PEOPLE, POLITICS, PRINCIPLES AND PARTIEPrime Minister
Hyatt Hotel, Auckland
New Zealand wants to do well in the future.
We want to be confident about who we are and where we are heading.
If we are to achieve this there is one big outstanding question for Government and New Zealanders alike.
We must ask what can and should Government do for New Zealand and its people and what can and should New Zealanders do for themselves.
We are not alone in seeking answers to this vexed question.
Most western nations are searching.
But are we smart enough to take up this challenge, have the debate, develop some consensus and make some decisions?
It's my view that New Zealanders want a Government to offer policy programmes that will make a difference for them.
What a challenge!
When National became the Government in 1990 we were faced with an economic crisis.
Today we are faced with an emotional crisis.
So to make a difference, we must begin with expectations being clear and realistic.
We deserve certainty, clarity, and understanding as to what we can expect.
New Zealanders, in asking for that, want to be confident about the future so that they can be sure of their own success as families and individuals and also be sure of our collective success as a nation.
Leadership in the broad sense of the word requires all of us to explore possibilities, create opportunities and get results.
It is my belief that the public are yearning for what they see is good government.
To some extent the transition to the MMP political process has shaken the confidence of the public.
Personality issues have dominated.
The issues for real people have been eclipsed.
Government intends to turn that impression around.
Over the next two years we will seek to bring to life five important goals:
to lead and then settle the debate on family and social responsibility;
to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of running the Government and Parliament;
continue to build a strong, growing economy
to invest in our future by making our children and young people's health and education a priority;
by seeing that the tax system makes New Zealanders feel rewarded for their efforts.
The Government team will be united by their commitment to our policy programme.
Our Ministers and Caucus teams will be working closely together on our agreed initiatives.
Ministers are committed to delivering in their areas of responsibility and I intend to see that people in business and in the community can be confident that these issues will not only be dealt with, but be completed.
We start from a very strong position.
The December Economic and Fiscal update confirms that the Government is on track with its management of our resources.
The Government's operating surpluses are forecast to rise from $1.5 billion in 1997/1998 to $2.2 billion in 1999/2000 and $3.5 billion the following year.
But we need to make sure that the extra money we are spending on health and education is quality spending.
The Government remains firmly committed to staying within the $5 billion limit set within the Coalition Agreement.
We can deliver excellent results within this programme.
It is making a real difference to the lives of New Zealanders after 12 months of a National-New Zealand First Government.
We now have:
free doctors' visits for children under six
removal of user charges in our public hospitals
more teachers in our classrooms and more classrooms for our schools
a much better deal for children with special needs
a reduction in long-term unemployment - the number out of work for more than four years has fallen by 3,500 this year
the settlement of the Ngai Tahu claim after six years of negotiation
200 more frontline Police have been recruited
measures are now in place to make our roads safer with tougher penalties
more assistance for families struggling to pay rent or mortgages through changes to the accommodation supplement
improved services for people with mental illness with the implementation of the Mason Report and extra funding for mental health services.
There have also been some real benefits for business which include:
progress on getting regulations under control
containment of costs in ACC and a reduction in levies
expansion of trade opportunities through APEC negotiation
open skies agreements which open up trade and tourism routes
ongoing attention to the reduction of tariffs
a new commitment to paying off public debt and keeping inflation under control to take pressure off business
ongoing attention to the reform in the energy and transport sectors.
The stability and certainty provided by our responsible approach has contributed to increased business confidence and brighter prospects for further economic growth.
But in addition to this we must advance the well-being of all people, whatever their personal circumstances.
This determination will guide this Government's choices over the next two years.
New Zealanders will need to be involved if a consensus is to emerge.
The Ministers in the new Cabinet have the ability and will deliver on these expectations.
Over the next two years we will put before the country a clear vision of the New Zealand we are seeking to achieve, where benefits are clearly understood by New Zealanders.
We will provide a programme based on the principles of honesty, fairness and responsibility in economic and social terms, which is planned, presented and followed through.
We will be working far more as a team, committed to our programme and with a determination we will make a success of the policies and the administrative responsibilities we have.
