Peters Speech: Golden Card For Golden Age
Rt Hon Winston Peters address to GreyPower Federation Annual General Meeting, The Grand Tiara Hotel & Convention Centre, Fenton Street, Rotorua 7pm Monday 11 April 2005
“A GOLDEN CARD FOR A GOLDEN AGE”
Mr President, delegates, distinguished guests.
Thank you for your invitation to this annual meeting and for the opportunity to present our new policy for senior citizens.
Since New Zealand First was formed 12 years ago, the party has had a special affinity with this group.
In fact you could say one of the reasons New Zealand First was born was the deception dealt to elderly New Zealanders in the late 1980s and 1990s.
We are referring of course to the hated superannuation surtax and the actual level of superannuation payments.
Remember that in1984 Labour’s election manifesto promised no change to superannuation.
But one year later in April 1985 Labour imposed its iniquitous superannuation surtax that affected three-quarters of all superannuitants.
In 1989 Labour announced that the retirement age would be put up to 65 and in 1991 National sped up that process.
That was the same National party whose leader Jim Bolger had campaigned on a promise to scrap the surcharge “no ifs, no buts, no maybes”. And then National’s “mother of all budgets” in 1991 actually increased the surtax.
In April 1998 New Zealand First abolished it.
During that brief time in government New Zealand First also: fought off Mrs Shipley’s determined bid to slash super, introduced the compulsory super debate, provided an extra $252million for elective surgery, funded 32,000 more operations, provided free influenza vaccines for the elderly, and budgeted for the removal of income and asset testing for elderly care. This last initiative was regrettably overturned by National in 1999 and has only been partially achieved by Labour and that only after considerable New Zealand First pressure. The other key area of National and Labour’s deceit has been in the calculation of the level of superannuation. It used to be 80 percent of the gross average ordinary wage but successive governments based it on a reducing percentage of a reducing base. Now it is down to 65 percent of the Net Average Wage and sometimes falls below that level. The whole issue comes down to this - do we value our senior citizens or do we see them as a group set apart from the rest of the community?
New Zealand First’s stance towards the elderly is straightforward.
The elderly are us - an integral part of us – the soul of the country.
And one crucial point needs to be borne in mind.
The real impact of an ageing population has yet to set in. Because of New Zealand’s youthful demographic structure, the impact of the ageing population will be delayed here relative to other developed countries.
In Japan and much of Western Europe the ageing of the population is now well advanced.
But when you look at where government policy is in relationship to the elderly the omens are not good.
As we have pointed out, the government is playing ducks and drakes with superannuation indexing – quietly undermining the integrity of that support mechanism.
And they are already penny pinching in areas that affect some of the most vulnerable elderly.
In the elderly care sector right now the talk is of crisis.
“Meltdown” is one of the milder terms being used to describe what is happening to elderly care.
Over the past 6 months the closure of some 17 residential care facilities for the elderly has been announced.
That includes some long time providers.
In a similar vein, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and the Service Workers recently launched a “Fair Share for Aged Care” campaign.
The point of this campaign is to mobilise support for improved aged care funding and better pay for their membership.
A few years ago the consulting firm Price Waterhouse did a major study of government funding for elderly care and found a fundamental shortfall of funding levels of around 20 percent.
That chronic under funding is still to be addressed.
Sure, the elderly want to stay in their own homes and live independent lives as long as possible.
However at some point in many lives independent living ceases to be a feasible option.
People then need quality residential or hospital care.
That is the real test of how we value the elderly.
And what do we see?
A government sitting on its hands while the capacity – the infrastructure - to provide care for the elderly is collapsing.
Not everyone has the money to fund themselves into a retirement village
So it is against this background that we are alerting the elderly to take nothing for granted.
And that Labour and National have both a history of signing up to the same scenario for the elderly.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
New Zealand First however, is committed to providing a better future for senior citizens.
Governments cannot protect citizens from all the circumstances – all the vicissitudes of life.
Illness, accidents and misfortune happens.
But there are some things that the state can provide – such as a basic income to allow people to live in dignity and comfort.
Now, what I am about to say will bring you comfort in the knowledge that there is still a party in parliament that cares about you and wants this to happen.
GOLD CARD FOR SENIORS
Each of you received a Golden Age Card as you sat down for dinner.
It is our pledge card to you in return for your party vote at the next election.
What does it contain and what does it mean for you?
You will notice that the first point is that you will gain a full superannuation entitlement and it will NEVER fall below 65 percent of the Net Average Wage.
We will raise the rate of superannuation for married couples to 68 percent of the Net Average Wage in the adjustment period in April next year. That is when you are due for the next rise.
Our increase will mean an extra $20 a week for married couples and just over $10 dollars a week for those who are single.
We will then take significant steps beyond this.
First we will set in place a process to take the rate of superannuation to the maximum 72.5 per cent of the net average wage.
We cannot do this in one large step – but we can over time.
The days of 65 percent being both the floor and the ceiling for superannuation will be over.
We will also change the iniquitous situation that couples find themselves in when one partner is under the age of 65.
