Speech to Buller Grey PowerSenior Citizens
Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I bring apologies from my colleague and good friend Damien O’Connor. I know I don’t need to tell you, but you have a superb representative in Damien. He really works hard on behalf of his constituents from taking up cases with government agencies and Ministers if necessary, right through to taking on one of NZ’s major breweries. The Labour caucus benefits from his forthright and heartfelt representations on your behalf.
In the invitation to come today, Barbara Phair asked me to speak on Labour’s philosophy, hopes, desires and ambitions in this year of the General Election.
When I accepted that invitation I didn’t realise how close that election would be. Eight more sleeps to go.
We did not take the decision lightly to call an early election. However, with the breakdown of our coalition partner, and the time-wasting points of order that followed, coupled with the difficulty in getting sufficient parliamentary debating time to deal with legislation, it was time to seek a fresh mandate. Although we have had the stability of a majority government, and we have delivered on our key pledges, at the end of the day we were still a minority and this restricted our ability to make as much progress as we could have.
We are unashamed in our quest for majority government. We have a clear programme, and what our first term proves is that we are a government that does precisely what it says it will do. We do deliver.
My plea to you is that we don’t get side-tracked by the non-issues in this election campaign. The issues are clear. They are leadership, economic growth, social investment, (including health, education, employment & crime) and the future of superannuation.
On leadership it is the choice between Helen Clark or Bill English. And in my view, there is no contest. Helen Clark will be the Prime Minister again come July 27, but how you cast your Party Vote will determine whether she leads a majority or a minority government. Helen has already made it clear that Jim Anderton’s Progressive Coalition will be a part of the government, so we are not seeking to govern in our own right.
We have a serious problem with the two parties that say they are in the running for a coalition role. NZ First ran a campaign in 1996 that said ‘A vote for NZ First is a vote to get rid of National’, and although they had the chance to form a coalition with Labour they spent 9 weeks stitching up a deal with National. The National/NZ First Coalition Government was a lie before it was formed. Nobody who voted NZ First in 1996 thought for one minute that they would go with National. Nor did they expect that the Party itself would split, with key Ministers holding onto their coalition ministerial positions. Mr Peters might be running with the slogan of a popular children’s character, Bob the Builder, which says, ‘can we fix it, yes we can’. When he had the chance, he failed to deliver.
Labour on the other hand now has a record of achievement. We have delivered and we are asking you to give us the mandate to continue to deliver – not just for the few, but for all of New Zealand.
The Greens say they will bring down the government 15 months after the election on single issue. MMP was designed to give minority parties representation and influence, not total control.
The second issue is economic growth. If we are to provide for the social spend on health and education, we need to build solid economic foundations for growth.
A Christchurch economist, Paul Dalziel, (and, yes, he is my brother), was asked 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 believe in working in partnership with business, with local governments, and with communities.
Now I’d like you to consider two facts: Unemployment is at a 13 year low. Overall crime is at a 13 year low.
Is there a connection? You bet there is. While everyone tries to outdo everyone else on how tough they are on law & order, we have quietly introduced the most significant law change ever seen in this country.
The Sentencing & Parole Act now requires the Parole Board to give paramount consideration to the safety of the community in considering whether to parole an offender – until the Parole Board is satisfied about the risk, the offender does not get parole, and may never get parole. Offenders can now stay in prison until the end of the sentence imposed, if that risk is there, something that did not exist before, because before 1 July this year offenders were automatically released at two-thirds of the sentence served.
But there’s more to crime than punishing offenders. We need to be equally tough on the causes of crime. We are funding a Youth Offending strategy that is designed to intervene at the earliest point in the offending cycle to turn our young people away from a life of crime. And there are the early intervention programmes in early childhood centres, kindergartens, and schools – all designed to break the cycle.
And what about the connection between unemployment and crime? I firmly believe in the saying that ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’. As a government we have committed to ensuring opportunities for our young people in education, in training and in apprenticeships & industry training. We have reduced the cost of tertiary education to our students, and we have introduced the modern apprenticeship programme, with 3000 modern apprenticeships established in our first term and another 3000 to be established by the end of next year.
So why are none of the other parties campaigning on jobs, when that would have the greatest single impact on crime? Because they know this government is on the right track, that’s why, and it doesn’t suit the ’30 second sound-bite’ approach to politics.
Then we have health & education. In health we have got rid of the commercial, market model of health & restored elected representation to our health boards. We have made real progress on waiting times for elective surgery, but still have some way to go. This year the focus is on primary health care, because we know early intervention works, and the earlier the intervention the better. Some of the pressure on our secondary & tertiary services will be reduced with more accessible and affordable primary health care.
In education our first term has been balanced between early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary. Early childhood has focussed on increasing participation and quality, school policy has been about equity in funding and tertiary has been about removing the competitive market model, which has been costly and ineffective.
Our next step is to increase the number of teachers in our primary & secondary schools.
And then there is superannuation. As Minister for senior Citizens I can say categorically that this is the single, most important issue in the campaign.
This government has passed 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. Other parties have stated their intention to repeal this legislation, and scrap the fund. I say we need to save now if we are to provide for the future.
In my role as Minister for Senior Citizens portfolio I am proud of the government’s achievements:
·The development of the NZ Positive Ageing Strategy, and the associated reporting requirements;
·The continuation of the VCC network
·Providing a 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, so we can measure progress.
·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 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 a Residents’ Code of Rights and an Industry Code of Practice;
·The Older Persons’ Health Strategy, which commits to an integrated continuum of care;
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 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.
I am proud of what this government has achieved and I am asking for your support to enable us to continue the work we have begun. But please allow us the majority in Parliament we need so that we are not at the mercy of a minority party that would seek to hold the government to ransom on a single issue. Your Party vote is the one that can do that, and because I know how well you are represented by Damien, I have no qualms in asking for two ticks.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today, and I am happy to address any questions you may have.