Newman Speech: Auckland University Students
Turning New Zealand Around
Speech to Auckland University students, Wednesday, May 8, 2002
It's tragic that successive governments have managed New Zealand so poorly. Well managed nations are prosperous. They have the money to fund world class health and education systems. Workers command high wages and those with good qualifications have excellent prospects. When I was a child, New Zealand had the third highest standard of living in the OECD. We could afford great health and education systems. There was no unemployment and virtually no crime.
Nowadays we are 21st in the OECD and our standard of living has slipped dramatically. My children who are graduates, like many of their friends, are not hanging around. Their student loan debts are so big - as in the case with most students from provincial New Zealand, - that they need decent wages to get on top of the problem and they are searching for those overseas.
So what would ACT - the party of freedom, choice and responsibility - do to turn the situation around so that our brightest and best can choose to remain in New Zealand? We would introduce a plan for prosperity. It's not rocket science; it's just plain common sense.
The reality is that New Zealand has one of the harshest tax regimes in the world. ACT would lower taxes to create the incentives to work hard and to give New Zealand business a competitive advantage over their trading partners. We would let families keep more of what they earn so they can choose to spend or invest that money in their best interest.
ACT would slash the bureaucracy, red-tape and excessive regulation that is crippling business, letting them get on with the job of being more productive and prosperous, expanding and growing, creating more jobs and wealth.
We would turn our mind to welfare which is the single biggest cost item of government. It is simply not right to pay able-bodied people to do nothing. We should be putting our efforts into helping them to become independent of the state so they escape the debilitating affects of welfare. Did you know that people who commit a crime serious enough to end up in prison are six times more likely to come from the welfare system than the workforce, that people on welfare in general suffer from poorer health, and that evidence now shows that children raised in families where their parents are long term welfare recipients fail to do as well in all areas of life as those whose parents are working.
ACT would require welfare recipients who can work to participate in an individually designed full-time programme to provide them with the habits, skills and disciplines of the workforce. Such a programme could include a mix of education and training, community work and subsidised work, interview training and job search, adult literacy and numeracy, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and any other activity designed to make them work-ready. Other supports would also be available such as childcare and after-school care for those beneficiaries who have children; as well as transport assistance.
Our goal is to help people escape the dependency trap by getting and holding a job and becoming independent of the state.
These three initiatives - lowering taxes, cutting red tape and welfare reform - have been used by a number of countries determined to become prosperous. These include the states of Ontario in Canada and Wisconsin in the USA which were both economic basket cases before the reforms were introduced. ACT believes these three initiatives would significantly contribute to putting New Zealand on a growth path to prosperity.
We have been doing a lot of work in tertiary education, looking at boosting scholarships and bursaries to more realistic levels, looking at the student allowance scheme to see if it's fair, examining ways to reduce student debt through concessionary interest rates and tax rebates. We have also been considering whether it's appropriate to introduce a nominal interest rate on loans while students are studying to discourage borrowing; since student loan borrowing has blown out under the Government's no-interest policy. We are also very interested in hearing what other issues students feel are in urgent need of change.
Finally I'd like to comment on an issue that as a woman makes me very angry, and that is the Government's ignoring of the call by 92% of New Zealanders for a tougher approach to law and order.
With the recent spate of senseless violent crime, women all over the country are afraid. We are afraid for ourselves, our sisters, our daughters, mothers and grandmothers. Because women aren't just mugged, robbed and murdered, they are also raped and sexually violated as well.
Yet instead of ensuring that perpetrators of crime when sentenced have to serve their time - nine years meaning nine years - under the Government's new law, an offender can get parole after serving only a third of their sentence - nine years will mean three. The Government's soft on crime approach flies in the face of successful initiatives overseas where truth in sentencing and a zero tolerance approach to crime have turned violent communities to safe ones. That is ACT's policy and I'm proud of it.
With an election around the corner, the future is in your hands. A party vote for ACT is a vote for prosperity - we don't believe New Zealand needs to be poor.