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Directions in Social Policy - Bill English Speech

Address to Auckland social and voluntary sector providers

Ellerslie War Memorial Hall
138 Main Highway, Ellerslie

1pm

"Directions in Social Policy"

National Party Leader
Hon Bill English

Aku mihi ki a koutou

Talofa Samoa! Malo le soifua ma le lagi e mama

Malo e lelei

Kia Orana

Fakalofa lahi atu

Taloha ni

Ni sa bula vinaka

My greetings to you all

Our nation will change considerably over the next 20 years. There will be more older people. Our ethnic mix will change as more New Zealanders are Maori, Pacific Island and Asian. We have the chance to create a new face of New Zealand, as a confident proud country, uniquely defined by its people and its environment. There are some huge challenges ahead, and as a political leader, I believe we are best to face those challenges honestly. Strong economy

A strong economy helps the many, not just the few. For people on lower incomes a strong economy means the prospect of a job, or a better job, and increasing wages and salaries. For the entrepreneur and the investor a strong economy encourages more ideas, more risks and more profits.

People in jobs are less likely to commit crime. People with hope are less likely to act from frustration. A nation with good prospects is more likely to inspire pride in its people.

It's hard for some to understand that a community and a family can get ahead and feel better off without government grants or schemes but it's the spirit of enterprise that helps people get ahead.

National's principles of freedom, enterprise, self-reliance and contribution to the common good, support people to make a living. These principles also underpin successful families and communities.

But sometimes things go wrong.

The family and the community

New Zealand has had a bad week. We've seen random, brutal violence, lives of innocent people lost as they go about their daily lives. These events are a reminder if we needed it, that the sense of order, the sense of security we usually enjoy, is fragile.

In my own electorate, there is a family from Owaka, who recently attended a parole board meeting and had to relive a vicious rape and murder of their teenage daughter 10 years ago. Every year as the parole hearing comes around they will relive that nightmare until the murderer is released. On Monday, a man was killed in Clinton, in my electorate.

At the last election the public spoke when they voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for tougher sentences for violent crime. The Government has ignored that voice, but National is listening.

National will send a very clear message to murderers who randomly take the lives of innocent people. We are considering a policy position that a life sentence will mean life without parole for the worst offenders.

It's done in New South Wales, and that law would catch two or three cases a year in New Zealand. It's a tough law.

People who make policies to protect our community should be asking themselves - will more of the same social policy fix the problems? More rights without responsibility will make these events more likely not less likely to happen. More and easier welfare will make these things more likely. More talk about how nothing is anybody's fault will make these more likely.

These awful killings remind us we are all connected. They damage the fabric of our community because they damage our confidence in each other. There is nothing more peaceful and harmless than a sleeping child - what sort of person can sneak up and kill them? How did we produce a killer who hunted down the normal everyday people running the Mt Wellington RSA?

I was taught young that no-one exists completely on their own. Each of us is connected beyond ourselves, to a family, to a community, to a group of similar people.

Parliament has decided to treat people as disconnected individuals, consistent with a strong emphasis on individual human rights. It's artificial - we all belong somewhere. A sister can't find out if her brother with mental illness is in or out of hospital care. That's the law.

No family is perfect, no family has absolute rights over its members, and fewer families fit the traditional model. But it's still the group where most people have the strongest sense of obligation, and support.

My party believes most of the important decisions and choices are made within families and within communities. Any government should be careful about interfering too much. We have a strong tradition of state support, but it hasn't yet replaced these more basic relationships, and nor should it.

It's just too hard for a bureaucrat or politician to make decisions on everyone's behalf.

I don't subscribe to the view that our community is in terminal breakdown. Nor do I believe we don't know how to live in a connected way any more. On any day of the week we see collective activity working well. We have in our older people the wisdom accumulated from decades of learning how to live.

I've never found a community that doesn't have some capacity to determine its own future. Leadership and determination can come from anywhere.

Just across town I once presented certificates to people who went door to door talking to parents about the signs of meningitis in their children. The group of taxi drivers, students, housewives and beneficiaries had saved lives, simply by talking to people in their own language about something they cared about.

This is where new needs are identified, and new ways of meeting them are sorted out. It's simply because people who see a need, and have no money, have to think how to meet that need.

It's where the first signs show that families and friends can't carry the burden, and the voluntary sector, and then government have to step in - this is the history of aged care and hospice care for instance, and history of our diverse early childhood sector.

