Tourism Minister not in favour of taxing visitors
Tourism Minister not in favour of taxing visitors - 'We're really expensive to visit'
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism Paula Bennett says she is not keen on a tourist or hotel tax.
Speaking on Q+A this morning, Ms Bennett said: “I’m personally not a big fan,” she said. “Because we’re really expensive to visit.”
Speaking as Police Minister, Ms Bennett said a government plan to increase police numbers by 880 over the next four years was aimed at reducing the crime rate and she said the move “should bring it down.”
“The aim is to have faster response and to prevent crime. It actually takes a lot of resource to work with some of our most dysfunctional families.”
She was also asked about fellow party members Nikki Kaye’s and Maggie Barry’s attacks on Labour’s Deputy Leader Jacinda Adern in the Parliament last month.
“It’s funny that it’s seen as an attack on her, and I don’t really think it was, and it was certainly no harder than I’ve had in my time,” she said.
“It’s politics and you’ve got to be able to stand up and stand on your record and for what you believe in.”
Q + A
Interviewed by JESSICA MUTCH
JESSICA 2019 will be the
China-New Zealand year of tourism. The drive for more
Chinese visitors to New Zealand was announced during the
visit of the Chinese premier this week. China is already our
second biggest visitor market, with a record 400,000 Chinese
visiting last year. But with local councils already
struggling with tourist demand, I asked Paula Bennett if she
thought our infrastructure could cope with
PAULA Yeah, our big focus now is on not so much the quantity but the quality of those that are coming, and I mean that in the way as to how much they spend, where they visit and that they stay a bit longer. And that’s something that the Chinese— they’re great visitors to New Zealand.
JESSICA Because they’re big spenders, right?
PAULA They are. They’re bigger than the average spend, they’re coming a long way, so they stay a bit longer, and you can just see the benefits really being felt throughout New Zealand. So, yes, there will be more Chinese visitors, but as we say, we like them as visitors, we like how they spend their money here, and we think we can give them a unique experience.
JESSICA What about our infrastructure, though? Should they be contributing to those toilets, to the car parks that we need with more visitor numbers?
PAULA Yeah, there definitely is a challenge and some strain on infrastructure, and as a consequence, I don’t think it— It certainly does go to those sorts of facilities like toilets, car parking, in some places sewerage and others. And that’s why we’ve got the mid-sized facility fund that we’ve already spent 3 million. We’ve just opened up another 5.5 million.
JESSICA Because that’s not a huge amount of money, is it?
PAULA No, but it actually goes quite a long way. And that’s not going to be it, I must add. Even with the first 3 million, we were able to do 14 different projects. This 5.5 you’d be expecting another, kind of, 20 projects. And then we’ve got more money, and we’re looking at what we do in the Budget. There’s also strain on DOC, and I think that New Zealanders are feeling that a bit.
JESSICA So will we see more money in that 5.5 million pot that local governments can apply to have things that they need? Will we see an announcement before the election?
PAULA Well, look, we’re certainly working our way through a budget process as we speak. And that’s where TIA and Local Government New Zealand put out their, kind of, wish list, if you like, which looked very long, I’ve got to say, and not all of what would fit in with what we would consider to be core tourism infrastructure. But we recognise that there is a need, and we recognise that government has a role to play in helping to fund some of that so that everyone feels the benefits and not just pain.
JESSICA What about a tourist tax or a hotel tax?
PAULA I’m personally not a big fan.
JESSICA How come?
PAULA Because we’re really expensive to visit. We’re already in different surveys that you look at.
JESSICA But if these are wealthy tourists that we’re trying to attract that we talk about, couldn’t they afford a little tax on the side?
PAULA Yeah, but we don’t want to be— I mean, I don’t mind us being expensive at all. I think that we are unique. We’ve got, you know, just the best package in the world to deliver to them. But we don’t want to be seen as a rip-off, and that’s when it can start turning pretty quickly. So they do contribute a lot through GST and what they’re paying here. Everyone is benefitting — 188,000 people employed in the industry. Now that growing over $40 billion spend. Gosh, I was in Matamata this week, and you could see there from 2009 to now $100 million annually extra going in because of tourism. So that’s signifcant for that district.
JESSICA We’ve got to be careful, though, don’t we? Because it’s got to be a balance of quantity versus quality. Because if you’ve got hundreds of thousands of tourists flooding in, they don’t want to be standing next to 26 German tourists when they take a photo; they want that unique New Zealand experience. How do we make sure we’re just attracting those rich tourists who stay for a long time?
PAULA We don’t want to be just exclusively for rich either. I mean, I love that people— you know, we have some that do the backpacker and the working visas and they travel, and then they come back when they are wealthy and enjoy our country again and they’re more likely to visit different regions and things, which spreads that money around. But I do agree on the quantity now is not such a big focus for us. So as I say, we spend all our time thinking about whom we’re attracting, trying to get them to stay for longer and visit the regions. When it comes to DOC, though, the point you make is exactly right. I do think it’s New Zealanders that get a little bit more antsy about standing on a track with a thousand other people. But actually a lot of the international tourists, they think that’s the norm and not busy.
