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Debate On Prime Minister’s Statement

Wednesday 14th Feb 2001 Dr Muriel Newman Speech -- Social Welfare

This Government won office on promises which raised expectations, but they have let people down.

They promised prosperity, yet the average family is $30-40 a week worse off. They said they wanted to encourage entrepreneurs, yet they raised taxes and drove many of our brightest and best overseas. They made a commitment to help Maori which won them the Maori vote, yet they have now broken that promise and seriously damaged race relations in the process.

They are a government that has turned its back on what makes a country successful – lower taxes, less regulation, real choice in education, welfare reform. They have ignored conventional wisdom – you cannot lift people at the bottom by bringing down the top. They are a government that cannot be trusted to do what is best for this country.

Worse, whatever the spin, this government will be judged in history as one that abjectly failed New Zealand’s children. Under Labour’s agenda, with Steve Maharey as the responsible Minister, child abuse has reached record levels.

Last year was our national year of shame - toddlers tortured and killed by the very people who should have been protecting them. 95,000 children are at risk. And what is this government doing to get to the heart of the problem, what is Steve Maharey doing to address the causes – nothing.

New Zealand used to be a child rearing paradise. We now lead the world in infant mortality, child abuse, teenage pregnancy, youth suicide. Our young people are, in increasing numbers, becoming victims of systemic social exclusion, finding themselves at younger and younger ages hooked on drugs and alcohol, and entrenched in the criminal justice system.

Yet this government has shown no interest in addressing the causes of these problems. Not only that but they have actively blocked the ACT party from introducing fresh solutions that would help. Only ACT has the courage to identify that family breakdown and long-term welfare dependency, are at the heart of social decay in this country.

My challenge to Labour and the Alliance is to turn over a new leaf, demonstrating a commitment to MMP, by sending my private members’ bill on the Family Court to a select committee next week. It is long past time that Parliament addressed issues relating to family breakdown.

The core problem is in the incentives that exist in the welfare system. They encourage families to split up and go onto welfare. If a couple is going through a rocky patch, rather than work it out, the welfare system provides one of the parents with significant benefits if they separate: the kids, the house, a secure income in the DPB benefit, child support, and extraordinary power over the other parent, if they choose to use the children as a weapon. As a result, the non-custodial parent – and it’s usually fathers – become alienated from their children. The system has produced the most under-fathered generation in the history of the western world. And it is going to get worse: by the year 2010, a half of European and three-quarters of all Maori infants under twelve months old will be living in families where there are no fathers. With clear evidence linking child abuse and youth crime to increasing family breakdown and long-term benefit dependency, the very structure of our society is now under threat.

Other countries, concerned about building a safe society, have taken a fresh approach to family law and welfare, changing the incentives to strengthen families and reduce dependency. But this government lacks the will, the courage and the leadership to make such changes.

In fact, they are making the problem worse. Under Steve Maharey long-term welfare dependency has increased. The measures by which the Department of Work and Income judge success have now been changed. In fact, Christine Rankin will look so good at the end of the year, that Steve Maharey will be forced to extend her contract. But the figures are virtually meaningless, and and those people who have been out of work the longest and need real help to get a job, have been abandoned by this government.

In a democracy, every citizen has the right to be free. People dependent on the state for a benefit, are not free.

ACT’s goal is to empower and liberate welfare families, changing the system so that it does not trap and destroy. We want to create incentives for strong families, encouraging them to work hard to build a decent life for themselves and their children.

That is not the goal of Steve Maharey nor of Helen Clark, and that is why I have no confidence in their government.


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