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Plain English: 28 March 2002

Plain English: A Weekly Update From Bill English, National Party Leader

28 March 2002

Teachers' strike

Teachers turned out for a dignified silent protest outside Parliament this week. When we were in Government they used to shout! The protest appeared to be a kind of ideological compromise. They are bitterly disappointed in Labour, but still wedded to Labour's 1970's views on education - low expectations, with centralised bureaucratic control. The dispute is now affecting thousands of families every day, who have to rearrange their lives to deal with children unexpectedly home from school during the working week. In my view, the PPTA has let its members down. For all their industrial strength the result of decades of action are poor. By their own definition, teachers are underpaid, lacking morale, burnt out and unappreciated. The PPTA has cried wolf so often that now when there are fundamental problem for teachers, the Government they voted in feels it can ignore them.

What will work

Teachers need the opportunity to be trusted professionals, inspiring a love of learning in our children. Some certainly achieve this, but it's the opportunity every child deserves. To achieve it we need to revise our thinking about cramming in the compulsory curriculum, simplify assessment processes and provide funding in a way that encourages the many innovators in our schools. We also need to get sufficiently serious about the problems for children at the bottom of the heap, to change a system that doesn't work for them. We have to shake the national complacency about education policy that tolerates persistent and predictable educational failure for some children.


The Alliance agony continues through the terminal stages - Jim Anderton looks to be aiming for a break-up next week. He and Helen Clark have been preoccupied with avoiding the effects of their own party-hopping law. It appears they will do this by waiting until the election to announce the name of his new party. So in the meantime, the Alliance will exist in name only, with two separate caucuses. Helen Clark was clear about the sprit of the law when she said "To MPs the message is simple - you will stay with the party whose voters put you in Parliament or you will get out." MPs who quit their Party were described as "despicable", but apparently now it is OK as long as they are supporting a Labour Government. Support for FPP has shot up in an NBR poll this week.

Still no progress on trade

It's good for New Zealand to have our Prime Minister meet the US President. The relationship with the US is so important that regardless of party politics progress is welcome. Unfortunately, Helen Clark's meeting with President George Bush didn't progress the issue of free trade. Essentially, she asked if we could join the queue, when most of us thought we were about to jump a few places.

Position On Iraq War

Some in the Labour party are starting to wonder what is going on with foreign policy. Helen Clark has now signed up to committing New Zealand support to war outside Afghanistan if there was proof of terrorism. This commits us, for instance, to fighting in Iraq alongside nuclear equipped US troops. We can expect more trouble from the Left on the War on Terror, and not just from the Alliance.

Alliance Relations Conciliator

The Government has shied away from protecting Greg Fortuin, after they used him to try and resolve the Alliance dispute. His tenure is short with Ministers privately saying he has to go. Whatever Mr Fortuin's motives, he is learning the lesson of others who get near political controversy these days. When it gets difficult the Government is nowhere to be seen. With robust support from Labour, he could survive, but they have left him to it. This position cannot be seen as a tool of the Government.

Making it easier to do business in New Zealand

Soon National will start releasing our plans for making it easier to do business in New Zealand. We have plans to leave more dollars in the hands of the individuals, business and families who have earned it, to remove roadblocks to growth, and to ensure the workforce has the skills required for a modern, high growth economy.

National will start to release growth policy next month. New Zealand has a unique opportunity to take a longer term view on how to lift sustainable growth rates without the pressure of an economic crisis. Even at current growth rates, it seems the current Government doesn't have enough money to meet its commitments to the Cullen savings fund ($2 billion a year) as well as fund a viable health system and pay teachers enough to ensure all children are at school.

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