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13CHMM Welcome Dinner, Antarctic Centre

26 November 2001 Hon Annette King Speech Notes

I am well aware that a speech of welcome delivered after a full day of discussion runs the risk of seeming a trifle redundant.

Nonetheless, and despite the “frozen” venue for this dinner, I want to wish you all a very warm welcome to Christchurch and to this 13th Meeting of Commonwealth Health Ministers.

To echo what the Governor-General said at yesterday’s opening ceremony, I know that coming to New Zealand will have been a long and time-consuming journey for some of you. Given the current climate of uncertainty and concern around the world, I am particularly delighted that so many ministers and senior officials are here.

I recognise familiar faces, but there are also many people whom I am looking forward to meeting for the first time. It is particularly good to see you all on my home ground!

As these meetings are not often held in this part of the world, I offer a particular welcome to our Pacific colleagues, and a specially warm welcome home to the Secretary-General too.

Thank you also to Mayor Garry Moore, both for his personal welcome to Christchurch and for the help that I know his staff have offered to the organisers of the meeting.

The previous CHMM host – Barbados – understands the amount of work involved in organising a meeting of this size. I appreciate the efforts of my Ministry of Health staff and the Commonwealth Secretariat in terms of logistical arrangements and policy support for this event.

While on the subject of Barbados, I should mention that Barbados and Christchurch share more than CHMMs in common.

Barbados has traditionally supplied many of the members of the West Indian cricket team. Christchurch is the major centre within Canterbury province, which has now become the major supplier of players for this country’s world-famous All Blacks rugby team.

In Canterbury, I am told, that when 13CHMM was first announced, many local people thought it stood for the 13 Canterbury Healthy and Hardy Men needed to beat the 15 players of any other province at our national sport.

A British minister once said that a week is a long time in politics. I agree, but I also feel that a week spent together every three years is good use of our time if we can focus on the many critical issues that confront us all in health.

We have an agenda that covers real issues, not theoretical concerns. Smoking and HIV/AIDS may affect our countries in different ways, but none of us can afford to ignore their health impacts. How we set health priorities from among competing demands is a crucial issue.

We all face demands that exceed the public funds that can be allocated to health. We all need to find cost-effective ways to train, recruit and retain a skilled and committed health workforce.

We have made a good start already today, with discussions on the action taken on the many recommendations from the Barbados meeting, on priority setting in health, and some preliminary discussion on a possible workforce code of conduct.

The Commonwealth is a diverse collection of countries. We have here in Christchurch representatives of the smallest and largest Commonwealth members, and from all regions of the world. This gives me confidence that real value will come out of our deliberations.

As chair, I am determined that we should make the most of this opportunity. I also want us to take to our hearts the Governor-General’s encouragement to speak openly and frankly in debate.

Debate about health issues will always occur in democratic societies. Inevitably there will be conflicting views about priorities, both within the health sector and in terms of the level of public funding spent on health compared with, say, education, economic development or defence.

The health sector in New Zealand has undergone much structural change over recent years. Different models have been adopted, and sometimes found wanting.

Last month, New Zealand held elections for District Health Boards for the first time since 1989. I am confident that this will enable local concerns and priorities to be properly reflected in the way that health services are delivered to communities.

Last December I launched the New Zealand Health Strategy, giving a framework within which the 21 district health boards and other organisations across the health sector will operate. The strategy has 61 population health objectives, with 13 chosen for early implementation.

It highlights the priorities our Government considers the most important, including diseases such as diabetes and cancer, as well as factors influencing health, such as smoking and diet. I am required by law to report to Parliament each year on implementation of the strategy.

An important aspect of the strategy is that it was developed with a considerable amount of public and private sector input, including public meetings and written submissions.

A New Zealand Disability Strategy was launched in April, with a key goal of promoting a more inclusive society. It presents a vision of a society that values the lives of disabled people and seeks to enhance their participation in society.

Last month I launched 13 toolkits that have been written to provide district health boards with information and practical advice on key interventions in health priorities such as tackling obesity, mental health and improving oral health. The toolkits will be reviewed each year.

Copies of the toolkits are available for delegates, and I hope some of you will look at the displays set up in the Convention Centre.

Tomorrow, the Director-General of Health will release “the health and independence report”, which brings together a large amount of information on health structures, trends and issues in New Zealand.

If your experience is anything like mine, you will know that criticism of whoever holds the health portfolio is a fact of political life. And yet too often, I believe, positive health developments are overlooked.

Of course, we must acknowledge and act on those areas that need improvement. But at the same time, we should celebrate the achievements of the health sector and those who work in it.

I hope that is part of what we can do in Christchurch. We need to enjoy our successes, if for no other reason than that there will always be plenty of critics only too keen to point out what they perceive as our failures.

It is far too easy to forget that for every bad thing that occurs in health, hundreds and hundreds of good things occur every day, not by accident, but because of the dedication and skill of our health workforces.

Once again, I welcome you all to the best-run city in the world, and to the second-best city, after my home city of Wellington, in New Zealand.

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