The National Party and Older New Zealanders
Don Brash MP
National Party Leader
12 April 2005
The National Party and Older New Zealanders
An address to the annual conference of Grey Power New Zealand, Grand Tiara Hotel, Rotorua
Thanks for the welcome.
I’ve come here today to do some straight talking.
You’ve heard enough from politicians who say: vote for me and I’ll give you everything you want. MMP may encourage that sort of political behaviour, but it is a disastrous path to follow if we want a stable and secure future.
So I’m not going to repeat the mistake that’s been made by too many politicians from too many parties - including my own.
I want to talk to you as senior citizens - in the true meaning of those words.
You are “senior citizens” - experienced, responsible people - people who are capable of taking a wider view of the world and a wider view of life in New Zealand.
Most of your children will be bringing up families.
Most of your grandchildren will be getting an education - or have recently entered the workforce.
Going by the statistics, the chances are that some of you will have children or grandchildren now living overseas, or thinking about it.
In just the past year, a net 20,000 New Zealanders have left the land of their birth; in the past five years of the Labour Government, a net 114,000 have left.
Those New Zealanders voted with their feet, in spite of the outstanding lifestyle opportunities they have here, and in spite of the fact that in recent years growth has maintained the average rate of the past decade.
That exodus represents a huge vote of no-confidence in the direction this country is headed.
This is not about whether the outlook this year or next is good, average, or poor - it is about the broad direction this country is headed, about the sort of nation we are building.
If we don’t make the right decisions for all New Zealanders - not just for older New Zealanders, or younger New Zealanders, or Maori or Pasifika or European or Asian New Zealanders - then we won’t be building a secure future for anybody.
As I have been arguing in speeches over the past year or more, the key issues facing this country are how we improve education standards, how we reduce violent crime, how we reform welfare, how we move on from Treaty grievance mode, and how we reduce the tax burden on hard-working New Zealanders.
We must deal with entrenched welfare dependency - 15% of our workforce are on benefits even after over a decade of good economic growth.
We have persistently high levels of violent crime and woefully inadequate police resources.
We have an education system that is in danger of betraying a generation. It is failing too many of our children; it is failing to maintain standards and failing to provide a world-class national qualification. The unfolding debacle of NCEA is turning into a disaster of epic proportions.
Looking at our economic performance, the growth we have had is becoming increasingly unbalanced. The huge surge in government spending and the increased costs the government keeps dumping on businesses and consumers are pushing up inflation, and driving interest rates higher. And they in turn are colliding with the tail-end of a property market boom.
And in spite of the growth we have had, New Zealand incomes are still falling behind Australian incomes.
We are not getting value for taxpayers’ money. There is one common thread going through everything this Labour Government does: whether it is health, the environment, policing or education, it is the bureaucracy that has grown, with proportionately less getting through to the front line.
Unemployment may be down, as you would expect. But in its place we’ve got a record number of people out of work on sickness and disability benefits, a growing army of bureaucrats instead of frontline police, doctors, nurses and teachers, and tens of thousands tucked away out of statistical sight on low-quality tertiary education courses.
So you really have to wonder what is going on with this Government.
Fortunately John Tamihere has given us an insider’s view: Labour is a party with a social engineering agenda, where policy is determined by left-wing unions and the extreme end of the feminist spectrum, overwhelmed by political correctness and populated by what Tamihere describes as smarmy tossers of no substance. It is made up of single issue groups: unions, gay rights, women’s rights, all wanting politically correct social engineering. They have a deputy leader who has easily duped other cooperative parties by changing a single word in a piece of legislation, in a manner which undoes everything the junior partner thought they were achieving.
The classic example of this has been the seabed and foreshore legislation. The claims under this new legislation are only just starting. Labour is trying to keep others bottled up till after the election. But make no mistake: soon there will be a Treaty lawyer coming to a beach near you. National will have to fix this legislation, otherwise a whole new Treaty gravy train will leave the station. Those responsible for the mess will tell you there is no risk of that. I say just watch the claims come in - we have seen this all before.
I will leave you to draw your own conclusion.
I want to move on now to explain why I believe it essential that we avoid narrow sectional interest group politics, and focus on the sort of nation we are building.
Today, only one person in eight is over 65. By 2040, the ratio is forecast to rise to one in four, and the number of working-age New Zealanders to contribute to the cost of superannuation will fall significantly.
There is no need to overly dramatise this, no need to panic. Rising incomes will solve most of these problems as long as we keep focused on growing the national cake, not carving it up and fighting over the scraps.
There are of course challenges from the aging of our population, and the costs that will come from funding superannuation, health services and aged care.
But I don’t for one moment doubt that we can manage, provided we have a tax regime and opportunities to earn an income that are attractive to working age New Zealanders.
