Full responses to our questions are given below. Edited responses can be viewed as a pdf:

What will your party do to improve the transparency of electricity prices and enable consumers to assess whether prices are reasonable?

Greens: The Green Party proposes to improve transparency of electricity prices by ensuring that all meters have functionality enabling them to automatically control loads and talk to smart appliances, and by requiring installers to give consumers the choice to have real-time information about their electricity use and variable tariffs, so that they can make use of that function if they wish to. The Greens also propose to abolish fixed line charges and introduce progressive pricing for electricity which will result in smaller bills for most low-income households.

Labour: The transparency of electricity prices is a significant issue for the Labour Party. Our Energy Spokesperson David Shearer currently has a member’s bill in the ballot which would require standardised and itemised electricity bills to prevent companies continuing to play the blame game over who is responsible for power price increases.

Mana: MANA is opposed to the privatisation of state assets, including power companies, which drives power prices up and reduces transparency. MANA will buy or take back key state assets like power companies.

Maori: We would like to see more information such as carbon footprint information and easy comparable information where people go to one place to compare prices and information. Kim O'Sullivan is a researcher with the University of Otago's Housing and Health Research Programme, and is completing a PhD on fuel poverty. Her research has revealed that in 2011 more than 30,000 households had their electricity cut off; and that these disconnections have been increasing. We believe that insufficient attention has been given to considering the link between the economic and social factors which may cause power to be cut off to low income families when they can’t pay their bills and ill health. The structural issues lead to an inability for households to afford enough power for domestic use, and so they slip into ‘fuel poverty’. The Maori Party believes that the wider social and health issues relating to largely uninsulated and substandard housing, low income and fuel poverty could be a key issue for the Ministerial Committee on Poverty to address. We suggest that the transparency of electricity prices could be a key feature of a wider review into the concept of fuel poverty.

National: Accurate information is important for a competitive market. Consumers do need a better understanding of the source and size of electricity price increases. A lack of transparency can reduce consumer engagement and confidence in the market. The Electricity Authority has been working on a project to improve the transparency of information that consumers receive about their electricity charges. The Electricity Authority released a consultation paper earlier this year and submissions close on 26 September. It is seeking feedback on a proposal that would require retailers to provide information to consumers about any price changes in a standard form, so that the nature and reasons for these changes are clearly presented. We also continue to encourage consumers who are not satisfied with their electricity retailer to shop around for the best deal at www.whatsmynumber.org.nz. On average, consumers can save $155 a year by switching.

New Zealand First: The current electricity and power structure is fundamentally flawed. New Zealand First policy is to buy power companies sold by the National government back into full state ownership.

UnitedFuture: We support the recent changes that have made it easier for consumers to change suppliers and easily compare the different pricing options. We support any moves that aim to make bills and pricing more simple and easy to understand.

What will your party do to ensure vulnerable consumers, including low-income consumers, can get assistance and are not disconnected if they are having difficulty paying their electricity bill?

Greens: The Ministry of Social Development’s Work and Income service has programmes that are meant to assist vulnerable people facing emergencies such as the imminent cut-off of their electricity supply as a result of their inability to pay their electricity bill. However, the Green Party is aware that people in this position frequently have difficulty obtaining the assistance they need. The Greens in Government will review MSD’s Special Needs Grant, Advance Payment of Benefit and recoverable assistance programmes to ensure that people who need assistance to pay their electricity bills actually receive it.

Labour: Labour has called for the current guidelines for vulnerable and medically dependent consumers to be mandatory to protect them from unwarranted disconnection. Labour will also establish a single buyer, NZ Power, which will save New Zealand households hundreds of dollars every year.

Mana: MANA will strengthen regulations requiring power companies to work with vulnerable consumers and prevent them from disconnecting customers without first going through a process that includes ensuring they are on the very lowest possible rate. MANA would also introduce price regulation to keep power costs as low as possible. Further to this, a key priority for MANA is to raise the incomes of struggling whanau by raising the minimum wage to a living wage (currently $18.80 per hour) and by raising benefit levels and student allowances to a living level.

