No interest in minorities
If there was a competition, John Carter would have won it by lengths: that of the politician most hated by pensioners.
Many at the Overseas Pension Forum in Auckland wondered "why he holds the ministerial post for Senior Citizens if he is not interested in them", as they said. Superannuation matters fell into his responsibility in 2009, taking over from Paula Bennett, the Minister of Social Development. He left his ministerial post in July 2011 to become a diplomat in the Cook Islands. (No, I did not want to write: "... to holiday in the Cook Islands at taxpayers' cost, cashing in his GSF pension and being paid for sweating under Rarotongan palm trees"...)
We were amazed to receive a letter from John Carter in July 2009 in which he more or less stated that no policy change was required because only a minority was affected. Here is the letter:
"The National Government did not initiate, set terms of reference for, or supervise the Review [Review 2007] and there are corresponding limits to its commitment to the Review's recommendations. I should also note that the Review was set up when the economy was much less straitened [sic] than it is today. The cost of implementing recommendations has become a much more important concern. Nevertheless, the Review was thorough and sustained, and the Government believes its findings are broadly reliable. It accepts the finding that New Zealand Superannuation's overall policy approach is sound and provides very good protection for older New Zealanders.
You have seen the set of eight detailed recommendations that were accepted by the previous Government and were published on the website of the Ministry of Social Development. Of those, recommendations 6 (which allows payment to superannuitants travelling to more than one country for more than 30 weeks) and 8 (which allows proportional payment overseas based on working-age residence in New Zealand) have been accepted by the National Government and will be implemented by the Bill before Parliament at present, assuming the Bill is adopted.
Recommendations 3 (which provides for updating the Social Security [Overseas Pension Deduction] Regulations) and 4 (undertaking work that could facilitate the conclusion of a social security agreement with the United States of America) will not require funding and will proceed. The other recommendations are not proceeding.
Funding for recommendations 6 and 8 was allocated in Budget 2009. [...] There are no other provisions that will proceed and require funding.
[...] The outcome of the Review, as reported in October 2007, was that fundamental change is not required to the current policy, which is broadly appropriate to New Zealand's circumstances. The cost of ending the Direct Deduction Policy would be very high at any time. As the Government has inherited an economy in crisis and difficulty, it would be especially unwise at present to allocate the large amount of money that would be required to make such a change. In these circumstances, I do not expect either the Direct Deduction Policy or the Spousal Deduction Policy to be abolished or significantly amended in the foreseeable future.
[To the question about the existence of the NZ Pension Abuse website] I am aware of it. The site is focused on pensions in a personal context. That is understandable, for the site is maintained by a lobbying group with a personal interest in the issue. In my judgment, only the roughly 10% of superannuitants directly affected by direct deduction are concerned about the issue. However, I am sometimes disappointed that the nzpensionabuse website presents some incorrect information, and that it shows little understanding of our concern for the important social role of New Zealand Superannuation. Poverty among the aged is a major problem in some countries. In New Zealand, on the other hand, it is at very low levels. New Zealand Superannuation deserves most of the credit for that success."
Paula Bennett, who was responsible for superannuation matters in the early days of her career as Minister for Social Development after the 2008 election, used similar wording in her letters to pensioners.
To add some personal touch to the writings about retirees with overseas pensions she or her ghostwriters replaced the statement that they should not be "better off" than lifelong New Zealanders by saying they would have an "unfair advantage".
The fact that some lifelong New Zealanders have an unfair disadvantage because they do not get any NZ Super was persistently ignored.
One of Paula Bennett's most repeated quotes is from her speech at the First Reading of the Social Assistance (Payment of New Zealand Superannuation and Veterans Pension Overseas) Amendment Bill (31 March 2009):
"Personally, I find it quite hard to imagine why anyone would want to live anywhere but in New Zealand; I cannot quite figure out why those superannuitants would want to go and retire overseas. New Zealand may be facing some tough times, but this is still the best place in the world to live."
Pensioners who suffer from the Direct Deduction Policy and Spousal Provision can tell her why: because someone who has lived and worked in New Zealand for 45 years and does not receive any NZ Super because he/she is married to someone with an overseas pensions can receive full NZ Super when moving to an overseas country that has no Social Security Agreement with New Zealand, and their partners receive proportionate NZ Super according to the months of residence in New Zealand.
After the general election in November 2011 Jo Goodhew became new Minister for Senior Citizens. If you want to write her please use this address: