Don Brash Speech: needs National to fix welfare
New Zealand needs National to fix welfare
Don Brash Address to National Party Canterbury/Westland Regional Conference
Welcome to the first National Party regional conference in a very important year for the Party and for the people of New Zealand.
I want to begin by thanking all of those who have done so much to help keep National humming.
In particular, I want to thank President Judy Kirk, for her tremendous support. All of us - and none more than I - owe her a huge debt of gratitude for the work she has been doing on our behalf.
I want to thank the many senior office-holders in this region who have given me their support and their advice over the past year. Your regional Chair, Roger Bridge, has been particularly helpful, both in his work on the Party’s Board and of course in the work he does here in the region.
I also want to thank the five National Members from this region - three of the five in the top eight places in the Caucus.
Gerry Brownlee has been a tremendous help to me in his role as Deputy Leader, and we complement each other’s skills and attributes remarkably well.
Nick works as hard as any member of the Caucus, and is a fearless advocate for the National Party and his constituents in an electorate which by some measures could well be a Labour seat.
David, in addition to his work in the Banks Peninsula electorate and in his important portfolios of Agriculture and Housing, has recently joined the Campaign Strategy team, and will make a great contribution there also I’m sure.
Brian, like me a member of the 2002 intake to the Caucus, has very quickly built tremendous support for the National Party and for himself as the candidate in the Rakaia electorate.
And Lynda, sadly leaving Parliament at the next election, has also made a strong contribution in the various portfolios she has held over the last six years, and in building support for National in the Kaikoura electorate.
I am under no illusions about the political battle we face this year. The Labour Party is ruthlessly pursuing a third term; they have no qualms about massively misrepresenting what National stands for; they have no shame in using public money to pursue their own electoral advantage; and they have no reservations about using your taxes to bribe selected voters.
In spite of all that, a National or National-led Government by the end of this year remains a totally realistic goal. Why? Because only a National Government will address the real issues facing New Zealand: poor incentives for working people, a generation being short-changed in our education system, high levels of violent crime in our community, entrenched welfare dependency, and a backward looking Treaty grievance industry.
We can fix these things.
Labour doesn’t even recognise them as problems.
That is the message we will be taking to the people of New Zealand this year.
In the political battle ahead, it is important not to allow ourselves to become distracted by the attacks of the minor parties.
The only real decision the voters face this year is whether they want more of the same from Labour: massive waste in public spending, poor incentives for working people, New Zealand families dependent on welfare handouts because of over-taxation, and a future threatened by an economy that is increasingly out of balance, and experiencing an accelerating exodus of Kiwis fed up with the direction Labour is taking this country.
If voters do want more of this, then they will vote Labour. If they don’t, then it is imperative they give their party vote to National. National is the only party which can plausibly lead an alternative government.
Yes, we could work with some of the minor parties if we had to do so, but most of them have indicated either that they would prefer to prop up a Labour Government or that they will give no clue as to which way they would prefer to jump - to Labour or to National - until after the election. In at least one case, a minor political party is demanding the right to decide which of the major political parties can form a government. So our message could not be clearer: if you want a change of government, it is vital that you give National your party vote; and we must get that message out to the electorate - too many of whom have not yet understood the essence of MMP politics.
The next election will substantially influence the sort of nation New Zealand becomes. We are confronted with some hard questions.
We have to ask why it is so hard for people to keep ahead of the financial and other pressures involved in raising a family. Why is our economy unable to deliver the increases in wages that we see in comparable countries? How much hard-earned money is siphoned off into the coffers of the state, and wasted on programmes of marginal value rather than on the core functions of government?
And we have seen a torrent of examples of scandalous abuse of public funding, accompanied by stunning complacency from the Helen Clark Labour Government in the face of these revelations.
In spite of international conditions giving us a period of quite buoyant economic activity, we still have 15% of our workforce dependent on welfare benefits of various kinds. We have more than 300,000 working age people dependent on welfare; sickness and invalids claims have ballooned by 40% since Labour came to office in 1999 despite billions more being spent on healthcare; and welfare is now on average costing each and every worker more than $50 a week.
Yet Labour has done nothing. They simply do not recognise the problem.
National will introduce a programme of community work for welfare, emphasising reciprocal obligations, and not endless handouts. We will audit and encourage literacy training among the unemployed. We will require parents on welfare to return to part-time work when their youngest child reaches school age. And we will make sure there is consistency in the way sickness and invalid benefits are applied.
We will expect the parents of the quarter of a million Kiwi children who grow up in households supported by a benefit to present their children for all appropriate dental and medical check-ups. And we’ll make it clear that a National Government will take action against beneficiary parents who knowingly allow their kids to remain truant from school.
These are the things that we expect of all responsible parents. We should expect nothing less from those who rely on other taxpayers for their support.
Underlying all our policies is the belief that people can and should assume more personal responsibility - for themselves, for their children and for their communities - and that government hinders rather than helps people by assuming too much responsibility.
