Speech to Southland Grey PowerSenior Citizens
When I reflect on my 21/2 years as Minister for Senior Citizens, I am proud of what has been achieved by this government, and no matter what happens at the election, I can assure you that there is an advantage to have a pro-active Senior Citizens Minister who sits at the Cabinet table. I believe the portfolio has suffered historically, first by linking it with the social welfare portfolio, (when superannuation is an entitlement not a benefit), and second, by two appointments outside Cabinet. By approaching the portfolio as an advocate, and by working closely with the individual portfolio Ministers, I believe we have achieved a lot, and we are on track to achieve much more.
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, coupled with the continuation of the Volunteer Community Co-ordinator network, which was established in the International Year of the Older Person; (Colin Schaab, who was nominated by the local Mature Employment Service, is the Southland VCC);
·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:
·the diversity of older people
·the continued participation of older people in all aspects of society
·the 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. I am of the firm view that the better information we have, the better we can plan for the future, and this is the first government that has identified that we need to know about standards of living of older New Zealanders as a population, because they are often the last people who ask for help;
·The separation of Older Persons’ Health funding from the Disability Support Services ring-fence in Vote: Health, after 10 years of reports recommending that approach. The previous government received nine of those reports; this government received one report and acted on it;
·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.
This, I believe is the biggest election issue, not just for the present generation of superannuitants, but for the generations ahead. The strongest belief I have is that we must provide security in retirement, which means we must not change the rules, when people can do nothing about their situation.
My own father was caught out by the 1990 election change in a way he and thousands of others never anticipated. Every Party said the age of eligibility would increase from 60 to 65years over 20 years. The National Party increased the age over 10 years. When that happened I vowed to myself that I would never support such a change, when it was too late for anyone to do anything about it. Labour wants to offer that security in retirement, so people can plan for the future, knowing what the rules will be. The National, ACT and Green Parties all opposed the establishment of the Fund, and would scrap it if they were given the chance. No matter what they tell you, without the partial pre-funding the Fund allows, they cannot guarantee the level of superannuation and the floor below which it cannot fall, (and you all know National lowered the floor when they had the chance), they cannot guarantee the age of entitlement, (so it could go higher than 65years), and they cannot guarantee that it won’t be income and/or asset tested.
The ACT Party released its Manifesto yesterday, and here is a direct quote from the ACT party’s goals: “To progressively convert the scheme to a safety net, and to protect from hardship those who have retired or are about to retire.”
·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 will 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 a Residents’ Code of Rights and an Industry Code of Practice;
·The launch of the Older Persons’ Health strategy, which demonstrates a real commitment to an integrated continuum of care, that supports injury prevention, health promotion, age appropriate assessment, treatment and rehabilitation, ageing in place, and access to quality home-based support and residential care.
And there is more to come, with work 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.
I know that you have specifically invited the Act Party to talk to you about Law & Order today, so I do want to comment on this, because there has been a deliberate attempt by a former member of the Labour Party to misrepresent what this government has already achieved and has planned for the future. The former member I refer to is of course Richard Prebble, who has completely lost the plot over what he describes as ‘Truth in Sentencing”. Richard may think of himself as no stranger to the truth, but that would put him in a minority of one as far as I’m concerned. I downloaded his law & order policy off the internet last night, and it is a joke. Let me quote:
“Pursue absolute truth in sentencing for criminals. For example ACT will:
·abolish early release and parole
·reward good behaviour in prison by a reduced post-release surveillance period;
·require cumulative sentencing for multiple unrelated crimes;
·allow the courts to resentence criminals who significantly breach their release conditions.”
Sounds great? There is a fundamental problem. There is no post-release surveillance, nor any release conditions, without parole; so by abolishing parole they effectively remove the only mechanism the corrections system has to monitor return to the community.
The Minister that has been responsible to implement this government’s law & order policy is Phil Goff, and he has overseen the introduction of comprehensive Sentencing and Parole legislation, while at the same time implementing measures to reduce offending, especially in the case of proven youth offending reduction programmes.
The Act Party policy has been costed at increasing the spend on prisons alone at over $800million a year. But for what gain? Will we improve recidivism rates by releasing people into the community at the end of their sentence without any supervised reintroduction into the community?
This government has ensured that those who commit the most serious crimes spend longer in prison, and changed parole provisions so that the risk the offender poses to the community is a determining factor in terms of supervised release. We have also removed the automatic release at two-thirds of sentence served, and allowed judges to provide non-parole periods, and for the most serious murders increased the non-parole period from 10 years to 17 years.
This government has been prepared to be tough on law & order, but we are not going to spend $800m on what is essentially pre-election propaganda. We want those resources spread across a range of programmes that both reduce offending and recidivism. You have to do both, and it needs to be well-researched and evidence-based.
One of the things I have been advocating is to extend the Limited Service Volunteer programme, which is run by the army for Work & Income, to include diversion. I believe this would help young people going seriously off track.
I have great confidence in Phil Goff as the Minister with responsibility in this area, and I know that he is keen to pursue the Victims of Offences and the DNA testing legislation that he currently has on the order paper.
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 divorce/separation; significant period of illness; major hospital operation; and redundancy; 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 today, and I am happy to address any questions you may have.