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Plain English - Friday 8 March 2002

Plain English - Friday 8 March 2002

A weekly update from Bill English, National Party

Leader. Friday 8 March 2002

National's enrolment policy

Our oldest child is in year 10 this year (4th form), so that's almost 10 years standing in the queues at parent-teacher evenings and talking to the parents on the sideline. At last count it will be a good 16 more years before my family is finished with schools. That's a powerful motivator for good standards in education. I see Labour heading purposefully down the wrong track - returning control of our schools to the bureaucrats and holding back the inspiring teachers and schools. That's what is behind our position this week to abolish Labour's school zoning policy. We don't want to go back to open slather. Parental choice is one way of raising standards and we'll announce more during the year. Our proposals are moderate and based on 1998 legislation that worked. 350 schools in all deciles are affected by zoning.

Who sets the pace?

Under Labour's current rules for school property, a school whose roll is growing can't get a new classroom until all the classrooms in surrounding schools are filled. So the school with the least community support sets the pace. This encapsulates the current philosophy. What did Helen Clark mean when she told the country that the Government valued talent?

Kyoto Part Two

Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol is a big issue for our national interests and our economic prospects. The Prime Minister has been insistent on signing up early, but is beginning to look uncomfortable as other nations start to have second thoughts as well. She should be putting New Zealand's interests first.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon both agree that Kyoto is ineffective without the US also signing up. Several countries are now looking seriously at the alternative proposal announced by President Bush recently. Everyone wants to protect against the dangers of global warming, but the question is whether the Kyoto approach is the best way to do it.

Government has just $24 million left

The Government has accidentally released papers showing that they have just $24 million left for election year spending in a range of areas. It is a minute figure, which shows how tight things really are for Finance Minister Michael Cullen.

The Cullen Super Scheme, which requires $2 billion to be invested overseas every year, is really starting to bite. It helps explain why the Government has to put up the petrol tax, and why they are slowing down the Treaty settlement process, why they can't settle the teachers strike or pay for our hospitals. The petrol tax will collect over $150m per year and Transfund have said they can't spend what they have now, and that they won't be able to spend all the petrol tax. So why did we need it? Because the serious money goes on favoured groups and Labour and the Greens won't fix the Resource Management Act to get things done.

Teachers on strike

I have spoken to teachers across the country over the last week and they are resolute for a bitter struggle with Labour. The teachers' unions campaigned for Labour before the election, and their high expectations have not been met. I have some sympathy with the teachers. Creeping bureaucracy is turning them into box-tickers rather than inspiring educators. On the other hand, their unions have fought to maintain an industrial structure that simply isn't attractive to smart young people. Out of this strife I hope we get an opportunity for a soul-searching debate on where teaching is headed.

Helen Clark seems uninterested in these issues, but they really matter to people. It raises the question of where her priorities lie.

A victory for National on aquaculture
When Maori want to take commercial opportunities to help their own people, I say let's get right behind it. Labour says let's stop them in their tracks. That's why National has put a big effort into rolling back the moratorium on aquaculture. It sounds peripheral, but the select committee heard evidence that it's a $200m opportunity to bring employment to people who have few other options. Today, Government MPs on a select committee made concessions to National's position and watered down the moratorium. That's a victory for commonsense, a defeat for Labour's lack of any affinity for enterprise, but much still remains to be done. This is why more Maori are questioning Labour's cash for votes approach to their issues. We are getting a good hearing with our message that the way ahead is enterprise, not welfare, business not bureaucracy.

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