This year, on September 23, New Zealand will vote on who gets to lead the country for the next three years. We've watched the unbelievable political events in the US and the UK, and now it's our turn. If there's anything that we can take from the wild currents of world politics it's that young people have to get out there and vote. Because the politicians elected to Parliament are the ones who will make important decisions about our future. But in amongst the spin and the bluster, it can be hard to know exactly who to vote for. Who stands for what? Who stands against what? Who cares about the issues that are important to you?
We get it.
So, in the lead-up to the election, Villainesse has reached out to politicians from all of the parties currently in Parliament, asking them why they think they deserve the vote of young women. In our 2017 election series, 'The Pitch', we've asked politicians to make their case to you so that when you go to the ballot box you'll know exactly where they stand.
Next in the series, we have Minister for Women and Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, of the National Party. Here's her pitch to you.
Give us the elevator pitch: why should young women vote for you?
Young women should vote for policies. I believe the National Party has created and continues to create opportunities for young women. They should vote for the nearly 60,000 fewer children living in benefit-dependent households since 2011. They should vote for the 55,000 care and support workers receiving their share of a $2 billion pay rise. They should vote for the community-based midwives who are set to receive their share of an $8 million pay increase. They should vote for a party that’s committed to closing the gender pay-gap through better reporting in the public service and ongoing work with the private sector. They should vote for a party that has extended paid parental leave to 18-weeks. They should vote for a party that has allowed workers to have flexible work rights.
If you are elected, what - if anything - will you do to close the gender pay gap?
As Minister for Women and Minister for State Services, I already have a significant programme underway for helping to close the Gender Pay Gap. The Ministry for Women released some new research recently which shows the GPG is around 12% and has remained that way for over a decade. I find this simply unacceptable.
We’re leading the way in the public sector. The State Services Commission publishes agencies’ Gender Pay Gaps every year, and agencies outline actions they are taking to address issues in their Four Year Plans. It’s important the public sector leads by example here.
The Ministry for Women is now also working with the Private Sector to encourage businesses to measure and publicly release their Gender Pay Gap results.
This Government recently approved a $2 billion pay equity settlement for aged care workers. Having worked in this female-dominated industry, I know what huge difference this will make to the lives of these workers.
What economic benefits will you deliver for young women?
We’ve made huge in-roads already for women in education and training. Fewer girls than boys leave school without any qualifications, and 60% of people who gain tertiary certificates, diplomas and bachelors degrees or above are women.
Women are participating in the labour force more than ever before at 65.3%. Along with strong employment growth this is good news as more women are contributing to a productive and innovative workforce.
Over 200,000 more jobs were created over the last three years and another 215,000 are expected by 2021.
Paid Parental Leave has been extended from 16-18 weeks.
We’re also working to encourage women into industries that typically attracted men. Along with the work that we’re doing in closing the GPG, I think women are better placed than ever to do well economically.
How will you combat violence against women (including domestic violence)?
Last year we announced the ‘Safer Sooner’ overhaul of New Zealand’s family violence laws.
The changes to the law include, putting the safety of victims at the heart of bail decisions, creating three new offences of strangulation, coercion to marry and assault on a family member, making it easier to apply for a Protection Orders, allowing others to apply on a victim’s behalf, and better providing for the rights of children under Protection Orders, wider range of programmes able to be ordered when Protection Order imposed and enabling the setting of codes of practice across the sector.
The law will underpin the wider work of the Ministerial Group on Family Violence and Sexual Violence.
What will you do to reduce rates of sexual violence and improve the way that the justice system deals with crimes of sexual violence?
In the latest Budget we announced $37.2 million to reduce family and sexual violence. The Government is focused on reducing family violence through a number of programmes including the Integrated Safety Response Pilot which was recently extended. This programme is helping to improve the safety of family violence victims and stop family violence escalating by ensuring agencies and NGOs identify risks and intervene earlier.
We also have the E Tū Whānau Community Action Fund, and the community-based Gang Action Plan pilots.