We will be getting out and about, talking with people, hearing their concerns, sharing their achievements and establishing the results they expect from us.
We know education, health, welfare and justice are the major issues on the minds of New Zealanders.
It is for this reason that I have appointed Wyatt Creech, Bill English, Roger Sowry and Doug Graham, four of our senior social policy ministers, to the front bench of the Parliament, to be collectively responsible for these issues.
Next year we will be challenging other political parties and our country to help settle some of these keenly felt issues.
we will be engaging New Zealanders in the public debate on family and social responsibility;
next year we will be producing a hospital plan to bring certainty to many districts;
we will be shaping a modern health service with integrated care between general practitioners, nurses, midwives, hospital staff and specialists, and other key health workers, work as integrated teams to the benefits of their patients, like the West Kids project between the general practitioners in West Auckland and the Starship Hospital;
we will be progressing the integrated pay scale between primary and secondary school teachers so that they focus entirely on the needs of their students from this year onward;
we will be continuing to provide the law required to bring those to account who have no regard for law abiding New Zealanders and as we seek to deal with this difficult minority group we will be protect the freedoms of the majority;
we will be working to resolve the outstanding Maori grievances by the year 2000.
In order to be able to turn our eyes to the future these are matters to be dealt with and put behind us.
These four Ministers will be working with Peter McCardle as we move to improve the experience, opportunity and expectations for people looking for work and needing income support.
Providing work experience, keeping a connection with the workforce and focusing on independence and well-being will be key features of this programme.
These Ministers will also be working closely with Nick Smith on Corrections, Jack Elder in Police and Tony Ryall in the Justice area.
All these Ministers will be seeing that the law can deal with those who have no respect or regard for others, as we did recently in strengthening the laws relating to gangs.
We will also be seeing that those who have offended are given the skills and experience while in jail so that when they are released they are better equipped to cope.
All these social policy ministers will be working together on their programmes and getting their departments to work on improving the delivery of social services and using public resources as effectively as possible.
To work alongside the social policy team, this Government will also present a very strong team of Ministers in the economic area, to take the fight to the Opposition and to put the case to the country.
National's contribution to this programme is lead by Bill Birch, who brings an enormous diligence, experience and determination to keeping our country moving in a positive economic direction.
Bill Birch works closely with the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, and also the Deputy Treasurer, Tuariki John Delamere.
He will of course be joined by Bill English, John Luxton and Maurice Williamson on the front bench and my colleagues Lockwood Smith, Max Bradford and Simon Upton all form a very strong and experienced economic team.
To date this Government has created an economic environment within which business can succeed.
Ongoing attention will be paid to what is required.
In order for wages to rise in New Zealand and for more jobs to be created we must continue to be progressive, efficient and effective in managing our New Zealand economy.
Some significant programmes are now well advanced.
Shortly we will be announcing our next set of decisions on the roading reform.
Settling on how we fund our roads is important to our future and requires us to set a pricing and management system that will ensure our roads are maintained and expanded at a pace that keeps up with our growing economy.
This is important for Auckland, but it's also important for the rest of New Zealand.
We are continuing our work on electricity reforms to see that consumers and users get the advantage of the changes.
There are changes to the ACC coming through to ensure that levy payers and claimants are well served.
We will continue to work to secure international trade opportunities, as Lockwood Smith recently achieved in Vancouver.
There will be further housing reforms to make housing available to more New Zealanders.
Immigration options will be finally considered and announcements made and there will be further refinement to the Employment Contracts Acts and the Resource Management Act.
We will also be completing our world-leading work on managing environmental pressures and climate change.
Our team of Ministers are experienced and have the track record.
This is a comprehensive economic programme which will allow us all to prosper as a people.
Policies to succeed need to be based on sound economic principles and in the months ahead as we continue to debate our country's direction I would caution that we base the debate on realism, not on some of the fairyland solutions or wishful thinking that I hear coming from Opposition parties.
Economically we are a stunningly successful country for our size and this success allows us the choices we have today which were not in fact present 10 years ago.
Today's December economic and fiscal update shows real GDP growth is expected to be 2.7 per cent in the 1997/98 year, increasing to 4 per cent in the 1998/99 year, which means that the Government will continue to have increasing surpluses.
