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Heather Roy: Maiden Speech

Heather Roy: Maiden Speech

Tuesday 3 Sep 2002

I stand here today proud to be the 80th New Zealand woman to be admitted to this House of Representatives. Many of the women who have preceded me, particularly those early pioneers, have been women with great courage and passion and despite personal sacrifice have set about to elicit change for the betterment of New Zealanders and especially New Zealand families.

I am a mother of five children and I am pleased to have them here today.

I want a country where it is possible for them to advance their education and their careers without having to permanently leave New Zealand.

My children are fortunate. They have two parents who love and care for them, who provide for them financially and emotionally. Sadly this is not the case for many of our children or for those in our community who are truly vulnerable, those who live in poverty without proper access to what we in this chamber would consider the basics. It is time for change. Change is long overdue. It is much easier to do nothing than to elicit change and people who seek power for its own sake generally avoid change.

Machiavelli warned that:

"There is nothing more difficult to accomplish, nor more dubious in its outcome, Nor more perilous in its execution, than to take the initiative introducing change."

I stand here advocating change in a liberal direction. Many people here claim to be liberal but I will explain what 'liberal' means to me. It means taking a tolerant attitude to the behaviour of others unless it is harmful, and granting others as much autonomy over their own lives as possible.

One should never confuse socialism with liberalism because socialism is distinctly authoritarian. On this issue I could do a lot worse than quote from former National Party Prime Minister Sir John Marshall in his maiden speech of 1947. A few years previously he had played his own part in the war against National Socialism.

I quote: "The Liberal knows that it is not progressive but reactionary to attempt to control and make uniform by law the personal conduct and habits of men. Many times and in many places this has been tried and it has always failed."

He went on to say "...that a great gulf separates the liberal and the socialist. It is a gulf of both principle and of method and I am on the side of the liberals."

Like Sir John Marshall I too am on the side of the liberals.

So where would a liberal reformer try to effect change in New Zealand in 2002?

You will be aware that the fifth Labour government has preserved most of the economic reforms introduced by the fourth Labour Government, but as Sir Roger Douglas reminds us there is unfinished business and social policy reform is long overdue.

Change is perilous and change in social policy is particularly perilous but we must ask, "What is the cost of doing nothing?". If we continue to do nothing our burgeoning welfare state will go from bad to worse.

This is just one of the areas where New Zealand is failing.

Commonsense and family were key themes of this election. But our current policies are failing dramatically in the social areas and failing dramatically in the area of the family. As a society we are failing to protect our children from abuse.

Every day we seem to hear heart-rending stories of abused and murdered children. Their life details are so violent that I cannot read their full stories because I find them too distressing.

To suggest change in social policy means that it is necessary to take a look at the nature of the state and its relationship to the family. It was once adequate for the state simply to provide for the family's physical protection and the family was left to care for itself. However the state has replaced the breadwinner in many homes producing fatherless families.

We have to ask if children are less loved today than they once were, given the large number who have no support from their fathers at all.

Our society faces a problem with its large number of fatherless children and particularly fatherless boys. The state steps in financially but the state cannot and will never provide love.

By love I do not mean romantic love, but the hard dutiful love that comes from putting someone else's interests close to the heart. It is immensely fulfilling to love and be loved but it doesn't happen easily and is maintained through personal effort and sacrifice. Effort and sacrifice are things that most of us can put aside but we do people a dis-service if we make them unnecessary.

I worry about the New Zealand family. I worry about New Zealand children and particularly our boys growing up without paternal love.

Fathers don't get a good press generally and in social policy are often only mentioned in connection with sexual abuse. Yet all the objective evidence is that children raised by their father are less likely to be abused sexually or otherwise and generally show more social responsibility.

How then does a liberal direct social policy? Liberals, in the classical sense, are in favour of freedom of the individual and do not interfere in matters of personal morality.

A liberal society is one where tolerance is paramount.

Tolerance for the beliefs of others and their lifestyles, especially when they diverge widely form your own is the mark of the liberal. My tolerance as a liberal runs thin however, when individuals refuse to take responsibility for their actions. The answer to the question of directing social policy lies in the need to empahsise the other side of liberalism which is that of duty or personal responsibility.

