• Neil Kirton

Personal Background & Thanks:
The Maiden Speech of any Member, to this House of Representatives, is likely to be both the most honest and the most important personal statement they will make in this Chamber.

Honest - in the sense of providing an insight into the individual MP - where they come from ... what motivates them ... what they hope to achieve.

And important - in the sense that these are the personal values, the political concepts ... that will drive and dominate their individual thoughts and actions for as long as they serve the people of this country.

No MP got to this position by themselves.

We represent the thoughts, actions and sacrifices of many others, ... but now that we are here ... we are ultimately accountable to our own conscience ... and to our individual perception of duty.

First and foremost, I want to thank my wife Diana and my four boys - Chris, Tom, Louis and Bernie - for giving me the opportunity to do this job and for the personal sacrifices you have made - and will continue to make - on my behalf.

Without the love and support of my family I could never have received the chance to stand here today.

Similarly, I thank my parents for giving me a chance to develop my dreams and my potential - and for also making those parental sacrifices for each of their eight children. They provided us all with the most loving, safe and secure of foundations.

I acknowledge, Mr Speaker, that the chances provided to me - are sadly denied to far too many New Zealand children - and that, in part, is my motivation for being here, today.

I was born and raised in the milltown of Manunui - that nestles the upper reaches of the Wanganui River and lies in the magnificent shadow of Mt Ruapehu. Manunui is but a train whistle from Taumaranui and it was the age of steam that brought my pioneering grandfather to the King Country as a stationmaster on the Main Trunk Line ... and then as a farmer ... breaking a virgin wilderness into rich productive land like so many pioneers before him.

The Kirtons maintain a presence to this day in Manunui with my older brother Weston still running the family farm and serving his community as the Mayor of Ruapehu District.

Since my undergraduate days at Otago University, Diana and I have made Hawkes Bay our home with just the brief interregnum in Hamilton.

We have now returned home to Meeanee and to our orchard - an oasis of peace and sanity for the inevitable frenzy that will follow! I know that the support and encouragement of our friends in Hawkes Bay will be even more important to us over the next three years - both in terms of comfort and guidance.

My grateful thanks to those people who had the personal faith in me that allowed me to stand for Parliament and to then receive Ministerial appointment and responsibility. That includes my Campaign team of last year led by Tom Bleier and the women who raised my campaign funds through the Op. Shop - Jean Rhodes, Xnia McFarlane and Norma Doyle. My thanks also to Trevor Moore, Keith Smith, Hillary Carter, Inez Scott and Mihi Strother who provided me with the personal support and advice during this last Election campaign.

As I said before - no one stands in this House without the support of others. I acknowledge my debt to those individuals who have stood by me and given me the chance to play a formative role in making a better tomorrow.

Political Aims:
I want to make it absolutely clear that I regard the Coalition Agreement - signed on 12 December 1996 - the touchstone, the political bible if you will ... that must govern and guide the actions of this Coalition Government over the next three years.

The most recent National Business Review opinion poll - which measured public respect amongst the professions - placed politicians on the very lowest rung. That reputation has been earned ... it is not the result of past misunderstandings nor a bad rap from the media.

I believe that this Parliament represents the last chance for the political profession to restore their public credibility. We have already faced an electoral revolution with the advent of MMP.

But that was only the first step ... the public are rightly demanding that politicians keep to their word ... and work more effectively together in the common interests of all New Zealanders.

The Coalition Agreement then is critical to the publics confidence in the institution of Parliament. We must not allow it to be subverted or distracted over the next three years by bureaucratic manoeuvre or political expediency.

The Coalition Agreement is this governments contract with the people of New Zealand for the next three years.

Health Issues:
With particular regard to the Health portfolio, the Coalition Agreement signals an important and, I believe, fundamental change in the way this countrys health services are managed and delivered.

As both a private hospital manager - and more recently as a business manager in the public health sector - it has become obvious that the health reforms have failed to match the claims of their originators. Indeed in some areas the reforms have proven disastrous.