Our greatest challenge, however, will be settling on how we spend those surpluses, which we have worked so hard to achieve.
Firstly, in considering this we must ask ourselves whether people believe governments are better spending their own money than they are themselves.
I believe that New Zealanders should be rewarded for their efforts and able to make the decisions as to where their priorities lie.
I am very proud to be part of a Government that next year will deliver more of people's hard earned income back to them in the form of a cut in tax levels.
Secondly, in debating how much Government spends on social policy programmes in health, education and welfare, we must be careful to be realistic about what we can afford, and what's more, what will make a real difference.
Parliament can always spend more and Opposition parties can foster expectations that can never be delivered on.
So as this debate heats up, keep asking who is paying?
Never lose sight of the fact that all Government spending comes from real tax payers who are the people in your street.
National believes in the interests of fairness and responsibility we must agree on promoting a low tax environment, balanced against the expectation of some universal and some targeted social service programmes.
Others will want to promote high tax and universal provision as best.
It is up to them to explain what this will do to jobs, our debt levels, our savings and our future.
High taxes simply stifle people's enthusiasm to seize opportunities and to feel confident about taking business risks that reward them for their initiative and allow us all to prosper.
Already I note that the Labour Opposition can't decide which horse to back in this regard.
While promising increased spending on housing, health, student allowances and student loans, to name but a few, Labour also claims it won't promise too much.
They are now suggesting they may change their tax policy.
I say to Labour come out of that broom cupboard and tell New Zealand what the real consequences of a Labour Government would be.
Many of their current proposals will take New Zealand backward, not forward.
This can't be allowed to happen.
This Government believes New Zealanders do deserve to be rewarded for their efforts.
In seeking a low tax approach the Government intends to pay particular attention to see that the integrity of the tax base is protected and that people do pay their share.
Recent work suggests that this is fertile ground for savings activity.
Our policy programme is well advanced.
This evening I want to leave my final comments for the issue of style.
I have been interested and somewhat amused by the cartoonist and commentators' expectations of my leadership.
I hear the labels of left and right, hard and soft, dictatorial and cooperative, or authoritarian or inclusive.
None of these labels take us forward as a nation.
As Prime Minister it is my task to see that New Zealand has an outward looking, economically responsive and socially progressive Government.
It must be a Government that is respected for what it does, how it manages and responds to people's concerns and what type of New Zealand it delivers.
It is the intention of the National-New Zealand First Government to succeed.
We have a record of politically working together, despite the MMP environment.
As the Michael Jordan advertisement says, "my failures have and will become my success".
To those who want fireworks, you will be disappointed.
I intend to deliver results, not entertainment, though I hope we will have some fun on the way.
To those who are preoccupied with division, yes there are differences, but MMP government requires us to focus on what we can agree in common in order to make progress, rather than becoming paralysed by what divides us.
Finding the common ground so that we can deliver a progressive economic and social programme is where I intend to put our energies.
Last week we demonstrated that this could succeed in the most difficult of areas, such as the Maori Reserved Lands Bill.
With a concession and an accommodation, the needs of both political and outside interests were met.
To those who think minority government is an easy or desirable alternative, I say look around the world at the history and success, or should I say, failure of such an option.
While minority governments may be a feature of New Zealand politics at some stage in the future, they will be short-term and probably short-lived governments.
New Zealanders in my opinion want good government which puts people's interests first.
Majority government, with all its demands, is the best way to deliver on people's expectations.
Effective political parties of the future will be those that demonstrate that they can make coalition government work when New Zealanders have expressed their preference through their list vote.
National has that record.
Others shy away from the prospect.
The voters will judge which is the more viable main governing party.
New Zealand is a small but smart nation.
Our people are self-assured.
We like to be involved, to stand out, to succeed.
I feel very privileged that I have now been given the opportunity to lead this country.
It is my task as Prime Minister to draw on that strength, to bring out the best in us, to ensure that we raise our horizons as a nation in both economic and social terms.
Put simply, it is our challenge to be the best that we can be.
As a nation, as a political party, as the Parliamentary team, as individuals.
That is my commitment.
I relish the opportunity.