The E Tū Whānau programme shows the role Māori leadership and community-led approaches have in preventing family violence. The programme is helping hard-to-reach whānau to reduce violence and improve wellbeing.
This programme complements the Government’s Gang Action Plan, which aims to break intergenerational gang life and reduce the social harm caused to whānau. We know that a high proportion of gang members’ partners are at higher risk of family violence and sexual violence, and that their children experience multiple incidents of abuse or neglect.
These initiatives are part of the wider work being led by the Ministerial Group on Family Violence and Sexual Violence.
Where do you stand on abortion legislation? Would you like to see it changed? If so, what changes would you make?
Personally, I’m pro-choice. But a change in legislation is not on the Government’s agenda at the moment. If this was to be debated, it will probably have to be a Private Members Bill and there isn’t one in the ballot at the moment. Any member of parliament who’s not a Minister can put forward a bill on this. If it was drawn, it would then be a conscience issue and I would decide how to vote on that at the time as I would want to ensure that women are better off.
How will you ensure that New Zealand’s environment is protected for future generations?
Climate change is certainly one of the largest environmental challenges of our time. New Zealand is making an important and worthwhile contribution to the global effort to combat climate change through the historic Paris Agreement. Our targets to reduce emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 are ambitious and fair.
In other areas we have set water quality standards for the first time, introduced Marine Reserves and are working on establishing the Kermadecs Ocean Sanctuary, launched the ambitious Predator Free 2050 programme and Battle for the Birds, set a target of 90% renewable energy and to double the number of electric vehicles in New Zealand each year to reach 64,000 by 2021.
In your opinion, what is the role of te Tiriti o Waitangi in modern-day Aotearoa?
The Treaty was a guarantee that the Crown would treat Māori with respect and honour and would deal in good faith.
The Crown hasn’t always met its obligations which has caused harm to Māori and their descendants.
The past can’t be undone. But we have embarked on a comprehensive process of reconciliation and recompense for past wrongs. This is a matter of justice, but also doing what is right.
As the ultimate goal, we will set the basis for a much healthier ongoing relationship between the Crown and Māori. For me, the Treaty governs the relationship between Māori and everyone else and ensures the rights of both Māori and Pākehā are protected.
Are you concerned about rising levels of inequality in New Zealand? If so, what would you do to close the gap?
Our economy is performing well and because of that, this Government announced in the latest Budget a $2 billion a year Family Incomes Package, which is designed to provide better rewards for hard work, to help families with young children meet their living costs, and improve incomes for those struggling with high housing costs.
New Zealand families deserve to directly benefit from strong economic growth. The package we announced is a step towards allowing more Kiwi families to spend more of their own money, and will reduce inequality.
Do you think that New Zealand’s sexuality education system is working? If not, what would you do to change it?
In 2015, Schools asked the Ministry of Health for clearer guidance on how to teach sexuality education and that was provided. Schools must cover relationships between people, and our guidance to schools clearly says this should cover consent.
I believe it’s important that parents the community are involved in what should be taught. Schools must consult with their parent communities about how they will deliver sexuality education, as it will only be effective when it has the support of parents.
All of us, including parents, have to take responsibility for ensuring that every young person understands their responsibilities and obligations to respect others and to look after themselves.
Earlier this year a group of young men and women marched to parliament to raise awareness around consent. I was so proud of them for speaking up and drawing attention to the issue.
What will you do to combat New Zealand’s high rate of youth suicide?
Mental health is an area that I believe needs an all of Government approach. It’s one of our most complex social issues and needs input from the Ministry of Health, Social Development, Police, Corrections and Justice.
The Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project is rolling out programmes and activities in schools, via health and community services, and online to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people. This is a $64 million programme which will roll out 26 initiatives.
Budget 2017 includes $224 million over four years to increase support for people to access mental health services and addiction services. And we’ve implemented 30 actions from the suicide prevention action plan 2013-2016 with additional support of $25 million.
Last chance: Is there anything else you’d like to say to young female voters?
I want to see New Zealand women achieving to their highest potential. I genuinely believe that the work this Government is doing creates an environment for women to excel.Support Villainesse