NZEI ANNUAL CONFERENCE

  • Jim Bolger
Prime Minister

President of the NZEI Iria Whiu, Vice-President Bill Noble, invited guests, delegates, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for the invitation to speak to your annual conference.

Nothing is more important than the art of teaching, and no aspect of teaching is as important as the skill of imparting learning to the young.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to you, to tell you what is on our mind and where I believe the nation is going over the next few weeks and beyond.

A week ago I spoke to the PPTA conference here in Wellington where a number of concerns were raised, some of which I suspect you might share.

Thus, in line with the other matters I want to discuss with you today, I will cover off those topics also.

I said on that occasion that all election campaigns are different and this one especially so because of the advent of MMP.

I also said that I was surprised at the level of misunderstanding which still exists, especially the fact that it is the party vote which determines the outcome.

The party vote alone which establishes how many MPs each party will have after the votes are counted.

Equally there appears very little real understanding that the voters no longer elect a Government at the election time.

Now they will elect political parties who, after the election, will negotiate to form a Government.

That is the biggest change in our electoral system.

It is the element that journalists and commentators are concentrating on as they seek to determine which coalitions may form after the election.

With regard to that, in my view it is inevitable that the two or three parties that may be considering a coalition will want to bring all their policy proposals to the table.

What will happen, the PPTA asked, if you were to form a Government with a party whose policies we vigorously oppose? For instance, one that favoured vouchers?

There are two aspects to that question.

The first is, what is National's policy? And second, how do you therefore form a coalition with some party that is pursuing a different policy?

Well our policy on that one is quite clear. We are not in favour of vouchers as a universal means of funding education.

Vouchers are one of those ideas that appears very simple in concept, but becomes more difficult once you try and figure out how to implement such a scheme across the whole education sector.

So where does that place us vis-a-vis some party who might think they are a great idea?

Let me spend a moment on how coalition Governments are formed.

The first point I would make is that you can't stop an individual party bringing its proposals to the negotiating table.

But that doesn't mean they will all be accepted.

Nor does it mean that the rejection of specific policies will prevent a coalition being formed.

Overseas in countries with systems similar to the one we have adopted these conflicts are dealt with in the following manner.

First, those policies which both (or all three) parties can agree upon are isolated and ticked off as part of the new Government's forward programme.

Second, those matters which clearly cannot be agreed upon, are set aside quite possibly with an agreed process for resolution somewhere down the line.

Third, and this is where the real haggling starts, are those matters which must be resolved by agreement or compromise before a Government can be formed.

This last stage does, of course, involve matters which go far beyond policy.

It also deals with issues such as Ministerial posts and other areas of responsibility.

It's clear that the above process may take quite some time.

Indeed in other countries it is considered desirable that it should do so, as experience has shown that more permanent and workable arrangements tend to result.

All of this requires, of course, a certain maturity of approach on behalf of the nation's political leaders.

And I have to be honest, I'm not sure that we have that at the present time.

Too many leaders and parties are fighting this campaign as if it were an old First-Past-the-Post campaign rather than MMP.

The Alliance for example who were the strongest supporters of MMP says that it has 12 policies on which there can be no compromise - every "i" is dotted, every "t" is crossed.

They cannot compromise "full stop".

New Zealand First is emphatic that their's is the only way to salvation.

Unless you keep the foreigners out, New Zealand is lost.

Helen Clark says they could never work with National.

She says that despite the fact every commentator knows, that Labour's policies across the board are closer to National's than she cares to admit.

The reason for her position is not policy but history.

She and Labour have fought National for sixty years and she is not going to be defeated by the new MMP system.

It's all a bit dated and out of touch.

The public chose MMP, at least in part, to send a message to politicians to stop the grandstanding and work together in a more constructive manner.

I agree with that.

I have been doing it for the last three years and despite the pessimism from many quarters, it's all worked quite well.

Labour MP Peter Tapsell became Speaker, former Labour MP Peter Dunne is in Cabinet.

Other former Labour MPs, Clive Matthewson and Margaret Austin, as part of the United Party, supported the Government on most issues, not all.

One issue they didn't support National on was returning to compulsory teacher registration.

That was changed and the world didn't stop.

What coalition forming and coalition Governments require is consultation, cooperation and commonsense.

Our position on coalition forming is clear.

We won't rule any party in or out.

We will campaign strongly on our policies, highlight the defects in other parties' policies as we see them, point out the contradictions and then trust the voters to make their choice.

Once the voters have determined the shape of the new Parliament on 12th October, then we will seek to put together the best possible Government we can for New Zealand.

Earlier this year, because of pending retirements, I decided changes in ministerial responsibilities would be needed.

On 29 February 1996 I announced that the Hon Wyatt Creech would be the new Minister of Education and the Hon Bill English his Associate Minister.

At the PPTA I was congratulated on this move.

In saying this I want to thank the Hon Dr Lockwood Smith for his contribution to the development of education in New Zealand.

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

But you can only deliver high quality education if your country has the financial strength to make the necessary investments in teachers and facilities.

