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Lee Keynote speech to Auckland Central Grey Power

EMBARGOED for automatic release at 10.30am Wednesday 26 September 2001 Speech Notes
Keynote speech to Auckland Central Grey Power meeting

Keynote Speech to Auckland Central Grey Power
Dick Fickling Centre, Three Kings

EMBARGOED for automatic release at 10.30am Wednesday 26 September 2001

[Please check against delivery]

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this morning.There have been huge changes in our world during the past two weeks, in the wake of the terror attacks in the United States.

Despite the uncertain outlook caused by these events, the government is determined that the core values that underpin the Labour-Alliance coalition will remain firmly in place.

 We are determined to keep alive the promise of a better tomorrow for all New Zealanders.
 We are committed to ensuring that the government is a positive force for good.
 We believe governments can deliver gains for New Zealanders that markets can't.
 We continue to reject the free market vision that demands that the community should pull out of everything, sell everything, and let the market rule. We've already seen the folly of that path with our railways, and our national airline.

These are baseline commitments to ensure your future security, on an individual basis and on a collective basis.

It is too early to assess the economic impact at home and abroad of the terrorist attacks.
But what can be said is that we enter this period of uncertainty in a better position than many other countries.

Our return to export-led growth in recent times has bedded in our economic security. Unemployment stands at its lowest level since 1988. The current account deficit has been shrinking steadily, and our economy has maintained modest levels of growth.

As well as improving balance of payments and employment levels, we also enjoy low inflation, low government debt, and a strong government fiscal position. In addition, the Reserve Bank's move last week to lower the official cash rate--effectively lowering mortgage interest rates--was a very welcome response to the new international conditions.

We have already demonstrated our commitment to addressing your personal security needs. One of the first things the Labour-Alliance coalition did after gaining office was to increase the level of New Zealand Superannuation by $20 a week.

Since then, the government has introduced the New Zealand Superannuation Bill, which is due back in the House next week.
This Bill is one of the Labour-Alliance coalition's most significant political initiatives. It is designed to provide for a realistic, universal, flat-rate New Zealand Superannuation entitlement that is not means tested.

The scheme we are promoting is described as "pre-funded". Essentially this means you keep putting in over the next couple of decades a bit more than seems necessary. At the end of this period, we expect to have a permanently older population structure that will gobble up all the extra funds contributed.

We have been compelled to look at this type of national super scheme in part because employment-based superannuation is in retreat. The notion of a "job for life" has eroded, and it can be expensive to switch pension plans when people change employers. Also, many employers have axed their pension subsidy in a bid to contain their business costs. And there have also been few opportunities in recent years for unions to negotiate pension schemes as part of employment packages, because union coverage and the coverage from collective bargaining was reduced under the previous administration.

The New Zealand Superannuation entitlement is not meant to replace personal savings. But it will be designed to provide enough to enable participation in community life.

Of course, the responsibility for your wellbeing doesn't just rest with central government.
As Minister of Local Government, I know that senior citizens are important to local authorities.
In fact, 72% of urban Councils have staff dedicated to working with older people.

A similar percentage of city and district councils—nearly three quarters—address issues directly related to senior citizens in their planning documents.
It is not hard to see why.
You are amongst our most active groups at the local level.
In fact, my guess is that you are the most active part of the population when it comes to local government issues.

I'm told that when Auckland City Council surveyed who had made submissions to their Strategic Plan in 1999, they found that 48% of the submitters were 55 or older.
I suspect that level of representation is not unusual for most councils when they ask for public submissions, be it for an strategic plan, annual plan, or feedback on a specific issue.
The fact is that many of you make the time to get involved and put your views, and our local democracy is all the richer for that.
With voter participation at around 50% for the last local body elections, all I can say is: if only everyone could be so active!

But this raises the issue: If senior citizens are contributing so much to the councils, what then are councils doing for you?
I’d like to take a few moments today to review some of the main areas that local authorities are presently involved in, to provide for the needs of older New Zealanders. These include:
 Affordable housing;
 Personal safety;
 Mobility and public transport services; and
 Recreation.

The Government has a social duty to facilitate the provision of affordable housing. Many of you will have been appalled at the introduction of state housing market rents by the previous administration. This one measure impacted severely on every section of the community that lived on fixed incomes, pushing many proud and independent New Zealanders below the poverty line.

Both the Alliance and Labour pledged to scrap the policy once we gained office, and provide affordable housing.
We kept our word, and all state house rents now depend on a tenant's income. Low income tenants pay no more than 25% of their income on rent.

