WE ARE DELIVERING.......THE FIRST 100 DAYSTreasurer
Mayor Noel Pope, ladies and gentleman.
It's good to be here today, in Tauranga to celebrate, emphasise, and celebrate the first 100 days of the Coalition Government. If you believed everything you read in the media, and took to heart everything our political Opposition is saying, you could be excused for thinking the Coalition is on the point of collapse.
Mayor Pope, ladies and gentlemen, let us assure you, the reality is considerably different.
Yes, we have had our little challenges that have grabbed the headlines in recent times. Allegations surrounding expenditure at Aotearoa Television certainly ensured a rather brutal opening of the new Parliamentary session.
It also meant some members of our team were quickly pushed onto a left foot and into a defensive attitude. And it would be fair comment to say that this has had an unsettling impact.
One has to acknowledge that the issue over remonstrating with colleague John Banks outside the debating chamber recently has also grabbed the headlines in a rather negative and unfortunate way. Mr Banks received an apology and there the matter should have rested.
This is not the place or occasion to argue the rights or wrongs or otherwise of what took place, but surely it's obvious that it has been in the interests of our political detractors to make as much of the issue as they can.
Let us be quite clear. There has been a great deal of grandstanding over the issue of Mr Banks and myself. Grandstanding by some for political gain, rather than pursuit of the truth.
Government critics have tried hard to drive a wedge between the Coalition partners, and we have had occasions to "beg differently" on issues within the partnership, but this is to be expected. This is healthy and expected under MMP. It is early days yet and we are still settling down the teams. No one said this early phase would be easy, yet despite the occasional sensational headline, the Coalition is working well, and substantial gains are being made.
Any thought of NZ First's demise are wishful thinking. We are delivering, and this year's Budget will reinforce that.
We campaigned for a better, healthier, fairer society. A society that rewards hard work, initiative and co-operation.
During the early Coalition negotiations late last year we were able to marry up our desires with those of our Coalition partner.
The Budget Policy Statement released three weeks ago confirms the commitment we have given to the electorate to inject up to an additional $5 billion into the community over the next three years.
Government critics have tried to down play the size of the commitment we have made. They can't. It is substantial. We can afford it, and it will make a difference to the economy and the lives of people in the Bay of Plenty and beyond.
Up to $950 million is being earmarked for additional expenditure in the forthcoming financial year to support pledges made to the electorate. Up to $1.7 billion will be set aside in 1998/99, and up to $2.35 billion extra in 1999/2000. Despite dire predictions of what would happen to the economy after the Coalition was formed, the economy continues to grow strongly.
Inflation is predicted to fall to 0.8 percent by the June 1998 quarter. Unemployment is predicted to fall, reaching 5.5 percent in the March quarter 1999. And business confidence continues to improve.
Economic growth is expected to average around 3 to 3.5 percent annually over the next three years, and the Government expects to achieve on-going surpluses.
It is a fact, the current account deficit is climbing at present, not as a result of a spend-thrift Government, but as a result of private domestic and foreign investors having the confidence in New Zealand's growth potential.
We have no cause for concern when money is being borrowed to improve productivity.
Government spending on consumption, once a major driving force in New Zealand's current account deficit, is no longer a factor. We have got our act together.
There has also been concern in some quarters about the high value of the New Zealand dollar. Some of you exporters in the Bay have also raised worries.
It is not the value that is so much the problem, but the speed with which the dollar has moved. You should take heart from a Reserve Bank statement a week ago that the upward movement may have peaked, that the velocity has been arrested.
Late last year we went to the electorate with particularly strong policies on health, employment and law and order. We are delivering on those promises.
As outlined in the Coalition Agreement, a transitional health authority has already been set up to take over the functions of the four Regional Health Authorities. It is the first step in setting up a new single funding agency to be established in 1998.
The competitive profit focus of public hospitals has gone. That is what the public wanted last year. That is what many voted on and that is what we have delivered.
Free flu influenza vaccines are now available for the elderly. Free doctor visits and prescription medicines for children five and under are on the way.
That is what people voted for last year and we are determined to deliver. A substantial portion of the $5 billion in extra spending over the next three years will be for health and education. You will have to wait for the Budget for details!
There has been something of a brouhaha in recent times over a cardiac service for Christchurch. It is an issue that's been around for 20 years. We are determined to resolve it quickly and to the satisfaction of all involved, but our policies in this area are clear.
Whilst not trying to diminish the issues involved, it is appropriate to remember that while the headlines were screaming on this topic, we were allocating more funds to reduce waiting lists for surgery across the country.
That is good news for 8000 people.
As promised before the election, a referendum will be held on compulsory superannuation. Details are currently being worked through and a white paper outlining the scheme will be made public in July. The timetable is tight, but there is a wealth of material already available. There is every confidence that you will be able to make an informed decision.
One thing is fundamentally clear, the present regime is just not viable. We expect a rapid increase in the number of citizens aged 65 and over 13 years out from now. The figure will not be 416,000, but one million.
