Milestones for New ZealandersSenior Citizens
Milestones for New Zealanders
Mr Burnet, Chairperson Mrs Noble, Jill Pettis, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for inviting me to address your AGM today.
I would like to acknowledge the contribution which Age Concern makes to community life throughout New Zealand.
And indeed, in helping older New Zealanders with practical programmes and initiatives.
I know that Age Concern Wanganui does considerable work within our communities.
Ranging from volunteer transport schemes to welfare and field officers.
Through my own personal experience with older people, I believe that it is having someone like a field officer, or a welfare officer available as a contact, which ensures that help is there if, and when it is needed.
It is important that we continue to keep this type of contact more available to older people.
For it can often mean receiving assistance early, in particular, to maintain one's independence for as long as possible.
And it is keeping independent which should be seen by all New Zealanders as central to our lifestyle choices.
And when we talk of choices, I believe New Zealanders are today taking more seriously, and more thoughtfully, the many options we have.
Not only in everyday life, but looking to the long term - whether it is financial, career, family, or politics.
We have much choice available.
For the last nine months, New Zealanders have experienced milestones.
Milestones which have touched every one of us in some way.
The election last October, was a milestone in New Zealand politics.
It gave New Zealanders the opportunity to have a political choice never enjoyed before.
It meant that our political representation in Parliament is indeed what it should always be - a true representation of New Zealanders.
No longer do we have the first-past-the-post-system that gave New Zealanders a succession of governments which could only claim to represent a small proportion of voters.
This political milestone is one which I hope New Zealanders will see as the greatest window of opportunity for ensuring that governments do indeed listen to New Zealanders.
The next milestone was the Coalition Agreement.
I was closely involved in those negotiations and the intention of New Zealand First, then and now, has always been to get the best deal for New Zealanders.
That agreement, is a milestone I am proud to be associated with.
We got the best deal for New Zealanders.
MMP has delivered to New Zealanders, an environment where negotiation and compromise are key components in political management today.
For New Zealand First has ensured that the social responsibilities of the government are taken into account in developing and implementing policies.
And that blindly pursuing a strong economic policy, without taking into account, the social needs of our nation, is no longer the case.
Our next major milestone is of course the recent, and first Budget of the Coalition Government.
And the extra $5 billion going back to New Zealanders is a direct result of New Zealand First policies.
And we have achieved what other parties cannot claim credit for - the delivery of extra social services, and continued to be fiscally responsible.
If we were not fiscally responsible, a low growth economy and high unemployment would not serve New Zealanders well.
We set out to achieve a balance.
And I believe we have done so.
We have been fair, and have ensured that any government assistance does go to those who need it.
This year's Budget gives New Zealanders a very clear three year direction.
And outlines exactly what the Coalition Government intends to do.
MMP has certainly created some positive and major changes.
Not least, in my view, by ensuring that New Zealanders do know, up front, what to expect from government policies over the next three years.
MMP does create more open government.
For the Coalition Agreement is our public commitment to New Zealanders.
And is reflected in this year's Budget which is about economic growth and stability.
It is also about social responsibility.
And it is also about investing in the future of New Zealanders.
Especially investing in education and in health.
New Zealand First is making the difference.
For senior citizens, the Budget has confirmed the removal of the superannuation surcharge from April 1998.
It was a policy based on ageism and unacceptable.
And I know it was welcome news to older New Zealanders.
Income and asset tests for older people in long-stay hospital care, and the asset test for older people in long-stay private hospital care will be removed from October next year.
I know that some concern has been raised about rest home residents, and the income and asset test currently applied.
And I have sought agreement from my ministerial colleagues that this issue will be looked at over the next year.
I was delighted to be able to announce recently that the Coalition Government would now fund the elder abuse and neglect programmes operated by Age Concern.
We were able to provide $340,000 to keep these important programmes running.
New Zealanders have another milestone ahead.
And that is the Retirement Savings Scheme referendum in September.
For the first time, New Zealanders are being presented with a unique opportunity.
To have a say about a government policy which impacts on all of us.
And I believe that having a healthy debate on the issue will benefit us all.
It is important that we hear all viewpoints, and that we take the opportunity to vote in an informed way.
