Speech to Grey Power Federation AGMSenior Citizens
Good evening and thank you for inviting me to speak to you this evening.
This is my third opportunity to speak to an AGM of the Federation, and I want to start by thanking members of the Grey Power executive for the productive relationship I have had with you as an organisation and as individuals. This does not mean we have always agreed with each other, and I acknowledge the challenges that have been presented to me by your President, Executive and spokespersons.
As Minister for Senior Citizens I guess I have had the best opportunity to gain an oversight of the range of issues that concern members of Grey Power, and I have personally followed up on these with individual Ministers and agencies.
I have spoken to on average one Grey Power meeting every month since being sworn in as your Minister, as well as to dozens of other senior citizen groups and organisations representing service delivery to older New Zealanders.
The advantage in so doing is not the opportunity to talk – always a favourite pastime of politicians – but rather the opportunity to listen, and it has been this opportunity that has afforded me considerable insight into the concerns that exist from one end of the country to the other. It has been concerning to me that I have been the first Minister for Senior Citizens to visit some parts of the country, because it indicates a previous lack of interest in a portfolio that has considerable capacity to ensure that the concerns are heard, and more importantly addressed.
I wish to acknowledge in this forum, the work of the small but dedicated public servants who make up the Senior Citizens Unit, within the Ministry of Social Development. Many of you will have experienced the willingness of Natalie Lavery and her team to respond to queries, and to provide support to visiting Executive members and spokespersons. I have often said that as a small unit, they ‘punch above their weight’, and that is intended to acknowledge the significant influence they have been able to have in involving themselves in the development of Cabinet papers and drawing them to my attention, highlighting the particular impact policies may have on older New Zealanders.
I also wish to acknowledge the Senior Citizens Advisory Council, established by the previous government, who at last have a sense of contributing to the development of government policy and seeing it implemented.
When I reflect on my 2 years and 5 months as Minister for Senior Citizens, I am proud of what has been achieved. I have said to your Executive that no matter what happens at the next election, it is an advantage to have a pro-active Minister who sits at the Cabinet table. I believe the portfolio suffered as a result of linking it with the social welfare portfolio, followed by two appointments outside Cabinet. By approaching the portfolio as an advocate, and by working closely with the individual portfolio Ministers, I believe the potential of the portfolio has now been realised.
Although this is by no means an exhaustive list of achievements, these have been the highlights for me:
·The development of the NZ Positive Ageing Strategy, and the associated reporting requirements;
·The release of the first baseline report into where we are at in terms of the Objectives of the Positive Ageing Strategy, reported against each of the actions recommended in the strategy.
The status report’s sub-title, Diversity, Participation and Change, reflects the following themes that are recognised throughout the report:
othe diversity of older people
othe continued participation of older people in all aspects of society
othe opportunities provided by the changing population in New Zealand.
·The release of the first Standards of Living for Older New Zealanders report, which for the first time identifies standards of living indices that will enable us to measure how older New Zealanders are doing, and which helps us assess the impact of significant life events before retirement on those standards of living;
·The separation of Older Persons’ Health funding from the Disability Support Services ring-fence in Vote: Health, after 10 years worth of reports recommending that approach;
·The passage of the NZ Superannuation Fund Act 2001, establishing a commitment to the partial pre-funding of superannuation so that we can offer security in retirement to future generations, and commit to minimum conditions of entitlement, namely: the floor below which superannuation cannot fall, no means-testing and the age of entitlement at 65 years;
·The first step of a review of the Driver Licensing regime, which has seen significant reduction in costs for older New Zealanders, and the second stage now underway, which should address some of the concerns around access to restricted licences for those who do not want to do more than use their car for neighbourhood travel;
·The introduction of stand-alone Retirement Villages legislation, which not only addresses financial issues as recommended by the Law Commission, but which provides for Residents’ Code of Rights and an Industry Code of Practice;
And there is more to come, with Ruth Dyson soon to launch the Older Persons’ Health Strategy, which is excellent in terms of its commitment to an integrated continuum of care. And work is also well underway to introduce legislation repealing the asset test for residential care, and I am working closely with Margaret Wilson on Enduring Powers of Attorney.
As I said this is not an exhaustive list, but it does indicate how committed we are to addressing issues, which Grey Power has long advocated for.
Of course, there will be points of difference between us, and there will be financial constraints in terms of what can be achieved. People sometimes forget that two rounds of tax cuts preceded our taking office in 1999, diminishing the revenue base by around $2.4B. That is why we established a set of achievable pledges, so that we did not repeat the pattern of failure to deliver on pre-election promises.
