QUESTIONS AT A RALLY HELD BY THE WELLINGTON GREY POWER ASSOCIATION

  • Winston Peters
Deputy Prime Minister

MICHAEL FOWLER CENTRE, WELLINGTON

HEALTH
Question:

New Zealanders are dismayed at the destructive attacks on the Public Health System, which are widely interpreted as a precursor to privatisation.

Can you reassure the meeting that your party will ensure that the Public Health System will not be downsized and will remain entirely in public hands, be adequately funded, and be accountable to the taxpayer through boards, appointed at least in part by public election?

Answer:

NZ First is NOT on a mission to privatise the Public Health System.

The focus for NZ First has always been the quality and level of services that are delivered to the people of New Zealand.

Contrary to allegations about cuts to the health sector, we have in fact INCREASED spending on health by an EXTRA $1.5 billion over the next three years, and picked up the burden of CHE debt in addition to that.

Significantly MORE money is being spent on health today than EVER before.

In the 1997/98 financial year, total Government spending on health will be a staggering $5.197 billion.

This Coalition Government will:

Abolish asset testing for elderly in long-term hospital care
Abolish hospital user part-charges
Reduce bureaucracy in the health sector
Simplify the funding structure
Make hospitals health driven, NOT profit driven
Introduce community representation on hospital boards
Call hospitals hospitals, doctors doctors and nurses nurses
We are delivering on these promises.

Income and asset testing for older people in long-stay hospital care will be scrapped from 1 October 1998, at a cost of $70 million over two years.

$150 million will be spent on 50,000 additional elective surgery operations.

An extra $90 million will be spent on mental health.

We have much more work to do, but talk of cutting back on the health system is a lie and the facts prove it so.

Spending on health has rocketed 13% over the past five years. In 1992/93, taxpayers spent $1293 on public health for every man, woman and child in the country.

This year spending will equal $1463 per head of population or just under $6 billion in total. This is almost 50% more than that spent by the last Labour Government.

Labour closed TWENTY-SEVEN hospitals, and left this country in financial ruin.

By the time Labour was thrown out of office, Government spending was out of control, 11 per cent of the workforce were unemployed, and public debt was so high that the cost of servicing it was nearly $5 BILLION a year.

Today we have halved that interest service cost, but each dollar spent on servicing debt is a dollar not available for health, education, employment and fighting crime.

That's the type of problem we face now. We are trying to manage the budget for yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Any reasonable person will see this is NOT an easy task.

All householders will appreciate the need to balance the books; to ensure there is enough money to cover all demands and contingencies.

NZ First is committed to doing the job right. We will do everything possible to improve the public health system for EVERYONE.

We are making progress, but we need time.

SUPERANNUATION
Question:

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer suggested certain dire consequences if the referendum on RSS failed.

In view of the opinions of several authorities that there is no immediate crisis and that superannuation is sustainable for the immediate future, Can you reassure the meeting that:

there will be no reductions in the current rate of superannuation;
superannuation will remain a universal right, without means test;
there will be no further increase in the age of eligibility.
Answer:

We can categorically state that NZ First has NO plans to reduce the current rate of superannuation, or to re-introduce means testing, or to continue asset testing, or to increase the age of eligibility for New Zealand superannuation during this present term.

During the recent debate on the proposed Retirement Savings Scheme, some commentators said New Zealand super was sustainable, but they later went on to say it would be sustainable, only if

the age of eligibility was lifted, or

the income was lowered, or

means testing was introduced, or

a mixture of all three.

Let me make it very clear, this is NOT NZ First policy. But the fact is, New Zealand Super is not sustainable over the long term. Certainly not under current funding arrangements. Much wealthier countries have already discovered that.

Today there are five people of working age for every person aged 65 and over.

By the year 2031 there will be only 2.7 people of working age for everyone aged 65 and over.

Expenditure on Superannuation is just over 5 per cent of GDP. By the middle of next Century it will rise to well above 10 per cent.

People are living longer: That's great, but the question is, who is going to pay for our ageing population?

Some suggest raising taxes, or cuts in other areas of Government spending such as Health, Education and Welfare.

Given that most of us don't want any of these options, we have to look at other alternatives.

The future of superannuation requires the co-operation of all political parties and NZ First remains open to solutions that will provide long-term stability, certainty and fairness.

The focus must be on how to provide a fair and universal superannuation scheme that does not place an unmanageable burden on future generations.

We need to think long term and we need to think about the legacy we will leave behind for our children and their children.

It is time for new ideas and innovation and the subject is up for debate.

HOUSING
Question:

Greypower is appalled that the Government made $115 million profit out of the less well-off people of this country, who have to beg Social Welfare for rental supplements when these houses were financed by our taxes, and have been paid for over and over again. Greypower policy is that rents of such houses should be held at 25% of the tenants' net income

Can you state your party's position on this issue?

