OPENING OF THE CHEVIOT EMERGENCY SERVICE CENTRE

  • Jack Elder
Civil Defence

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be present at the opening of this new amenity for the people of Cheviot and district.

This combined Police and Fire Service emergency service centre is a tribute to the efforts of the people of Cheviot and to the hard work of the Volunteer Fire Brigade.

The local Brigade had to raise a total of 63,000 dollars, about 10 percent of the cost of the building. To get this considerable amount of money, they have used almost every legitimate means of fundraising known to man.

There have been bottle drives, meat raffles, recycling schemes, casino nights, Christmas ham and turkey raffles, building dismantling, potato digging and selling, and chopping firewood.

And this fundraising has been going on since the Brigade was formed way back in 1962.

I am very pleased to see that after 35 years of chopping firewood, there are still some trees left standing.

And besides this marathon fundraising effort, the volunteer firefighters became subcontractors to the builders, doing much of the finishing work in the grounds.

I take my metaphorical hat off to everybody who has been involved in the fundraising effort over the years.

This example of a community working together for the benefit of everybody reinforces my belief in the importance of volunteer firefighters, and volunteers generally, to the overall well-being of a community.

>From people who deliver meals on wheels, to school sports coaches, to volunteer lifeguards, as I once was - all play a part in maintaining a healthy and vibrant community.

That is why, when I was discussing the possible appointment of the new chairman of the Fire Service Commission, I stressed my belief there needed to be more support for volunteer firefighters around the country.

And that is also why I was very pleased recently to hear that the Commission had set aside an extra half a million dollars as an initial funding boost for volunteer fire brigades.

This money, I understand, is to be set aside largely for the brigades themselves to decide how to spend, whether it be on equipment, training, education or facilities.

I have written to the Commission chairman expressing my support for this move, and told him it is my belief volunteers have not received their rightful share of resources in the past.

And lets face it, volunteers make up by far the majority of firefighters in this country.

I am however concerned that there has been a degree of public confusion over the source of the extra money, with suggestions made it was coming from the cancellation of the volunteer issues project.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The money originally targeted for the volunteer issues project has been specifically reserved to meet the future needs of volunteers.

This new facility is of course to be shared between the Fire Brigade and the Police. This makes a lot more sense than the situation in Cheviot many years ago, when the Fire Brigade had to share with the Drama Club, amongst other groups.

I have been told they had to move the club's props and scenery out of the engine bay if they wanted to put the appliance under cover.

This is not the first time there has been co-location between police and other emergency organisations. In Lumsden, Police, fire and ambulance services share the same facilities, and I am sure this trend will continue.

There is no hard and fast policy that this will always be the case, but where common sense suggests it, the option should be investigated.

In Cheviot's situation, co-location will of course make it a hell of a lot easier for Senior Constable Newman, who is also secretary of the Cheviot Volunteer Fire Brigade, to change hats according to operational demand.

Speaking of hats, it is quite handy that I happen to be Minister of Internal Affairs as well as Police, making me the governmental representative of both sides of this partnership.

It is a fact of constitutional law however that I cannot tell either the Police or the Fire Service how to go about their jobs. What I can do is try and make the legal framework appropriate for both to carry out their responsibilities, and to work to get the required money for this.

It's now over a year since the last election, and it will soon be a year since I took over as Minister of Police and Internal Affairs.

That seems to a be as good a reason as any to give you a quick run down on what has been achieved in the two portfolio areas in that time.

Much of the operation of Government over the year has been guided by a book that has assumed an almost religious significance to many people - the Coalition Agreement. It has become the yardstick by which everything the Government does is measured - "how does it relate to the Coalition Agreement" is the constant cry.

While this may be a heavy responsibility to place on a document that was negotiated, haggled, written and amended in nine weeks, it has proved to be effective in providing a general direction for the Government's work.

At this time last year I spent the nine weeks of intensive negotiations with the Labour and National parties trying to hammer out a law and order policy acceptable to New Zealand First.

You may recall that New Zealand First was the only party that campaigned on a policy of taking a tougher line on crime, and I was determined to see that the final document reflected that.

I was very pleased with the result. The Coalition Agreement states the Government would adopt a stronger approach to law and order, and to attack crime at its roots.

Under this broad general direction, the Agreement lists a number of specific targets. They include a greater emphasis on policing gangs, widening the police capacity to use electronic surveillance against organised crime, enhancing designated drug squads and emphasising covert instead of overt speed cameras.

And, of course, the Coalition agreement stated the intention to create 500 new sworn police positions over the next three years.

Already we have specific funding to put around 700 recruits through the Police College this financial year. This is to cover estimated resignations and retirements, as well as to provide the front line increase.

And the recent finalisation of the Police budget resulted in the highest ever level of funding for the Police.

Let me explain something behind New Zealand First's thinking on law and order, because it is rather different to other parties'.

We do not subscribe to left-wing academic excuses that society is to blame and that the criminal is a victim of oppression striking back at the exploiting elite.

And we do not hold the view that individual rights are paramount over the rights of everybody else in society not to be victims of crime.

Our approach is essentially common sense and practical. We expect people to take responsibility for their own actions. If you choose to break the law, then be prepared to face the consequences. Do the crime and do the time.

In recent weeks I have been increasingly concerned by statements put out by a range of people in the civil liberties community regarding the Government's efforts to crack down on crime.

Most recently, the proposal to have photographs on drivers licenses was attacked by a civil libertarian who claimed it could become "a de facto internal passport".

A passport is something you need to cross borders, and to imply the Government would consider controlling the movement of people around the country is just nonsensical.

It verges on paranoia to suggest that a photograph on a drivers licence, something done in nearly every other civilised country in the world, is somehow eroding our basic human freedoms.

It will be a valuable tool for the Police in combating road criminals, and I certainly don't need to tell anyone in the Police or Fire Service about the human reality of the carnage on the road, despite the very welcome fall in the road toll in recent years.

Similarly, the Government's plans to toughen up the law regarding gangs and organised crime groups came under fire from civil liberties activists, who said the proposals were draconian, and would lead to a police state.

I do not accept this, and I believe the majority of ordinary New Zealanders do not accept this.

Gangs are a blight on our country, and the Government is committed to doing all it can to make it very difficult for them to flout the law.

What the Government does support is the concept of stopping young people falling into a life of crime in the first place. That is why an extra three point seven million dollars is to be spent on implementing programmes for youth at risk of offending.

I am aware of the success of the current Police trials in this area, and offer my thanks to the Police staff who have worked so hard to make them work.

In conclusion, I want to assure everyone here today that the Government is committed to doing all it can to giving the Police to fight crime, and to make the country safer for law abiding New Zealanders.

The Government also fully supports the work of the Fire Service in reducing the risk of death and injury through fire, and fully supports the aims of the Fire Service Commission to give a fairer share of the pie to volunteer firefighters who do such a magnificent job on behalf of their fellow New Zealanders.

I also pay tribute to the people of Cheviot who have worked so long and hard to make this new facility a reality. You can be proud of what you have achieved, and it stands as an example of what a town can achieve for itself through hard work and community spirit.

I am sure the Cheviot Volunteer Fire Brigade's fund raising efforts will not end with the completion of this emergency services centre, but you have certainly earned a weekend off before you start converting Cheviot's remaining trees into firewood.

Congratulations to you all, and thank you very much for your attention.