The policies that National will put in place have had startling success where they’ve been applied in a pragmatic way. In Australia, for example, a study showed that about 30% of those who were eligible to take part in the community work programme dropped off welfare before they were required to take up the community work option.
In the US, the sort of reforms National is signalling resulted in a massive shift of people from welfare to work: between 1996, when US welfare reforms were introduced, and 2002, welfare caseloads fell by an amazing 58%, while the employment rate for never-married single mothers rose from 46% to 68%.
Here in New Zealand the next National Government will work towards reducing the number on welfare by about a third, from over 300,000 to 200,000 over ten years. By contrast, the Labour Government’s own projections show an increase in the number of those on benefits over the next three years.
The value of our programme won’t just be measured in dollar terms, but also in human terms. A life spent on welfare is no life at all, and while under National there will always be a safety net for those who are physically or mentally unable to support themselves, we have no intention of locking people who are perfectly capable of supporting themselves into long-term dependency. That is doing them no favours at all.
Moreover, I am determined that we must act on the growing frustration being expressed by the long-suffering Kiwi taxpayer at some of the abuses of the system.
Just this week, we were presented with figures showing that our taxes are supporting 1200 would-be ‘artists’ - and I use the term ‘artists’ loosely because that’s clearly the interpretation being used by Work and Income.
Among the 1200 on the ‘Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment’ programme, we have nine fashion models, five hopeful radio and TV announcers, a florist and a stuffed-toy maker.
Ambition is one thing; fantasy is another. This programme will go under a National Government.
This Labour Government is simply incapable of setting realistic priorities for quality public spending. None of the Labour Ministers appear to have an ounce of common sense, nor are they acquainted with the notion of accountability.
When employers are crying out for staff, when New Zealanders are leaving in droves, taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund a ‘feel good’ programme because it provides Labour with a few good-news stories.
Fair and reasonable welfare reform simply won’t happen under Labour.
They’ve refused to discuss work testing for those on welfare; they’re tinkering with sickness and invalids’ benefits after denying there was ever any problem; and since my speech on welfare reform at Orewa in January they’ve resurrected the loopy idea of a universal benefit, an idea which has been roundly rejected by those that have looked at it.
Re-naming and re-categorising those on welfare will do absolutely nothing to break the culture of dependency that Labour has been happy to promote over the past five years.
Let’s have a look at the sorry history of this idea.
Labour promised to introduce a single benefit in 2000 and promised to have it in place by 2002. After that, the idea sunk without trace. It resurfaced again only after my speech on welfare at Orewa. The idea has been discussed once at a Cabinet Committee and once at Cabinet since that time, on 9 and 14 February respectively.
Where were the details? Why were all the costs and benefits censored and why have the estimated savings fluctuated wildly from interview to interview?
If the moves look panicky and desperate, that’s usually because they are.
Now we’re told it won’t take effect until 2007, which is conveniently distant in the future.
It’s hard not to see these welfare announcements in the same light as last year’s empty promises over the Treaty of Waitangi and its vague ‘principles’. National predicted Helen Clark’s Royal Commission would drop off the agenda and we predicted Trevor Mallard would give Labour’s race-based policies the green light.
In fact, so little has changed that senior cabinet ministers are still advertising for secretaries who are required to have a knowledge of the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi in the workplace.
The next National Government will not require public servants to subscribe to a particular view of the Treaty. Instead, we will adopt a less exotic approach in relation to the recruitment of public servants; one where we seek auditors who can actually audit, managers who can manage and accountants who can count.
We will speed up and conclude the settlement process and we will remove divisive race-based clauses from legislation. We will treat all New Zealanders as equal under the law.
We said last year that Labour did not have the will to effect change. This year it is employing the same ‘do nothing’ approach to welfare and hoping it can pull the wool over New Zealanders’ eyes again.
The Government simply doesn’t get it.
Ministers spend all their efforts papering over the cracks.
We all know that New Zealand is bleeding talent overseas.
The front-page headline on last Saturday’s Weekend Herald featured the massive exodus of Kiwis from the country of their birth. The article made the point that 24.2% of all New Zealand-born people with a tertiary education now live overseas - and noted that that represents the biggest exodus of skilled people from any developed country in the world.
By way of comparison, the article noted that just 2.5% of Australian-born people with a tertiary education live outside Australia.
Those are extraordinary statistics, and the situation is steadily getting worse.
And the income gap with Australia is growing. In 1999, the after-tax wages of the average New Zealand worker were about $5,000 less than the after-tax wages of the average Australian worker. Today that gap is nearly $9,000.
Helen Clark pretends that the exodus of 550 New Zealanders on average, every week, week after week, isn’t a problem.
I want you to know that I regard it as a very big problem indeed.
I want you to know that I am absolutely determined to lead a government which has the courage to face this problem. Ladies and gentlemen, people with talent and skills have all the choices in the world - literally.