Those who want freedom without responsibility are free riders - they are opportunists not liberals. And for me, the greatest responsibility is to our children. There is no conflict between liberalism and family, just a need for people to take responsibility for their own actions.

This view is not new.

Two centuries ago the famous economist and philosopher, Adam Smith commented on the law and the family saying - "The laws of all civilised nations oblige parents to maintain their children and children to maintain their parents...".

There has recently been some debate about the definition of "family", a debate that would have bewildered our grandparents.

The real question is not 'What is a family?' but 'Why do we have a family?' Until recently family is what stood between anyone who could not work for a living and starvation and it was primarily for the benefit of children.

The Welfare State was developed to protect families from the loss of a breadwinner and was never intended to be an attack on the family. But the architects of the welfare state did not envisage dependence on the state as a career choice.

I was reminded of this recently when reading the maiden speech of Elizabeth McCoombs in 1933, our first woman MP, who told the joke about the old tramp who was asked if he had ever been offered work. "Only once:" he replied "apart from that I have had nothing but kindness".

Those who argue about the definition of family are missing the point. Society is suffering because of a decline in two parent families. For people who are raised to interpret every social phenomenon as a manifestation of the class struggle it is hard to accept that the main losers of the decline in the traditional family are children.

I have no quarrel with people who do not want to be in a traditional working family. But children are a lifelong obligation. Children bring joy and despair, fun and frustration, happiness and hard work. Those that bestow parenthood upon themselves are duty-bound to love their children and look after them properly.

In New Zealand, welfare-dependence has become a lifestyle for some. The State has actually moved away from helping those who are truly helpless. The facilities for mentally ill people are declining and it is now common to see obviously mentally ill people living rough on the streets. At the same time social spending skyrockets.

We are failing those who are vulnerable. The safety net we talk of so proudly has become so distended that we cannot find those truly in need of assistance.

My background is in health and I intend to address New Zealand's difficulties in the health sector. The quality of recent debate has been poor and our health system needs a serious injection of intellectual honesty.

Hospitals and other parts of the health system provide a free service and therefore face a demand they cannot satisfy. This is not an impossible situation but it does require rationing. So the honest debate on health requires a debate on rationing.

This is where the problem begins because it is not permissible to mention rationing in the Ministry of Health. There is a myth that any demand on the system can be met. This fiction is pernicious as patients think that every request can be met. Staff are caught between patient demands and the reality of limited resources. Even an increase in resources cannot, by itself, resolve this.

So rationing arises de facto, with long queues in waiting rooms, surgical waiting lists and empty rural general practices. The flight of medical and nursing staff from the country is becoming a scandal but the myth that there is no rationing, the great screaming lie of New Zealand Health, continues to be perpetuated.

When we admit that we have rationing we can move forward and discuss honestly where our priorities in health really lie.

But Health is just one area of social policy requiring immediate attention.

Dr David Green , in his book "From Welfare State to Civil Society" states that "One of the priorities of public policy should be to restore functions to civil society" In the 18th and 19th centuries this was the prevailing ethos of the friendly societies and charities." Charitable activism still takes place in Western society but it is more likely today to lead to demands that the government take action.

People are often strongly of the opinion that someone else should do something. In years gone by the churches were central to encouraging private philanthropy, but in our times they too are more likely to demand action by the state. It would seem in these modern times people are only too happy to hand over their conscience to the government.

One comes to Parliament with a set of basic fundamental beliefs, beliefs which generally speaking align one to the party for which they stand. ACT New Zealand, has a well defined philosophy. Our principal object is to promote an open, progressive and benevolent society in which New Zealanders are free to achieve their full potential. I believe that individuals are the rightful owners of their own lives, with inherent rights and responsibilities.

I come to Parliament because I believe these concepts are central to the policy initiatives New Zealand needs to tackle social policy in the Twenty First century.

Act New Zealand is a party of influence, here to change the way people think. If I can contribute to the move in attitude needed to make this change a reality I shall consider my time here a success.

Ends


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