Maori: The Maori Party has recommended the establishment of an annual power rebate for low-income whanau; installation of low cost heating and insulating 10,000 low-income homes per year including rental properties. In the Relationship Accord negotiated with National it was agreed that Healthy Homes would be a priority (within the Warm Up NZ: Heat Smart programme, and together with other government grants, target 20,000 low-income homes for home insulation. Ensure every state house built before 1978 which can be practically insulated, will be insulated). Researchers at the University of Otago’s Housing and Health Research Programme have flagged better targeting of Warm Up New Zealand; minimum heating and insulation standards for rental properties as a way to help at-risk households. The Maori Party has recommended that the Ministerial Committee on Poverty investigate providing a full concession to low-income households, investing in 100% of the cost of ceiling and under-floor insulation for households if they have a community services card. Regarding the issue of affordability, we would refer these issues to a Whanau Ora navigator, to work with the whanau and assess any restraints being experienced as a result of income deprivation. Power companies must have arrangements in place to reduce the number of avoidable disconnections and ensure vulnerable consumers get access to information that can help them manage their electricity costs. This may well be an area where a Whanau Ora Navigator is able intervene on behalf of the whanau.

National: Consumers who have difficulty paying their electricity or gas bills can apply to Work and Income for hardship assistance. Work and Income has recently clarified its practice guidance to ensure eligible clients receive hardship assistance in time to avoid disconnection, where possible. We remain concerned about the high levels of disconnections and have been engaging with retailers expressing this concern and urging action. What is clear is that proactive customer management, including the provision of better information to customers about payment plans and making personal contact at an early stage, is the most effective way of avoiding disconnections. In response to government engagement, electricity retailers have established a working group to ensure the Electricity Authority’s guidelines on arrangements to assist vulnerable consumers are applied consistently, and to ensure disconnection is a last resort.

New Zealand First: New Zealand First policy includes SuperGold 10% discount over the winter months negotiated with power companies. Keeping elderly warm over the winter helps prevent illness causing hospitalisation.

UnitedFuture: The most important thing is to ensure that there are sufficient industry standards that have consequences if breached. We support the use of the existing welfare system and disability support system to help vulnerable customers remain connected.

Does your party support an independent inquiry to determine the legislation and funding arrangements required to ensure rest homes provide consistent, high quality care?

Greens: The Green Party does not consider it necessary to hold another inquiry into the quality of care in rest homes. The Green and Labour Parties undertook their own inquiry in 2010 and the Human Rights Commission undertook an inquiry into the aged care workforce in 2012. What is needed now is action, rather than yet another inquiry. The Greens support the full implementation of the recommendations contained in the Human Rights Commission’s Caring Counts report as a first step to ensuring rest homes provide consistent, quality care.

Labour: Labour will establish a working group made up of Government, Providers, Workers’ and Residents’ representatives, DHBs, Ministry of Health and Education Providers that will be tasked with writing an agreed plan for providing consistent, high quality Aged Care. The plan will be in place as early as possible in 2015 and will set out the legislative and funding requirements as well as agreed timeframes for implementation.

Mana: Yes

Maori: We understand that New Zealand’s aged residential sector is already highly regulated. Anecdotal reports would suggest that it is audited more frequently than any government health service and there are multiple levels for complaints, the facility, the Ministry of Health, DHBs and the Health and Disability Commissioner. We also understand that the Office of the Auditor General has undertaken various surveys. We would suggest that the first step may well be to call for a comprehensive and independent report into the best information about rest home care; coordinating various reports that have been produced to date.