Answer:

The $111 million surplus by Housing New Zealand will be part of the $774 million spent on accommodation assistance for low income earners in the current financial year.

So, it is incorrect to say the Government has made a "profit" out of the less-well off people of this country.

In the three years prior to the 1996/97 year Housing New Zealand made significant "losses" by spending $450 million on upgrading houses.

The reason for market rents is to maintain equality among all low income earners both in State and private sector accommodation. In fact, two-thirds of low income earners rent in the private sector.

Of the 315,000 New Zealanders receiving accommodation assistance from the state, 55,000 are in Housing New Zealand houses and 260,000 are in private homes whether as renters, boarders or mortgagors.

Under the current housing system people are assisted with their housing costs, depending on their level of need, NOT on who their landlord is.

The call for State house rents to be set at 25% of the tenant's income is hardly fair to those renting in the private sector.

Even if this system was applied to low income earners in both state and private sector homes, the cost would be huge: approximately $500 million MORE on top of the $774 million that the Government has already allocated for Accommodation Supplements.

This additional $500 million cost could only be funded by an increase in taxes or a return to old, failed policies of public borrowing.

The failure of old policies was clearly borne out by the last Labour Government, which left the State Housing sector in crisis.

Labour ignored the situation and hundreds of houses were left in a state of disrepair. As a result $450 million has been spent on upgrading State houses since 1993.

Labour also failed to provide housing to those who needed it most.

NZ First will not see thousands of low income people languish on waiting lists for State houses, while financially well-off people occupy them.

The Coalition Government's policies have set about to remedy these wrongs.

State houses have been dramatically upgraded, and all low income earners are treated equally and fairly.

Whilst they all pay market rates, they can all apply for Accommodation Supplements to assist in meeting their housing needs.

And more will be done to ensure that people are provided with adequate housing that enables them to live in dignity.

HUMAN RIGHTS
Question:

New Zealand is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Human Rights, but the Human Rights Act permits the government to actively discriminate against certain categories of citizen, including those over 65 years.

Can you reassure the meeting that your party will not facilitate a permanent exemption for Government when the empowering legalisation lapses on 31 December 1999?

Answer:

The Coalition Government will NOT give itself a permanent blanket exemption to the Human Rights Act after December 31, 1999.

Instead, any exceptions to the Act, after this date, will need to be authorised by legislation or regulation.

This will enable the Government to discriminate where it believes this is justified, for example, to pay superannuation.

The Human Rights Act 1993 prohibits discrimination in several areas of public activity, on certain grounds including age.

However, the general rule against discrimination is subject to a number of specific and general exceptions.

Positive discrimination is good. It is necessary for the delivery of services such as welfare benefits, health and education. The Government must be able to positively discriminate for the purpose of delivering these services.

Authorising discrimination by legislation or regulation ensures transparency and consultation. At the moment Ministers are able to discriminate on some grounds (including age) without going back to Parliament for approval.

They will no longer be able to do this under the changes the Government intends to introduce.

This Government is committed to protecting the rights of its citizens and will maintain its obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Human Rights.

MAI
Question:

If the Government invokes the Crown Prerogative and accedes to the OECD's Multilateral Agreement on Investment without Parliamentary or public debate, the country will hand important elements of political, social and economic sovereignty to unselected multinational bodies.

Can you reassure the meeting that your party will oppose such a course and in light of the far-reaching issues involved, ensure that the matter will be debated in Parliament and be open to public submissions?

Answer:

Contrary to what you might have heard, no international treaty can impinge upon the sovereignty and law making powers of the New Zealand Parliament.

International treaties impose certain obligations upon signatories, but they can never remove the sovereignty of individual nations.

In terms of the MAI, this Coalition Government and NZ First support public debate and have released the text of the draft agreement for that purpose.

The Government is adamant that the proposed MAI must preserve New Zealand's foreign investment laws whilst providing certainty for overseas traders and investors.

We need to provide certainty for the $28 BILLION that New Zealanders have invested overseas.

Beggars, non-savers, can't be choosers. We need to ensure the $4.4 BILLION of foreign investment in New Zealand last year continues.

This money is vital to creating many jobs and other opportunities for New Zealanders. Therefore, we must be prepared to negotiate international agreements that impact on our external and internal investment operations.

As part of the negotiation process, New Zealand has specified a number of exceptions to the MAI that are designed to protect the unique social and economic aspects of our country.

For instance, the MAI will NOT apply to the New Zealand Overseas Investment Regulations Act.

This means, for example, that foreign investors who want to buy more than 5 hectares of New Zealand land will still need approval from the Overseas Investment Commission.

I must EMPHASISE that the MAI is still in draft form.

A lot of negotiation and consultation will take place before any decision can be made on whether to sign the agreement.

I can assure you that we will consult widely and make changes if necessary, to get the best agreement possible for New Zealand.

We will not enter into an agreement that is not in New Zealand?s national interest.