Govt Inquiry into WPC to conclude in November 2014

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Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye said today that they have received a letter from the Chair of the Government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) Contamination Incident, advising that:

“The Inquiry has considered the time that will be needed to report, taking into account the work already undertaken by the Ministry for Primary Industries and Fonterra investigations, the number and nature of the issues arising from the Terms of Reference; the number of participants; volume of material; and the need for fairness to all participants.

Our preliminary advice has been that 6 -9 months would be an appropriate estimate. However, conscious of the need to resolve matters promptly, and in anticipation of full cooperation from all participants, the Inquiry’s present estimate is that it will require until Friday 28 November 2014 (6 months) to present its final report. Participants with whom the Inquiry has consulted have accepted this is a realistic estimate.”

“The first stage of the Inquiry explored regulations and policies relating to food safety events in New Zealand and how these could be strengthened. The second stage of the Inquiry will examine how the potentially contaminated whey protein concentrate entered the New Zealand and international markets and the subsequent response,” says Mr Guy.

This part of the Inquiry could not begin until the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) compliance investigation was complete, sentencing had occurred, and the appeal period had expired.

“Following the first stage of the Inquiry, which found that New Zealand’s food safety system is world leading, Ministers want the Inquiry to report back on the final stage of its work as quickly as possible. We have received advice from the Chair that she expects the Inquiry to conclude its work by Friday November 28 this year and we have accepted that date,” says Ms Kaye.

The Government’s inquiry is headed by Miriam Dean CNZM QC, assisted by Tony Nowell CNZM and Dr Anne Astin PSM and includes independent peer reviewer Professor Alan Reilly, Chief Executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Future-focused learning report released

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Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye has today released a report showing that widespread and mobile access to the internet will lead to new and significant opportunities and challenges for the education system.

“The report – Future-focused learning in connected communities­ – was developed by the 21st Century Learning Reference Group. It sets out ten strategic priorities including the creation of modern learning environments that are vibrant and safe, investment in high-quality content and systems, and development of collaborative networks for teachers and leaders to share ideas,” says Ms Kaye.

“The Government has invested over $700 million in digital infrastructure to schools. This investment includes $211 million towards the N4L managed network to provide schools with predictable, fast uncapped internet with content filtering and network security services. The rollout of the managed network has exceeded expectations, and we expect over 700 schools to be connected by the end of the year.

“The Government has invested over $165 million to upgrade school networks through the School Network Upgrade Project, so that schools can take full advantage of the rollout of ultra-fast broadband and rural broadband around the country. Over 1,500 schools have received network upgrades to date.

“The report is comprehensive and covers potential device policies and further professional development for teachers. We want to ensure young people are even better equipped with 21st century skills and I have no doubt that this report will help us achieve that.

“Making the most of technology and digital content is essential to raising achievement for children and young people.  Budget 2014 allocates $2.5 million to provide more computers in homes and digital literacy training for low-income families through the Computers in Homes programme.  This new funding means up to 1,500 more families building their computer skills and gaining access to the Internet.

“I would like to thank the Chair and members of the group for their work in developing this report. Our schools are transforming the way they teach with new technologies. We want to give all students and teachers the opportunity to achieve and innovate at school and beyond,” says Ms Kaye.

“The report provides a powerful vision for the future and will help inform government planning around 21st century skills and digital competencies.  I intend to provide a formal response to the report in due course.”

The full report is available at: www.minedu.govt.nz/FutureFocusedLearning

$1m to improve special education transport

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Associate Minister of Education Nikki Kaye today released recommendations to improve Special Education School Transport Assistance (SESTA).

“Last year I established an independent reference group to provide advice on how best to improve SESTA services for special education students,” Ms Kaye says.

The group has been chaired by Graeme Daniel, Principal of Allenvale Special School and President of the Special Education Principals’ Association. Members represent the special education and disability sectors, commercial operators and government.

“I want to thank the Chair and members of the group for their work. There are 14 recommendations in the report that are, or will be, implemented. A further four will be investigated further.

“The recommendations that are being implemented include integration of SESTA into special education students learning plans, changes to driver training, regular audits of services agents, and a review of wheelchair transport regulations.

“A number of the recommendations are already underway and a Ministry of Education work programme is in development to give effect to further changes.

“Around $1 million will be prioritised from baseline funding over five years to support the programme. This complements $1.7 million committed in Budget 2014 to provide in-class teacher aides for an additional 80 students with high health needs.

“I recognise that it is very important to many families using SESTA that they have access to safe, high quality services for their children. I believe that the work of the reference group and the Ministry of Education will lead to better services for special education students and their families,” Ms Kaye says.

The Ministry of Education provides school transport assistance to over 100,000 students each year at an annual cost of more than $170 million, of which $30 million ensures around 6,000 students access SESTA.

A link to the independent reference group report and a summary of its recommendations can be found at www.minedu.govt.nz/sestareferencegroup

Civil Defence cellphone alerting project funded

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New operating spending of $250,000 in 2014/15 will develop a business case for the possible introduction of a telecommunications-based public alerting system to warn people of impending emergencies, Civil Defence Minister Nikki Kaye says.

