Coalition Government - Building Partnerships with New ZealandersSenior Citizens
Avalon Park Pavilion
President, Mr Tom Slinn, Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to address your AGM today.
This week is a momentous occasion for the Coalition Government.
For tomorrow, the Treasurer, Winston Peters, will present to the nation, the Coalition Government's first Budget.
It makes me very proud to be a part of this Coalition Government.
And to be a New Zealand First representative.
And I believe New Zealanders can be pleased with the first Coalition Government elected under MMP.
For we have chosen to build a new foundation for all New Zealanders.
By listening to New Zealanders.
And introducing policies for New Zealanders.
New Zealand First believes in partnerships.
And that is what government should be about.
A partnership with New Zealanders.
I have been very pleased to meet and talk with a number of Grey Power members.
And I acknowledge frustration experienced when previous governments failed to listen to concerns.
I too, felt those frustrations.
It felt like banging our heads against a brick wall!
And I saw the results of some of those policies.
Impacting severely on people.
They caused anguish and there was certainly no understanding.
Because politicians previously believed they owed no explanation to New Zealanders.
How wrong they were!
We are accountable.
And we must explain policies.
To seek understanding.
And not be afraid to make policy changes if it means we help New Zealanders in a better way.
In my view, gone are the days when governments make policies without reference or listening to New Zealanders.
I was fortunate to participate actively in the negotiations on the Coalition Agreement.
And I can tell you that New Zealand First was totally focused on getting a good result for New Zealanders.
We ensured that the Coalition Agreement covered the essential needs of New Zealanders.
Our priority was certainly in health and education, but to also ensure that we kept a strong economy.
An economy which provides employment and an improved standard of living.
The Coalition Agreement and indeed, the way the Coalition Government operates, is about differing viewpoints.
And our ability to negotiate within those viewpoints.
I know some commentators are suggesting that MMP does not work.
And that New Zealanders will want to change the political system.
But in reality, it is working.
And to suggest otherwise is to throw a red herring into the debate.
First-Past-the Post ensured different viewpoints were never heard.
It meant political representation for years, ignored those different viewpoints.
It was dogmatic and autocratic.
New Zealanders, with MMP can send very strong, clear messages to their political representatives.
Now, New Zealand has a Parliament which is truly representative of our society.
We have more Maori and women members of parliament than ever before.
And their influence will be seen with the positive social impact of this Budget.
I think it is also healthy to have debate within Coalition Government ranks on policy issues.
For we are a government of two parties.
And it is healthy to have points of difference.
It is most certainly not a negative.
It should be seen as democracy truly at work!
I believe that politics should be about laying foundations.
And building bridges and partnerships with New Zealanders, with the good of our nation at the heart of them.
The Coalition Agreement sets out a plan for the next three years.
This Agreement is about our bridge to a better New Zealand.
This week's Budget reflects our commitment within our Coalition Agreement.
For senior citizens, New Zealand First committed to the removal of the surcharge.
And it goes!
It was ageism and was unacceptable.
And as Minister for Senior Citizens, I want to ensure that ageism does not creep into policies.
I can assure you that I work very hard within government to ensure that the impact of any policy initiative has input from my senior citizens unit.
But I also see my role as very strongly an advocate on your behalf
So that I can ensure the voice of older New Zealanders is heard at all levels within government.
And I also see my role as focusing society's attention on issues and attitudes which need addressing.
One example is of elder abuse and neglect.
Although we have seven programmes operating nationwide, it is estimated that over 8,000 older New Zealanders suffer from abuse.
I recently announced the Coalition Government will provide $340,000 funding for the programmes to continue.
We need to raise awareness about such abuse and create a safer community by ensuring people will take appropriate action, where such abuse is suspected.
I also see more opportunities to continue to promote ageing as a positive.
I never cease to be inspired by older New Zealanders who are very active in their later years.
And in my view, we cannot really term later years as "retirement".
My own father epitomises this fact.
He officially left the work force to become a self-employed orchardist.
And he is fitter now, than he has been for many years.
I know too, that our volunteer sector could not survive without the extensive contributions of older New Zealanders.
Who give of their time, and skills, freely.
For the benefit of our communities.
That is why I am very much in favour of "Keeping Independent Now" programmes.
And finding ways to help older people continue to participate and contribute to our society as a whole.
To that end, I am very keen to develop inter-generational programmes.
To build a bridge between our young generations and their older generations.
All generations can learn a lot from each other.
And I see it as a vital and practical step in the right direction.
To continue changing attitudes towards ageing.
And we start by facilitating more contact and more caring within our communities.
By strengthening families and helping to build a family partnership.
To bring in tolerance and understanding between different generational viewpoints.
And know that together, as a partnership we can build a better New Zealand.