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Together, We Can Rebuild New Zealand

Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman

I recently received a letter from a family who had visited New Zealand in 1991 and had become "enchanted with the slower pace of life, the lack of traffic, the friendliness of people, the racial harmony, good education, low crime and general life-style possibilities."

"In January 1994 we stepped off the plane with our permanent residency visas full of excitement and anticipation. For the first three years New Zealand was all that we had hoped for, but over the last five years there has been a steady decline."

"New Zealand society has changed to such a degree that it is almost unrecognisable, with rising crime, reduced educational standards, higher taxation, higher reliance on social welfare benefits, society-wide selfishness, and complete inconsideration for others becoming the norm. There now seems little to recommend it."

"We hear of violent offenders being rewarded with large payoffs, some 800 beneficiaries each receiving over $60,000 in benefits; more money given to those who are able but can't be bothered to work; people lining up to claim whatever they can in compensation on the next gravy train; South Islanders expected to pay for Auckland's roads; taxpayer's money being used to prop up Air New Zealand, Kiwibank, Maori TV and others in the arts. Soon there will be a third world health care system with few doctors and nurses; soon there will be fewer teachers and our children will leave school with a second rate education and second rate qualifications."

"New Zealand has been a great drain on our family financially, socially and the feeling that we are constantly walking backwards instead of forwards, has left us desperate to leave this country."

"New Zealand is a beautiful country but the beauty is only skin deep and the rotten core is working its way to the surface. Too much of the old New Zealand has gone and what's left is just not enough anymore."

"It will be a sad day when we leave New Zealand. We have given this country so much, not only in money in the huge amount of taxes that we have paid over the years, but also in the support we have given to voluntary activities in schools and the community. We feel New Zealand has failed us and so we will draw a line under our time here and move on."

Such letters I read with a sad heart. Like most other New Zealanders I passionately love this country and hate to see its decline.

It is wrong that good people, who came here with such high hopes and aspirations, have been let down.

It is also wrong that we are exporting our children: low living standards and high educational costs are compelling them to find better jobs overseas. Young women in particular are of great concern: if they stay in New Zealand their growing debt burden could well prevent them from having a family or buying a home, options that should be available to them.

The reality is that if governments continue to do what they have always done, New Zealand's problems will grow. To turn the situation around we need new solutions, as well as politicians with fresh ideas and courage.

Lowering taxes is a key - if we don't have a growing economy, we will not be able to afford the world class health and education systems that we deserve. The government has claimed we are a low taxed nation, yet a recent comparison by KPMG shows that New Zealanders earning incomes of $20,000, $40,000, and $60,000 all pay higher taxes than earners in Britain, Australia, the United States and Canada. Those on $80,000 are more highly taxed than all nations except Australia. The differences in many cases were significant: a worker earning $20,000 in New Zealand pays 19.5 per cent tax, while a worker in Britain pays 3.2 per cent.

Lowering taxes for every worker - effectively by giving back the tax surplus, since governments should not take more tax than they need - would lift family incomes, helping graduates to reduce their debt. Lowering taxes is also the most effective means of creating jobs, helping people to move off welfare and become taxpayers themselves.

Over a third of all government spending goes on social welfare, yet paying able-bodied people a pittance to waste their lives and do nothing, is wrong. In my mind creating a situation where 27 per cent of all New Zealand children are growing up in homes where they have no working role models, is immoral. If we care about the future of this country we need to stop paying able bodied men and women to do nothing. Instead we should require them to get into the habits of the workforce, so that when a real job becomes available, they will be inclined to take it.

Other countries have found such forty-hour a week programmes of work, training and organised job search to be very successful in moving people from welfare to work. The key is providing those who need it with intensive case management as well as assistance with child care costs, transport, relocation and the like. If the programme is modelled on the work day - if you don't turn up, you don't get paid; if you turn up late, your pay is docked - then participants learn to appreciate the responsibilities and obligations that go with having a job.

If young men are in jobs, instead of being paid by the welfare system to be on the streets, crime will drop. Further, if the police take a zero tolerance approach to crime, making sure that those who offend feel the full consequences of their offending, fewer people will commit crime. Truth-in -Sentencing, whereby offenders serve their full court imposed sentence, instead of being able to be released after serving only a third of their sentence, would send a strong signal that crime does not pay.

There also needs to be prison reform: prisoners should be required to do the same forty-hour work week as the rest of society; whether it's sewing mail bags, crushing rocks, or doing full time adult literacy and numeracy, these programmes should model the workforce. In that way, prisoners being released will be in a far better position to find and keep a job.

Turning around the fortunes of this country is achievable, and the snap election has given all New Zealanders whether they live here or overseas (see for details on how to cast an overseas vote) an opportunity to vote for change. A party vote for ACT would be a start!

Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers. You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested.

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