Dunne: Statement in reply - February 1 2005
Tuesday, 1 February 2005
Dunne: Statement in reply
It is a sobering reminder that in the 45 short days since this House last met, around the world we have seen the turmoil of the election in the Ukraine, we have seen the horror of the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, and we have seen the tumult and the drama of the first democratic election in Iraq. And we have even had one or two shakes in our own country.
I make those points to emphasise the fact that all people, wherever they are today, live in a world that is subject to more constant and dramatic change than ever before in its history, and where things like confidence and certainty and hope take on far more profound significance than has been the case in the immediate past. A lot has been said in this debate already about our emerging confidence and maturity as a nation, and about the prospects that gives us for our own future. I think there is a new sense of national confidence and identity starting to emerge in New Zealand. I think it is very fragile, but it is very important that this new spirit be encouraged and promoted. The debate about the flag is a strident reminder.
It is probably a little at the periphery of the main argument, but it does draw to our attention that people have a sense of identity with their nation and how it is portrayed, and they want to be part of that. Later this week the first meeting of the Constitutional Arrangements Committee* will take place, and that is the start of a process of reviewing our constitutional arrangements and deciding the type of country we want to be as we move through the 21st century and beyond. This weekend we celebrate what passes as our national day on Waitangi Day.
For many New Zealanders—sadly, too many in recent years—the turmoil and the upheaval that has been associated with that day has meant that it has become far less of a national day for most, and, unfortunately, if it is a good day weather-wise, just another day to go to the beach.
If we are to be a proud and confident nation, certain about who we are and bold in our predictions and our hopes for the future, we need to be able to celebrate the day that brings all of us together, whatever our ethnicity, our gender, our geography, our age, our income, or other differences—that brings us together by virtue of the common fact that we are New Zealanders—without it becoming a day for sullen protest, for division, for bitterness, and, increasingly, for apathy on the part of so many. I get very saddened and angry when I hear people say: “I am not interested any more. I couldn’t care less. Scrap the whole thing.”, because that strikes at the heart and the core of our nation and what we want to be as a people.
That is why I am bringing a bill to Parliament next month to rename our national day—not because a change of name in itself makes a huge difference, but because it starts to put us all on the same playing field where we all feel a common sense of ownership and purpose in what it means to be a New Zealander, of whatever disposition, today. Our hopes and our future as a country rest on our ability as a people to come together—to say that we are different strands of the same rope, but we are all New Zealanders. While we remain divided, embittered, and suspicious of one another we will lack the capacity to address any of the other major issues that confront our nation. It is all very well in that context to hear the speeches of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and others portraying a vision for New Zealand.
If this country is divided against itself it will not stand. The first component of any vision has to be a sense of national unity and national purpose. I cannot think of a better time in our recent history for us having the opportunity of addressing that. It has been noted, I think appropriately, that we are currently enjoying the most sustained period of economic prosperity in 40 years. That gives us a little bit of breathing space.
It gives us some of the confidence we need to address these issues. It also provides us with a chance to look at affairs—if I can paraphrase the phrase made about Neville Chamberlain—through the right end of the telescope. The problem we have faced in societies like ours for far too long is that we have become completely captured by outcomes. We hear them stated year in and year out as slogans: “We want to have this level of economic growth.”,
“We want to bring unemployment down to this level.”, “We want to change our productivity rate so it strikes this rate.”, and so on and so forth. All of these things are important as outcomes, but fundamentally what we need to be focusing on is why, and the purpose of seeking to achieve those outcomes. United Future says unequivocally that the purpose is to ensure that New Zealand families get the benefit of favourable economic and political circumstances, whatever other beneficent things are coming along.
Because when families are functioning well, our country is functioning well. Confident, bold, certain families contribute to a confident, bold, certain nation. We do not achieve those families by saying that unemployment is down or inflation is down. We actually have to say that a consequence of their being able to achieve their potential is that those things are achieved. In that context I want to make a few comments about the Prime Minister’s reported comments yesterday about the entry of women into the workforce.
I want to make it absolutely clear that I think that every New Zealander, whatever gender, whatever circumstance, has an equal right to participate in the workforce, and that we are not talking here about some sort of attitude that says it is not the traditional role of women to be in the workforce. But at the same time as that we are not talking about some sort of neo-socialist environment best characterised by the belching chimneys, the overall-clad women that we saw in the Soviet factories in World War II*, where driving up productivity became the overarching aim, either.
We are talking about balance. Fundamentally, what we are saying and what we ought to be addressing is, why is the pressure there for this to occur? In many, many cases it is an income-adequacy argument. The pressure that many young mums feel to get back into the workforce is not because of an overarching desire to contribute to productivity as much as it is one that their household needs the income to enable them to give their children the standard of living that they aspire for them to have.
What we say is that the focus therefore ought to be primarily on looking at the conditions that will boost household and family income. I readily concede that it will not be the answer in every case, but it is a part of the start. That is why this party promotes income-splitting for tax purposes, enabling the two parents in a household where there are two parents to contribute equally in a financial sense and to benefit equally from their participation from the running of that household. Under the policy that we propose that would see the average household in New Zealand about $190 a fortnight better off, and that is a significant factor in many accounts. I am not against children having access to child care, far from it. I want to ensure that children have access to quality childcare.