Local authorities remain one of the most important sources of rental accommodation for senior citizens.
More than a quarter of rental properties used by senior citizens are owned, maintained and administered by local authorities - an investment of more than $460m, nationwide. Local authorities are the most common landlord for women aged 80 and over. In addition women aged 80 and over is the biggest single group in local authority rental accommodation.

Our challenge lies in how best to provide housing services to older people, both now and in the future. I am pleased to note that many councils, such as Christchurch City, are now looking for ways to offer housing that are more in touch with what their tenants want.

Personal safety is every citizens' right. Security, especially personal safety, is one of the most pressing issues for senior citizens. The issue of personal safety involves concern not only about crime but also about factors like badly maintained footpaths and street lighting, or the ability to summon help quickly in the home.
These are all issues that can either create or destroy a feeling of safety in the community.

Several councils have upgraded their street lighting in response to public concern.
Others such as the Masterton District Council, provide a 24-hour emergency telephone line in each of its rental units.
About three-quarters of local councils also sponsor a Safer Community Council.
Most of you will be aware that this is the local group that coordinates crime prevention activities by creating a community safety profile for the area, and then developing a crime prevention plan for that profile.
The Safer Community Council then implements the plan by coordinating resources drawn from Government sources and the wider community.

A good example can be found in the South Island. Some of the programmes from the Ashburton District Council’s safer community council deal with such issues as confident living and crime prevention (with help from the Police, Fire Service and Red Cross), as well as financial and legal matters.
This and many similar programmes throughout the country have all been well received.

Mobility and Public Transport are vitally important. The ability to get around freely and easily has a huge effect on quality of life. Systems of transport, whether it be by foot, car, or bus, must take into account the needs of older people.
In each of these areas local authorities are largely responsible for providing the infrastructure of these services, and therefore have an important role to play.

Walking is one of the most important ways of getting around, and anyone who has been involved with local government knows that the issue of broken footpaths is one that comes up again and again. That's not because people like to complain, but because broken footpaths can be dangerous for everyone.

Also, traffic crossings can make a big difference to pedestrian safety, with pedestrian refuges, lights and crossing signals (preferably audible) all making life much easier when you're out walking.

From the other side of the wheel, the private motor vehicle is still the most popular form of transport for older people, but driving habits and capabilities change, and this needs to be taken into account by those designing signs and lighting.

Public transport is also vital to the mobility of senior citizens, particularly for those over 75 who are increasingly less likely to drive.
Being able to easily get on and off, seating and shelter are all issues, as well as frequency and cost.
Improvement of public transport generally has been very much an issue in the public eye in recent years, and in many cases, improving access for older people makes public transport more accessible and popular for everyone.
In places such as Auckland and Wellington, the introduction of kneeling buses, improvement of shelters and higher trip frequency has resulted in more passengers, across the board.

Recreation facilities are crucial for balanced living. Being able to get about isn’t much use if there is nothing to do once you get there. Activity and recreation are vital to health in all senses, mental and physical.

I'm pleased to note that district and city councils have come to the party on this issue, and been described as New Zealand’s largest investor in sport and active living.
Whether this is literally true or not, with annual spending of over $300 million, local authorities are certainly a major player.

Councils offer and organise physical facilities such as walks, and also offer and organise social events, library programmes, arts groups and creative communities schemes, as well as volunteer and support groups.
There are too many services and programmes to mention today, but I’d like to talk about one initiative just as an example.

Hamilton City Council’s Celebrating Age Centre offers a wide range of services under one roof.
These include:
 information about the services offered by the Centre and other groups in the Hamilton are
 facilities ranging from a hall to smaller rooms, including a kitchen and dining room;
 numerous events or all kinds;
 office space for the Senior Citizen association, Grey Power and Age concern; and last but not least
 a drop-in centre and café.

The key areas where local authorities are most involved in the lives of senior citizens are:
 Affordable housing;
 Personal safety;
 Mobility and public transport services; and
 Recreation
All these aspects are linked and to a large extent depend on each other - but all contribute to quality of life.

As Minister of Local Government, I know that if local authorities get these things right, they will help you enjoy more secure and active lives and in so doing, also help you continue your valuable contribution to the community.

When I was younger, it was accepted that well-off New Zealanders paid a higher proportion of tax than those of more modest means, and in turn the government would help the young, the old, the sick and the needy.
New Zealanders would contribute when they had the means to contribute, and receive help when they needed help.
We can again take pride in fulfilling our responsibilities and being good citizens if New Zealanders accept responsibility for making a fair contribution.

I thank you all for your contribution to building our nation over the years.

I warn you that the community may not yet have fully extracted its pound of flesh. Some of you will inevitably be tapped on the shoulder to take on a leadership role. We will all gain from your continued community involvement.


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