Minister aims to address debt spiral

By John Maslin

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ON OUR STREET: Whanganui's central business district was on the itinerary for Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Paul Goldsmith {right} when he was hosted on a visit by MP Chester Borrows.
ON OUR STREET: Whanganui's central business district was on the itinerary for Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Paul Goldsmith {right} when he was hosted on a visit by MP Chester Borrows.

Making sure regulations were in place but at the same making it easier for consumers to be involved in financial dealings remains a key focus for the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Paul Goldsmith was in Whanganui yesterday to speak to the local Chamber of Commerce, but in an interview with the Chronicle he said for a lot of people the conversation around financial matters was still too confusing but that had to change.

He said if the rules and regulations were too restrictive and cumbersome the net outcome could be people with modest means struggling to get access to financial advice.

"You create a threshold where, if a person hasn't got a big enough sum of money it's not worth their while going through the hoops. That's been one of the worries because it means those of modest means can be denied access."

Mr Goldsmith said for most New Zealanders their main connection with financial markets was through KiwiSaver.

"What we're trying to do is encourage more people to talk about the options. That's part of the challenge.

"But because we have all these complications around advice and getting it, it has become too confusing."

He said it was about keeping it simple but at the same time having checks, balances and protection in place.

Mr Goldsmith said another key focus for him was looking at the problem of people getting caught up in a debt spiral through loan sharks and some mobile shops, a situation he called a "driver of chaos and social strain".

"We can respond legislatively and we've done that by introducing a responsible lending code and tightening the rules around credit contracts. So before anyone can be signed to a deal to buy something they need to show they have the ability to repay the debt and fully understand what they're signing up to.

"But these things are only as good as their enforcement so the Commerce Commission needs to be properly resourced to do its work to correct this. In fact in the last few months the commission has been very active taking people to court for not going through the proper processes."

The Government was also working with the Commerce Commission looking at the issue of market power.

"If you look at the living standards of the average Kiwi you can improve it by growing the economy or making sure every dollar we've got goes further. And that depends on how competitive our domestic market is," Mr Goldsmith said.

"You can fiddle around with the law as much as you like but the most important thing you can do is try and remove barriers to new entrants coming into each market. It's about asking ourselves 'are we making it difficult or easier for new people to get into the market and shake things up a bit."

He said much longer term was improving the money skills of Kiwis as a whole.

"Nearly every Government department has some form of financial literacy programme under way. But we weren't as co-ordinated in our approach as I believe we could have been. So last year we put together a national strategy through the Retirement Commissioner and we expect all wings of Government to be moving in the one direction."

Mr Goldsmith visited the city's art gallery, Sarjeant on the Quay, before speaking to a chamber's lunchtime meeting. In the afternoon he had a look over Tasman Tanning's operation in Castlecliff.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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