National supports families and communities as the first place to make most decisions about personal and collective welfare. We support voluntary organisations because they understand the needs at the coalface. These third sector organisations bring to bear their own unique spirit, and often they are willing to make judgements about whether a need is valid and how it can be met.

The Government should respect these organisations and work with them so government funded services better reflect the people and the communities they serve. National believes that a service that works is more important than who provides it.

There is a lot of debate about whether following community models means separate and different service for people who all have the same rights of citizenship. National believes we can have diversity without special privileges. Rural and suburban communities, Maori and inner city communities, different ethnic communities all have their own identity. That identity will be asserted in different ways, and government policy needs to be flexible enough to work with it.

I coined the phrase 'local solutions to local problems' when I set out to help small communities and Maori and Pacific groups to take control of their own health services. I stand by that slogan today and the philosophy of flexibility and self-determination that gives it life.

This is one way that our diverse community can accommodate its differences.

Robust discussion

I want to see a much more robust and open discussion around the issues attracting Maori and the Treaty of Waitangi, in particular. To raise any issue like this in Wellington means being branded a racist by Helen Clark and the Labour Party. I have been meeting with groups of Maori since I became Leader, and I have enjoyed taking part in robust discussion about politics, accountability, the role of the Treaty and how we find a way forward.

National stands for the national interest. We will work for a united New Zealand. We can build more unity on respect for, and tolerance of, different views. We can't build unity on what the government is doing now with Maori - no Treaty settlements, more welfare, more handouts and the soft bigotry of low expectations. They have however decided Maori can have limited opportunity for self-determination and that no-one else is allowed any.

The Pacific Island communities in particular will lose out under current policy. Because they don't have the Treaty to underpin their efforts to shape their destiny, they are just tagged on at the end. The district health boards are a good example where they will now have less decision-making power than they had just a few years ago under National.

People shouldn't have to queue up at the Government door to plead special interest, or disadvantage, to get the chance to have a go. Being Maori matters because it is one of the few ways you can get a say over your own destiny under this Government. It shouldn't have to be that way.

The real test is whether Government will part with cash and power. Labour oppose any organisation that's an alternative to government. National believes in a dynamic diverse collective activity, even if it does put pressure on Government to do a better job.

I have talked about some principles for National policy:

* A strong belief in the family and community as the way people are connected.

* Respect and support for the voluntary effort people make, and the spirit of service and innovation.

* An open and robust discussion about which communities can shape their own destiny.

National wants to reduce poverty and disadvantage. We believe our principles of enterprise and self-reliance encourage people to have a go. Government should help build ladders of opportunity, not create deeper poverty traps.

Housing

Take housing for example. The Government's policy of income related rents has been welcomed by many. At first flush it helps people under real financial pressure. But now the houses are full. The waiting lists are growing at over 1,000 per month. There is no policy on how to get people to leave a State house. About 200,000 people are now caught in a poverty trap. The Government has written them off, condemned to dependency now for many years.

People on the waiting list have every right to feel aggrieved, because they have been promised a lot, but they can't get it.

Should we leave 200,000 people trapped?

I say we must have policy to move people through State houses while their need is great, and then move them on. It will be hard for the Government to make rules to achieve this. Community agencies able to exercise judgement in individual cases could do it better.

The more help we give people, the harder it is to avoid dependency. Most New Zealanders know this - it's common sense. The hard bit is finding the right balance. There is now a consensus on benefit levels. The Labour Party opposed benefit cuts right through the 90s, but have now adopted the benefit levels set in 1991. Most beneficiaries are no better off than under National, when there was so much discussion about poverty. No-one seems willing to talk about it for fear of offending the Government.

Like issues around our ethnic differences, we will be a better nation if we discuss these trade-offs more openly, with fewer political slogans and more common sense.

Any government has choices, limited only by the political impact of raising taxes or cutting spending. Labour has decided their top priority in economic and social policy is superannuation in 30 years time. Last week, the Government voted to invest $600 million budget surplus in the superfund. This will rise to over $2 billion per annum in the next three years. The money comes from your taxes. Helen Clark has decided not to spend it on health, or education, or lifting benefit levels. She has decided to save it and invest it. Most of it will be invested outside New Zealand, overseas because that's what the legislation requires.

No-one has talked much about this choice. Should we invest in ourselves, in our country, or the development of other countries? That's a choice you will face next year in an election.

