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Simon Power - New Zealand For My Generation

Simon Power
Rangitikei MP
26 March 2004
Speech to Courtenay Place Rotary Club,


Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

I have a lot to live up to. Rotary addresses have become somewhat renowned over recent months.

I represent a different generation to those in Government.

I had just started school when Sir Robert Muldoon became Prime Minister of New Zealand. Jim Anderton, Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble were good old-fashioned socialists. Like any five year old, I couldn't have cared less.

By the time I started secondary school, Sir Robert's time was almost up. David Lange and Roger Douglas were about to change New Zealand in a way few could contemplate and even fewer were prepared for. Like any fourteen-year-old boy, I was more concerned about sport and what was happening on the weekend.

By the early 1990s, Douglas and Lange were mates no more, Sir Roger and Richard Prebble had become capitalists and the mantle of free market reform had been passed on to Jim Bolger and Ruth Richardson. Jim Anderton remained a committed socialist. I was at University and I was hooked.

For me, and people of my generation, our underlying political awareness has been formed almost entirely by our experience of growing up during the economic and social reforms of the 1980s and 90s.

A free market and making your own way in the world are as natural to my generation as trade unions, strikes and suffocating government regulation once were to my parents.

My generation have never experienced a Government that paid for all our tertiary education. We don't have an expectation that they should. Superannuation, health insurance and finding gainful employment are matters we sort out for ourselves. We don't expect the Government to do it for us.

We know that nobody owes us a living, here or internationally.

We can barely recall life without GST, or when the shops didn't open on Saturdays and Sundays.

Make no mistake; my generation embraces the greater freedoms and choices that were delivered by the revolution. But we care less about tired old debates over past policies than current debates about our future choices.

I also grew up in a country of increasing complexity. Part of a generation of Kiwis who have had to face the dilemma of balancing our career aspirations with the burdens of student debt, overseas opportunity and affection for our country.

I chose country, and today I'd like to speak about New Zealand for my generation.

I chose this career to facilitate change in New Zealand, and to make sure that as a nation we secure our place in an ever-changing world.

I acknowledge that there are some things that not even a new National Government could change. An aging population, the birth rate, our geographical isolation, our climate.

There are also some things that don't need to be changed. Kiwi pride. Our can-do attitude and our ingenuity. And something I've witnessed in abundance over the past few weeks during the flooding in Rangitikei- our strength of spirit and our sense of community.

But Ladies and Gentlemen, there are plenty of things that must be changed if we intend to carry on as a first world country - with all the benefits and technological advances that such status brings.

For New Zealand to be internationally competitive we must, as a nation, be impatient for success. We need to adapt - to be proactive, not solely reactive.

We cannot stand still while others are not.

My generation lives in the Internet age. We are internationalist. Geographical boundaries are becoming less significant and international travel seems to be getting cheaper every day.

Despite our geographical location, we are not isolated. We live in a global community. We cannot shirk our international responsibilities while others do not.

We must work smarter and harder; and we must all play our part to unleash this country's full potential because one thing that has become increasingly clear over recent months is that this disenfranchised government will not.

We must also cherish, always, those freedoms that our forefathers fought and died for to secure our liberties and our uniquely Kiwi way of life. We must embrace our diversity - by understanding our differences. And we must learn, simply, to enjoy each other and prosper together as a nation with a shared experience and common goals.

My generation believes in freedom.

We believe that business too must enjoy the comparative advantages to be gained from an internationally competitive corporate tax regime.

A low tax environment will not only benefit those who would create more jobs. Importantly it will also allow New Zealanders the opportunity to decide for themselves just what their priorities are. Greater choice and freedom is paramount for my generation.

New Zealanders can also feel safe in the knowledge that my generation will always protect those who most need our help. Compassion for the most disadvantaged has always distinguished the most successful National governments, and ours will be no different.

We must also keep government as small as practically possible.

It is ridiculous, but symptomatic of political-correctness-gone-bad, that we have over seventy government agencies servicing a population of less than 4 million people.

This is madness!

My generation echoes Reagan's famous line: "Government is not the answer to the problem. Government is the problem".

My generation has always focussed on government waste. Every dollar wasted is a dollar that we can't invest in our future.

The Resource Management Act is one such area that is in dire need of reform. The law as it stands is cumbersome and creates unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. The way it is administered must be changed because this country needs resource law that helps to build economic growth, create new jobs and pay for the world-class education and health systems that our people rightly expect.

