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Don Brash Writes - No. 57, 27 April 2005

Don Brash Writes - No. 57, 27 April 2005

Education

Two weeks ago, I outlined the policy which the next National Government will adopt for primary and secondary education. I sent you a copy of the full speech the following day. The emphasis was on ensuring that every child gets the very best education possible by:

- establishing national standards for reading and maths and providing reading and maths vouchers to parents whose seven-year-old children are not making the grade;

- making sure that good teachers are appropriately rewarded and encouraged;

- backing schools in their efforts to eliminate bullying;

- abolishing rigid zoning restrictions;

- providing state and integrated schools with a much greater degree of freedom on how they spend their funds (bulk funding);

- allowing the best state schools a still greater measure of freedom to expand and grow (Trust Schools);

- removing the cap from integrated schools;

- restoring the "subsidy" to independent schools to the level per pupil which prevailed in 1999;

- allowing the establishment of more special character schools;

- fixing the serious flaws in NCEA so that pupils, parents, teachers and employers can have confidence in the qualification;

- restoring a competitive Scholarship exam, in which students are marked and graded;

- cutting back on the education bureaucracy to free-up schools from form-filling and box-ticking, while providing more resources directly to schools.

The whole aim was to achieve the best possible education system by giving parents more choice about the school their children attend, and giving more freedom to school principals and boards of trustees to respond to the needs of their communities.

Predictably, both the PPTA and the NZEI have denounced the policy. But pleasingly, there has been a very positive reaction from a great many others. The editorial-writers in three of the country's main dailies all endorsed the policy, and we have had a great deal of positive feedback from parents and school principals.

Last week, I met with a group of Maori parents who are worried sick about the poor quality education they are getting from the local primary school. And I met with two mothers in Nelson also very concerned about the education their children were getting. One had increased the mortgage on the family home in order to get extra tuition for her son. All were enthusiastic about how our policy would help their children.

Confidence in the police

Confidence in our police has been seriously eroded over the last year or so - 111 emergency calls mishandled, thousands of criminal cases unassigned, complaints by mayors across the country (to say nothing of the Insurance Council) of inadequate numbers of police, lots of anecdotes of people not bothering to report crime because they know the police don't have the resources to follow up, and a massive increase in the number of speeding tickets issued with little apparent benefit in terms of reduced road fatalities.

Little wonder that last Friday's National Business Review reported that public confidence in the police had fallen sharply between 2002 and 2005, from 71% of New Zealanders having confidence in the police in the former year to just 53% when the poll was taken earlier this year.

The announcement by the Police Commissioner last Thursday that some 330 police had been found to have pornographic material on their work computers may have further undermined public confidence even if, when further information is revealed, it turns out that only a small proportion of this number is guilty of a serious offence.

George Hawkins, the Police Minister, and Helen Clark bear responsibility for this disastrous situation. They have destroyed the morale of the police, and public confidence in the police, by under-resourcing the police force and directing that too many police should be tied up punishing minor traffic offences (including the police unit standing by on the Desert Road to cope with the inevitable Mt Ruapehu lahar which will follow the Government's failure to take timely remedial action over the crater lake buildup).

George Hawkins should be relieved of his ministerial responsibilities now before more damage is done, and Helen Clark should be relieved of hers at the election. The Building Act 2004

Three weeks ago Nick Smith highlighted the huge problems the new Building Act was causing for the $18 billion a year building and construction industry. Labour responded saying there was no problem. So, Dr Smith, to make his point that the law was unworkable, lodged a formal complaint with the Wellington City Council seeking an evacuation of the Government from the Beehive, as they were not complying with their own new law. This was because no code compliance certificate had been issued for ongoing renovation work. The next day the Government introduced and passed amendments to solve this problem.

Now, a further problem with this legislation is looming. The Building Act will require that only a "licensed building practitioner" (PC-speak for a builder or a carpenter) will be allowed to undertake "restricted building work". Anyone carrying out "restricted building work" who is not a "licensed building practitioner" will be liable to a fine of $20,000.

So what is "restricted building work"? The term means all building work that relates to an element of a building that is "critical to the integrity of a building and the health and safety of its occupants and includes without limitation work on the building envelope and structural support of the building".

It looks as if this Act will effectively end the tradition of DIY building in New Zealand. And why? The Act was designed as a response to the leaky building crisis but although 3,200 claims have been lodged with the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service, not one has been identified as being caused by DIY builders.

When asked why the Act was effectively going to prevent New Zealanders doing work on their own homes, Minister David Cunliffe said "because their work is shonky". He clearly had not the slightest justification for this generalisation.

The next National Government will repeal the provisions in Labour's Building Act that stop New Zealanders from carrying out DIY renovations on their own homes. Defence spending
Last Monday was ANZAC Day, the 90th anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli. I addressed the Dawn Service in Wellington. It wasn't the time to make a political speech, but I did note that we dishonour the memory of the fallen if we allow our defence forces to atrophy in what is clearly an unstable international environment.

It is increasingly clear that this is what has happened under this Labour Government. It is obviously true that a small country like New Zealand can not spend as many dollars on defence as much larger countries, but it is surely a matter for concern that we spend only about 1% of our GDP on defence while Australia spends about 2%. The figures are not absolutely comparable, but the basic impression is accurate: we spend a great deal less on defence, even relative to our size, than Australia does.

And there have to be serious questions about what we buy with the modest amount we do spend. Why, for example, did the Labour Government order 105 LAVIIIs, at a cost of $670 million, despite very serious questions about their vulnerability to such common weapons as rocket-propelled grenades and the Army being at least two years away from having enough men to man them? Why did New Zealand pay substantially more to acquire these vehicles than did the armed forces of Israel and the United States?

As every month goes by, the evidence of gross extravagance and rank incompetence in this Labour Government grows, all being paid for, of course, by the taxes which we all pay.

ENDS

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