Election 2020

Election 2020 latest: National’s ‘MySmile’ policy, Labour tackles ECE pay parity

Newsroom's political team reports on the day's biggest election news: National says Kiwi kids need better access to dental services, as Labour says it will reduce the pay gap for teachers in early childhood education

The National Party has proposed a 30 percent increase to funding for youth dental services, saying early intervention will save on costs for future generations.

The party's MySmile policy, or Tamariki Niho Ora, would lead to an additional $30 million a year being invested in the childhood oral health programme.

National would also increase resources for paediatric and school dental services, while introducing a programme for schoolchildren in high-need areas to improve their oral health.

The initiative, based on Scotland's Childsmile programme, would provide children with an annual dental health pack, an oral health education programme, and a free fluoride varnish.

Parents, kindergartens and schools would be able to opt out of the scheme, the party said.

National leader Judith Collins said the MySmile policy was part of her party's social investment approach to provide targeted interventions in childhood for lifelong benefits. For each dollar spent on the policy, there could be up to $5 in benefit.

“There are currently 120,000 Kiwi kids on dental waiting lists. We will provide the resources to ensure children most at need can get the access to quality dental care they deserve," Collins said.

Labour tackles ECE pay gap

Earlier in the day, the Labour Party announced some of its own policies aimed at benefiting children, pledging to put $600m towards closing the pay gap for teachers in early childhood education, while also rolling out free school lunches to around 200,000 students.

However, the party has ruled out extending its fees-free scheme for tertiary education beyond the first year, instead focusing on apprenticeships and targeting trades training.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced the party’s education policy in Wellington on Tuesday morning, saying Covid-19 had “exposed and magnified the existing inequities in our system”.

“Our plan for education builds on the gains we have made in our first term in government to improve the wellbeing and lift the achievement levels of all students,” Hipkins said.

The party was committed to closing the pay gap for teachers working in early childhood education, care centres and kindergartens, which he said had built up over time after the last National government stopped passing on increased kindergarten funding rates that met the cost of pay settlements to education and care services.

Labour would also expand the current Free and Healthy Lunches in School programme, which has already been rolled out to more than 8000, to around 200,000 students in 2021, focusing on those in schools with the highest disadvantage.

Hipkins said the “blunt and outdated decile system” would be replaced with an equity index from 2022, assess the level of disadvantage in a school by measuring the entire student population.

In tertiary education, he confirmed Labour would retain its first-year fees-free programme but would not expand it to cover additional years, instead targeting areas that would be vital to the post-Covid recovery such as free apprenticeships and targeted areas of vocational training.

“As the country rebuilds and more people are looking to retrain, it’s now more important than ever that we have a vocational education system that’s responsive to the needs of industry and learners,” Hipkins said.

Labour’s education package would cost approximately $1.7b over four years, slightly less than the $1.9b package announced by National on Monday.

JLR bails on Botany

Disgraced ex-National MP Jami-Lee Ross has abandoned a bid to hold onto his Botany electorate in favour of a list-only spot, claiming his new party is still on track to enter Parliament.

Ross left the National Party in late 2018 after then-leader Simon Bridges accused him of leaking his expenses to media, with the Botany MP in turn making claims of electoral fraud against Bridges and National.

However, it was Ross himself who was ultimately charged by the Serious Fraud Office, along with three other men, over allegations of $100,000 donations to the party being split into smaller parcels to evade disclosure requirements (all four have maintained their innocence).

The MP has also faced bullying and sexual impropriety claims by numerous women, as revealed by Newsroom.

Facing an uphill battle to retain his Botany seat after National selected former Air New Zealand chief executive Chris Luxon, Ross has now chosen to abandon the contest in favour of a list-only spot with his new party, Advance NZ.

In a statement, Ross claimed the party's co-leader Billy Te Kahika - founder of the conspiracy-driven NZ Public Party, which formed an electoral alliance with Advance NZ earlier this year - was "on track" to win the Te Tai Tokerau seat currently held by Labour's Kelvin Davis and cross the one-seat threshold.

“I could not do justice to our 60 candidates, our 7000 members, and the thousands of volunteers, while also properly running in the three-way contest here on the ground [in Botany]," Ross said.

Ross said he was proud of his achievements as Botany's MP since 2010, but believed his energy was best focused on taking a new party into Parliament.

"This wasn't the decision I expected to be making three years ago, but I'm focused on the future, not the past."

Shaw announces climate risk reporting regime

Climate Change Minister James Shaw has announced the Government will require New Zealand's financial sector to report on climate risks.

However, the new rules will not come into effect until 2023 at the earliest, provided the legislation enabling them is passed by Parliament.

Shaw said businesses covered by the regime would have to make annual disclosures that covered their governance arrangements, risk management, and strategies for mitigating any climate change impacts. If a business was unable to make a disclosure, it would need to explain why that was the case.

The rules would apply to registered banks, credit unions and building societies with total assets of more than $1 billion; managers of registered investment schemes with more than $1b of total assets under management; licensed insurers with more than $1b in total assets under management or annual premium income of more than $250 million; and all equity and debt issuers listed on the NZX.

Shaw said Crown financial institutions with more than $1b in assets under management, such as ACC and the NZ Super Fund, would also be required to make annual disclosures, with around 200 organisations in total covered by the criteria.

The changes would "bring climate risks and resilience into the heart of financial and business decision making", he said, helping large businesses to better understand how climate change would affect their work.

“What gets measured, gets managed – and if businesses know how climate change will impact them in the future they can change and adopt low carbon strategies."

* This article was last updated at 2.15pm

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