"A Fair Go For Citizens In Their Own Country”
5 November 2004
An address by Rt Hon Winston Peters to Greypower, 1:30pm, Friday 05 November 2004, Convention Centre, Main Street, Palmerston North
“A FAIR GO FOR CITIZENS IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY”
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be with you today and to use this time to talk about New Zealand First policy for senior citizens.
As you know we are a party that has a special interest in people who have retired after making a contribution to their country and the society they live in. It is always disturbing to hear the economic gurus and political commentators refer to the “elderly problem”. For some reason, when you reach a certain age in this society, you are placed in a box with a label on it. And that label says that you are a problem because you are having some adverse effect on the economy. In many other countries, the reverse is the case. The elderly are regarded as special because of the wisdom they bestow, to counter the recklessness of youth.
When New Zealand First was part of the first MMP coalition government we removed the super surtax, introduced free flu vaccinations, poured money into elective surgery and protected the base level of superannuation.
We also fought for the removal of income and asset testing for those in residential care but this was reneged on by National and only partially restored by Labour.
You will also remember that National slashed the Guaranteed Retirement Income when the coalition broke up as part of its harebrained scheme to cope with the Asian financial crisis.
This was the real reason behind National's orchestration of the collapse of the coalition. Later, we supported Labour's moves to set up a Superannuation Fund and we kept alive the prospects of individualised accounts. This fund is essential to a policy we announced last weekend of buying back key infrastructure and assets that foolish governments have let fall into foreign hands since the late 1980s.
New Zealand has been exporting jobs and importing people. No other nation does that.
We will welcome real investment that results in new productive assets and capacity and more jobs but simply swapping a New Zealand owner for foreign control gains us nothing and costs us everything!
We will not allow control of our key assets and infrastructure to lie in the boardrooms of London, New York, Geneva or Tokyo.
How will we do this? By ensuring that the superannuation fund that we helped establish focuses on rebuilding the New Zealand owned stake in key industries and infrastructure.
We are committed to reversing the loss of existing assets into foreign ownership and we will ensure that New Zealand retains a strategic stake in core assets.
Last year foreign owners sucked almost ten billion dollars from the economy.
For the sake of future generations, we cannot continue this policy of allowing our best assets to pass into foreign hands and stay there.
Let me repeat assurances that we gave last weekend and which the commentators have chosen to ignore.
Overseas owners need have no fear their assets will be stolen.
Politicians will not be meddling with the superannuation fund.
Will the fund managers be given instructions? No.
Will they be able to invest the funds largely in New Zealand? Yes.
Will this be good for New Zealand? Yes.
Let me remind you that Labour sold Air New Zealand and National sold New Zealand Rail.
The Government had to buy both back in order to save the country’s transport infrastructure.
Was this bad for New Zealand? No – except New Zealand Rail had been plundered and the best bits were snapped up by the Aussies.
We had a superannuation fund that could have bought it and still made a profit.
It would be silly of us at this stage to release a detailed list of our plans for implementing our policy.
This would distort the markets and lead to some foolish investment patterns.
What we have chosen to do is make clear where we stand on this issue and at the next election we will ask New Zealanders to support our position.
We will say that if you agree with foreigners owning New Zealand – vote for Labour or National.
But if you want New Zealanders to own their own country - vote New Zealand First.
In the meantime, the state of the economy is such that social services are in disarray.
Our emergency services such as police are under resourced.
Our hospital waiting lists are getting longer.
People have to travel to Australia for cancer treatment,
our roading and infrastructure is neglected;
parents are paying twice for state education;
student debt has become a scandal;
pensions have fallen below the level many retired can live on.
When the economy suffers, the first citizens affected are those on fixed incomes.
And we know that many elderly are in this position – and we know of your plight.
Our policy for senior citizens is based around a set of values: That all New Zealanders are entitled to retire with dignity; That all New Zealanders should receive sufficient retirement income to meet a reasonable standard of living; That all New Zealanders should have a retirement income that is secure.
