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Pam Murray Address Royal NZ Plunket Society

Pam Murray Address Royal New Zealand Plunket Society

New Zealand President

Opening Ceremony - 7.30 p.m. Thursday 26 June 2003

Good Evening,

Let's make no mistake about why we are here in New Zealand's Garden City - Christchurch. We are here for one reason ... for our children. Whatever we discuss over the next three days, and decide to do following on from this biennial conference, will have implications for our children.

The Plunket Society is the vehicle we use to fight for the health and well being of the country's children. No-one has more experience in caring for those in the birth to five year age group and their families than Plunket. As members of Plunket, you are part of a unique well child health organisation, the envy of many countries and not one that could be easily replicated from scratch in today's society.

The reason for that is quite simple. Society has changed radically since Plunket began 96 years ago and every decade has brought differences in family requirements and living patterns. The generational involvement of New Zealand parents in Plunket, and the respect, admiration and support for the organisation, is not something that can be instantly created. It has been earned over our 96 years. The extensive community networks secured by our volunteers and staff enable Plunket to maintain an appreciation of the significant challenges faced by many New Zealand families.

As a nation, we have a lot to thank our founder Sir Truby King for. He was a man of his time, Victorian time, he was different, perhaps a little eccentric and weird, but with weird often comes the word "wonderful". He left us with Plunket - a wonderful legacy that is now part and parcel of our lives.

Plunket is synonymous with all that is good, healthy and robust about New Zealand. What Truby King began has since developed professionally and clinically into a world-leading well child health organisation and has become a true Kiwi icon.

We are so grateful that this colourful character, his work, the Plunket organisation and its part in the health and welfare of New Zealand, have been so fully documented in "a very good read" in Lynda Bryder's book, "A Voice for Mothers". Thank you Lynda.

As this is my last public address as New Zealand President of Plunket. I hope you will allow me a few liberties and a little political licence as I talk to you about matters that are dearest to my heart.

Home visiting and the early years

Intensive home visiting works - government and policy makers the time has come to stop the nonsense of trying to prove otherwise. And because it works, please act constructively and positively and find a way of fully-funding well child primary health care.

Failure to invest in comprehensive well child health services and early intervention

will continue to leave some of our most at risk children continually vulnerable.

And, I will repeat what I have said many times over the last four years. I have a strong sense that a failure to turn this situation around will ultimately come back to haunt us.

We cannot afford to let even one of these children fall through the gaps. We must all advocate for better well child health services and collaboration across the sector.

Today's 20 - 30 year olds are the generation of my children. They had eight home visits in the first three months and then monthly visits in their first year of life. The children of these 20-30 year olds will be lucky to see a Plunket Nurse or other Well Child Health Provider five times by the time they reach the school age.

This is not just about a reduction in the frequency of visits. This is a damning indictment of our priorities as a society, at our unwillingness to recognise that the greatest brain drain in New Zealand occurs in the first three years of our children's lives.

Fraser Mustard, Clive Hertzman, Dan Siegel, Graham Vimpani and Bruce Perry - these are the names of world respected researchers into brain development, specifically in the birth to three year age group. They have all been to New Zealand in the last few years and have been widely reported. They have met with Ministers, government advisers and agencies and with organisations involved in child health.

These researchers are united in their cry for more resources to be ploughed into the early years so the benefits can be seen in improved mental and social functioning of future adult members of our society so all our children can reach their potential.

In December last year Plunket and the Office of the Commissioner for Children formed the Littlies Lobby and I requested Members of Parliament to put aside their political differences and come together to establish a cross-party Parliamentary Children's Caucus. It has been a thrill to see so many MPs attend and support Littlies Lobby events.

In April, speaking at a Littlies Lobby breakfast, Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Beecroft, exasperated at the extent of youth offending, joined the call for more resources to be put into the early years.

Too many of our children never reach their first birthday or even their 5th, 10th or 15th birthdays because they are abused and not provided with a safe caring and nurturing environment which surely is the right of all our children. Early intervention does

reduce the amount of abuse, as shown by those world renowned researchers referred to earlier on.

I want to point out here that we are not seeking out people with similar opinions to us on this one. They are all around us. It's just that the problem of funding the early years is not happening as quickly as it could if today's newborns are to have the start they and their families have a right to, and society has a right to. We have to work together for our children.