Today in New Zealand we have reached that position.

We most certainly were not in that position when I became Prime Minister in 1990.

We can now afford, and are spending, hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading school buildings everywhere.

My Government accepts that good facilities and good equipment are an important part of delivering top quality education.

However, given that we can't do all the deferred maintenance at once there will always be some grumbles.

An intriguing aspect of this campaign is not that all my political opponents are promising to spend more to every audience they face, that's par for the course.

It's not that they grabbed with glee the surpluses, actual and projected, announced in the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update.

Within hours they had spent the surplus about three times over.

They want to spend the fruits of the economic tree that produces strong growth and therefore the ability to invest much more in key areas like education and health.

But in the same breath they solemnly promise to cut down the economic tree that created the economic wealth they wish to spend.

When discussing education, it's correctly said that education costs a lot of money but then so too does ignorance.

The Government is now committing $6 billion of the taxpayers' money across the entire education sector each year.

This is $1.5 billion more than was being spent in 1990.

Spending increases of that size can only be sustained with a strong economy.

A feature of this years Budget was the allocation of new education spending totalling $206 million over the next three years, the bulk of which is destined for schools.

The Economic and Fiscal Update foreshadowed in total an extra $800 million for education by the year 2000.

That's without any additional new policies being adopted.

In my view taxpayers do not begrudge in any way rewarding teachers well; because they know that more is going to be asked of teachers as society becomes more complex.

Here I refer to the diversity of a multi-cultural society with different needs and different demands.

I refer to unstable family structures which put pressure on children and pressure on schools.

I refer to the fact that many students are coming from homes which have had limited exposure to the requirements of modern education, for all these reasons and more, much is going to be asked of teachers.

The Government and the teaching profession are facing an immediate challenge in the form of roll growth, with 50 new schools and 5,000 classrooms needed over the next decade.

The cost is estimated to be about $2.6 billion of extra spending over that 10 year period, but the good news is with continued prudent management of the economy we will be able to fund it without having to borrow as in the past.

The teaching profession, like the rest of society, has been grappling with the changing demands of students, parents and the marketplace for a little while now.

Technology can be a demanding task-master but then technological change will also mean that education can be delivered in more flexible and customised ways.

This will have enormous implications for the way in which we organise our education systems.

First and foremost, quality education must begin with quality teaching.

Teacher training and professional development needs to respond to the changes so as to equip teachers to meet the challenges they face.

The Minister of Education has been asked by a wide range of organisations to carry out a comprehensive review of teacher pre-service and in-service training.

In what is an important decision for the education sector, my Government has decided to go ahead with this review.

The Minister of Education will be recommending to Cabinet the names of people to undertake this important task.

The review group will prepare a discussion document outlining the major issues relating to teacher education and present advice to the Government.

We hope the group will hold its first meeting by November, and it will report back in June next year.

The shape of the future means that we can no longer have teaching resources, including remuneration, allocated on rigid sectoral lines.

We can no longer justify the current distinction between Primary and Secondary teaching in terms of conditions and pay.

I know you feel strongly on this and have been anxious to make progress towards a Unified Pay System within an Integrated Teaching Service.

My position has been clear.

I supported the move to a Unified Pay System within an Integrated Teaching Service, but we could only make progress once your fellow union the PPTA also agreed to the proposal.

They have now agreed and we reaffirm our commitment to a Unified Pay System.

We regard a Unified Pay System as a very important step forward.

It must facilitate a more responsive and flexible teaching service in which pay differentials are not based on the particular sector in which a teacher happens to work.

The challenge is now for the parties to work constructively to develop a Unified Pay System so that we can start to put it in place when the primary and secondary contracts expire in early 1998.

It will require everyone to work together constructively to make sure everything is resolved by then.

The next step in developing a Unified Pay System within an Integrated Teaching Service is to formally establish a joint working party to develop the details of the concept.

The first meeting of the working group was held today.

This is the most important development in the State-funded public school system for a very long time.

It will break down some of the artificial barriers between primary (including intermediate) schools, area schools and secondary schools.

When you look at that list and recognise they have different contracts and responsibilities, you realise the amount of work and good will that will be needed to achieve agreement in little over 12 months.

Clearly it is unwise to raise unrealistic expectations at the beginning of a complex exercise.

We see a Unified Pay System involving salary variances between teachers which are determined by quite a wide range of factors.

These factors would almost certainly include performance, qualifications, duties, responsibilities, relevant experience and labour market conditions.

That said, I am pleased that we are in the position to move forward.

I am pleased we have the financial strength to confront the challenges and costs of moving to a new system.

Together we have great challenges ahead of us in education.

No area of public activity is more important, none will have a greater influence on New Zealand's success as a nation.

I wish your members success as they help develop the minds and attitudes of another generation of New Zealanders.

Like the work I saw in progress at Bairds Road Primary School in Otara -dedicated teachers and a talented Principal doing a great job.

I wish your members well in the years ahead.