Another difference in my generation is the relevance of unions. As at December 2002, 17.6% of the workforce belonged to unions. I would suggest to you that very few of those would be under 40 years old. In fact, young people in the 18-24 age group are significantly less likely to be union members (only 9%, compared to the 17.6% already mentioned).

This is the result of changes in employment. Gone are the days when a man or woman went into a job at the age of 18 and retired at the age of 60 without ever changing their employer.

Today's workforce is flexible and mobile. Most of my contemporaries who graduated with law degrees don't practise law. Around this room there are probably a number of you who are not working in the profession you began in, or have changed your career more than once.

People want flexibility in their employment. Many don't want to be attached to a distant group of people, paying subs and getting little in return other than funding the union's political agenda.

Attempts to bring back the unions is patently self-serving. This Government wants a return to collective bargaining, collective thinking, and collective voting. That will not work. It did not work in the past, nor will it work for my generation. Workers demand choice and they deserve their freedom.

Unions' relevance to people of my generation is minimal. We believe in doing things for ourselves rather than filling the coffers of those who purport to represent us when in fact they are only furthering their own narrow political agenda.

The teacher strikes last year are a case in point. It can be argued that the PPTA stance in negotiations for higher pay did nothing to benefit the quality of teaching for our children, nor did it give incentives for people to choose teaching as a profession.

The teachers' unions seem primarily interested in themselves and their authority with the Ministry of Education. Union activity compresses salary differentials, so wages received depend on qualifications and time served and do not vary enough with performance.

Teachers who excel at their jobs or teach hard-to-staff subjects and tasks are paid the same as if they were mediocre or could be replaced easily, which damages their morale.

Teachers should be encouraged to excel at their profession and be given incentives to do so.

Education is far too important to New Zealand's future to be left to the collective control of a bureaucratic and self-serving union.

To unleash our potential in education we must, as an urgent priority, improve the educational quality of our tertiary institutions.

Education reforms over the preceding decade have ensured that New Zealanders have a high level of participation in tertiary education.

Now that participation is secure, we must focus relentlessly on quality and provide incentives to encourage our young innovators, our thinkers and our business people of the future.

We must ensure that we equip our best and brightest with the intellectual capital required to prosper in a world increasingly without boundaries and borders.

We will get our greatest benefit from applying our maximum effort at the very edge of our abilities. These principles must guide the New Zealand way forward.

In early childhood education we must also ensure that we teach every New Zealand child the basics they will need to adapt in a world going through historic technological change.

The real need as I see it, however, is in the compulsory secondary sector.

This is the critical stage of a young person's development. It is literally life- changing. The knowledge gained and pressures faced during this time will see an individual through to the next phase. The choices are enormous - they include tertiary education, industry training, job experiences - or, for those least equipped, crime, unemployment, and crippling benefit dependency.

In 2001, 17% of school leavers had no qualifications, while 30% of leavers from schools in the bottom three deciles left with no qualifications compared with only 7% from the top three.

There are various reasons for this. But the problems in our schools and the reasons some kids are leaving without learning even the basic three R's can be fixed. By encouraging good governance and rewarding good teachers.

Bureaucracy and a 'one size fits all' approach is not good governance. The Ministry of Education in Wellington has no idea what is going on in schools from Otara to Ohariu Valley. The principals and the parents involved in those schools do.

Schools should have more say in how they govern themselves and parents and students should be able to choose a school with an ethos they like. I trust parents to make those choices.

Quality of education is of paramount importance for our children future well-being, our economy and our quality of life. In my view, quality depends on, among other things, teacher quality, parental involvement, curriculum content and school ethos.

Centralisation of the education system under one broad ministry has only created the instability that many schools now face. The schools' network review, if we can believe the government's explanation for its axing, represented the views of one man, without consultation with anyone - not even, we are told, the Prime Minister.

To ensure quality in the classroom we must challenge our teachers, re-professionalise teaching and reward good teachers. After all, "a good teacher in a large class is more effective than a poor teacher in a small one".

Teachers should be paid on their competency and merits and the profession should be no less competitive than law or medicine.

Alan Peachey, the principal of New Zealand's largest secondary school, Rangitoto College, insists on quality in his classroom and literally scours the country and beyond for the best teachers.

He believes, and so do I, that "children with consistently excellent teachers, teachers who expect big things of them, invariably flourish".

That is what I want for all New Zealand children. If we can produce excellent teachers and if parents have a solid choice and say in where and how their child is educated, particularly in their formative years, then there is real progress to be made in the future of our country.

