs elected to Parliament this term. Parliamentary proceedings are livestreamed here.
Housing, child poverty and climate: 53rd Parliament in crisis management mode
The speech acknowledged that the 53rd Parliament commences in a time of "unparalleled international crisis", and that despite our success in eliminating COVID-19 within our borders, New Zealand is not immune to deteriorating conditions abroad.
With that said, the Government is clear that COVID-19 is not the only matter that requires urgent attention, with affordable housing and homelessness, child poverty and the global climate crisis presenting their own challenges.
With those in mind, the Government has three overarching objectives for this Parliamentary term:
1. Keep New Zealanders safe from COVID-19. This includes:
- A continued strong health response, being the best chance for setting the stage for a strong economic recovery.
- A continued commitment to a strategy of elimination.
- The continued maintenance of multiple lines of defence, including a strong border, effective contact tracing and vaccinations. The Government confirmed that planning for quarantine free travel zones is currently underway with the Cook Islands, Niue and Australia, and that vaccines will be free. An allocation of up to 10% of MIQ spaces for critical workers was also confirmed as a key policy to support economic recovery while maintaining strong border protections.
2. Support an accelerated economic recovery:
- Labour's five point plan remains the centre-piece of the economic recovery plan, including to:
- invest in people through training;
- create jobs;
- future-proof the economy, including by continuing to transition to a net-zero emissions economy
- support small business; and
- position New Zealand as a world-class trader and nation for investment.
- Increased infrastructure investment is the corner stone of this plan, with $42 billion earmarked for major initiatives. This includes $9.6 billion to Waka Kotahi (NZTA) to invest in new roads and public transport projects; $3.8 billion to education facilities; $3.6 billion committed to health to build new hospital facilities across the country; $9.8 billion to Kāinga Ora over the next four years; and $710 million to initiate the overhaul of water infrastructure as part of the three waters reform programme. The Government also indicated funds will be available for smaller community infrastructure such as pools, stadiums, libraries, marae and museums.
- The Government has committed to pursuing high quality and comprehensive trade agreements, to expand the CPTPP and the digital economic partnership agreement. It also intends to continue to progress the trade relationship with the United States – including in new areas, such as digital and green tech.
- The Innovative Partnerships programme and NZTE's international investment attraction teams will be expanded to attract companies to invest in New Zealand.
- The Government plans to implement a range of measures to support small business, including the regulation of merchant service fees and the introduction of digital training programmes to help business digitise.
- The minimum wage is expected to increase to $20 next year, and the Living Wage will be extended to cleaning, catering and security guards (who are paid by the public service). Fair pay agreements will be implemented to set minimum standards for pay and conditions, and sick leave entitlements will be increased.
- The Resource Management Act also received a (dishonourable) mention. An exposure draft of key elements of legislation to replace the RMA is expected to be released in the first half of 2021, and the Randerson Review was mentioned as providing a sound platform for this reform.
3. Lay the foundations for a better future. This includes:
- A continued focus on wellbeing as a measure for success.
- Greening the economy, including by bringing forward the 100% renewable energy target to 2030, investigating dry year storage options (for example, pumped hydro), and investing in emerging green technologies. The Government will respond to the first set of Climate Budgets recommended by the new Climate Commission.
- Decarbonising transport, including by increasing the Low Emissions Vehicles Contestable Fund, and prioritising investment in public transport.
- Bolstering efforts in sustainable farming.
- The continued overhaul of the welfare system – including that benefits will be indexed to increases in the average wage.
- A continued focus on housing affordability, including a review of housing settings to improve access for first home buyers.
The speech was careful to acknowledge Labour's historic majority in the House and the mandate it has been afforded by the New Zealand public, with its arrangements with the Greens acknowledged as a means of bring further stability to Government. Exactly what sway the Greens will be able to bring to Labour's majority remains to be seen.
The full text of the Speech from the Throne can be accessed here.
Parliament opening allows the Business Committee to convene. The Business Committee recommends when Parliament meets and when matters are debated (the order of business). It also decides who the members of select committees are and determines if Parliament meets for extended periods of time (extended settings).
Oral questions will begin in the week of 30 November, the first sitting day of which is Tuesday 1 December. The House will adjourn on Wednesday 9 December until Tuesday 9 February 2021.
The Order Paper was also released today, indicating which Government bills will be before the House. Most relevantly, these include:
- Building (Building Products and Methods, Modular Components, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill
- Fair Trading Amendment Bill
- Financial Market Infrastructures Bill
- Financial Markets (Conduct of Institutions) Amendment Bill
- Gas (Information Disclosure and Penalties) Amendment Bill
- Overseas Investment Amendment Bill (No 3)
- Water Services Bill
The Order Paper is available here.