Put simply, NZ First’s commitment is this - all our senior citizens must have a decent and secure income in retirement. Let me pose a question: If you were deciding whether New Zealand really is a decent society would you rely on the pronouncements and press releases of the Minister of Social Welfare? Or would you look at what provision the government is actually making for senior citizens? Because that is how we judge current policy. What counts is not the rhetoric but the reality.
How we treat the elderly is a clear measure of the values of our society. And in our view there is a lot of unfinished business. As part of our 2005 election campaign we shall be presenting a strong policy platform of direct relevance and benefit to New Zealand’s senior citizens.
In contrast, have you noticed how the other parties have stopped talking about retirement incomes and pension policy? Their silence is ominous. The fundamental building block of New Zealand retirement provision is - and must remain - a decent public provided pension.
That may sound like a statement of the obvious but New Zealanders would do well to consider that not all parties subscribe to that view. National hankers to “privatise” pensions as they have privatised so much else. It would not concern them to put the elderly at the mercy of the market when it comes to retirement income. Let us not mince words.
They are quite capable of applying once again their brand of economic sophistry in a way that will condemn our senior citizens to an impoverished old age. If you are concerned about your pension – have a care - be vigilant! So where does New Zealand First stand? First, you might not be aware that the way universal superannuation is currently calculated you are being ripped off.
In fact you are being hit twice.
When this Government came to office five years ago, it raised superannuation levels, which National had slashed, but at the same time it changed the mechanism for calculating the rate of payment.
It is no longer linked to the Consumer Price Index and has instead moved to the net average wage.
As a result, you are thirty dollars a week worse off.
As well, the Government has allowed the pension to fall below 65 percent of the net average wage.
This amounts to another five dollars a week, and we in New Zealand First know that five dollars a week on a fixed income can be a significant amount.
This is both mean spirited and stingy from a Labour government, which knows about this anomaly and will not fix it.
We regard this as very serious.
We have asked the Auditor-General to investigate, as we believe that the Government has breached its own law over superannuation levels.
This is a real insult and also places a further strain on the elderly. New Zealand First will be revisiting the basis of the current universal benefit. The level of the basic pension must be such that no elderly person need suffer poverty.
The universal entitlement must be enough for people to cover their basic needs and to enable them to live with dignity. Our intention is to progressively and incrementally raise this level – on a sustainable long-term basis – to a target of 72.5 percent of the net average wage. (This is calculated on married couples with a similar adjustment of rates for single people).
Nothing in our pension policy is pie in the sky – nothing that is unaffordable – nothing that is out of reach. The Government is awash with its budget surplus. And remember that expenditure on pensions is in the nature of transfer payments. Virtually all pension expenditure is spent by the recipients and generates further economic activity. Accordingly, pension spending is stimulatory and very largely positive in its overall economic impact. New Zealand First is not pretending pension policy is simple – issues around retirement income provision are challenging and complex.
And we recognise that there are a multitude of issues surrounding retirement income and the changing demographic mix of New Zealand society. We don’t pretend to have all the answers but we are continuing to examine and explore options within the set of core values outlined earlier.
For example, New Zealand First favours amending legislation relating to the Superannuation Fund in order to tag individual entitlements that would be guaranteed by the state.
Without such individual entitlements being clearly earmarked it could be all too easy for some unscrupulous government to raid the pension pot to pay for some Minister’s bright idea.
New Zealand First has supported the so called Cullen Fund but as I said earlier, we want to see the investment fund being used to generate more direct benefits at home rather than play world stock markets. Conclusion A strong and sound pension system is the hallmark of a decent society. With people living longer than ever before, New Zealand First wants to build a better system so the retired can live a full and active life. For that reason we will be making pension provision a key election issue in 2005.
Only that way can we ensure that nothing underhand is done to erode the value of the state pension. In our view it is imperative not to let other parties that are evasive about where they stand on universal super, undermine the foundations of pension security. We pledge to strengthen the pension framework we have, by guarding what we have in place and building on it That is a goal worth fighting for. We invite you to join us in this cause.