We must stretch our teachers, our children and ourselves to give every New Zealander the opportunity of succeeding. That is my generation's challenge - the pursuit of excellence must accompany the pursuit of knowledge.

I am National's spokesperson on Defence. My generation believes foreign policy and defence and the relationships, strategic initiatives and policies it encompasses matter. I have strong views about where we should be and how we are going to get there.

My generation believes re-building our defence capability is important. It is outrageous to claim in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary that New Zealand continues to exist in "an incredibly benign strategic environment."

The strategies that New Zealand pursues in its defence and foreign policies must be bilateral, regional and increasingly global in order to advance our national interest.

My generation has always been international in its outlook.

We must do everything we can to rebuild our reputation and our relationships with our traditional allies, and strengthen those in the South East Asia basin.

Any effective defence strategy must be based on cooperation not isolationism.

We must not - we will not - be entirely dependent on other countries for our defence combat capability.

It is essential that our defence policy is structured around our obligation as responsible members of the international community and not based upon the simplistic notion that there is no threat to our national security.

In New Zealand's proud and glorious past our combat forces have earned respect for their effective contribution to the pool of international and regional combat capabilities. The Kiwi soldier is the match of any, the envy of many.

It is also essential that we promote economic and political freedom overseas. It is irresponsible to continue to ignore growing security threats. Whether they are ideological, systemic or political, it is these threats that will continue to challenge New Zealand's responsiveness and sense of responsibility.

We must align ourselves creatively with other countries. Oceans, in my view, do not separate or shield us from our responsibilities - they link us to them.

It would be both timely, and indeed in our best interests, to focus on strengthening our relationship with Australia. Now.

Australian security concerns must inform our own defence strategy. Because, simply, each country forms the other's flank. This function of geography cannot be ignored, nor should it be.

We also have over 400,00 New Zealanders living in Australia. How can we not share our neighbor's concern for their security?

Indecision, opting out from mutual obligations and showing reluctance to commit in a time of crisis are the surest ways to wreck an alliance. Following polls and not leading from a position of principle is not leadership - nor is it sustainable in the long term.

New Zealand is an island nation that is entirely dependent on trade for prosperity and success.

The world's economies are now more integrated than ever before. We must respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by globalisation.

The strength of our leadership, our defence strategy and our trade and foreign relations are all crucial in determining whether we gain or lose from globalisation. We can't afford to lose.

Globalisation brings opportunities but it also tests a country's relationships, its institutions and its leadership.

New Zealand is on the cusp. We can embrace globalisation, focus on building relationships and enjoy a positive and prosperous future.

Or we can carry on pursuing a haphazard and, frankly, incoherent agenda of the past few years. Building barriers not bridges. Losing friends, not strengthening friendships and forming new alliances.

The ever changing world we live in demands that we adopt a cohesive and strategic response that will benefit New Zealand and all New Zealanders.

We must form alliances with other countries in order to advance our national interest. In particular we must maintain and form strategic defence relationships.

Now, more than ever before, our own security and our future economic prosperity depend on it.

This week I became a father for the first time.

I want to do everything I can to ensure that my son enjoys a first-class education and a promising future in a prosperous first-world country.

A report by the Future Foundation which was commissioned by British Bank First Direct (a division of HSBC Bank) for the new millennium, predicts that this child of mine, part of the new millennium generation, could start school at age 3, will retire at 80 and live to be 120.

A longer life will also mean that he will learn, work and play more.

The report says that this generation will have room for three or more careers and several periods of formal learning.

Many of them could find themselves going back to University in their 60s to retrain.

80% of the business tools my son will use at work have yet to be invented.

One thing is certain - life, New Zealand and the world in which we live will continue to change. We just have to make sure that we equip ourselves with the resources to survive and thrive.

My generation's vision for New Zealand is one where innovation, creativity and risk are rewarded, not punished.

I want a country where those who most need our assistance and encouragement get it, because being compassionate is good policy as well as showing the common decency we all feel towards those who need a hand up.

I also want to see our best and brightest contribute more to their country by creating an environment where our young people broaden their life experience and professional skills while on their OE. And then choose to return in order to pursue their careers, raise their families and contribute to forging a better nation.

I want most of all, a country that is impatient for success, a nation that cherishes its freedoms, and a people who enjoy their diversity and each other.

Effective politics is not about age or experience, or even ability. It's about vision.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my generation believes in our country and ourselves. We are optimistic. The rest of New Zealand should be too.


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