But I also want to ensure that parents do not feel estranged, by economic circumstance, from their role to be parents in this society. So many parents today worry about whether they are doing it right, whether they are caring as they ought to for their kids. There are no supports there for them. We simply assume that this is an inherited behaviour animalistically that can be automatically translated to work effectively in every family situation when clearly it cannot be. So we do need to bring that focus back
So we do need to bring that focus back to the household. I am reminded, as I say that, of the words uttered in this House about 30 years ago by Norman Kirk. He said that the principal function of a Government must be to ensure social and economic justice for all families, to protect their physical security and *well-being in such a way as to assist parents to achieve an independent, secure, and happy life.
All social reforms, he said, must be judged by the standard of whether they assist the family. If they assist the family, they are good; if they handicap the family, they are bad. I agree 100 percent with that sentiment. That is the emphasis we bring to the debate this year and beyond. But it extends well beyond the immediate scope of parents. Many of them worry about the opportunities for their young children as they grow up and encounter the tertiary education system. It is clear that the area of student support—the mounting student debt crisis and the way we fund tertiary education—has to be at the forefront of action for the future.
We will be making proposals this year regarding working off time after graduation and reducing the principal of the loan in proportion to that time worked in New Zealand. We will be proposing voluntary savings schemes for parents who want to contribute to tertiary education. We will also be looking at ways in which the *means-test arrangement can be progressively lifted back so that we get universal student allowances from the age of 20, because fundamentally this party believes that the role of our tertiary education sector and the role of our graduates is to contribute to the future of New Zealand—that they are not some giant export-producing factory, as they seem to be at present.
We also believe that families prosper best in good and vibrant communities. A couple of important elements of communities are to do with recreation. We have a strong association with those who enjoy good outdoor recreation activities and the ability to access our traditional heritage and our *birthright as New Zealanders without undue encumbrance. But at the same time we also say that in the world today the future of many people is based on their contribution to high-performance sport. Just as we see tourism and the new service industries as an investment, so too should we see high-performance sport as a major investment.
Instead of bemoaning the fact that we keep losing to the Australians, it may be time we set up something akin to the *Australian Institute of Sport—which was established in Canberra after the disastrous Olympic campaign of 1984—to give succour and support to sportspeople and to sports organisations that are, yes, doing good things for individuals but are increasingly major export earners for this country as well. Any community that is confident is one that is safe and secure. That security emerges from confidence in the legal system and in law and order—in the fact that the police are there to protect people from the worst offenders in society and that those offenders, when they are caught, will face the full sanction of the law.
We need to become much more focused on making our community safe in that way, rather than seeing policing drawn aside as it has been in recent years to focus on speed cameras and all sorts of other issues and leaving our communities less safe than they were in the past. It is time we stopped *pussyfooting around when it comes to those who prosper from the misery of others. The drug fiends, the drug barons, and the gangs that promote them deserve to have the full force of the law directed against them. Only last weekend, for example, a police aircraft crashed, apparently, after getting too near a drug plantation in the lower South Island.
That is criminal behaviour, it is utterly unacceptable, it is banditry of the worst sort, and we as a community ought to be placing a priority on getting rid of those who promote that sort of behaviour. Security goes to another aspect as well. Many New Zealanders—an increasing number, according to the statistics—will say: “These things are all very well. They were the issues of my youth, but I am now in my declining years, and I am looking forward to security in my retirement.” While the *pre-funding of superannuation is a positive move that we have been very happy to support, and while I believe that more certainty needs to be introduced into the national superannuation arrangements, we need to revisit the formula as it applies today, because the way it works is effectively dispossessing today’s superannuitants of around $10 per week in income. They get it back when the rate is struck in April, they then fall behind for the next 12 months, and they never get ahead.
So we need to start right there. I want to conclude with a couple of big issues for the future that I do not think we have got our collective head around. The Prime Minister made reference in her speech to a 40 percent increase in health expenditure. I assume that is via the Government’s contribution since it came to office. I have seen a graph used by the Minister of Finance that is essentially a vertical upright in health spending expectations.
The reality is that we will not be able to meet that demand in the future, given our current health needs, our current population, and current costs. The debate we need to be having is not about whether it is 40 percent or 50 percent or something else, but about how we can effectively provide health services to the widest range of New Zealanders in the future using the widest range of services available across the spectrum, because we cannot afford to carry on as we are.
In that context, I saw in the Prime Minister’s statement a reference to pharmaceutical policy. I raised with the Government some time ago a *“thinkpiece”, really, about what we are doing in terms of a pharmaceutical strategy for the future. I was not playing politics. I was not even asking about *Pharmac or current funding arrangements; I was simply asking whether anyone was thinking—given technological advancements, the cost of pharmaceuticals, and the increasing access of New Zealanders to information—about how to develop a pharmaceutical strategy for the future. My letter was referred to the *Ministry of Health for a draft reply. It has now been sent to Pharmac, which seems to think that by raising the issue I am launching an attack on it, and we are no further ahead. My point is none of those things; it is simply that this issue will affect all New Zealanders, whatever our age or circumstance, in the future.
It is that the demand from people as they become aware of medicines that are available elsewhere but not available here will increase, and we need to ask what we are doing about it. If we are a caring society that genuinely worries about the needs and aspirations of its people for the future, we will be thinking about those things as much as we do about the things we are thinking about today.
As this House embarks upon an election year, I express the earnest hope that, as well as the usual election year jollity, all parties focus on the issues that count and seek to give answers to New Zealanders about those matters now and in the future, because ultimately that is where this country’s future intentions lie.