Under the present system both are penalised by a lower rate of superannuation and if one earns over $80 a week, they are both penalised.
New Zealand First will ensure that the non-qualified spouse is issued with a gold card which will give them the same income rebate as widows.
We will also undertake to conduct a thorough review of the changes to the mechanism for calculating superannuation. If some changes are found to have been prejudicial you will be compensated.
The second point on the card relates to healthcare.
It guarantees access to affordable healthcare for seniors whether or not they attend a Primary Health Organisation.
We are committed to reviewing the amount of subsidy for those over 65 to ensure it is sufficient.
We will also ensure that the subsidy is universally available.
We have received mixed messages on this, with some GPs claiming that it is sufficient and others claiming it is not.
We suspect that it depends more on location rather than clinical needs – but we will ensure that the subsidy is sufficient.
This should eliminate a lot of the discrepancy in the fees charges for GP visits by seniors.
This Golden Age card will also act a smartcard which will ensure that rather than having to fill out forms, all the relevant information will be transferred with the card each time it is swiped at a doctor’s visit.
This will include all current entitlements that you might have through a community service card or higher use cards are not lost and that the full impact of the subsidy for doctors visits are passed on in reduced costs.
We will also ensure that all benefits related to medicines are continued on the card and that any additional discounts are passed on through the card.
Our policy also contains more details on extra funding for hip replacements, cataract surgery and other forms of elective surgery.
The next item on the card is Transport concessions.
We know that in some places they are already in place, but we want to extend these and make them universally available.
We want to ensure that public transport is accessible and affordable for all seniors.
This will require greater cooperation between central and local government in setting pricing regimes for senior citizens.
We intend for this smartcard to act as your guarantee of subsidised travel.
POWER, GAS AND TELEPHONES
The next point on the card is one of great concern to many elderly - the cost of essential utilities such as power, gas and telephone services.
We believe that it is crazy that no matter how much you try to cut back on use, your power and telephone bills stay high due to line charges.
We commit to reducing these line charges for those over 65.
We will regulate to do so, or change the necessary legislation to ensure that senior citizens pay for the power they use, and not fork out vast sums just to stay connected to the system.
Again this will require us to negotiate on your behalf, but we are willing to do this as these line costs have become punitive.
Another significant concern is the substantial rise in the cost of rates.
Put simply, they are out of hand as local councils put up the rates at a much faster pace than incomes go up.
As a consequence we will extend the rates rebate scheme for those over 65.
It will work like this.
For those whose sole source of income is superannuation you will pay only 65 percent of your rates bill.
There will then be an incremental scale for any additional income earned, with the rebate ending for those who earn more than the average wage.
Again this will be negotiated between local government and the government, but it will ensure that those who can least afford it get the most benefit.
We will also be addressing GST on rates especially those components of the rates bill that are clearly not specific services such as water or rubbish collection.
The last point is the discount schemes available to our seniors.
While groups such as Grey Power have done a marvellous job in securing discounts among various businesses, these are dependent on the strength of Grey Power in that area and are not universally available.
We want this Golden Age card to become a universal symbol of the value of our seniors and for businesses to treat them as such, irrespective of where they live.
We do not seek to undermine the good work of Grey Power and others in this respect, but to enhance and build on it.
ELDER CARE Another area which needs addressing, but which is not part of the Golden Age Card, is the rapidly declining state of our elder care sector.
Extra funding is needed urgently to halt the decline of service providers in this area. The Government’s three percent offer to the sector is simply not enough and it needs to realise that $88 a day is not enough for residential care.
We will increase funding in this sector and ring-fence some of it to raise the wages of those working in the sector.
New Zealand First will also look at the make up of the sector, the size, scale and location of this type of care.
We are committed to putting a plan in place to cater for our ageing population.
Now we know our promises will cost money.
We estimate that the cost of the policies we have announced today will be around $700million.
We know how to fund this. It, the increase, represents just over 0.6 percent of present government spending.
We know that the size of the bureaucracy has exploded since Labour came to office, with much of this involved in politically correct claptrap and it can be eliminated.
We have deliberately not gone into Labour’s big surplus to pay for our seniors policy.
Instead, we intend trimming Labour’s fat and redirect some spending more effectively to get a better outcome for all.
We do however, intend to use a small part of the surplus to bolster our police force.
And to separate out the traffic officers and send them to Land Transport New Zealand.
We know that Grey Power is particularly concerned about law and order policies and tonight we would like to remind you that we have already pledged to wage war on crime by doubling the size of the police.
We believe it is time for police to start looking for trouble rather than reacting to it or spending their time hiding in bushes on the side of the road.
CONCLUSION What we announced this evening can become a reality for senior citizens.
Through your voting power you can ensure that the future for the elderly in New Zealand is bright.
In your endeavours for the elderly, New Zealand First is the only political party that is truly with you and has been since day one.
Tomorrow the Labour and National leaders will be talking to you, promising the moon, and delivering dust.
We urge you – look at our record – and look at theirs. We will work on your behalf in Parliament and deliver what we have pledged.
If you give us your party vote we will provide a golden future.
We are committed to you – give us the chance again to prove it.