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What a month it has been!

The time in lockdown has certainly been a journey for my family, but ultimately we have come out stronger for it. I do hope that you and your family are still in good health and staying safe and counting down the days to our 'new normal'.

For me, a new normal includes returning to Parliament sitting this week, albeit driving not flying to Wellington and a very limited amount of time in the House. We must focus on recovery from this health crisis while mitigating its effects and the harm it has caused in so many other ways. In addition to the economic costs, the social and other health costs have been immense and we will be dealing with those for some time to come still.

I've had correspondence from many of you over the past few weeks and some of the issues people have reported facing, have certainly been confronting.

In addition to some people losing their jobs and businesses, losing their livelihoods, lockdown for many families whether together or separated meant additional stress, anxiety and associated issues like family violence and addiction problems.

It's been proven that unemployment or a loss of income has impacts on people’s health, however, COVID-19 has also shown that we as a nation have no hesitation to report rule-breakers. I can only hope that we can continue that trend and in particular call out those in our communities who cause harm to women and children.

Migrant unemployment is another huge problem as many of our migrant workers who were unable to return home with the closing of our borders or no flights available, are facing poverty and hardship too. This is another strong humanitarian issue that will require an urgent solution.

Ultimately, our success in recovery will depend on how fast we can get people back into work to mitigate some of these emerging problems and we have to ensure that we look after those who cannot look after themselves.

My team and I are grateful for being in a position to assist with the hundreds and hundreds of queries that have come our way. I strongly encourage you to get in touch if you need help or support. We have also phoned thousands of seniors to check in and offer assistance. Whether tomorrow, next week or next month we are here to support you.

With Parliament resuming this week, Government is fast-tracking legislation and much of it we will be supporting. We will also hold the Government to account on decisions that affect all of us now and in the future. Constructive debate and scrutiny make for better decisions and laws.

With Budget 2020 upcoming, we must have the opportunity to scrutinise the Government's books too and I will be arranging post-budget forums in an appropriate format, so keep an eye out for details in my next newsletter.


Epidemic Response Committee

I've been attending a number of the Epidemic Response Committees held the past few weeks. The committee is chaired by National leader Simon Bridges and was set up to enable MPs to scrutinise the Government's response to Covid-19 in the absence of Parliament.

We've had several experts, public service officials and advisors appear at hearings of the Committee, including Sir Peter Gluckman who has warned about the social impacts of the pandemic and lockdown. 

Sir Peter is quoted as saying "Many Kiwis will have had their certain futures ripped away from them and will mean an increase in fear, anxiety and frustrations emerge.  Issues around depression and suicide need to be addressed and it's vital we support the social services providing assistance and solutions to mitigate." 

Earlier in the week, the committee heard from medical specialists, midwives, community support workers and business owners.

Recordings of the committee are available on the Parliament TV website. 


Alert level 3

This week we moved into alert level 3 and for some of us, it meant a few changes in the way we work or do business. For others, it's still status quo for a couple of weeks more when alert level 3 will be reassessed on 11 May by the Government. 

In the meantime, I would like to give a shout out to the amazing work being done by and in our communities. While an ever-growing list, for today I'd like to extend a big thank you to our local councils, Civil Defence Group and Emergency Operations Centres, community organisations like TCOSS, Wisegroup (Hamilton), Heartlands, our food banks like Maggie Stewart's Turangi Foodbank, Kindness Group in Taupo, Meals on Wheels and our iwi groups Tuwharetoa and Raukawa for providing much needed social support and food services in our communities.

Your selfless sacrifices have not gone unnoticed and we sincerely appreciate you.

For more information on what life under alert level 3 should look like, please visit covid.govt.nz. Other updates at this time include: 


Shop local, eat local, stay local

Our local businesses need our support at this time, especially our small to medium businesses.  Now is the time to shop local, eat local and stay local.  Love Taupo is a great resource to find local businesses and places to visit.  You can also showcase your business for free on other platforms like Facebook groups like New Zealand Made Products. It features a great display of the high level of Kiwi innovation and ingenuity we are so fortunate to have in this awesome country of ours.

Neighbourly has launched a "nominate your local hero" platform.  I encourage you to give your local business a welcome boost - https://www.neighbourly.co.nz/businesshero 


Education

With schools reopening, some children have returned and some not. I was pleased to read that the Ministry of Education has released home/distance learning messages in different languages to support parents and whānau, teachers and leaders, now available online. 

Another new initiative released by the Ministry of Education partnering with other organisations is a new Facebook page, Awhi at home, to assist parents and whānau of children aged 0 -11 with disabilities and learning support needs during the COVID-19 period.  It includes free courses led by trained facilitators and I encourage you to check it out.


Where to from here?

The Government is making urgent changes to tax legislation to enable a significant package of tax reforms to throw a cash flow lifeline to small businesses and I look forward to debating it in the House to make sure it meets all of our businesses' needs.

The COVID-19 Response (Taxation and other Regulatory Urgent Measures) Bill aims to give businesses more than $3 billion in tax refunds as they deal with the economic impact of the virus.

MSD has also released a Rapid Return to Work Service as an employment initiative and Keep New Zealand Working recruitment tool. The MSD Job Connect contact centre has started offering a new phone service for clients who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. MSD will be providing practical support with CV writing, assessing transferrable skills, navigating the job market and connecting clients with current vacancies. 

If you are looking for work, you can register your interest here.

Finally, the road to recovery over the next few weeks, months is laden with hurdles and obstacles, make no mistake.  But we must start by creating business growth and employment opportunities that stimulate economic growth, thereby ensuring resilient families and communities.

I look forward to keeping you updated on the Government’s investment decisions in the future wellbeing of our communities and businesses. This includes representing your views in Parliament when we are debating legislation that will affect all of our and our children's futures.

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