Beehive Bulletin - Thursday 23 Dec 2004
Changes to Cabinet portfolios
Prime Minister Helen Clark this week announced changes to ministerial portfolio allocations affecting all but four Cabinet ministers. Helen Clark said Cabinet numbers would be maintained at 18 after the departure of Margaret Wilson in February next year, when Finance Minister Michael Cullen will also become Attorney-General. Helen Clark says the changes gave key ministers new challenges and brought new ministers into key areas in the health and education portfolios (Pete Hodgson and David Benson-Pope.) The new line-up of portfolios gives fresh impetus to important policy areas in the period leading up to the general election, while also maintaining continuity, says Helen Clark.
Increase in minimum wage
The minimum wage will increase from $9 to $9.50 per hour from 21 March 2005. Labour Minister Paul Swain says the Labour-led government has increased the minimum wage every year since 1999. This boost to low wage earners has not been at the expense of jobs, as minimum wage increases have kept pace with strong economic growth over the same period. Paul Swain says it is important that minimum wage rates provide a realistic incentive to work, relative to a benefit. The minimum hourly rate for workers aged 16 and 17 years will move from $7.20 to $7.60 an hour, to keep it at 80% of the adult minimum wage. The minimum training wage will move to the same rate. These changes will benefit about 35,000 adult workers and 6,500 youth workers. More info @ www.ers.dol.govt.nz
Cabinet decisions on land access
The government has decided to embrace the Queen's Chain ethos, which would see walking access extended along waterways with access value throughout the country. Rural Affairs Minister Jim Sutton says Cabinet had endorsed a three-year programme, which would see a new access agency clearly set out legal access where it currently exists and negotiate walking access across private property where there is currently none. However, the Queen's Chain will not be automatically extended to cover all missing areas along rivers, lakes, and beaches and this new access would only be for walkers, not vehicles, or people with dogs or guns. Jim Sutton says the new 5 metre-wide access ways would also give way to a 50 metre exclusion zone around houses, and a 20 metre zone around farm buildings. The government will introduce a bill into Parliament mid next year and provide for further public input.
Economy grows almost 20 per cent in 5 years
Strong growth of 0.6 per cent in the September GDP data means that the economy has grown almost 20 per cent in the last five years. Finance Minister Michael Cullen says this translates in real income per person to an increase of 15 per cent. That is a good result for New Zealanders and is reflected in high household consumption, up 6.1 per cent over the September year. Michael Cullen says although the figures show the high dollar is beginning to affect export performance, a large part of the 5.7 per cent drop was due to dairy exports which were down 24 per cent over the quarter, much of that due to the late start to the season.
Government increases aged care funding
The government has given district health boards an additional $18m to fund residential care for older people. Associate Health Minister Ruth Dyson says the new money will enable DHBs to offer a three per cent increase in their contracts for aged residential care, up from the current offer of one per cent. In spite of increased funding of $52m for aged care facilities since 2001, the Labour-led government is still trying to reverse a decade of neglect by the previous National government. The injection of a further $18m will help address immediate cost pressures on residential services but Ruth Dyson says more work needed to be done to address long-term issues in the aged care sector. A working party, which includes representatives from the Ministry of Health, providers, unions and other stakeholders, will provide a report to the government early in the New Year.
More kids receive early childhood education
Participation in early childhood education is strengthening, particularly for Maori and Pasifika children. Education Minister Trevor Mallard says the latest Ministry of Education statistics show that 94 per cent of children have participated in early childhood education before they enter school. In 2004, the actual numbers of Maori children participating in early childhood education increased by 3.95 per cent to 35,232 compared to 2003, and by 1.88 per cent to 12,061 for Pasifika children. The Labour-led government has invested heavily in increasing the number of children in quality early childhood education - as research shows that a child receiving a top quality education before they get to school, will improve their educational achievement in later years. These statistics show this investment is showing positive early returns, says Trevor Mallard.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all Beehive Bulletin readers
We'll be back on January 21