Robson: Speech To Grey Power
1 March 2005
Hon Matt Robson MP, Progressive Deputy Leader
Progressive MP Matt Robson speaks to Grey Power meeting
Progressive deputy leader, Hon. Matt Robson, addressed Grey Power, Invercargill, today.
The Progressive Party is currently working on its Election 2005 policy manifesto which will include the Next Steps needed to further protect seniors' interests and recently Jim Anderton offered Grey Power the services of one of his economic consultants to help develop policies on incremental increases to National Super.
Matt Robson's speech notes follow
1 March 2005
Hon Matt Robson MP, Progressive Deputy Leader
Matt Robson address to Grey Power, Invercargill
I would like to thank you for your welcome and apologise on behalf of Jim Anderton, who is unable to be here.
I have the opportunity to travel around New Zealand and see a lot of the changes taking place. This is a confident time for New Zealand. Our country is humming. Not just economically – but that’s important. We’re also taking giant strides socially, because the two go hand in hand. Every region of New Zealand is in positive growth mode.
The difference is showing up in jobs. The achievement by this government I am most proud of is the unemployment figure. Remember how stubborn unemployment was when Don Brash was in charge of the economy at the Reserve Bank? Remember the effect on Invercargill? A quarter of a million new jobs have been created since 1999.
Unemployment is at its lowest level in twenty years, and the lowest level of any developed country in the world. I’m not saying this because I want you to believe everything is fine and we can sit back and enjoy the good times.
The importance of it is that it gives us a unique opportunity. We have the resources as a country to make a real difference to the well-being of superannuitants and other New Zealanders. More jobs means more of a future in the regions for young people where they grow up.
It means jobs here in Invercargill. The National Party in government used to say, ‘too bad if there are no jobs, they’ll just have to move to where there’s work.’ Now we work with the regions. People used to ask me ‘where are the jobs?’ Now they ask me ‘where are the skills?’
Even the crime rate is coming down. Is it a coincidence that, when unemployment comes down, the crime rate falls? Last year the crime rate fell 6.5 percent. The police say it was one of the biggest falls on record; the biggest for at least thirty years. The crime rate is 18 percent lower than it was at its peak in 1996. You wouldn’t believe it when you read the papers, but that is the truth of what’s happening. That means there were 20,997 less victims of crime nationally last year. 403 fewer victims a week weren’t attacked. There is one area where offending is going up – it was drug offences; up 2.9 per cent last year.
That’s why the Progressives are anti-drugs. If you’re not anti-drugs, you’re not anti-crime. Jim Anderton is the Minister in charge of drug policy. He’s supporting community youth drug centres to remove marijuana starting from communities from the ground up. The government is confronting the P epidemic.
We need to challenge the most prevalent drugs in our community – alcohol. That’s why I support putting the drinking age back up. I have a member’s bill in the ballot at parliament. It will admit we made a mistake when we reduced the drinking age a few years ago. The evidence is in, and it hasn’t worked out. So my bill will put the age back up to twenty.
Drugs are one issue where it pays to be clear about your choice of coalition partner. Progressive is totally opposed to drugs. The next government will be anti-drugs if Progressive is in it.
We will work with Labour, and we will work to continue the direction New Zealand is going. The Progressive Party will be campaigning for the party vote as pro-growth, pro-jobs pro-business party with a social conscience. We are an insurance policy for Labour.
In the time available, I’d like to briefly mention some of the most important issues for the Progressive Party, and the issues that have come up time and again from Grey Power. I’ve mentioned drugs, and the success Jim Anderton’s economic development policies are having on unemployment. Our other top priorities are in health, housing and education.
In housing, we are proposing a scheme that allows families to do something to something many people in this room once did. We want to allow families to capitalise their family support payments to save the deposit on a new home. The cost of home ownership is getting out of reach of a lot of our struggling young families. Yet it has enormous beneficial effects. So we have worked out a way to give those most in need a leg-up, and we’ll be pushing for progress in this area.