They have choices and they know how to exercise them. The next National Government is going to give those people the very best reasons to return to New Zealand, or not to leave in the first place.
Does Labour really believe it stands a chance of convincing New Zealanders to come home while it’s promoting tax policy which can see someone on $50,000 a year getting a 5% pay rise and only taking home an extra $5.20 a week?
Yet as we speak, Labour is spending obscene amounts of our money on an extravagant ad campaign to inform just 85,000 working Kiwis that they might be eligible for one of Helen Clark’s new welfare programmes. They’re spending $176 for every new client. That, by any measure, is an expensive way to communicate a change in welfare eligibility.
The reality is that just one in five households stand to gain anything from the Prime Minister’s redistribution package, yet Labour has the cheek to tell working New Zealanders they should be grateful.
Labour has lost touch with working people in New Zealand.
Their vision is one of big government, but small dependent people. The result is well-funded bureaucracies, but struggling families.
It is a vision of an ownership society where you earn it, but the government will take a huge slice of it.
This is a Government that thinks that government has money to spend, rather than understanding that every dollar that it spends has come from some hard-working taxpayer.
Over the past year, I have been progressively laying out National’s plan to deal with what we see as the pressing issues for New Zealand, and we will continue doing so this year. The first of these major speeches was about the Treaty of Waitangi at Orewa last year.
Six months ago, I talked about Law and Order.
I made it clear that we would abolish parole for all repeat and violent offenders so that rapists and murderers, among others, are kept behind bars for their full court-imposed sentence. I made it clear that we would increase police numbers, require DNA testing for all people convicted of a crime, and amend the Proceeds of Crime Act to target organised crime more effectively. I’ve also made it clear that we would block Labour’s plans to pay compensation to some of our most vicious criminals for their “hurt feelings”.
I regard the range of measures I announced as a clear statement of National’s willingness to defend the values that guarantee social cohesion and mutual trust, and of our determination to insist on the rule of law.
We have seen the most extraordinary series of blunders involving the 111 emergency call service, with taxis sent when police cars are needed, with women told to walk to the police station after an allegation of rape, with people kept hanging on the line while their partner is severely beaten. The Police Commissioner even suggested that it would help if callers to the 111 service screamed when they were really in danger.
We know that the Police sought an extra 60 staff to run the 111 service, and got just 18. It isn’t anywhere near good enough, especially when they clearly had the resources to hand out a huge increase in speeding tickets - an increase of nearly 200% in just four years!
Late last year, I also outlined the National Party stance on taxation.
My speech focused on incentives. We need a tax system that rewards enterprise, rewards skill and rewards hard work. Yet today we have a tax system that punishes all these things.
Our tax rates are too high at all levels; our taxation of families is punitive; our tax and benefit system is destroying incentives for work and penalising those who work hard; it punishes those who save, and blocks their ability to build an ownership stake in society; and because of this our tax system is fundamentally unfair.
We want the initiative, energy, ideas and drive that Kiwis have to be expressed and developed in this country, not exported across the Tasman.
The Labour vision has pulled the plug on aspiration, and drained away the confidence people have in building a future in this country. As a result, we are bleeding talent.
Part of the problem is economic - we don’t seem to be able to generate jobs that pay enough, and we grossly overtax hard-working people.
Part of it reflects inadequacies in our social policies: our health system seems always to be lurching from crisis to crisis; our education system is failing far too many of our children, and is achieving mediocre results for many of the rest.
Part of the problem reflects the fact that our communities, especially the poorer ones, are becoming fractured: we have gone soft on crime, and are reaping the consequences; and our families are struggling to cope while this Government overtaxes them and wastes much of their money.
Part also is cultural and attitudinal - our policies punish enterprise and achievement, encourage acceptance of mediocrity and thus undercut aspiration.
Part of it is that we have allowed the goodwill symbolised by the Treaty settlement process to be swamped in a riot of race-based political correctness.
It is this interrelated set of concerns - part economic, part social policy, partly cultural and attitudinal - which lie behind the departure of so many New Zealanders from this country.
Turning this around will be the priority for the next National Government.
What New Zealanders will be deciding at the next election is fundamental to our future: what is fair and what is unfair, what is right and what is wrong.
It is right that we have one law for all; it is wrong that different races are treated differently.
It is right that violent and recidivist criminals should serve the sentence given them; it is wrong that they should be free after serving only one third of their sentence.
It is right that enterprise, initiative and sheer hard work be rewarded with lower taxes, and wrong that punitive taxation stops people getting ahead in life.
It is right that the unemployed should be given financial support conditional on contributing to the community and it is wrong that we should pay them to be idle indefinitely.
I don’t believe in a culture of envy; I believe in a culture of aspiration and achievement.
A culture like that, when harnessed to shared values of compassion for those in need, and a determination to take care of the weak, the ill, and those who have simply stumbled upon bad luck, will produce a society we can all be proud of.
This is the sort of New Zealand the National Party represents and will be fighting for at the next election.