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Plain English - Fri, 24 May 2002

Plain English - Fri, 24 May 2002



One of the best reasons to lift economic performance is that so many New Zealanders live on incomes that are too low. The biggest benefit of faster growth in countries where it has occurred is that it provides more and better opportunities to people who simply don't get the chance in a slower growing economy. Labour has run out of intellectual steam just a bit before the steam starts to run out of the economy.

Big surpluses provided a big opportunity for a Government with commitment and courage to get behind the people who make the economy work. There were some good moves, like increasing funding for apprenticeships, but the Budget missed the opportunity of a generation. >From Economic policy to the Treaty to Education, National will find itself with a much more substantial platform for the election.


So I'm getting negative, but someone has to tell it how it is. Health Boards are planning cuts right across the country. They are getting about $400m this year, promoted by a compliant media as a big boost, but they have to cut back $200m in deficits. As a former Minister of Health still carrying the scars, I know it can't be done. DHB staff are ringing National to plead with us to get the facts into the public arena.

And in schools, the operational grant has dropped in real terms by $7000 per school. Almost all secondary schools in my electorate have had their funding cut. Real per student funding in tertiary has also dropped. Labour are relying on their political capital in health and education where they have kept spending unsustainably tight, and spread the money around dozens of small initiatives - it's a lolly scramble alright, but not as we know it.


The teachers have put education on the election agenda. Up until 1999 many in the education sector believed a change in Government would solve a lot of problems and put things back as they used to be. Now, we see an increasing willingness from rank and file teachers to talk with us about the long-simmering problems in the teaching profession, because the Labour Party and the PPTA have let them down.

I will be talking with groups of teachers next week to help us find the way forward to a more professionally-rewarding environment. I admit part of my motivation is in my role as a parent. We have five children in the system and at least another 15 years as parents of school children.


Currently, well-supported schools are not allowed to expand until all other schools in their areas are full. What this means is that the slowest school sets the pace, forcing the most successful schools to slow down. It's this kind of attitude within the education system we need to fix. And we are fixing Bursary. National will increase the reward for a B Bursary from $100 to $1,000 and the award for an A Bursary from $200 to $2,000. We have had consistently strong support from parents, teachers and students for this policy.

It's pretty significant - there are 12,000 students who will benefit from that change and it's worth more to them than interest-free loans.


The Paintergate scandal just keeps dragging on. Last week, Helen Clark's office told the media there was a Crown Law Office report clearing her of any offence. This week though it has emerged there was no such report at all. The story emerged from Clark's office when the police began their investigation into the paintings, an investigation that has yet to be completed.


The training is demanding as we get in to sparring, which is just another name for a boxing match. The real job is the brainwork, thinking under pressure and staying composed. I would recommend my coach, Chris Kenny, to any one who has a pressured job and wants to get into the right mindset!


For the numerate, the Budget shows Cullen spent about $1 billion over his fiscal cap; that's $7 billion for the three year term, but made up for it by raising about $1 billion in new taxes. Not a lot of people know that, and he won't tell you.

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