The other major issue affecting young people is the level of student debt. In a few years, our young people will have a debt burden higher than the national debt. We need to keep our best and brightest here in New Zealand. Progressive wants their debt repayments to be made by the government for the first three years after they graduate. We have the opportunity now to make a real difference for students.
I know health care is major issue for Grey power members, especially the waiting lists and the cost of prescriptions. If we could wave a magic wand, we would abolish prescription charges. You’ll have to talk to our Labour coalition partners about that, or give us more muscle to talk to them.
But Progressive is developing a policy on waiting lists and prescriptions, which we’ll be releasing shortly. It’s enough to say now we recognise the problem and we’re committed to making it a top priority in government. Progressives have also had success in bringing down the cost of visiting the doctor. Doctors’ visits came down because we negotiated with Annette King. We said we would support the health package she wanted, but we wanted to see progress on reducing doctors’ fees. She agreed to reduce the cost of doctors’ visits for superannuitants. To her credit, she kept her word. Superannuitants are getting much cheaper visits to the doctor. It’s a matter of principle, no one should be denied health care because they can’t afford to pay.
Another important issue to mention is superannuation. Progressive supported the development of the new super fund and it has helped to make superannuation more secure. The stronger performance of the New Zealand economy has also been crucial. In the eighties and nineties Governments cut superannuation when they didn’t have enough money. When the budget is under pressure the knives come out. The reason no one talks about super being cut any more is because the economy is doing better. I always thought they were wrong to make superannuitants bear the cost of their economic mismanagement. But it was plain they were doing it to save money.
It’s been five years now since the level of superannuation was immediately increased by this government when it took office by twenty dollars a week. It’s nearing time to look at the issue again. I’m very aware that those on fixed incomes are not fully sharing in the recovery New Zealand is experiencing. That’s not fair to people who can’t change their circumstances.
One of the things Progressive is researching currently is a way to reduce electricity, gas and phone costs for superannuitants because it is clear these costs are placing an extra burden on people. Recently Jim Anderton had a meeting with some Grey Power representatives in Wellington. He offered them the services of one of his economic consultants to develop policies on incremental increases to superannuation.
I think that is a sign that we are fully committed to working closely with the retired community on the issues affecting you; It’s also the strongest signal we can send that we need to improve the participation of those on fixed incomes in New Zealand’s rising prosperity.
When we have more people in jobs, we’re paying out less in benefits and collecting more benefits. That means the government has more room to move to look after those who can’t – or shouldn’t have to – move into work.
I can give you an update on Kiwibank, while I’m here. I know a lot of superannuitants bank with it. When we created it Kiwibank we promised it would have lower fees than the big Australian banks were offering at the time. It delivered – and that has benefited everyone, because all the other banks have had to respond. For example, they offer free children’s accounts now; none of them did before Kiwibank started it. Remember how they told us bank branches had to be closed? We found a way to open new branches of the People’s Bank. Last week, Kiwibank announced its first profit. It has 300-hundred thousand customers. Over three hundred branches. It has reached its profitability targets ahead of schedule. Where are the critics of Kiwibank bank now? Do you think Don Brash would sell it? The Kiwibank is not the only thing Progressive has accomplished. It’s not even as important as our success in creating jobs.
But it shows we were right about potential for a New Zealand-owned financial institution. It shows we were right to oppose asset sales. And it shows we can make services in the regions of New Zealand profitable and secure.
The Progressive Party will be campaigning for the party vote in next year's election as a pro-growth and pro-jobs insurance policy. We’ll be campaigning for better housing assistance, for reduced student debt levels, for shorter waiting lists. We’ll be campaigning against drugs and for rising incomes for those on fixed incomes. And we’ll be asking for your support to make those initiatives into reality.
If you want them, there is a sure way to achieve them. We will continue to work constructively with Labour to achieve them. They are our priorities. Other parties have theirs.
We think ours matter, and I would like to hear your views.