National: No. District Health Boards (DHBs) are funded to meet the needs of their populations, including people who are assessed as needing aged residential care, and must use the funding to ensure they have sufficient good quality residential beds to meet those needs. All certified providers of rest home, hospital and residential disability services must meet relevant service standards as set out in the Health and Disability Services Standards (NZS8134:2008). It ensures providers meet current standards and any shortcomings are quickly identified and rectified. In recognition of the ageing population, the government has increased funding for aged care faster than it has increased overall health spending. For example, DHB funding of aged residential care increased by 25 per cent between 2008/09 and 2012/13, while the overall increase in health expenditure over this time was 17 percent. Along with continued investment, the government has also taken a number of measures to strengthen the monitoring and performance of rest homes. Auditing: we have improved the auditing system by introducing unannounced spot audits and requiring a third-party accreditation of auditors. We have also streamlined audits to focus more tightly on services directly affecting residents. Not only have we improved the monitoring, but we have also made the information collected on rest homes more accessible than ever before. The public can access audit summary reports posted on a purpose built user-friendly website. We are currently trialling publishing full audit reports online. Standardising assessments: by July 2015 an internationally accredited comprehensive clinical assessment (interRAI) will be mandatory for anyone receiving home-based support services or in an aged residential care facility. The assessment looks at 22 key aspects of their health, such as nutrition, cognition, skin condition and falls and is repeated at least every six months so the resident’s care plan is modified as their needs change. Better integrated services: interRAI is also an example of the many steps we are taking to ensure there are better integrated services within hospitals and those provided in the community.

New Zealand First: Yes, and that any extra funding is directed towards rest home workers getting pay parity with DHB aged care workers who do the same job.

UnitedFuture: UnitedFuture is a staunch supporter of the elderly. We do support an independent inquiry into the sector to ensure that as a nation we are sufficiently supporting our older residents. 

Does your party support a mandatory code of conduct for supermarkets that is overseen by an independent regulator?

Greens: The Green Party proposes that a supermarket adjudicator be established to resolve disputes between supermarkets and suppliers. The adjudicator will be funded by a levy of supermarkets and suppliers and will have power to involve the Commerce Commission when required. The first task of the adjudicator will be to develop a code of practice for supermarket grocery suppliers to prevent or mitigate restrictive trade practices and unfair dealings in the supply of groceries to supermarkets and to ensure that all parties are treated fairly. We will require that designated supermarket chains comply with the code of practice to regulate grocery supply practices and promote fair trade practices. The code will provide a guiding negotiation framework to keep supplier-retailer negotiations free from the misuse of power. The draft code will be prepared by the adjudicator in consultation with representatives of interested parties such as designated supermarket chains, the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council, Horticulture New Zealand, and Consumer NZ, and must be approved by the Minister of Commerce. The Greens have prepared a Bill to amend the Commerce Act to achieve these objectives.

Labour: Yes, for some time we have been working with experts to explore regulatory options around a code of conduct for the supermarket industry.  Given the hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs in this sector at stake, we favour solutions that are tailor-made for the local New Zealand industry.  While we are still awaiting the outcome of the Commerce Commission investigation into supermarket behaviour, our preference is for an independent adjudicator. We do not believe that a voluntary code of conduct will suffice.  

Mana: Yes

Maori: We would like to develop a Code of Practice for the supermarket industry, backed up by an independent arbiter; as well as greater regulation of marketing food to children. We would like to make it as easy as possible to distinguish healthy from unhealthy food options, by such means as traffic light food labelling.

National: We would support any industry-led voluntary code of conduct that benefits New Zealand consumers. The Commerce Commission is currently investigating allegations that a supermarket chain has breached the Commerce Act 1986 by engaging in anti-competitive conduct towards its suppliers. Once the investigation is complete, we may look at possible policy options to address any competition issues not adequately covered by existing regulatory frameworks.

New Zealand First: Yes; recent monopoly buying practices uncovered the power large supermarkets have over independent suppliers. New Zealand First supports a mandatory code of conduct.

UnitedFuture: UnitedFuture sees the current consumer protection laws as sufficient in the supermarket sector.

What will your party do to improve the enforcement of product safety laws to protect consumers, particularly children, from unsafe products?

