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Plain English - a weekly update from Bill English

Plain English - a weekly update from Bill English


Fronting up tour

This week I've set out on a "Fronting Up Tour" of 54 towns in 35 days, visiting hospitals, schools, businesses, and holding public meetings, reaching out to all parts of the community with our plans to take New Zealand forward. If you'd watched politics over the last 12 months you'd think there were no issues on voter's minds. That's not what I'm finding on the road.

I am talking about tougher sentences and more police, our plans to support small business, how we raise standards of education for every child, and the need to complete historical Treaty claims. I am getting a positive response to National's willingness to talk about these issues. There is also strong support for our proposal to hold a referendum on MMP at the 2005 election.

Tour part 2

I held large public meetings in Thames and Hamilton on Wednesday. They work because it gives people a fuller picture than the 15-second sound bite can ever give. I will do more of them around the country. Wellington politics has underestimated the level of anxiety about and interest in law and order issues across the community. I have visited two communities who saw themselves as victims of violent crime, and spent a night with the police to experience how stretched they are.


It's apparent the Greens are not going to concentrate on this seat. Their decision to campaign for list votes on the GE issue only means their leader won't be campaigning on local issues. National's candidate Sandra Goudie is coming across as a strong local advocate. You'll see more of her as media interest grows in this crucial seat.

Tougher sentencing laws

At the 1999 election, 92% of New Zealanders voted for tougher penalties for criminals. Since then, the Labour Party has introduced a Bill which means rapists and other serious violent criminals are eligible for parole after serving just a third of their sentence. A rapist sentenced to nine years could be out after serving just three years. Why even bother? This week, I released our law and order policy. Serious criminals should serve at least two-thirds, not one, of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole. We will also end automatic parole.

More police on streets

National is also committing to 500 extra frontline police over three years, at a cost of $100 million. Feeling safe in our communities should not be a privilege - it is a right of all New Zealanders. Police presence prevents crime. We see them all on the highway, and the police have done a good job of lowering the road toll. Now it's time to extend that principle to our streets.

Election timing

Helen Clark can't decide on when to have the election. The reasons for going early are becoming clearer - the NZ dollar is on the charge to 50c US, and along with huge interest rates, this will knock the top off economic confidence. District Health Boards have been ordered to keep quiet about $200 million in cuts necessary to control hospital deficits.

Along with teachers' strikes and upcoming nurses strikes, they will undermine Labour's credentials on competence.

Labour's polls will be telling them what we see on the road - National is recovering because we're dealing with the issues where Labour's credibility is low. In Parliament, the Government has a clear majority without threat - and that's no reason for an election.

More uncertainty for Air New Zealand

The troubles Air New Zealand has gone through shows the financial incompetence of the Government. Last year, they refused to let Singapore Airlines invest in Air NZ for purely political reasons. Now, after putting $1 billion of taxpayer's money into Air NZ, they are considering selling it off cheap to Qantas.

Rural health policy

Health spokesperson Roger Sowry released our rural policy this week, which is aimed at tackling the serious shortage of doctors in rural areas. We're committing $15 million extra for rural health, which will fund two Rural Medical Training Centres and help District Health Boards attract GPs. As Health Minister, I introduced the National Hospital Plan, which committed to maintaining provincial hospitals and rural medical centres so that 85% of the population lives within one hour of emergency medical services.

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