When I first came to speak to you as a Federation in the year 2000, I quoted a local economist, Paul Dalziel, and, yes, he is my brother, however, his commentary was not political other than to describe what has been called the ‘Third Way’. He described the ‘first way’ in the context of the ‘Muldoon era’ as one of ‘government intervention’; he described the ‘second way’ in the context of Rogernomics and the Richardson era as one of ‘government indifference’; and he described the ‘third way’ as ‘government involvement’.
This government is not an interventionist government, nor are we indifferent to the role that government can and should play in shaping economic and social transformation. We are a government of involvement. We prefer to work with all sectors so that the energy each can commit to restoring New Zealand to its rightful place in the OECD ranking is harnessed for the benefit of all. We believe in working in partnership with business, with local governments, and with communities.
And in that sense, I am glad you are having this Conference in Christchurch, because it continues to reflect and evidence the very best that partnership can deliver.
Christchurch has been described by the Business Roundtable as the “People’s Republic of Christchurch’. We are actually proud of that title, because it reflects the partnership between central government, local government and community that is essential to developing and maintaining inclusive, vibrant communities that reflect and meet the needs of its residents of all ages and abilities.
At a Grey Power meeting in Auckland I was asked to comment on the pending loss of Council Housing – not an issue in Christchurch. Why? Because the Christchurch City Council recognises that the original contributing partner was central government in the shape of low interest housing loans. They had the foresight to separate the operating accounts of the pensioner and low-income housing units, so that they could always assure the Christchurch ratepayers that they represented no cost to the rates we pay today.
With this approach, the Christchurch City Council has become the second largest landlord in New Zealand, after Housing New Zealand. We see the Council building housing, often in partnership with other community organisations, rather than putting up the ‘for sale’ signs. Security of tenure and income related rents, have been the mainstay of a Council housing programme second-to-none. Now they have central government to partner with in maintaining this commitment, given that our policies coincide.
The previous government was determined to exit the provision of public housing, with its sell-off policies and market rents. As I said before the election, market rents don’t work when you don’t have a market income, and this government’s commitment to income related rents has put money back in the hands of individuals and families who were really struggling to make ends meet.
At a number of Grey Power meetings I was asked about the absence of Integrated care for older people, beginning with comprehensive Assessment, Treatment and Rehabilitation services.
Again Christchurch is a leader, with the Elder Care Canterbury Project, which is centred on AT&R and an integrated continuum of care covering community, hospital, home support and residential care services.
The project has brought previously competing agencies together, so that their combined strengths can be put to improving the health and well-being of the population they serve. There is still some way to go, however, the Canterbury DHB will be one of the lead DHBs in modelling this approach for the rest of the country.
Here also in Christchurch, the Christchurch City Council through its economic development arm, the Canterbury Development Corporation, has established a Third Age Centre, which includes a focus on employment for the ‘third age’, which will no doubt be of interest to many of you.
There are plenty of other examples that I could produce, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to boast of the achievements of a Council that works proactively with central government and its communities to make its commitment to a city for all ages a reality, in order to make the point that working together is the way forward.
And that is what this government is willing to do with Grey Power. It is afterall in all our interests that we do so. Not just for the benefit of this generation of retirees, but future generations to come.
I want to close by returning to the Living Standards Report I mentioned before.
Although it told us that the majority were doing okay, it told us for the first time what factors contributed to those who were not doing well.
They are: In a person’s 50s or early 60s: divorce/separation; significant period of illness; major hospital operation; and redundancy; and across their lifetime:
low paid jobs or intermittent work; lack of additional income over superannuation; the death of a spouse; and rental accommodation rather than home ownership. The risk of poor living standards in retirement increases with the number of factors present. This tells us that what happens to people before they reach retirement has a lot to do with living standards in retirement.
This also tells me that we have enormous challenges for a generation, which didn't experience a job for life, one spouse, one house and the "save first, buy later" ethic. So this document represents a real challenge to the policy makers of today, to get it right for tomorrow. I’ve described my generation as the ‘instant gratification’ generation, who buy first, pay later, and this document says we are going to be paying in more ways than we care to contemplate.
I believe the significance of your contribution to policy development and implementation cannot be over-stated, with the wisdom of experience, and your generation’s very evident desire to consider the needs of future generations, after-all, it is our grandchildren and their grandchildren that need us to think about it now.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you tonight, and I am happy to address any questions you may have.