Greens: The Green Party supports the introduction of both mandatory safety standards and mandatory information standards to protect consumers from unsafe products. Mandatory safety standards will require goods to comply with particular performance, composition, contents, methods of manufacture or processing, design, construction, finish or packaging rules. Mandatory information standards will ensure that consumers are provided with important details of a product, including what it contains and potential hazards it poses, to enable them to make appropriate personal choices.

Labour: In New Zealand there is limited monitoring of product safety for consumer goods, and consumers lack information about such safety issues. The processes and protections involved are complicated and sometimes confused, and there are currently only six mandatory standards in this area. Labour will look at streamlining the consumer safety standards and protections where required, and over time, as fiscal conditions allow, increase the resources of the Commerce Commission and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs in this area to do their job more effectively.

Mana: MANA would support any moves to improve enforcement, including increasing penalties for product breaches.

Maori: We would encourage more consumer information across the board to enable a more informed consumer purchase.

National: This National Government is committed to strong product safety standards for children’s products. Recent changes to modernise our consumer law include a higher safety threshold for products that may cause injury. A product that may cause injury when used in a way that is reasonably foreseeable, but is not the product's intended use, may be declared as an unsafe good. We will introduce new Product Safety Officers with powers to inspect goods and enter business premises. The Minister of Consumer Affairs will be able to issue Product Safety Policy Statements providing guidance on product safety issues. Where a company voluntarily recalls an unsafe product, it will have to notify the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment within two working days.

New Zealand First: New Zealand First is committed to well funded and resourced regulatory agencies.

UnitedFuture: UnitedFuture will ensure that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Commerce Commission are properly resourced to ensure the thorough policing of all consumer related legislation

Does your party support adopting mandatory product safety standards for children’s products, consistent with the approach taken in Australia?

Greens: See answer given to last question.

Labour: See answer given to last question.

Mana: Yes.

Maori: The Consumer Guarantees Act and the Fair Trading Act deal with product safety. The Consumer Guarantees Act is a general consumer protection law which gives minimum standards of quality for goods and services. The Fair Trading Act is designed (among other things) to promote product safety and to prevent injuries. There is an expectation that the products will comply with the critical safety requirements of voluntary national standards, and that redress is available to consumers where they do not. We believe it would be preferable to adopt mandatory product safety standards for children’s products. Surely we can never be too careful where children are concerned.

National: The processes here in New Zealand to enact regulations and unsafe goods notices closely mirror the legal mechanisms in Australia. New Zealand works with Australia on product safety issues and will adopt, where appropriate, the same Mandatory Standards. We will continue to support our trans-Tasman agencies to work together to ensure a consistent approach that meets the needs of New Zealand consumers.

New Zealand First: Yes.

UnitedFuture: UnitedFuture is supportive of moves in that direction.

Does your party support increasing funding for the Commerce Commission to improve the enforcement of new consumer protection legislation? If so, by how much?

Greens: The Green Party supports funding the Commerce Commission sufficiently to ensure it carries out all its statutory functions appropriately. We are not in a position from outside of Government to assess what dollar figure in increased funding will be necessary to achieve this.

Labour: Yes, the Commerce Commission needs adequate funding to do its job. We will review funding in government and, increase if and when necessary, as fiscal constraints allow.

Mana: MANA has not developed any policy on this matter as yet. 

Maori: We support enforcement of new consumer protection legislation and would expect due process to occur, to assess the cost impact required to enable the Commerce Commission to be in a position to strengthen compliance with the legislation.

National: Our modernised consumer law also gives the Commerce Commission more enforcement powers to crack down on unscrupulous businesses and individuals. We will continue to support the Commission in its work to protect consumers. As a result of the National Government’s improvements, the Commerce Commission now has more people on the ground gathering information and connecting with consumers, community groups and NGOs.

New Zealand First: Yes.

UnitedFuture: UnitedFuture is supportive of increases to Commerce Commission funding over time subject to fiscal conditions.