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Modernisation Of Public Trust Takes Another Step

The modernisation of Public trust took another step yesterday with the introduction of the Government's Public Trust Bill.

Established in 1873, Public Trust operates under a 43-year old statute.

Minister in charge of Public Trust, Jim Anderton, said the effects of outdated legislation were highlighted this year when Public Trust reported a loss for the financial year to 30 June 2000.

"Public Trust needs new laws to ensure it can provide services effectively. The Government has ensured that its new direction will not diminish the special place Public Trust has always occupied in New Zealand business and society.

"The new laws ensure Public Trust is retained in public ownership and balance the need to operate a successful enterprise against its social and public responsibilities," Jim Anderton said.

The Bill clarifies ownership of Public Trust. In March 1999 the full bench of the Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that there are no private interests in public Trust reserves.

Confirmation of Crown ownership allows future funding of Public Trust to be put on a proper basis. Public Trust’s present reserves of $77.8 million are far more than it needs. The Bill makes provision for a one-off distribution of surplus funds as well as for the payment of possible future dividends out of annual earnings.

"The Government intends that Public Trust will continue to provide wills free of charge to any New Zealander who wants one if they nominate Public Trust as executor," Jim Anderton said.

"This is a significant activity and one that costs Public Trust millions of dollars a year to provide. While I support free wills as an important public service, Public Trust has been in the position of being required to meet the costs of that service out of other current revenues. The Bill therefore requires that the provision of non-commercial services such as free wills must be formally agreed and the anticipated costs recorded by way of an appropriation.

"This mechanism will not divert additional funds to Public Trust but will make transparent the real costs."

The Bill expressly requires Public Trust to act independently from direction by the Government in managing estates and trusts. Customer privacy and confidentiality is also specifically assured.

The operations and undertaking of the existing Public Trust Office will be vested in a new statutory corporation to be known as Public Trust. Public Trust will cease to be a Government Department, becoming instead a Crown entity.

A Board will be established which will be responsible to the Minister. The Board, rather than the Government, will fix Public Trust interest rates, commissions and other charges:

Ends

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