EDUCATING FOR TOMORROW

  • Jim Bolger
Prime Minister

Hon Wyatt Creech, Steve Davis, Your Worship the Mayor Bob Francis, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is always nice to be back in the Wairarapa.

I came today, by plane to Palmerston North, then on to here by bus.

Afterwards Ill go down to Carterton to see some daffodils and hit a few golf balls at Swingers.

Then down to Wellington for a meeting with my staff this evening before boarding the plane again to fly to Invercargill, so as to be positioned to visit Stewart Island tomorrow.

This week I will have campaigned from Kaitaia in the north, to Stewart Island in the south.

There is symbolism in that because under MMP, for the all important party vote which will determine the outcome of the election, New Zealand is in effect a single electorate.

We reinforced that message with our slogan First Tick National because it's that party vote that determines the outcome on October 12th.

Another issue that will determine the outcome is the state of the economy and how we look to be going for the future.

In just a few hours the financial journalists, commentators and analysts will be going into a lock-up on the 14th floor of the Treasury building.

Once the cellphones have been surrendered and the doors secured they will be handed a copy of the Governments Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update.

The Update contains a complete and I emphasise the word complete statement of the Governments financial position.

Every single dollar we are committed to spend, every liability, every contingent liability, must be contained in the document under law.

What is more, that statement must be signed off by both the Secretary of Treasury Dr Murray Horn and the Rt Hon Bill Birch, Minister of Finance.

At four oclock both the journalists and analysts, along with the Update itself, will be released to the public and the markets it will be a little like the running of the bulls at Pamplona.

Why the excitement?

Cast your mind back to the old days when following the election of a new Government we invariably had what was known as the opening of the books.

Remember those days?

Well you may have noticed that you havent heard that line recently.

Why not? Because now we dont open the books after the campaign ends. We open them before it starts!

National was the first Government in the world to pass a law which would require itself to publicly state the Government's precise financial position before it went on the campaign trail.

We wanted the public and the politicians to have the full facts before, not after, the voters made their decision.

And let me point out that we did this before we knew we would have so much good news to talk about.

Why did we do such a thing?

To answer that question I will take you back almost six years ago to the afternoon of Sunday 28th of October, 1990.

The previous night had been quite a big night for me and my party.

We had just scored the biggest electoral victory in the history of New Zealand politics.

And, as we tend to do in Te Kuiti when we win things like football matches, shearing contests and General Elections by a decent margin, we had enjoyed the evening and the early morning.

Later that morning, before I left the farm for Wellington, a staff member received a request - almost a demand - that senior officials from the Treasury and the Reserve Bank would like to meet with me when I returned to Wellington in the mid-afternoon.

At first I suggested we meet on Monday but the request came back for an urgent meeting on Sunday. I agreed.

What I was told in the next few minutes stunned me.

The Bank of New Zealand (BNZ), our oldest financial institution, majority owned by the New Zealand Government and then the dominant bank, was technically bankrupt.

And the strong advice was that the incoming Government must take steps to save it.

The BNZ was about to go belly-up something that the Labour Government had known for many weeks - right through the 1990 campaign - and had hidden the information from the public.

It was worse, much worse than that, because Labour, in the lead up to the 1990 election, had claimed up to the last day that the Government accounts were in surplus.

The truth was starkly different.

Not only did the BNZ require a rescue package of some hundreds of millions of dollars, but the true state of the accounts was that the Government had a massive deficit of billions of dollars, with worse to come if policies were not changed.

When we opened the books after the 1990 election the Treasury's forecasts were a $3.7 billion deficit in 1991/92, growing to a $5.2 billion deficit in 1993/94.

In the weeks and months that followed as we went through the agonies of the BNZ bail-out, superannuation fall-out and the benefit cuts, I and the then Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson, determined that it must never happen again.

Never again should an incoming Prime Minister be put in the situation I was put in that Sunday afternoon in Wellington.

Never again should a Government be permitted to practise such perfidy on the electorate.

To campaign on the big lie that they had balanced the books and produced a surplus, when that was totally untrue.

Never again would an election be held where one party and one party alone knew the truth. Never again.

That is why we passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

An Act which requires us, and our successors, to set out in considerable detail the true state of the nations finances before an election, not after.

You may now gather why I feel a little passionate on this subject of the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update.

The updated details of the economy will cover not only the current year but have the latest projections out to the year 1999/2000.

They will cover the Government's accounts.

They will show both the expenditure and revenue, the size of the surplus, the projected growth rates, the Government's debt position and much more.

This time everyone will have the latest information on the economy and maybe that will stop some of the nonsense put forward as fact on the TV3 debate on Tuesday night.

I would now like to talk about a subject I feel equally enthusiastic about - education.

I appointed colleague Wyatt Creech Minister of Education because I knew he was up to handling this very important portfolio.

I also left him as Minister of Employment because of the logical link between the two portfolios.