“This project is about reaching large numbers of people quickly, through cellphone alerts, to save lives in civil defence emergencies. By using a separate cellphone channel, the technology could reach specific geographical areas without causing communications congestion,” Ms Kaye says.

“Time can be crucial in some major emergencies. For example, following an earthquake that presented an immediate tsunami threat, a cellphone alerting system could be used to warn quickly those in the most dangerous zones.

“New Zealand doesn’t have a standard public alerting system that has coverage right across the country. It makes sense to look at taking advantage of advances in technologies to increase our public alerting coverage and preparedness for natural disasters.

“Other countries utilising cellphone text technology to issue public alerts about emergencies include Australia, the USA, the Netherlands and Israel.

“It is important that there continues to be a range of methods of emergency public alerting from sirens, to all forms of media. I believe this could be an important complementary addition to ensure people have adequate warning in the event of a major emergency.

“The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management will work closely with telecommunication providers and local authorities on this business case. Funding to implement public alerting technology through cellphone alerting, should the business case be supported, would require agreement through a subsequent Budget process.”

Food Bill passes its final reading

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Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye today welcomed the unanimous support for the Food Bill during its third and final reading in Parliament today.

“The Food Bill has received support from all parties. It has taken a long time to get here and a lot of work has been put in to developing this significant piece of legislation,” Ms Kaye says. 

“The new Food Act will put in place a risk-based approach, where regulatory requirements are based on the extent and nature of the food safety risks associated with particular kinds of businesses. The new system will help to ensure that food safety laws are cost effective.

“The Act will focus on the activities that a food business carries out, rather than the premises from which it operates.  A number of different kinds of businesses will have more flexibility and lower compliance costs than they face under the current ‘one size fits all’ regime. 

There are also some provisions in the Act that concern recall powers and other powers that may be used in a food safety response. These provisions will take immediate effect as soon as the Act receives the Royal Assent.

“It was important to bring these provisions in to force as soon as possible so that government could respond to a major food safety event if one arose tomorrow,” Ms Kaye says. 

The Act will provide New Zealand with a modern, flexible regulatory regime, which will enable food businesses to adapt to future changes in technology, overseas market access requirements, and consumer demands.

“The enactment of the Food Bill will not be the end of the law reform process.  After enactment officials will develop regulations and guidance which will undergo a public consultation process.

“These regulations will determine the final shape of the Bill and can be used to further tailor how the Bill will apply to particular food sectors, or even individual businesses,” says Ms Kaye.  

The period after enactment will also include close engagement with territorial authorities and food businesses, to ensure that everyone is ready for the transition to the new law.

Over $7 million for upgrades to Warkworth School

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The Government is investing $7.6 million in Warkworth School to upgrade its buildings and facilities, Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye says.

“The increased funding is to be used to replace the old buildings that make up the majority of the junior school, and replace some permanent buildings past their useful life. The redevelopment will also address onsite flooding from poor drainage that causes dampness beneath school buildings,” says Ms Kaye.

“Warkworth is one of the priority schools in New Zealand that will receive a major redevelopment over the next six years. The Government is investing approximately $300 million over six years to assist approximately 30 schools with the most complex infrastructure issues.

“Warkworth is a region of intensive future development and roll growth. This $7.6 million redevelopment will see more modern classrooms to address roll growth. The redevelopment will ensure Warkworth School continues to deliver a high standard of education to the community.

“The Warkworth upgrade is part of the Government’s plan to raise student achievement. The rebuild will help create a more modern and inspiring learning environment for all of Warkworth School’s students and their teachers.

“Over the last 5 years we have spent over $2 billion upgrading schools so that students can learn and achieve in the best possible environments,” says Ms Kaye

Construction is expected to commence later this year.

Expansion of Youth in Emergency Services scheme

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Youth Affairs Minister Nikki Kaye has today announced an additional $200,000 in funding to expand the Youth in Emergency Services (YES) programme.

“Following the Rotorua pilot at the start of 2013 I announced the YES programme would be extended to six locations, in areas such as Alexandra and Kaikoura. I understand that these programmes have received positive feedback from the coordinators, service volunteers, and young participants,” Ms Kaye says.

“I am pleased to confirm that the programme has been extended to fund a further 20 New Zealand communities between 2014 and 2016.”

To date over 90 per cent of participants reported they have acquired new skills and knowledge and are better prepared for an emergency.  They also reported an increased connection to their community and intend to participate in voluntary activity.

“I have been continually impressed with the young people who have participated in the Youth in Emergency Services programme. This project gives young New Zealanders an opportunity to give back to their communities and see first-hand the outstanding job that our emergency services do,” Ms Kaye says.

“They get to learn from some of our most dedicated emergency services personnel including representatives from Civil Defence Emergency Management, fire brigades, ambulance and search and rescue.

“By getting young people to participate in a range of emergency services, we also strengthen the capability of those emergency services and give young people opportunities to show leadership in their communities,” Ms Kaye says.

More information on the YES project can be found on the Ministry of Youth Development website at www.myd.govt.nz

National Civil Defence Emergency Management Plan released for consultation

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Civil Defence Minister Nikki Kaye is inviting civil defence agencies, other organisations and the public to make written submissions on the draft revised National Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Plan from today.