We must address this question now. And we will do what we have promised and put the issue before you later this year. It will be your choice over which track we go down. And that is only fair.
An independent panel to handle the publicity material associated with the scheme will be announced shortly. And the surcharge will be scrapped on April 1, 1998 as promised. We fought hard for this. This is good news for the elderly, especially those who made a commitment over the years to a particular scheme of savings, only to find in recent times that they faced a penalty for having done so.
It is time we resolved this superannuation issue for all time and built certainty into people's future savings. Let's get the ownership where it belongs - people saving for their own retirement. And let's get politics out of superannuation once and for all.
NZ First has a fundamental philosophy that individuals must take responsibility for their own lives. This is shared by our Coalition partner. We believe the less fortunate, the less able should be offered a "step-up" to independence, but we are not prepared to see hard earned taxpayer's dollars handed out to those who are able but not prepared to help themselves. We cannot as a nation afford the luxury.
In keeping with this philosophy, we plan significant changes in the area of unemployment. In 1984, approximately 10,000 people were registered as unemployed for more than six months. By February this year the number was 66,000. That's a massive 660 percent increase. We must ask ourselves "why has this been allowed to happen, and for so long," and collectively admit our failures.'
We must break this cycle for the good of those unfortunate New Zealanders. Long term unemployment is a destructive force. It is a social and economic disease.
The Coalition Government's new employment policy has two explicit objectives. The first is to reduce the duration of unemployment. The second is to ensure that while people are out of work, they are still involved in suitable community work and training.
It is important that the unemployed maintain their self-esteem and motivation.
Work is already under way to bring all government agencies involved in employment under the one roof to establish a one-stop-shop. Resources to assist unemployed people into work will also move from central to regional control.
We have a very good Minister working in this area who knows the environment well. He was once an Employment Service Centre manager. He is experienced, is focused and he is determined to deliver.
From April 1, beneficiaries who turn down suitable jobs, fail to turn up for a job interview or do not take part in other job seeking activities, will have their benefits reduced. Beneficiaries will have to accept alternative work while looking for a job that suits his or her skills. They will have to look at jobs in a flexible way.
We will do the best we can to help the unemployed, but equally, we expect them to help themselves. The days of sitting on the beach drawing the dole are over.
It has been clear for some time that our police need more resources. The "thin blue line" is just too thin. We took a strong stance on law and order last year and this is reflected in the Coalition Agreement. We have promised an extra 500 front line police over the next three years, and they will be adequately resourced. We will deliver.
We have already replaced the profit focus in State housing with social objectives. Rent rises have been frozen temporarily while accommodation supplements and special benefits are under pinned. Details will be announced in the Budget.
Now, a number of questions have been raised by some in the audience today on topics of moment. They range from the present value of the New Zealand dollar, to state highway funding in the Western Bay of Plenty.
Many are specific and require suitable consideration. Some require referral to other Ministers. We will ensure replies are passed to you through the Mayor's office. Some can be commented on now.
Craig Greenless asks "should the kiwifruit and apple industries be preparing their structures for a deregulated environment?"
The Government has indicated it will support producer boards so long as they retain the support of producers. If the weight of evidence indicates that producer boards are not responding swiftly enough to changing market conditions, then the Government is prepared to consider steps that will ensure they sharpen up their act.
Alastair Bennett asks "is the Coalition going to do something constructive to assist exporters and if so, what and when?"
The Coalition is indeed going to do something positive. As announced in the Budget Policy Statement, we will run healthy budget surpluses for the next three years, reduce the costs of government on an ongoing basis, and direct government expenditure only to where it is effective and most needed.
By minimising inflationary pressure, lean government assists not only exporters, but all producers of wealth in New Zealand.
Wayne Wright, Brian Diver, Ian Spraggon and Ian Madden all asked questions in the education field. Time precludes detailed answers here today, but suffice to say significant additional funding, over and above current levels of expenditure, will be made available to support further development of the early childhood education sector.
Urgency will continue to be given to addressing the problems of teacher supply and accommodation for the compulsory sector. And a comprehensive review of all aspects of the tertiary sector will be carried out. Education will be a key priority for additional spending in the 1997 Budget.
Ian Madden has specifically asked about funding for university education in Tauranga for 1998. The Coalition Agreement makes no specific commitment to the provision of university education in further locations such as Tauranga.
However, I applaud the initiative of the University of Waikato and the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. If these institutions were to seek a capital contribution from the Government for this purpose, the Government would address their request in a businesslike manner.
The institutions would be expected to provide a sound business case in support of any such request of course.
Please excuse me for being a little long-winded. This chance to put recent events into context is appreciated. Despite some of the rather colourful headlines of late, substantial achievements have already been rung up by this ground-breaking Coalition.
It is early days yet. Solid progress is being made, and we are delivering.
Thank you Mayor Noel, ladies and gentleman. I am confident the next 900 days will be even more productive, though a little less colourful!