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Spousal Provision Hearing and Broken Promises
The most important news today is that a date has been set for the hearing on the issue of Spousal Provision (Spousal Deduction) in front of the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT) in Wellington. It starts on Monday, 5 March, and it is expected that the three New Zealand pensioners who are suing the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) will give evidence on the first three days of the hearing (5th, 6th and 7th of March).

As the hearing is public and if you are interested, you can attend the hearing at the HRRT Tribunals Unit at 86 Customhouse Quay (Level 1) in Wellington.

The three pensioners receive free legal representation by the lawyers of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings (OHRP). They receive no or only a fraction of their NZ Super due to their partners’ employer/employee-funded overseas pensions, despite being born and bred New Zealanders and having spent most part of their lives in New Zealand.

We all know that even a decision against the policy does not automatically lead to the NZ government stopping the spousal deductions but it would remove the base for keeping the policy in place and shame New Zealand on the international stage. Therefore I am confident that at least this small but scandalous part of the confiscations will stop and discussions on the general issue will start.

News on the pension issue can now be found in the Fight section of the website: http://www.nzpensionprotest.com/Home/the-fight/news-things-are-moving

But I also update other pages regularly, like this one: http://www.nzpensionprotest.com/Home/letters-from-wellington/from-the-labour-minister

It is a reminder to our new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Party to not fall victim to the phenomenon of memory loss – which is a common disease of politicians if they suddenly find themselves in government. On the Labour page you find their promises while in opposition and their failures while in government.

Despite being supportive while in government, the new Labour government has not lost a word on pensioners and overseas pensions, apart from keeping the pension age at 65 and making the SuperGold Card even more golden. In an email from NZ First I read that Section 70 was mentioned in the coalition negotiations but that the issue “died during the negotiations”. Other sources told me it was never brought up by NZ First. Who knows. Honesty and politics sometimes are a contradiction in terms anyway.

While I fully understand that mental health, education, child poverty and the PM’s baby are important issues, I don’t understand that the people who have helped to keep this nation going are completely ignored. Many of you have written to me that letters and emails directed to Jacinda Ardern go straight to Carmel Sepuloni – where they obviously never get answered. I don’t know if her office is overstretched but just ignoring incoming mail looks like incompetence or even contempt to me. I don’t know what is worse, and I wonder if in the future, instead of writing normal emails or letters, we have to make requests under the OIA to get answers.

In my previous newsletter I sent you Chris Arnesen’s letter to Carmel Sepuloni, with copies to other ministries and agencies, in which he listed his concerns about the dealings of the Ministry, its CEO and of Crown Law. Not even he has received a reply after three months despite the serious allegations raised in his letter.

As I am bored by our politicians in denial mode, I have forwarded Chris Arnesen’s letter to nearly 20 foreign government departments and embassies in Wellington and Canberra (when a country has only a consulate in New Zealand), and they have been quite grateful for the insights into New Zealand’s anti-social development. As we all know that New Zealanders and New Zealand’s government hate to get into the spotlight for negative reasons, I thought this is just the way to go, and I will carry on on this track.

One interesting thing has come out of this exercise: most ambassadors and high commissioners have no idea about Section 70. This is due in part because they aren’t in the country for a very long time, and obviously barely ever a pensioner contacts them about the confiscation of their overseas pensions.

While the Swiss have been very active for years, now the German, Austrian and Canadian ambassadors have given me very encouraging feedback. It would surely help to send emails and/or letters to them and the representatives of other countries, so they get confirmation that there is a need to intervene and remind the NZ government that employer/employee-funded overseas pensions are not up for grabs, and that it is an appalling attitude by a government to abuse other countries’ retirement schemes to fund their own state pension system, and treat migrants and returning Kiwis like working and tax-paying volunteers – who even have to fund New Zealand millionaire couples’ NZ Super!

Looking at the latest responses from MSD, they have changed their tune from: “No-one should be better off than a New Zealander who has never left the country”, to: “It doesn’t matter how an overseas pension is funded, as Section 70 doesn’t specify the funding. So it doesn’t matter if an overseas pension is similar to NZ Super or not. MSD is forced by the law to deduct all overseas pensions that are administered by or on behalf of a government.” The definition of “by or on behalf of a government” is so broad that barely any overseas pension would escape the deduction – and the good people at WINZ and MSD are only following the letter of the law.

This leads to the only possible conclusion: the law must be changed. I know that there are a few people out there who fight the direct deductions but claim that “there is nothing wrong with Section 70”, it is only applied wrongfully. I say everything is wrong with Section 70 as it does indeed not say that only pensions similar to NZ Super should be deducted from NZ Super but it leaves the CEO of MSD to decide which pensions are deducted. Only in the string of reviews over a decade ago there was talk about only deducting state pensions similar to NZ Super but Section 70 does not say it.

One pensioner has also been told that property rights guaranteed under the law of another country (that employer/employee-funded pensions are personal property) are not binding in New Zealand and that foreign law is not relevant to the application of Section 70.

This shows us what Section 70 really is: it is the legalisation of discrimination in this fair country!

Given the government’s spending and the fabulous income stream flowing from the confiscation of overseas pension, I am afraid that in the end only class action or another lawsuit in front of the Human Rights Review Tribunal will make the government move, whichever party is in power.

In the meantime, please keep writing to NZ First and the Green Party, as they both have the policy to stop the deduction of contributory overseas pensions. And, of course, write to Jacinda Ardern, Carmel Sepuloni etc, contact your local Labour MPs, and remind them of their promises. If you don’t get a reply, ask questions under the Official Information Act. At some point they have to come out of their mouseholes.