“The National CDEM Plan is required by law, and sets out the hazards and risks to be managed at the national level. It also sets out the civil defence emergency management roles and responsibilities of central government, CDEM Groups and other agencies such as lifeline utilities, emergency services and non-government organisations,” Ms Kaye says.

The current National CDEM Plan has been in force since 1 July 2006. Under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act, the Plan must be reviewed every five years.

The review of the Plan was underway at the time of the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. This meant that the review was delayed by the need for agencies to respond to the earthquakes.  Several reviews of the response were undertaken to further ensure that New Zealand’s CDEM arrangements are optimal, and in keeping with international best practice.

“It is important that we do not allow ourselves to become complacent.  The review has ensured that our arrangements are robust, current and well understood by the agencies responsible for their delivery,” Ms Kaye says.

“I have chosen to open this consultation from Kaiapoi today in recognition of the significant impact that the earthquakes had on our communities.

“As a result of the Christchurch earthquakes, the draft Plan is now stronger, and includes key recommendations from the independent reviews that have been held. Changes include strengthening areas of the draft Plan such as welfare arrangements, the roles and responsibilities of key agencies, and post-disaster building management.”

The draft revised Plan released today incorporates feedback from agencies with arrangements in the Plan, such as emergency services, lifeline utilities and central and local government.

“I would like to thank the many agencies who have been involved this work. I am confident that draft revised Plan is a much improved and comprehensive document as a result of their hard work,” Ms Kaye says.

“Our ability to recover from a major emergency will be greatly enhanced by the revised plan.

“Now is the time for all organisations and the public to have their say on the draft revised National CDEM Plan.”

Consultation is open from today, 23 May, until 5pm 25 July 2014. The draft revised National CDEM Plan, a summary of amendments, and the submission form can be found at www.civildefence.govt.nz

$2.5m for youth enterprise initiatives

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The Government has confirmed $2.5 million of new operating spending over the next three years for youth enterprise initiatives, Youth Affairs Minister Nikki Kaye says.

“This funding supports a number of initiatives for young people to learn financial literacy and business enterprise skills, as well as get opportunities to develop social-enterprise projects,” she says.

“We know what a difference participation in these initiatives can make to young people, particularly by giving them the skills and confidence to create businesses or social projects that are important to them and make a difference to New Zealanders.

“I’ve seen first-hand how organisations like Young Enterprise Trust and Inspiring Stories Trust are helping young people to think about how they can contribute to our economy and social and environmental causes that are important to them.

“Some young people have never had the opportunity to participate in business or social projects. These initiatives provide an important opportunity to improve their engagement and achievement while better preparing young people for future employment opportunities.

“Young people can get hands-on experience in business and social enterprise and financial literacy programmes. This can result in them developing all sorts of business and life-skills, including leadership.

“This funding supports this Government’s priorities of increasing the proportion of 18-year-olds with NCEA level 2 or equivalent by engaging with those who prefer a hands-on learning experience, and reducing long-term welfare dependence by having more young people employed and more jobs created,” Ms Kaye says.

The funding is for the next three years with $500,000 for 2014/15 and $1 million for each of the following years.

Youth Week 2014 Awards announced

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Youth Affairs Minister Nikki Kaye today announced the recipients of the Youth Week 2014 Awards.

“It is truly impressive to see the difference and change that these award recipients have brought about in their communities,” Ms Kaye says.

Youth Week runs from 17 May – 25 May. Community organisations across the country have been planning their own Youth Week events. Many of these are facilitated by funding grants through Ara Taiohi, who are also administering Youth Week.

“Youth Week is a great opportunity to recognise, support and celebrate the significant contribution and achievements of youth in our communities.

“The theme of Youth Week this year encourages youth to ‘Be the Change’ that they want to see in our society. In order for youth to create change, they need support and praise from mentors in their communities. We need to really value the diversity of our young people in New Zealand.

“I recently created the annual Youth Week Awards to recognise and celebrate young people aged 12 – 24 who have contributed to their community in a significant way.

Over one hundred nominations were received that recognised a wide range of activities young people have been involved in that benefited both their communities and other young people. 24 of these nominees will receive Youth Week Awards. Examples of activities that award recipients have been involved in include; leading and advocating for youth mental health initiatives, coaching and mentoring young basketball players, organising anti-bullying activities and organising events for youth in a rural community.

“I am really pleased with the number and quality of nominations that were received. The recipients of the awards were selected by the Ministry of Youth Development’s youth advisory group.

There are 24 recipients of a Youth Week Award across four categories; Change Maker, Leadership, Giving Back and Working for Youth.

Tonight, Members of Parliament will attend a function at Parliament to recognize and celebrate the success of the nominees and award recipients.

“We already know that there are many young people making positive contributions in their communities. I hope that by recognizing these young people tonight, they may inspire others to do the same,” Ms Kaye says.

To read more about the Youth Week 2014 Awards and the recipients: www.myd.govt.nz/news/2014/youth-week-2014-awards-recipients.html