I can well understand the thinking that drove the original health reforms. The previous administration wished to limit public expenditure to defined budgets - and that required changes to both the management and financial framework in which the health sector operated. This concept of accountability for taxpayers monies was laudable.

But then this ideology grew beyond simple efficiency objectives.

The health reforms began to transform the entire sector - from one of servicing public need ... to one of assuming a commercial focus for private profit.

This new competitive health sector deliberately blurred the lines between public and private provision ... and placed public health upon an inevitable track to privatisation. Who provided the service became irrelevant - the State paid for a defined level of commitment - and that was the limit of the States responsibility and accountability.

This madness saw the creation of 23 separate Crown Health Enterprises who were then compelled to make a profit and return a dividend to the Crown. Four Regional Health Authorities were then established to oversee this contracting process - each pursuing separate policies causing confusion and fragmentation.

These publicly-owned CHEs were then compelled to compete against private interests in delivering health services ... with local elected officials replaced by centrally appointed commercial directors.

It was a bizarre scenario. Public health institutions forced to compete against private providers for scarce government funding - with any natural advantage denied ... by a centrally imposed directive that they must return a dividend to their shareholders - in this case, the Crown.

Indeed, public providers faced a double disadvantage ... with the creation of a purchaser culture ... that actively encouraged private interests to compete with and beat the public sector.

But the madness will not be easily defeated.

In my first few weeks as the Associate Minister of Health it has become apparent that some public servants regard the Coalition Agreement as an obstacle - rather than as the policy framework to guide their activities. They have taken a business as usual approach - despite a strict mandate in the Coalition Agreement - which flags a fundamental shift in government direction.

Significant pressure is already being applied by private sector interests - their profit projections under threat from the Coalitions stated Health Policy.

The people of New Zealand want a strong, healthy and quality public health system. One that is primarily delivered by public agencies or those with an ethos of public service. One that is accountable to them as both a consumer and as a taxpayer.

The New Zealand people did not vote for ... and do not want ... a weak public health system that is periodically raided by private interest for private gain.

I want to make it plain to the House that I will be an active and determined proponent of an accountable, efficient public health system. That the improvement of this nations physical and mental health must lie at the very heart of every new policy ... and not the ideology of the commercial market.

The provision of free health services - both GP visits and free medical prescriptions - to all children aged 5 years and under is an important and fundamental step in that direction.

I want to emphasise that it is for all children aged five years and under ...

That first year of compulsory schooling is critical. It is the first opportunity that the State has to assess all children. But we must not be content with that intervention. For some it will be too late at five years of age - that is the sad reality.

I will want to see health authorities and early childhood education centres - kindergartens, kohanga reo, playcentres - working together to ensure healthy bodies and healthy minds for their charges.

Dependent upon other funding priorities, it is my wish to see NZ Firsts child health policy adopted in total by this administration. Then we could deliver free health care to all primary aged children.

But the five-and-under policy, and the piloting of new Family Health Teams, with their goal of protecting our vulnerable young, is a giant step in the right direction.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I want to explain why I have such a strong personal commitment to the public health system.

I want every child in this country to have the same opportunities that I had. My parents were the largest influence upon allowing me those choices and those chances ... but so too were the free health and free education policies that governed my childhood.

Not every child has a safe or supportive living environment. Far from it. Child health conditions in some suburbs and regions are the equal of the Third World - the public health and mortality statistics of Maori children, in particular, should give no cause for complacency or congratulation. They are a scandal.

Until every child in this country has the same opportunities and choices that I had - that the vast majority of MPs in this Chamber today have had - then we cannot claim success.

That means that our health, education and social welfare sectors must be working together to deliver those outcomes. By letting any of these sectors be run by the principles of the commercial market we actively hinder our collective responsibility to make a positive difference in the lives of our children.

These are the principles that I was elected upon.

These are the principles that I believe in.

And these are the political principles that will govern my actions for the rest of my political life.