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Plain English 22nd March 2002

Plain English
A weekly update from Bill English, National Party Leader
Friday 22 March 2002

Colorado Technology Conference

At the invitation of the Governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, I spoke to his annual technology conference this week. I made a pitch for New Zealand as a place with small but unexpectedly deep pools of expertise. A government report released in February shows we are headed to foreign disinvestment in New Zealand. I believe we can better attract investment by focussing on people and companies in places like Colorado, which has interests complementary to New Zealand. I plan to build up longer term relationships with a view to getting investment to New Zealand. There was strong interest in our opportunities, and our team will be following up on these in the future.

New Zealand loops out on education

Education reform is the biggest single issue in the US after the war on terror. We are alone on the international stage in heading towards more central control, more bureaucracy and lower standards. I am particularly concerned about our persistent failure to do a good job for disadvantaged children who really need it.

In the US middle and higher income parents have been largely happy with their children's education - it's the lower income parents who are taking advantage of more choice and more local control. I am less interested in the ideology, and more interested in getting results in the classroom for children and teachers who are struggling to be inspiring educators.

Welfare debate won

I paid particular attention to the welfare debate in the US. In the last 5 years they have made huge changes to their welfare system, pushed along by the Clinton administration. No-one, including welfare lobby groups, is advocating a return to the old system of lifelong entitlement with no obligations. The US is different and we can't copy their policy. I don't believe the dignity of any person is well served by a system that expects nothing of them. We will look at the many studies that have been done on the impact of these reforms on families. The numbers are startling - in Wisconsin alone, the numbers on their DPB equivalent have dropped from 100,000 to 7,000 in 5 years.

Our relationship with the US

National supports New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation and won't be changing it. We would welcome visits from US ships which comply with the anti-nuclear legislation. This would get the relationship back on track. The US is an even more dominant role as the world's policeman. When we go peacekeeping we need the capacity to project our forces, protect them when they are there, and have the capacity to get them out if things go wrong. That requires effective defence relationships with countries with much bigger capacities than us.

The other big issue in the relationship is whether New Zealand can secure a free trade agreement. It was clear to me from comments and discussion in the US that Australia is well up the queue and NZ isn't on the list. I hope Helen Clark can take both these issues forward on her visit next week.

The Alliance melt-down

It's plain enough that the Alliance will split in two as Jim Anderton leaves yet another party. National's questions in the House show that the Government has no idea whether this will trigger the Electoral Integrity Act.

The party hopping legislation is Helen Clark's brain-child. It's a draconian measure we opposed because it allows party leaders to expel an MP from Parliament if they upset the precise proportionality of the election result. Jim Anderton argues he is exempt because he is a party leader - but if the Alliance MP's split, someone must be leaving a political party. Under Clark's law, that should trigger expulsion from Parliament.

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