JESSICA Yeah, we’ve seen examples of that on the show as well where on Tongariro, for example, you’ve got to queue up to get up. What impact are all these tourists having on our national parks, and do we need to be careful of that?
PAULA Yes, we do, definitely. DOC have done some really neat work in how they’ve put extra facilities in, particularly over this summer, so that they can do some work with freedom camping. What you’re talking about, though, is we’ve got a lot of people visiting just a few of our Great Walks or short walks, and we don’t think they know about the others. So we’re working on campaigns that get them going to different places. When you look at Tongariro, which is a great example, the practical girl in me went, ‘Oh, let’s do more car parking, and let’s do get those toilets in.’ And the local community and iwi and DOC are getting together and going, ‘Actually, we can do it smarter than that.’ And they are working together what might look like more people getting shuttled to the bottom, which means businesses are getting money, they’re going to buy their coffee in Ohakune or Ruapehu, which means that the shuttle business gets, you know… And so I think there’s different ways in which we can manage that growth.
JESSICA What about just restricting numbers, though?
PAULA Well, that might restrict numbers if you can’t actually just get to the bottom of it and park; you’ve got to go by shuttle or something. That might be a way of restricting numbers that actually means that everyone gets a great experience when they do it.
JESSICA Might annoy New Zealanders, though, do you think?
PAULA And that’s the point. New Zealanders want access and should have access to our DOC estate. So I think there is work for us to be doing in making sure that we are advertising other walks and other experiences that you can have in New Zealand. It’s not just the only day walk that you can do; there’s a whole lot of them. So DOC are working really hard with Tourism and with local government to work on — and iwi –what those might look like.
JESSICA Because you mentioned freedom campers, which is obviously a very hot topic at the moment. They’ve been labelled feral campers by some over the last couple of weeks. How do we deal with that problem when we say, ‘Come on over. Come and spend.’ And then they’re in the hotels, and it pushes these freedom campers out on to the streets.
PAULA Yeah, a couple of things. So the first thing I want to really staunchly do is differentiate between those that are here in motor vans and motorhomes. They actually spend more. The average spend for travellers is around 3200. Their spend is 5200. They are actually wonderful visitors to New Zealanders.
JESSICA Most of the time.
PAULA No, all of the— Well, I can’t say all of them.
JESSICA Some of them.
PAULA Most of them are very, very respectful. Then there’s what I would then term freedom campers. They are the ones that are coming over and either buying a cheap car or going in these non-self-contained motorhomes and getting around and actually not treating our environment as respectfully as we want. So the first thing is providing more freedom camping spaces for them. Local Government, DOC, Tourism, we’re working really hard on that and making a big difference. And I do think we need better education as to what’s acceptable in New Zealand and not. But some of the behaviour we’ve seen, there’s been toilets literally metres away and they haven’t used them. I mean, that’s just appalling, quite frankly.
JESSICA And we’re back with our
extended interview with Paula Bennett, this time in her role
as Police Minister. Judith Collins had a reputation when
she was the minister for being on the side of police when
you’ve come into the job is it something you feel like you
have to replicate or did you need to do a bit of a shake-up
what was your stance coming in?
PAULA I got the portfolio because I just have such a deep admiration for police, for what they do on the front line, for the difference that they make. As a Minister of Social Development, we worked really closely with them and Child, Youth and Family, really closely with them in domestic violence. Of course I know my local police, as you do always as an electorate MP. And so my admiration— And, I tell you, it’s gone up since being minister. How hard they work – their dedication – is just extraordinary. So that was easy. I had it before I got the job. And it is honestly a privilege to be their minister, and I just— I see my role as their support person, to be quite honest. I mean, they know what drives— what’s needed to be done in our communities; they know how to prevent crime, and I just want to support them in that however I can.
JESSICA And perhaps while you’re announcing more of them, because part of the announcement this year – 880 over the next four years. That’s 220 a year. Do--? That’s a big boost.
JESSICA Does it show that National’s undercooked on policing numbers for the last nine years?
PAULA No, because we’ve done, actually, the equivalent of almost more than that in the last eight years. And, I mean, the technology advances that they got as far as the tablets and the freeing up of police hours was huge – 600 extra police.
JESSICA But this is a big boost, though.
PAULA Yeah, it is. So, look, I wouldn’t say catch-up, but I would say that we needed to look at what was needed over the next four years, and we went through a really robust process of actually doing a business case alongside of that, because I didn’t just want to throw more police numbers in. I wanted it to be making a significant difference to our communities, and that’s what I think this package delivers.
JESSICA You don’t want to use the word ‘catch-up’, but, I guess, 70,000 people are coming into New Zealand each year . Over the next four years, will we have to adjust those numbers?
PAULA Well, I mean, I’m not going to talk— I can talk about immigration if you like, but there’s no doubt about it that we’ve had a population increase, and as a consequence of that, then we need more front-line services, as we do in health and education and in police as well, so, you know, that is part of why we increased the numbers.
JESSICA You talked about other solutions as well. These boost of police numbers coming in – is the end game to reduce crime? And is there evidence that this will do it? By having more police on the street, it’ll bring the crime rate down?
