It's been a busy seven days as we start to rebuild New Zealand together. From delivering extra support for small businesses, to investing in our artists and arts organisations, to cutting red tape on home DIY projects, we're rolling out our plan to get the economy and New Zealand moving again.
New Zealanders deserve to be able to go down to their local swimming spot in summer and put their head under without getting sick. That’s why, this week, the Government announced a freshwater package that will clean up our rivers and lakes, create jobs, and benefit New Zealand’s agricultural exports and tourism.
The primary sector and other groups will be assisted through the implementation of the new clean water standards with a $700 million fund that will create jobs in riparian and wetland planting, removing sediments, and other initiatives to prevent farm run-off entering waterways.
Cleaning up our waterways will help to secure the future of our meat, dairy, and other primary exports and ensure they continue to earn higher prices overseas. Investing in these areas makes economic and environmental sense.
Small businesses, and the people who work in them, are a crucial part of the recovery and rebuild. The Government’s interest-free loans for small- and medium-sized businesses passed a billion-dollar milestone this week, helping to protect jobs and keep businesses going as they deal with the impacts of COVID-19. So far, over 55,000 businesses have applied for the scheme, and 95% have already been approved.
We’re supporting businesses and jobs in other ways too, like helping with fixed costs for SMEs. This includes providing tax refunds and delivering the wage subsidy, along with commercial property reform and consultancy support. We now have a substantive package to help firms and sole traders get through the initial impacts of COVID-19 and start looking ahead to recovery.
The Government has announced a COVID-19 vaccine strategy, which will enable New Zealand scientists to contribute to global research efforts and explore New Zealand’s vaccine manufacturing capability.
The strategy will ensure New Zealand has detailed, timely knowledge of key international research efforts and is well-positioned to assess promising vaccine tenders as they emerge. It outlines how New Zealand will contribute to global efforts by ramping up our own capability, working with the international community, and supporting our Pacific neighbours in the deployment of a vaccine once it becomes available.
New Zealand will also advocate internationally for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, with a particular focus on ensuring access for our Pacific Island partners.
The cultural sector was amongst the worst hit by the economic effects of the global pandemic. Museums, galleries, and heritage sites closed and individual artists and arts organisations like dance and theatre companies saw their incomes stall. Funding announced this week will help them to get back on their feet as we start to rebuild in the face of COVID-19. New jobs will be created, and the sector will be assisted to innovate and connect with new audiences.
In addition, a jobseekers’ programme for the creative sector and four new funds have been set up by the Government to help our arts and music industry recover. This suite of initiatives will help protect cultural sector jobs and create new employment opportunities, build skills, knowledge and resilience, protect Māori knowledge and art forms, and continue to provide inspiration for all New Zealanders as we get our country moving again.
The Government has announced a new temporary payment to support New Zealanders who lose their jobs due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, helping them to adjust and find new employment or retrain. The new COVID Income Relief Payment is introduced alongside a wider work programme considering future employment insurance.
The payment acknowledges that the global economy is facing a 1-in-100-year recession, and supports our Government’s priority to protect jobs where possible and support workers back into jobs where necessary. It will be available for 12 weeks from 8 June for anyone who has lost their job due to the impact of COVID-19 since 1 March, and will pay $490 per week to those who lost full-time work and $250 for part-time.
Homeowners, builders, and DIYers will soon have an easier time making basic home improvements as the Government scraps the need for consents for low-risk building work such as sleep-outs, sheds, and carports. This will allow the construction sector to fire back up faster on larger projects to provide jobs and assist the country’s recovery from COVID-19.
The Government is introducing new exemptions to the Building Act in a move that will save homeowners $18 million in consenting costs each year, though building work must still meet the Building Code.
These changes will also mean councils can focus on higher-risk building work, boosting the building and construction sector in the COVID-19 recovery.
The Ministry of Education and NZEI Te Riu Roa have agreed to settle the pay equity claim for teacher aides. This is a milestone for teacher aides and a significant step towards addressing pay equity for women in the education sector. It will see more than 22,000 teacher aides, mostly women, being appropriately valued and paid fairly for the work they do.
Teacher aides are frontline educators who work closely with some of our most vulnerable children. They’re playing an important role in our schools as we respond to the challenges of COVID-19 and get the country back on its feet.
The Government’s ban on smoking in cars with kids became law this week, after the third reading of Smoke-free Environments (Prohibiting Smoking in Motor Vehicles Carrying Children) Amendment Bill passed unanimously. This law makes it an offence to smoke in a motor vehicle carrying anyone under 18 years old.
We’re doing this because children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. New Zealand should be the best place in the world to be a child; this is another step towards our goal that puts the interests of kids first.