I have chosen to speak to you today on the topic of education because New Zealand business in future will rely on the quality of our educational system.

Unless you have ready access to trained minds and indeed unless your own minds are trained and re-trained you are going to fail.

In 1920 the British author H. G. Wells wrote:

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."

Had he been listened to then, the history of the 20th century may have been radically different.

Today his point is, I believe, universally accepted.

The common factor that sets the modern, progressive and secure nations of the world apart from the backward, the poor and the unstable, is their quality of education.

Today no field is more competitive than the academic one.

It is also very expensive. We have, in the past six years, increased education funding by $1.5 billion.

Total spending this year will top $6 billion. Or, to put it another way, we will be spending about $30 million every school day.

If this sounds like a lot of money, and it is, we should perhaps reflect upon the fact that while education costs money, so too does ignorance.

This is why we are committed to the huge investment necessary.

And the good news is that with our strong economy we can afford it without borrowing.

More New Zealanders are now involved in education than at any time in our nations history and this number will rapidly increase.

If there is one thing that we have learned in recent times it is the imperative for quality education in the formative years of a childs life.

Nowhere in education can we invest time and money more productively.

In the past six years weve increased the amount spent on early childhood education by 75 per cent.

As a result over 90 per cent of three and four year olds are now getting a real headstart in life.

But for some tots the process is starting earlier still with Parents as First Teachers; a scheme which supports the efforts of parents in a childs first years.

Originally introduced as a pilot programme the scheme will, by next year, have expended to cover no less than 9,000 families.

Research in South Auckland has shown that children involved in Parents as First Teachers are ahead of their contempories in almost every aspect of development.

Also part of the preschool effort is the HIPPY programme.

It aims to improve the learning skills of three to five year olds and is operated through the pilot Family Service Centres.

The next task is to ensure that these youngsters can then move into the highest quality school system we can possibly provide.

To ensure this happens weve employed over 1,000 new teachers; the result being that junior primary classes now have teacher:student ratios of 1:23.

To house these classes, and to meet projected increases in rolls, 5,000 new classrooms will have to be built in the next decade.

In total 50 new schools will be built over the same period a building programme the like of which we have not seen since the years of post-war baby boom.

This will also enable the school leaving age, which we have already lifted to 16, to be further raised to 17.

The beneficial social impact of this programme should not be under-estimated.

As the 19th century poet, Eliza Cook, wrote:

"Better build schoolrooms for the boy Than cells and gibbets for the man."

Sounds a bit harsh to me but there is a message in it.

Having reduced class sizes, built new classrooms and new schools, we can now focus on achieving higher standards.

To enable us to do this the school curriculum is undergoing a complete revamp and redesign.

Weve already introduced:

an English curriculum emphasising grammar and spelling;

a maths curriculum emphasising arithmetic; and

a science curriculum which brings the basic physics and chemistry into junior primary school.
Work has also started on a new technology curriculum which will enable students to become skilled in problem-solving and learn how to exploit new technology.

I have said all along we need top teachers and that National was willing to pay to get them.

But we do want payment on merit, not just length of service.

Teaching is one of the most important, rewarding and worthwhile jobs a young person can choose to pursue in New Zealand today.

I visit a large number of schools and see the great work that the great majority of teachers are doing.

A recent example was Bairds Road Primary School in Otara, South Auckland which I visited yesterday.

There has been much critical comment on schools in that region recently.

What I saw was the reverse.

Committed teachers doing a great job with young New Zealanders.

They were a great bunch of kids with dedicated teachers.

The same as I saw this week at Murrays Bay, Browns Bay and Kaitaia College.

As a nation we are expecting more from our schools and from our teachers as they prepare the nation's children for the tough competitive world of tomorrow.

The role of teachers as school managers will also become more important and we will have to find the skilled and innovative people needed to fill these positions.

Without great teachers we cannot hope to produce great performers and without great performers we will all suffer.

This is why we are promoting life-long education and re-training.

Since 1990 when I became Prime Minister the number of students participating in tertiary education has significantly increased - it is up by 50 per cent.

To be precise, the total number of tertiary students has increased from 141,456 in 1990 to 212,068 in 1995.

We have already budgeted to further increase the number of government-funded places in tertiary education by 17,700 between 1996 and 1999.

Weve also built up workplace and vocational training with the Skill New Zealand scheme.

By the end of this year estimates are that there will be 30,000 New Zealanders in structured employment-based training what you and I used to call apprenticeships.

This is the highest level since the 1970s and represents a reawakening in society of the importance of sound training to produce the skills needed to build yourself a better life.

If what Wells wrote about human history being more and more a race between education and catastrophe is true, I do not believe that we in New Zealand need be too concerned.

We are teaching the young how to learn... building schools ... redesigning our curricula ... promoting life-long training ... and investing more than ever before.

And the whole kit and caboodle is in the hands of a damn fine minister - your local member Wyatt Creech.

Thank you and my advice for October 12th is - remember the line First Tick National.