NEW ZEALAND COUNCIL OF SOCIAL SERVICES 10TH ANNIVERSARYPrime Minister
Mary McGiven, Rose McLean, Hon Roger Sowry, Parliamentary colleagues, Mayor Mark Blumsky, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a pleasure to be here tonight to help the Council celebrate its 10th birthday.
As we prepare for the new millennium, ten years seems but a moment's flash in time.
And yet, what a moment in New Zealand's history.
From budget deficits to budget surpluses.
From grievance to Treaty settlements.
From an almost monocultural to a multicultural society.
From FPP to MMP and Coalition Governments.
And - as we all know - much much more.
For myself, it has been ten of the most demanding and enjoyable years of my life - as leader of the National Party, as Prime Minister for seven years, and as the father and husband of a growing and maturing family.
Tonight on behalf of all New Zealanders, I thank the New Zealand Council of Social Services for the contributions you consistently make to New Zealand society, through the delivery of social services by the many voluntary organisations that make up the Council.
The breadth and diversity of your member organisations are indeed impressive.
It is no small achievement that you have over 3,000 members under your umbrella, providing security and support for many New Zealanders each year.
It is this broad base of voluntary groups and volunteers that fosters the Council's strong grass roots linkages - a feature that greatly contributes to the Council's ability to comment knowledgeably on the individual needs of New Zealanders.
I am most encouraged by the success that the Council has achieved in raising management capability within the voluntary sector through introducing best practice models.
It is your ability to encourage a sharing of knowledge and experience that is a vital function of the Council.
I am also pleased to see that the Council is energising the voluntary sector by moving forward with new partnerships and renewed purpose.
I congratulate you on the partnership you have fostered with Maori, through the addition of the Maori Caucus, and the development of closer relationships with iwi social service programmes.
I am particularly encouraged by the interest you have shown in working more closely alongside Local and Central Government.
We have all lived through a decade in New Zealand where there has been tremendous change.
The last decade will be remembered as the decade in which we improved our economic infrastructure, kept the economy growing in an increasingly competitive global environment, and provided jobs and opportunities for more and more New Zealanders.
The economic restructuring that has occurred was necessary and in fact overdue.
But I do recognise that it was not an easy process for all New Zealanders.
Most countries like us have already, or are now, facing the same pressures to maintain a strong performing economy that we have had to resolve in the past decade.
Equally, many of them are rethinking the social role of Central Government, often because of concerns that their welfare systems do not necessarily produce the expected - or hoped for - outcomes.
Intergenerational dependency, family dysfunction and poverty traps are seen to be, in some part, the consequence of social policy systems that have failed conceptually or operationally.
That has correctly required us to look again at how we deliver social support.
I reject any idea that just because benefit dependency is increasing elsewhere, we have to go along with it.
Individuals then need help to help themselves.
Families, however defined, have an essential role to play.
Communities have a vital role to play.
Since 1990 successive Governments have made significant efforts to help the disadvantaged participate in society.
This effort to empower individuals and provide opportunities for them to succeed in a dynamic market environment helps to build social cohesion.
Education is a vital ingredient in this.
To this end, we have made significant progress at all levels of the education sector towards increasing the opportunities for Maori, Pacific Islanders and children with special needs.
Our early childhood policies recognise the diverse range of families in New Zealand and accompanying child care needs.
We are continually engaged in efforts to improve the performance of, and access to, compulsory and tertiary education.
More recently, as some of you are aware, the Government has initiated work on strengthening families; aiming at those most at risk of dysfunction.
A key feature of this work is the development of a local co-ordination project, which will improve services to families at risk through collaboration of services across health, education and welfare sectors.
Other aspects are being worked on for decisions later this year.
Partnerships are at the very heart of building social capital.
To be truly effective, partnerships between Government and the voluntary sector must recognise the ethnic and cultural differences in our society, as well as the strengths and capabilities of the partners.
The ultimate aim of these partnerships must be to improve social cohesion; they must work towards encouraging greater individual responsibility, efficiency and fairness in the delivery of social services, and development of a civil society.
Increasingly the Government is engaging the community in the delivery of social services, through the Community Funding Agency and Community Organisation Grants Scheme.
As I have said on a number of occasions, the most significant development in democracy in the first decade of the 21st century will be the transfer of greater authority from Central Government to local communities; the devolution of power.
Giving power back to people.
I am not deaf to the criticisms of the current framework through which the Government develops partnerships with community groups.
For my part, I have concerns regarding the lack of integration between funders, the lack of co-ordination across the social service sector, and the many procedural hoops through which you have to pass in search of additional funds.
I am pleased to hear from the Community Funding Agency that they will, over the next few months, be consulting with the community sector in an attempt to identify ways in which we can reduce the compliance costs for your organisations.
This is a step forward.
I believe we need to move towards creating better - more flexible and efficient - channels through which the State and the community can work together, in a relationship of trust, towards solving some of society's most stubborn problems.
To my way of thinking, this may mean a change in the roles played by Government.
Some of these roles may require greater Government leadership, others greater consultation by Government with the community, and still others a diminishment in the role played by Government in favour of leadership to be provided by private, voluntary and iwi and faith-based organisations.
This will not happen overnight.
There are a number of issues that need to be worked through.
Like what capacity exists within the community to manage basic social services, and what exists to manage the services which require complex and sensitive implementation?
However we must avoid making it all sound too complex, too difficult.
Families and communities down the centuries have dealt with difficulties and I am sure today's generation are up to the challenge.
Circumstances may change but human nature doesn't change that much.
Key questions are how much differentiation within social programmes do we require and can we afford?
And, in what form will Government partnerships with community groups give taxpayers the best value for their money?
These are some of the things that we must work on to enable a breakthrough towards a more devolved society.
Social capital cannot be imposed from the top.
It starts with you and me.
Thank you again, ladies and gentlemen, for inviting me here this evening to join in your 10th anniversary celebrations.
I believe that the next ten years will be every bit as challenging as the last.
I thank you for the good work you have made to strengthening New Zealand society and building stronger communities over the past decade.
I wish you well over the next 10 years.