But you know - and I know - that’s not what we’ve got today, as I have mentioned.
That’s why too many of our children and grandchildren are leaving New Zealand - joining the drift to Australia and other more favourable environments.
That’s why Labour has been pushing immigration so hard - to top up the tub because too many younger New Zealanders can’t see a future in their home country.
That is not the way to build a nation unified by common values and purpose.
A moderate, controlled inflow of migrants will add skills and vitality to New Zealand. It enriches us as a nation and broadens our appreciation of the wider world, and I make no excuse for supporting that.
But when the direction our country is going sees 114,000 Kiwis leave over just the last five years, our having to replace them with migrants - as we must, to keep our economy going - will change our society more comprehensively, and certainly more rapidly, than most of us want.
And in my opinion faster than is desirable.
If we don’t build a nation upon some important shared values, then we surely will become a nation fighting over the distributional scraps. And that sort of nation is one which younger people with aspiration and ambition will increasingly reject.
We can do better than that.
To turn the current trend around, we need a change of direction in the areas I have identified: education, law enforcement, welfare, race relations and economic policy. And the only way to do that is to have a change of government.
We’ve got to stop building a culture of dependency and start building a land of opportunity.
We’ve got to stop increasing the cost and complexity of the public service bureaucracy that gathers in and redistributes the wealth that ordinary New Zealanders create.
And we’ve got to leave more money in the hands of working families, investors, and businesses so they can put it to work.
I know Grey Power has been working hard to identify critical issues for your members, and I applaud you for that. I will touch on some of these, but I would also urge you to look at these issues in the broader national interest, to look at them in terms of what will build a strong cohesive nation.
As I assume you are all aware - but I will repeat it, as our political opponents continually misrepresent us - in November last year we made the decision that the next National Government will retain the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.
My intention was to kick that political football into touch.
To ensure that commitment was unambiguous, I delivered to the Minister of Finance a letter outlining National’s support for Parts 1 and 2 of the New Zealand Superannuation Act 2001, the first part confirming our support for the calculation of the value of, and the age of entitlement to, New Zealand Superannuation - 65% of the average wage at age 65 for a married couple; and the second part committing to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.
National will continue the New Zealand Superannuation Fund in its current form, and with the current contribution rate. There is thus no difference between the two major parties on this.
Under a National Government, you will continue to receive New Zealand Superannuation on the present basis, with no income test, with no asset test, and with no surcharge.
I know that another concern for you is asset-testing for elders in care.
We’ve supported the move to allow single elders and couples in care to retain $150,000 worth of assets before assets are used to contribute to the cost of care.
We know that Labour has been talking about eliminating asset testing completely since 1993.
But it’s all been cheap talk and would be hugely expensive to implement.
We have problems enough in managing the cost of New Zealand Superannuation, even with some pre-funding via the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. We have further funding problems coming with health.
We have fewer than 20,000 citizens who are 85 and over in aged care facilities currently. By 2050 that number will quadruple to about 80,000. The number of people between the ages of 75 and 84 in aged care facilities is also expected to rise sharply, from around 10,000 to about 25,000. There are huge costs ahead.
We simply have to be realistic about what can be done. If the political process delivers the high taxes needed to fund all of the schemes politicians will promise the growing constituency of senior citizens, then emigration will ensure that those promises become financially impossible to achieve.
This is a very high stakes political game, and the outcome will determine whether many of our children and grandchildren choose to build their future in this country or elsewhere.
You can try and tax people, but you can’t make them stay and be taxed.
Our immediate priority is to ensure there is adequate funding for elders in care in the disability services budget - a step that Labour has only started to think about now that major rest home operators have started closing their doors.
Aged care facilities are currently grossly underfunded. Costs have been rising, and in 2004 the new Employment Relations Law Reform Act and the Holidays Act amendments added further substantial costs.
Small operators are starting to close their doors - 37 in the last three years. As the financial squeeze becomes more intense, the quality of care inevitably gets reduced. Homes are having trouble attracting registered nurses. And for the hard work they do, home care workers are very poorly paid.
I can tell you now that dealing with this area of aged care facilities will be National’s main focus in relation to senior citizens, and I fully understand that there will be very significant additional spending in this area. I am sure that, after a long and totally unnecessary delay, more funding will become available in the Labour Government’s next budget. That funding increase will happen this year only because this is an election year. It should have happened years ago.
This Labour Government has sprayed money around on all manner of low-quality, and at times ludicrous, programmes. And while that was happening, a crisis has been building in the aged care industry.
It indicates once again that this Government has no ability to set sensible priorities for public spending; and when disastrous decisions are taken, there is no accountability for the results.
Moving on to some other issues I know you are concerned about, I can say I share your concern about local body rates.
