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Newman: ACT's Welfare Reform Candidate

Newman: ACT's Welfare Reform Candidate

Monday 3 May 2004 Dr Muriel Newman

Speech to ACT Whangarei Electorate Committee, Monday May 3, 2004.

I am announcing today that I am standing as a candidate in the primary for the leadership of ACT New Zealand. The leadership of a political party is not just about a face; it's about a direction and a vision.

I am standing as a candidate for welfare reform. Under my leadership, ACT would campaign at the next election for the fundamental reform of the country's welfare system.

I joined the ACT because I was inspired by Sir Roger Douglas' vision in Unfinished Business that we must to stop trapping hundreds of thousands of able-bodied citizens - and nearly half of the nation's children - in the poverty of State dependency.

While Dr Don Brash is correct when he says that our superannuation system will not be in crisis until the year 2020, he is wrong to say that the nation therefore doesn't need to take any action until that day. We need to take action now to turn New Zealand into a stakeholder society.

Labour, by ruling out tax cuts and increasing family support in its May Budget, will trap more New Zealanders into State dependency. The burden will fall on ordinary working families. It is simply absurd that the maximum income tax brackets starts at $60,000. The two old parties are out of touch when they believe that a single income family on $60,000 a year is "rich".

I know what it's like to be on welfare. When my first marriage broke up - after 18 years - I was on the DPB benefit with small children. It is no life for anyone.

I am not personally ambitious. Having said that I realise, of course, that we are all ambitious for New Zealand.

But I am ambitious for the nation's solo mothers and their children. They can do so much better than being limited in their aspirations by next week's welfare cheque.

Every party says it is in favour of family values. I want ACT to take a lead in promoting a tax and welfare system that rewards family values instead of giving State incentives to break families up.

There is a better way and it is welfare reform.

Welfare reform is a movement that is sweeping the western world. The success of welfare reform in states like Wisconsin is simply amazing. Numbers dependent on welfare in Wisconsin are now one-tenth of what they were when Governor Tommy Thompson did what I'm doing and declared himself a candidate for welfare reform.

Governor Thompson realised that an out-of-control welfare system was doing more than just crippling the state financially and robbing working families of a decent standard of living, but was in fact destroying the life opportunities of beneficiaries and their children.

The effects of welfare reform are far-reaching. In Wisconsin, not only are there more people in work, helping the State to be far more prosperous and taxes to be lower, but there are less family break-ups, fewer illegitimate children, less alcoholism and drug dependency, fewer school drop-outs, lower crime, and they have a healthier society. If they can do it, so can we.

Welfare reform is an issue that neither National or Labour will tackle. There are simply too many beneficiaries on welfare. Only ACT can campaign on welfare reform. Only ACT in coalition with a new centre-right government can implement welfare reform.

I do not claim to be better qualified than the other ACT MPs in the primary. I have great respect for Ken Shirley's experience. Rodney Hide's media skills are legendary. Stephen Franks is Parliament's most experienced lawyer. They all have leadership qualities.

As leader I will need all of their skills and those of the rest of the team - Gerry Eckhoff, Deborah Coddington, Heather Roy, and of course, Richard Prebble.

What I will bring to the leadership role is a great knowledge of our welfare system and practical solutions to the welfare crisis.

Most of all I will bring a passion for welfare reform and the ability to communicate that passion.

As the MP elected by Caucus to be the Party Whip I am used to working with all of the ACT MPs as a team. From my background as the Assistant General Manager of Michael Hill Jeweller and the first women President of the Northland Chamber of Commerce, I do have the ability to connect with the public and to sell ACT's message.

I see the role of ACT's leader as that of its chief salesman.

Well, I think it's time that we had a saleswoman!


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