DELIVERING ON PROMISES TO THE ELDERLYDeputy Prime Minister
Pakuranga Community Hall
We have seen considerable speculation over the last few days about the stability of the Coalition.
Let me make it very clear, right at the start, we are delivering on our promises. As a Coalition Government. And as a Coalition partner.
You only have to read this morning's press to see that policy, in such diverse areas as labour market law reform and community work, are being progressed.
Politics is, at the end of the day, about delivery.
Nobody expected coalition government under MMP to be straightforward or easy.
All the words, all the discussions, often vigorous, do not amount to anything, if out of them we fail to deliver.
This week we saw, not one, but two vigorous meetings.
The New Zealand First Caucus meeting has been well documented, but there was also robust discussion at Monday's Cabinet meeting, and at the end, more delivery.
In Cabinet we debated where best to make savings to ensure New Zealand is well protected from the Asian crisis.
It is no secret that one of the proposals we looked at was to defer for a year the abolition of income and asset testing for long stay residents in hospitals and asset testing for those in long term rest home care.
And it would be fair to say that some ministers were keen to see that happen. And they were entitled to their view.
The discussion on this issue was robust, but at the end of the day we found less offensive ways to make the savings, and we remain in a position to deliver on that pledge to the elderly.
Some people criticise New Zealand First for being "an old peoples' party."
Let me say there is nothing wrong with caring about the dignity and respect of older New Zealanders. We are proud of that and we will never shirk from our duty in this regard.
Monday's Cabinet was a good example of how coalitions work.
We may argue it out amongst ourselves - and you would expect nothing else from two different parties who have come together to govern in the best interests of the country - but so long as at the end of all the debate, policy is delivered, then it is worth it.
Older New Zealanders have seen that already with the removal of the super surtax.
Others talked for years about this, even set up a most elaborate piece of window dressing called the Superannuation Accord.
But after almost five years of nothing else but talk on the Superannuation Accord, and staged tantrums by various Parties walking out and then back in again before walking out again, and all done in time for the six o'clock news with reporters warned well in advance, there had still not been delivery.
New Zealand First never joined the Superannuation Accord.
We were not willing to sign up to an accord which provided for a surtax on superannuation.
We preferred to stay outside the charade, bide our time, and then remove the surcharge as soon as we could.
After the 1996 election, we were in a position to do just that, and after some tough coalition negotiations, we got what we, and you, wanted - removal of the super surcharge.
That is the difference New Zealand First has made. Our talk leads to action.
Labour and what is left of the Alliance (but that is another story) are great at this.
These two parties have stage-managed more walk-outs from the Super Accord than most of us have had hot dinners.
They have bickered and argued amongst themselves, grandstanded on the super issue and accused each other of using the issue as a political football - all the while older Kiwi's were still being robbed of a dignified retirement.
Twelve months into our first term in Government with National, we wrote the surcharge right out of the legislation books.
Now you tell me what you think is more beneficial to the elderly of this country - the removal of income and asset testing and the surtax, or endless debate and empty promises?
Labour infighting from 1988 - 1990 is an example.
With Douglas and Prebble at Lange's throat for merely suggesting a pause for a cup of tea, it was all on and for the next two years the only thing that moved was the staff in the Prime Minister's office as their bosses, Lange, then Palmer and then Moore, came and went.
MMP has brought an end to that.
With two parties negotiating an agreement at the beginning of their term, the basic game plan - which accommodates different philosophical stances and positions - was set down for all to see.
Any one party trying to "ambush" the other with new policies or initiatives, is sent away to look at the Coalition Agreement to see how their new idea stacks up.
This does not mean that we rule out new initiatives.
The need to respond to the Asian crisis and protect new Zealand's fiscal position meant we had to take another look at spending commitments, but we did it all under the "watchful eye" as it were of the Coalition Agreement, and when it came to the crunch, we had a rigorous debate on our hands to keep some of the very basic elements of the Coalition Agreement from being modified or deferred.
Income and Asset testing being one example.
The Coalition Agreement has meant increased certainty as to what the Government will be delivering over its three year term.
For older New Zealanders this has proven to be the case.
The Surtax has gone.
Income and Asset testing will go.
There is more money for health.
A guarantee of dignity for older New Zealanders after a lifetime of hard work to make this country what it is today.
Not just talk. But action and delivery.
You should compare the record of achievement of this Coalition Government to previous Governments.
Labour introduced the Surtax.
National maintained the Surtax.
New Zealand First abolished the Surtax.
Labour Introduced Income and Asset testing.
National maintained Income and Asset testing
New Zealand First will abolish Income and Asset testing.
That isn't talk - it's fact.
Before we conclude, let me touch on something that may be of concern to some of you - the proposal to allow the Government to override the Human Rights Act.
At present, the Human Rights Act does not override other Acts or legislation, but this provision is to be repealed as at 31 December 1999.
The Government is of the view that it will be difficult to discriminate for positive reasons, if its hands are effectively tied by the Human Rights Act.
What do I mean about positive discrimination.
The types of things we do now, such as positively discriminating for the elderly by providing superannuation to everyone over 65, or positively discriminating against teenagers by restricting the sale of liquor or tobacco products to them in their own interests, could be under threat if the Government does not have the ability to override the Human Rights Act.
I will give you this guarantee.
We will always ensure that any decision the Government makes which requires the Human Rights legislation to be overridden will only be taken in the best interests of the country, and only after consultation.
We will also ensure the process is entirely transparent.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me conclude by saying that the choices in politics are becoming clearer with every passing day.
The Alliance is falling to bits, with the fourth Alliance MP announcing his departure just this week.
Labour is fraught with internal difficulties and Phil Goff is still doing the numbers.
ACT are quite simply beyond contemplation if you care about public health, public education and a more equal and safer society for all.
New Zealand First came out of the drama of last week stronger then ever - with MPs clear about what we believe in and who we represent - All New Zealanders.