Yesterday, the White Paper for the scheme was released.
The scheme sets out to achieve several objectives.
To be fair to all New Zealanders - women, men, all level of income earners, and those with no income.
To ensure that retirement income becomes a shared responsibility between individuals and the government.
It will require those who can save, to do so.
And will ensure that government helps those who cannot save.
It will, eventually reduce, markedly, the cost of retirement to the taxpayer.
Individuals will have greater certainty about their retirement income.
Current retirees and those close to retirement will not be affected.
Those retiring before 1 April 2003, plus current retirees, will receive a full entitlement to New Zealand Superannuation throughout their retirement.
It also means that future governments cannot interfere with the scheme, as has happened with the current superannuation scheme.
Politicians have been able to change the rules when it has been politically expedient for them to do so, with no reference to those affected - New Zealanders.
Under the new scheme, current superannuants will be protected - governments will not be able to spend your money!
And have their current level of superannuation guaranteed.
It is important that you all take the time, and the opportunity to know and understand the proposed scheme.
For MMP has given us a more robust climate for debating issues.
But more importantly, each and every New Zealander eligible to vote in the September referendum, should do so.
Make your vote count, but ensure that it is an informed choice!
The next milestone we face, is one presented by our increasingly ageing population.
And I believe old and young need to work together to promote "positive ageing".
When the report from the Prime Ministerial Taskforce on Positive Ageing was released last week, I talked about society's challenge.
That is, positive ageing is an issue which New Zealanders need to address.
Not some time "in the future" but now!
It is important that we develop strategies and practical programmes to promote positive ageing.
Attitudes towards ageing and older people have been changing in recent years.
And I want to see us continue to build and gain momentum from this attitudinal change.
The foundation for change was focused on in the Coalition Agreement.
It is important to ensure that any government policies and direction can indeed meet the needs of our current and future older generations.
I will be interested in receiving responses from Age Concern on the Taskforce report and recommendations.
In looking to the future, 1999 is the United Nations International Year of older Persons.
The theme chosen by the United Nations is: "Towards a society for all ages"
I challenge New Zealanders to see this year as a goal to work towards building and implementing practical, community programmes.
I would like to start doing this now.
By having such a focus, New Zealanders will then be able to celebrate positive ageing as a reality.
Not a concept to just be looked at during 1999.
I want the Coalition Government to remain in touch with, and continue to listen to, the needs and concerns of older New Zealanders.
And that is why I want to have responses to the Taskforce report.
One issue I know Age Concern is looking closely at, is the idea of a national framework for health care services for older people.
This concept has not only been proposed by the National Health Committee publication "Care for older People in New Zealand".
But also identified in a recent Ministry of Health discussion document: "The Health and Wellbeing of Older people and Kaumatua: Public Health issues".
The latest discussion document has invited feedback on the proposal.
My Advisory Council for Senior Citizens has also brought this proposal for a national framework to my attention, and have expressed support for it.
And I see the impending changes to the structure of RHAs as providing a possible opportunity for the concept of a national framework, to be further developed.
Age Concern has also identified the issue of better communication and discussion between the voluntary sector and government.
I firmly believe that government must work in partnership with New Zealanders.
And certainly, the volunteer sector undertakes a considerable amount of work, which quite frankly, I do not believe is quantified enough.
If the public sector was required to provide all the services and information the volunteer sector does, the cost to taxpayers would be enormous.
I have tremendous admiration for everyone who works in the volunteer sector.
I do agree that to better manage the provision of services, programmes and initiatives, we must work in partnership.
Too often, in the past, we have seen government policies implemented that in reality cannot hope to be successful.
And policies that look great in theory, but have failed to meet the needs of the very people requiring the service.
For the simple reason that no one bothered to find out what people thought.
Or to draw on the experiences of people in our communities and of those working in the particular areas.
Practical experience and knowledge, are in my view, essential prerequisites for examining the potential of any policy.
That is why I am always wanting to hear viewpoints from organisations such as Age Concern.
And talk to older people affected by policies as well as to professionals who help older people.
So that I can better understand what polices and practical help can make the difference for older people.
And in so doing, also achieve milestones for older New Zealanders.