Education

One way we invest in ourselves is in education. Everyone says it's important, and New Zealand does, on average, tolerably well. There are two problems we need to fix. One is what goes on in the classroom. What we want for our kids is a love of learning - that's their passport to the Knowledge Economy. They get that from their parents, and from an inspired teacher. Our teachers who should be trusted professionals are being turned into monitored process workers - teachers who could be inspiring educators are worn out with a curriculum that's too big and with too much paperwork.

What happens in the classroom is what matters the most, and learning needs more space. It's no wonder we worry whether our kids have the drive to compete and to win and to be their best. The system forces their teachers to look more like harassed bureaucrats than role models.

The other problem we need to fix is educational standards. Forget about which assessment system works best. Standards are something which should lift children up, not level them down. We're a country where everyone, whether they be a truck driver or a brain surgeon have equal worth the way we see it. It doesn't mean we should let the truck driver operate on our brain. Differences matter, and high achievement should be encouraged and respected.

Low achievement should be recognised too, and fixed. There are too many young people who are failed by the system. If we are to have a public education at all, it must work for those whom it is the only and best opportunity they have to pull themselves up. For all the effort there has been to make the schools more responsive, too many still go through without getting basic literacy and numeracy. Look who takes up alternative education funding:- National initiated it for kids no school would take. It's all sorts of groups outside the mainstream, and it's working. We need to encourage this diversity so we can get the innovation we need to lift everyone to a good standard.

National believes every child has the same value. The Government runs two highly discriminating funding systems. Independent schools get a lot less, as if their children were worth less. And the funding targeted by deciles has huge imbalances built into it. The Government behaves as if money is the answer to everything but in a school, leadership, inspiration and commitment matter more. More diversity will make a bigger difference to low decile schools than more money.

The Government's answer is more paper and more bureaucrats as the Ministry of Education extends its grip on schools, and on our future. That's why education will be a political battleground next year.

Health

And so will 'Health' be. Health is always difficult. I served as Undersecretary and a Minister from 1993-1999. Resources are limited, but it's no excuse for the Government's incompetence in managing our health services.

People voted for Labour to do a better job of health, and it's fast getting worse. People will pay with their lives. The Government has set up District Health Boards to fail. It's like sending someone to build a new motorway with a shovel and a wheelbarrow; they just don't have the tools to do the job.

Health is all about choices, when the money is out of control, the only choices are where to cut, which people will miss out. Deficits are rising at approx $1.7m per week. Cancer patients go untreated. The frail and dying elderly are at risk. The Government is cynically pre-announcing next year's money to give the impression this week's sick are getting a better deal.

National is formulating a rescue plan. The health services will need a financial bailout just so they can look after the patients they already have.

We will also have to give the District Health Boards the tools to do their job. We do not intend to restructure yet again, but to build up what's there.

Labour's last restructuring was a backward step, but more of it would make things worse.

We will get the public and private sector working together, wherever that gets the job done. In South Auckland, low-income women who are pregnant have been able to get the services of private obstetricians. These specialists, as well as GPs and midwives, are paid by the Government through your local, highly successful maternity organisation South Auckland Maternity Care. But the Government has threatened to withdraw choice for these women to access the government subsidy for private obstetric services. And they still haven't said they won't.

If that happens, then all publicly funded specialist services, including radiologists and anaesthetists, will be available only through public hospitals. This will mean pushing more women into the already stretched public hospital, which is already short of specialist obstetricians, so forcing the quality of service to drop. Worse than that, women will lose their choices, because the Labour Minister thinks choice is only for high income people.

It's stupid, but politically correct.

We each have an enormous capacity to create opportunity and alleviate suffering and our communities have entrusted us with the job of doing so. That is an obligation that the next National Government takes seriously. Over the next five years, New Zealand will spend over $130 billion on health education and welfare.

It's not a by-product of Government; it's the business of Government to make sure it works. Huge and rapid change doesn't help vulnerable people, who need stability and respect. But where our systems aren't effective in enhancing the dignity of our citizens or are not meeting the obvious needs, we will change them.

Good intentions aren't enough nor is it good enough to do what Helen Clark is doing - going back to old, Wellington solutions, dressed up in new, third-way language.

The new National Party will take pride in empowering people and in pushing our public service to meet its own claims to do good for all.

Tena tatou katoa


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