PAULA Yeah, so, absolutely the aim is to have faster response and to prevent crime. This— And it actually takes a lot of resource to work with some of our most dysfunctional families.
JESSICA Will it bring it down, though?
PAULA It should bring it down. It’s absolutely our game, and our— the goal, sorry, with the Police Commissioner is to be reducing crime. I mean, these police are in the homes of our most dysfunctional families – more than anyone else in our highest-crime families. They often don’t have the time, because they are busy and are going to the next job, to actually make sure that there is the follow-up, and the work that needs to be done in many, many different cases, they will be able to do that. So, like, one of the goals was to reduce truancy. Well, that’s not normally the job of police, but they know that by making sure that kids are in school that that means that they’re less likely to prev— to be doing crimes, and so that’s another prevention measure.
JESSICA Because that’s one of the side things, because it feels sometimes like just putting more police numbers, it’s the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. But some of those things do work more. How do you balance that as minister to get that right? How do you get that advice in and say, ‘Right, this is what we need. 220 will make a difference and will bring it down’?
PAULA Yeah, as I say, a lot of work over summer. It’s kind of what I spent January doing was really drilling into that. Domestic violence is another area – you know, 110 call-outs for police each year, them then having a bit of time to spend with the family and have the follow-up over the next few days.
JESSICA I want to ask you about small towns as well – regional centres. You’ve had a bit of attention on this in the last few days. You’ve had Thames, where it was quite an interesting public meeting, where they laid out their concerns. We’ve seen Kaikohe as well with the young boys trying to get into the service station. Will these regions get a boost from some of these police numbers? Because the message they’re sending out is they’re not feeling super safe at the moment.
PAULA Yeah. So, all of them— So all districts are getting an increase. The Commissioner will be making announcements about that in the upcoming weeks, because he’s been going through the area commanders and working out exactly where they will be going to. But certainly areas like that will see an increase in the number of front-line police officers.
JESSICA Because— You’ll call me a cynical journalist for asking this question, but it seems in election year, to be able to say this to all those concerns, ‘Don’t worry, guys. Cavalry’s on the way,’ it must make your job a little bit easier for the next five months – being able to say that when people raise these concerns.
PAULA Well, it just means that we listened to them, have seen a need and, as any responsible government is, that we’ve responded to it.
JESSICA Do you feel
sympathy for these guys who feel like in the regions
they’ve been left alone a
PAULA I just— I feel like they’ve got a unique set of circumstances that they’re trying to deal with, but I can tell you they feel it in Auckland and they feel it in Wellington as well, so it’s not just a rural kind of issue. 140 of those officers, though, would be exclusively rural, which I think’s really important.
JESSICA I want to ask about pay as well, because the time’s going past so quickly. But in terms of police wages, do you feel in Auckland that there could be a special wage for cops to live here so that they’d stay on in the police?
PAULA Well, I mean that gets really difficult, because you’ve just identified that places like Thames and Kaikohe want more police as well.
JESSICA Could you give them an allowance too?
PAULA So, yeah, you’re sort of saying everyone should get an allowance, and we pretty much do that every year because police get a pay increase, and they had quite a reasonable one last year that we’re still going to be paying off.
JESSICA Auckland’s tough, though, isn’t it, with the housing market at the moment?
PAULA Yeah, but then some of our rural communities are trying to attract police there as well, and that’s a different set of challenging circumstances. So I don’t want to play Auckland off against the rest of the country, and I’m not convinced at this stage that they should be getting more pay than other police.
JESSICA I want to ask you a deputy leadership question now. We saw Jacinda Ardern come newly into the position. There was an attack, if you like, or some strong words form Nikki Kaye and Maggie Barry. Do you regret the way that that played out?
PAULA Yeah, it’s funny that it’s seen as an attack on her, and I don’t really think it was, and it was certainly no harder than I’ve had in my time. My goodness, I remember my first year as a minister, and they said, ‘We’re going for her.’ You know? Yeah, Labour thought I was a weak link, and they went for me.
JESSICA Did you feel sorry for her, then, in that way?
PAULA No, it’s politics, and you’ve got to be able to stand up and stand on your record and stand up for what you believe in, and I just think that that’s, you know—
JESSICA I mean, using words like ‘superficial’, ‘cosmetic’, ‘facelift’, that feels like a little bit of a dig to her as a woman. Don’t you think? Did that irk you a bit?
PAULA I don’t know. Winston Peters called me fat in public many times, and I’ve decided to ignore it and move on, so, look, it’s not always fair, and I don’t always think we like what we say sometimes and that sort of thing, but it is pretty robust, and we’ve got to be able to stick up for ourselves and concentrate on what matters.
JESSICA Do you think it should be kept professional, though? It should be--?
PAULA Of course it should, and we all should be, and we’re all not perfect all of the time, but I think that Jacinda stepped into a really big role. She’s obviously really enjoying it. I see her most days, and in that capacity, good on her and go for it.
JESSICA Are you targeting
her because National’s a bit
PAULA Nah, she’s fine. Look, what Labour does with their leadership and everything else is really their business, and we’ll stick to ours and what we’re trying to deliver for New Zealanders.