Asian Social Services SymposiumEthnic Affairs
Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for inviting me to address the Asian Social Services Symposium today.
I would like to pay tribute to the executive committee for organising this very important symposium.
I welcome you all. Welcome to my fellow parliamentary colleague Ann Hartley, the Member of Parliament for Northcote.
Today's symposium provides an important opportunity to examine the Government's social policy agenda.
The Labour and Alliance Government starts from the premise that a society should be judged on how it treats both its youngest citizens and its old.
Elected less than two years ago, we have approached the role of Government from the point of (a) growing the economy so that New Zealand can prosper, and (b) developing strategies that allow all New Zealanders to share in the wealth and prosperity that we create.
The plan in ambitious. Even more so when one considers what we inherited.
· When we came to Government in 1999 registered unemployment in New Zealand exceeded six percent.
· The unemployment rate for Ethnic New Zealanders was approaching ten percent.
· Low-income State house tenants paid market rents for their State house.
· In 1999 the previous National government cut New Zealand Superannuation.
· The level of inequality and contrast between different Ethnic groups grew at an alarming rate.
Sadly Ethnic New Zealanders were overrepresented in some of the worst performance indicators.
We all know it to be true. That statistics are there for the world to see.
That is the New Zealand that we inherited. Since that time, since we came to Government only 22 months ago, we have committed ourselves to restoring a sense of balance.
I am particularly proud of one of our first achievements, the reversal of National's cuts to New Zealand Superannuation.
Labour and the Alliance never supported the cuts.
We increased pensions last year and we have increased the rate of New Zealand Superannuation again this year.
We reversed the cuts to restore the old-age pension to a respectable level. Now the Government is passing legislation that will allow us to save to pay for future superannuation. A very important initiative.
We restored income-related rents for State house tenants.
That means that at as at 1 December 2000, a married couple with four children receiving a benefit and living in a State house here in Auckland, the increase in residual income was $72.44 a week!
We are moving towards a system of reducing the debt burden for thousands of tertiary students.
Elected on a promise of abolishing fees in 1990, National cut the per-student subsidy. Student fees rose by approximately 280 percent between 1990 and 1999.
We have started to turn that around.
Under changes introduced by the Labour and Alliance Government, interest is written off the student loans of full-time and low-income part-time students while they study.
For someone with the average student loan of $12,883 this will mean a write-off of approximately $900 in interest charges that would otherwise have been added to their loan.
We have focussed on job creation through investment in regional economic development.
Budget 2001 saw programmes worth $34.352 million a year in new spending which will be directed to individuals, small businesses, high growth industries, local communities and entire regions.
Budget 2001 also saw the Government backing New Zealand's innovators with a $100 million seed capital investment fund.
It's strategies such as these that are helping to fuel employment growth. Indeed the latest Household Labour Force survey points to registered unemployment in New Zealand falling to 5.2 percent - a 13-year low.
As New Zealand's first ever Minister for Ethnic Affairs, I have made a point of visiting Asian business people, promoting the achievements of Asian New Zealanders.
Asian employers are contributing to the positive employment growth that we are currently realising. That is a very important contribution that I welcome whole-heartedly.
I was pleased to join with my colleague Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel in announcing, earlier this year, the allocation of more than $670,000 for piloting support services that help new migrants to settle in New Zealand.
In health my colleague Health Minister Annette King has provided funding to retrain a specific group of immigrant doctors who were granted residency under the immigration policy in place from 1991 to 1995.
We are embracing the skills and expertise that many overseas-trained medical doctors have and seek to put into practice.
I would also like to make special mention one of my own areas of responsibility - the Police.
One of the features of the police that I believe requires attention is the Ethnic and gender diversity.
A new campaign to attract 600 to 700 police recruits by June next year includes a focus on more Maori, Pacific Island, Asian and female police recruits.
And if I may, can I take this opportunity to encourage all Asian community leaders to promote a career with the New Zealand Police.
Crime has fallen to the lowest level since 1989/90 and we are spending more on the New Zealand Police than any previous government in New Zealand's history.
It's a good time to consider a career with the New Zealand Police. Potential recruits should dial 0800 NEWCOPS and find out more information about the recruitment process.
I would also like to make special mention of two other important areas affected by government policy - casinos and problem gambling.
In July this year I announced that the Government will not licence any more casinos in New Zealand.
There will be no more casinos beyond the sites that are already licensed.
The Government has also decided to expand its role in the prevention and treatment of problem gambling.
Problem gambling is a serious health issue, and unlike the previous government, we want to play an active part in addressing it.
That is why we have decided that prevention and treatment services should be co-ordinated by the Ministry of Health.
Ladies and gentlemen there is no quick fix to address any of the current social problems facing New Zealand.
We were never under any illusion that a quick fix could be developed and implemented.
The process of ensuring that all New Zealanders enjoy equality of opportunity will take time, it will take action, it will take commitment, and it will take leadership.
This Labour and Alliance Government is providing that leadership.
Prime Minister Helen Clark is committed to leading a government that not only promotes economic growth, she is also leading a government that is working to ensure that growth and prosperity is shared by all New Zealanders.
I want to thank you all for participating in today symposium.
It provides an important opportunity to debate the way in which we build upon the gains that we have made thus far.
Thank you very much.