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Newman: ACT's vision for a better New Zealand

Newman Online Weekly commentary by Dr Muriel Newman MP

ACT's vision for a better New Zealand

This Week Newman Online looks at ACT's vision for New Zealand and how we can make our country an even better place to live.

Like many New Zealanders politics didn't used to feature strongly in my life - the challenge of raising a family and progressing a career were all too consuming. That all changed after a chance meeting with Roger Douglas in 1991.

I had invited Roger, then Minister of Finance, to be the guest speaker at a book launch. As things transpired, after accepting the invitation he was sacked as Finance Minister by Prime Minister David Lange, so he not only had plenty to say, but lots of people were interested in hearing him!

>From that meeting a friendship emerged and when Roger formed ACT New Zealand in 1994 he invited me to come on board. For better or for worse I agreed, and I left my position as Assistant General Manager of New Zealand operations for the Jewellery retailer Michael Hill International.

Despite the many reasons for not entering politics - including the fact that for me, it was an unknown field - the attraction of being part of a new political movement with a big vision for New Zealand was too great. I therefore left the security of corporate life, a good salary package and bright prospects, and went on the road for ACT.

I now know how those early missionaries arriving in New Zealand would have felt: it was a new frontier, and along with Rodney Hide and just a few others, we were charged with the responsibility of building a political movement from the ground up.

It's now 11 years later and for ACT, the going is still tough. The key reason is that as a party of principle with a set of values and beliefs that drive us, we cannot do what most other parties do and use popularism to help us make progress. That is in stark contrast to the way politics in New Zealand mostly operates.

Labour's no interest on student loans policy is a prime example: it is being used as a bribe, not only for the student vote, but for that of their parents and grandparents who worry themselves sick about the debt. The problem is, that in the long term, this policy will cause even more borrowing, more indebtedness and less freedom as students are forced to stay in New Zealand and shelve their big OE.

Already Labour's policy of interest free borrowing while students are studying, has caused a blow-out of debt: new answers to parliamentary questions show that the average student loan has risen from $11,000 to $15,000 over the last six years - a 23 percent increase - and total student debt has more than doubled from $3 to $7 billion. This new offer of free money to students is not only irresponsible, but also reckless.

In comparison, ACT's view about the best way to help students has not changed: lower taxes will not only enable them to pay off their loans more quickly once they graduate, but through the dynamic effect of lower taxes stimulating the economy creating more job opportunities at higher wage rates, students will be better able to avoid having to borrow in the first place!

In spite of the challenges of life in a small party of principle, it is our vision of what New Zealand can achieve that keeps us all enthusiastic and positive.

As we look ahead, it is important to recognise that it is the reforms of the eighties that are largely responsible for the good economic times that we are presently enjoying. Constraining government and getting it out of farming, manufacturing, banking, exporting and other commercial areas, allowed private enterprise to flourish in a market relatively free of government interference.

The biggest challenge that now faces New Zealand is no longer in the economic area, but in the social area. There is now an urgent need to allow the sunlight of private enterprise to penetrate into the dark gloom that shrouds the government-controlled delivery of social services, in order to lift performance and improve lives.

In thinking about those areas of social service delivery that are so vital to our existence, food, shelter, health and education all spring to mind. Yet imagine what a supermarket would look like if the government ran it, and imagine the length of the waiting lists if only the government provided rental housing.

Yet in spite of acknowledging what a disaster it would be if the government provided food and housing, why is it that we allow them to deliver our all-important health and education services?

It is in these areas, that the real reforms of the next decade must lie. We must lift our aspirations in the delivery of health, education and other social services, by encouraging the involvement of the private sector. When the private sector delivered ACC, in most cases services improved and costs reduced.

Similarly, independent schools and private hospitals provide excellent services - the only problem is poorer families cannot afford the services they provide. We need to change the system, so that even our poorest families can have access to these same choices and high standards of excellence.

Further, why is it that we accept that billions of dollars of additional taxpayer funding is poured into a health system that successfully creates a richer and richer bureaucracy, but fails to deliver improvements in patient care? Why is it that we accept children from poor families being locked into schools with a history of academic failure, when we know that good education is the key to a better life?

And why must we accept that at a time of critical labour shortages, the government is paying some 170,000 able-bodied adults to stay on benefits - keeping our taxes far higher than they really need to be - when the majority could and should be working. If the government can't help them into jobs, why not let the private sector help as well?

Roger Douglas's long-term vision back in 1994 when I joined ACT, was to lift the delivery of social services and transform New Zealand's dependency culture into an opportunity society that improves lives. That still remains ACT's vision and our major challenge for the decade ahead.


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