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Roy: Speech to the Gisborne Rotary Club

Speech to the Gisborne Rotary Club

Heather Roy Wednesday, 25 January 2006 Speeches - Other

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here this morning and thank you for your invitation to give what is officially my first speech of the year. Any politician worth their salt it seems, launches their political year with a speech at a Rotary Club.

The leader of the National Party, Don Brash, has turned the name of one branch of Rotary, the Orewa branch, into a household name with his first speech each year, reinstating a tradition that Rob Muldoon began. I'm not sure if I'll do the same for the Gisborne Rotary Club but there is no shortage of hot issues to broach with you. The news has been fairly dull over the holiday season reflecting a lack of any political activity although the real world with its attendant problems continues just as it did before the Christmas break.

One issue that did hit the headlines was the revelation that under proposed regulation by the Food Standards Authority apples and bananas could not be advertised as 'healthy foods'. Let me assure you here and now that apples and bananas are healthy foods and that no- one (to my knowledge at least) has come to grief by eating too many apples or bananas.

In a former life I was a physiotherapist. At one point I took Cardiac Rehabilitation classes - a job I enjoyed enormously. Part of the rehabilitation process for people who had suffered Heart Attacks, serious bouts of angina or had heart surgery was dietary advice. For one of the sessions I would invite the dietician along and the advice given was that a healthy diet should be based on fruit and vegetables with other major food groups added - plenty of cereals and foods containing fibre, lesser amounts of carbohydrates and only small amounts of fats - polyunsaturates ahead of saturated fats. This is now well known and most of us in our heart of hearts know that this what we should do.

Although diet was a small component of the Cardiac Rehab sessions it took up a disproportionate amount of discussion time each week. My conclusion was that when it came to diet everyone is an expert. Each week one of my patients would come along with someone's expert advice - typically their sister-in-law, neighbour or Mrs Jones down the road had read in some august publication that amazing discoveries had been made about some food that would revolutionise their diet.

Two such theories that many years later are still prominent in my mind are these. The first - that pumpkin should not be eaten by heart patients because it was a sweet vegetable and could make them fat. And second - chocolate is actually a healthy food because it contains endorphins. The source of both theories was the well known scientific publication - the NZ Women's Weekly. Yes everyone is an expert and now the government is at it too by telling us that apples and bananas are not healthy because they contain too much sugar.

My point in relaying this to you is not because I really want to lecture you on diet but to say that Government should be very careful about the areas into which it treads - boots and all. I don't think for a moment that any cabinet Minister really believes kiwis should be cutting back on fruit but the unintended consequence of its actions is sending this very message in its clumsy attempt to fight obesity. Science should be left to the scientists.

ACT has always maintained that the core role of government is provide for the safety and security of its citizens. I firmly believe that with every decision made by our country's executive on our behalf this question should be asked. Is this going to make New Zealand a safer place without taking away the freedoms we deserve to enjoy as a democratic nation? With too much of the legislation that has been passed during my three and a half years in Parliament the answer is no. Money given to support the America's Cup, Hip-Hop tours and ACC birthday parties are not core issues and governments should have more sense that to allow such extravagances when we have 180,000 people waiting to see a specialist or waiting for an operation their doctor has told them they should get.

Following the election in September I have taken on a new responsibility which relates directly to the safety and security of kiwis - the portfolio of National Security. A strange portfolio for a girl you may well be thinking but one of great importance. It encompasses a wide range of areas - defence, immigration, customs, law and order, police, corrections and many others. Unfortunately these are often approached in isolation.

Decisions are made about prisons which don't take into consideration the expectations that are placed on the police. Ambulance funding decisions don't take into account the other emergency services that could be working more closely together. There are any number of examples. Out of necessity - ACTs loss of representation - I have taken on the National Security portfolio covering all of these areas but as the saying goes "Necessity is the father of invention".

There is much to be gained by looking broadly at the organisations, government and non-government, that provide for the safety and security of New Zealanders. Groups like Land Search and Rescue, Surf Lifesaving and Coastguard are doing a great job with virtually no public funding and thousands of volunteers apiece. Then we have the prisons, police and customs - publicly funded departments working under difficult circumstances with resources insufficient to allow them to do all that government expects of them.

During my holiday break I have been spending a lot of time with the emergency services including visits to the Coastguard, the Rescue Helicopter Service in Auckland, a night with the St John's ambulance service, a night with the Wellington Police and a day with the Porirua Police.

At a time when our emergency services are taking a lot of criticism over the Iraena Asher 111 call, I can tell you about my experiences.