Families Commission

The announcement of the Families Commission is one that we welcome whole-heartedly. If a commonsense approach to funding and ensuring families are to the forefront in all policy is what Peter Dunne and his team will bring to this Commission, then he is on to a winner. We look forward to seeing positive results.

I'm not advocating that the Government Nanny has to look after us, I'm asking, in fact pleading, for the available funds to be directed to make the most positive changes for our families. Stop the duplication of services, and ensure available resources are spent wisely.

I challenge this government - one that stood up for families generations ago and made New Zealand a world leader in the provision of welfare services - to stand up again and practically show that ploughing funds into the early years will reap rewards with a resulting healthy, educated and contributing society.


The contribution of volunteers to the infrastructure of the country has to be recognised. It really has got to the point that without volunteers, services as we know them today would struggle to exist or in some cases wouldn't exist.

New Zealand doesn't have the ability to pay for the work that volunteers do. And the incredible thing about being a volunteer is that the work is done because the volunteer gets personal satisfaction from doing it.

Plunket's volunteer network is amazing. In my 30 years of volunteer work for Plunket, you all continue to surprise me with your unstinting efforts to make a change in your communities.

Volunteer University

A large percentage of the volunteers in New Zealand start their "volunteering career" with the arrival of their first child and their involvement with Plunket. I often think we should apply for tertiary funding as the "Plunket University for Volunteering"!

Thanks to two of our long-term sponsors - Heinz Watttie's and Kimberly-Clark - with 21 years of support for Plunket between them, Plunket has a superb education programme for its volunteer network and staff.

As their children grow and develop, Plunket volunteers often move on to other community committees serving on playcentre and kindergarten committees, boards of trustees for their children's schools and sports and hobby clubs that they and their children are involved in.

The business of running committees, financial and community accountability; and our many programmes and contracts - among them Tots and Toddlers, Car Seat Rental Scheme, Ante-Natal Programmes to name a few - are, and will continue to be, heavily reliant on the time, energy and expertise of our wonderful, passionate and committed volunteers.

Sponsors also play a large part in funding and facilitating the work of Plunket and to them a tremendous debt of gratitude is owed.

Growing our Future

In looking back at my time with Plunket, one of my greatest pleasures is to see the progression of the governance project we called "Growing our Future".

Like so many busy organisations - including those in the commercial sector - we grew like topsy, and governance and operations sometimes overlapped, causing some confusion.

The development and separation of the governance and operations arms of the Plunket family have placed the organisation well for the future. The exercise has been incredibly important in providing energy and focus for the operations and management of staff and volunteers.

Our business is not getting any easier and the demands for performance are, quite reasonably, becoming greater. The value to Plunket of an effective governing board and professional management and clinical teams cannot be overestimated.

In today's Plunket we see a model organisation, well placed for future development and growth and one that has rules and accountability in place to work effectively on any contract and with any ministry.


Parenting is a profession and at times it can be one of the loneliest professions in the world. We live in an age, where everyone is so busy with meetings, commitments and schedules. Babies don't always fit in with these schedules.

I was reminded of the loneliness that many young mothers endure when I happened to drive down my own street of 40 or so houses at eleven o'clock one week-day morning. Usually I see the street bustling as my neighbours leave their homes travelling to and from work, and at weekends. But at 11 am, there were no cars on the streets or in driveways. The houses were all closed. The only resident at home was a new mum and her baby. Not a lot of neighbourhood support for her, if she needed it.

It bought home to me the importance of parent support networks, such as that offered by Plunket. They are more essential today than when my children were young and there were more of us at home with our children supporting one another.

As members of Plunket we are part of a dynamic and responsive organisation. Your tireless work as volunteers helping families and fund-raising to support Plunket's programmes and activities are truly amazing. I salute you.

It has been a great privilege for me over the last four years to have been able to have work alongside so many dedicated, skilled and professional staff and volunteers and I thank you most sincerely for allowing me that opportunity.

Over the next three days we will achieve and learn lots, we'll have fun and make new friends, but nothing will take our minds from the underlying reason we are here.

This is an important conference. Let us work together for what we believe in -

That is - "To ensure that New Zealand Children are among the healthiest in the World".

Thank you.

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