They are causing hardship in households on fixed incomes, and they undermine the competitiveness of New Zealand business.
I warned the Local Government Forum last year that annual rate increases in the order of 10% or more were simply not acceptable.
The local authorities point out to me that rate increases are being driven strongly by the growth in unfunded responsibilities imposed on them by central government.
New local government legislation, new gaming, prostitution, dog control, and building laws - just to name a few of them - have been added to their workload and to the burden on ratepayers.
We’ve got to arrest the trend to ever expanding, ever more intrusive government, because that is the source of the costs that we end up paying for through rates and government charges and taxes.
There’s no better time to start slimming down the bloated bureaucracy created by the Labour Government. Our productive businesses are crying out for staff and skills, so that people who found themselves out of a job in the public sector would have little difficulty finding a job in the private sector.
There is much more important work that needs to be done.
Developing our core infrastructure is high on our list of priorities.
We desperately need to upgrade our roads and our capacity to generate and distribute electricity. National has committed to a six-year phase-in plan whereby all the petrol tax taken from road users will be spent on the roads.
Our poor roading is responsible for far too many deaths and serious injuries on the roads, and is generating immense congestion costs in our major cities. Those productivity losses are keeping New Zealanders poorer than they need be.
Electricity charges are going up, in good measure because of entirely predictable pressures in the generating and distribution sector that the Labour Government has spent almost six years talking about - and done nothing to remedy.
We will make three changes to reduce those pressures.
First, we will reform the Resource Management Act so that essential development is less difficult to achieve.
Second, we will allow lines companies to re-enter the generation business and increase both supply and competition.
Third, we will remove any carbon tax that Labour introduces as a result of its ill-considered commitment to the Kyoto Protocol.
At the same time, we will avoid another State-sponsored inflation of petrol prices to meet Labour’s Kyoto commitment.
Finally, there’s the issue of law and order.
When I announced our law and order policy last year, I said that it seemed to me that, as a society, we have lost the confidence to defend ourselves, lost the determination to stand up and defend our core values.
The National Party has confidence in the traditional values that guarantee social cohesion and mutual trust. And we will vigorously defend those values and our communities from those who stand against them.
We have far-reaching plans for change.
We will recruit and resource the additional police officers needed to do the job in the front-line battle against crime.
We will provide additional resources to combat the methamphetamine epidemic.
We will strengthen laws to prevent association between criminals in gangs.
We will amend the Proceeds of Crime Act to enable the police to strike against the economic base of organised crime.
We will abolish parole for all violent and repeat offenders.
We will introduce post-release monitoring with tough sanctions.
And we will
make greater use of preventive (that is, potentially
unlimited) detention for violent repeat offenders.
We have a constructive, firm new approach to young offenders. We want to keep them off the conveyor belt that takes them from youth offender to career criminal.
- New tools to enable schools to address truancy;
- Parenting orders and fines for breaches of conditions;
- More effective post-release supervision and rehabilitation programmes;
- Stiffer punishments for repeat offenders; and
- Lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12.
I am determined that the National Party will implement policies which will break the cycle of welfare dependency, educational failure and crime.
Finally, let me tell you what we are not going to do.
We are not going to play pork-barrel politics with you, or any other constituency group.
I know that representatives of other parties will come along here and try to buy your vote with offers to increase the rate of super, eliminate asset testing altogether, control electricity prices, and whatever else might occur to them.
Of course, they can’t guarantee to deliver their end of the bargain.
They make promises they are in no position to honour - and they will always have somebody else to blame for their failure.
What they’re offering is fool’s gold.
And you’re not fools.
National offers a comprehensive plan to secure New Zealand’s future and thereby provide us all security in retirement.
The best guarantee of your security is sustained and sustainable growth in our economy, and a shift in our culture back to those traditional values of personal responsibility, self-reliance, and independence - those values which were once the essence of the Kiwi character.
For the last five years, we’ve watched Labour take the gains from a growing economy and turn them into an increasingly ineffective government bureaucracy.
You can see how sick the system is when you look at the health sector.
Since Labour took office, there has been a 50% increase in the Health budget - but the number of operations performed has fallen 2%.
What we have seen is considerable cost inflation in the sector, and a much larger bureaucracy. The waiting lists are as long as ever, but are now disguised through re-labeling the various categories associated with the lists.
Our focus on health is to improve the service - not grow the management system.
We’ll grow the economy - not the government.
We’ll create opportunity - not build dependence.
We’ll deliver real social security - not political patronage.
If that’s what you want too - don’t split your vote at the election.
Give your full support to the one party that can and will make the change.
I’m not here to try to buy your vote with your and other people’s money.
I’m here to enlist you in a battle to build the kind of New Zealand where you can live in comfort and security, and where your children and grandchildren can look forward to a brighter future - in this country, not overseas.