The first striking feature of our emergency services is the high degree of involvement by the voluntary sector. I knew that the ambulance service makes extensive use of volunteers and that some branches of the fire service are exclusively volunteer. I was surprised to find that the Coast Guard is largely a volunteer organisation as is Land Search and Rescue and that they have about 2,500 volunteers apiece. Despite their volunteer status these organisations operate in a very professional manner and take their duties of training and professionalism extremely seriously. To give a comparison with numbers our Territorial Forces currently have just short of 2,000 soldiers.

I have also made some statements recently about the use of Maori Wardens to supplement the gaps in police numbers. Although the announcement of another 1,000 police over the next three year is encouraging the reality of recruiting this many will be very difficult in what is currently a tight employment market. And when current attrition rates are taken into consideration new recruits will have to number around 2,000 so that the promised 1,000 extra police make it to the beat. I had suggested that much better use be made of special constables and Maori Wardens, at least to fill the gap. Gisborne and Nelson both have a strong community presence of Maori Wardens and there is no reason why better and more formal co-operation shouldn't exist with the police.

I could talk at length about my recent experiences observing with the police but two issues stood out. The first was the inadequacy of the law dealing with juveniles and the second was the enormous amount of time spent intervening in domestic violence and other domestic issues.

Juvenile offending has become a serious and escalating problem. I was surprised by the extent of the legal constraints on the police. One incident we were called to was to deal with a fifteen year old who was attacking passers-by at random on a city street. Needless to say, he had not attacked anyone who was likely to dispense some instant justice his way. He had been drinking heavily. On arrival the police were powerless to act despite three assaults with many witnesses. The youth was eventually detained in police cells but this was only permissible because he had breached bail conditions from an earlier offence. His record showed a string of charges for offences ranging from assaults to burglaries but because he was under 17 he had no criminal convictions. Young criminals are aware of the powerlessness of the police, they know their rights and are not afraid to take advantage of this situation.

Even those over 17 know how powerless the system actually is. One 20 year old gang associate boasted to police that he had just had $29,000 in fines wiped by the Courts. He was particularly pleased because he had managed to escape periodic detention and community service as well. His confidence in the inability of the establishment to conquer his illegal behaviour was frankly sad. In front of his gang family he was "the man" and his lesson from that experience was that crime pays.

The legal protection given to juvenile offenders is definitely excessive and it is evident that legislation needs to be changed. The only people who can change the legislation are the legislators - my fellow MPs and me. Which brings me to the key point of today's talk. The government is becoming excessively concerned with the private behaviour of individuals when that behaviour would be best left to the individual concerned.

At the same time as the government develops interests in our private behaviour it seems to have turned its back on its key role which is the protection of its citizen's safety. After all, adult New Zealanders can reasonably be expected to face the consequences of their own actions but many of us are unable to take action to protect ourselves from others. Even a 15 year old thug is going to be too much for many people. But the fact remains that a legal vacuum has been created leaving the police in the difficult position of having responsibility but no legal power to act in the majority of cases.

I accept the general argument that juveniles should be considered less responsible for their actions than adults but we do not do young offenders a favour if we give them the impression that they will never face any consequences for their actions. Despite a long period of lenient sentencing our prison population is currently rising at 15% per year and prisons cannot be built fast enough to cope.

So how should we be framing our legislation?

The Rotary Four-Way Test and Legislation

In fact when considering legislation MPs could do a good deal worse than consider Rotary's own principles. Here is some information I gleaned from the Rotary International website.

>From the earliest days Rotarians were concerned with promoting high ethical standards in their professional lives. One of the world's most widely quoted statements of business ethics is The Four-Way Test, which was created in 1932 by Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor when he was asked to take charge of a company that was facing bankruptcy.

This test for employees to follow in their business and professional lives became the guide for all dealings with dealers and customers, and the survival of the company is credited to this simple philosophy. As you will all be well aware the principles were adopted by Rotary in 1943.

The test asks the following four questions:

"Of the things we think, say or do:

1. Is it the TRUTH?

2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?

3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?

4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?"

Fairness, goodwill, benefit for all and a level playing ground are concepts that New Zealanders hold dear. To a large extent they cannot be legislated for. The harder those in power try to address perceived unfairness, usually to minority groups, by passing new regulations and laws the greater the unfairness becomes. We cannot give privilege or advantage to one group without disadvantaging another group.

The new regulations with apples would fail the Rotary test. By fiddling with regulations to exclude foods with high sugar content from having a healthy label - all in the name of fighting obesity - apples have been maligned. After a public outcry there is already talk of an 'apple exception' - new rules saying that natural sugars are all right. I'm all for leaving science to the scientists and my plea to the government is this. Please stick to the core role of government - safety and security for New Zealanders, not a continuing intrusion into the private lives of kiwis.

Perhaps the old adages still have some meaning. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" is OK with me. And if you can manage a banana, and three servings of veg with your dinner tonight there's your 5+ for the day - that's the physio talking, as well as the politician in my other capacity as health spokesman.

ENDS

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