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Heather Roy - Revising the Social Contract

Revising the Social Contract

Heather Roy Sunday, 26 March 2006 Speeches - Other

Speech to ACT Annual Conference, Mercure Hotel , Wellington, Sunday 26 March 2006.

Eight years ago my husband and I along with two friends looked seriously at opening our own school.

We were all unhappy about the standard of education our primary school children were getting - our kids weren't being extended and we all felt the injustice of our offspring sitting in the classroom bored.

Looking into how to go about it revealed a series of obstacles. None of us could afford to just start up a school outright so we were looking at having to play by the government rules to get funding.

First our school had to have a 'special character'.

The implication was the government provided great schools - you pay your taxes and we take care of the rest. Parents demanding a school "striving for excellence" didn't fit the bill.

We could possibly have gotten around the 'special character' requirement with fancy words but the second hurdle was much higher.

To get government funding and become an integrated school we had to jump through Ministry of Education hoops - and the process we were told would take 18 months minimum.

In the meantime we could open a private school by finding premises and paying for them, finding teachers and paying them ourselves as well as administrative staff, cleaners - the lot.

Passion for our children's education we had in bucket loads. But time and money were limited. This was obviously a non-starter.

Plan B was to start an extension programme at the school. We did some fast talking and were eventually allowed to run a six week trial.

We had three different classes each with six children - a maths class, a science class and a confidence building class.

The deal was we provided the tutors and our children were allowed to participate. The school chose which children filled the other gaps.

Predictably the kids loved the programme, their parents loved the programme, we had great fun running the classes and the school was decidedly cool and some classroom teachers actively hostile making it difficult for the children to be released.

The programme wasn't continued and we all withdrew our children and sent them to private schools.

So what was wrong? Ideological blinkers, fear of an alternative to conventional wisdom, a "we in authority know best" attitude - all of the above.

An ACT Minister of Education would recognize the passion, break down the bureaucratic barriers, free up the funding and give parents the choice of where to send their children.

ACT has plans to reform New Zealand.

The 1984-87 Labour economic reforms have largely remained intact but as our founder Sir Roger Douglas wrote in his book Completing the Circle "the liberalization of the economy is important but it is only half the battle".

There are many areas with pressing problems still facing the country that require imaginative policy to solve them. Unfortunately most political parties dare not go there.

I am talking of course about social policy and matters of security and safety for Kiwis.

What we have at the moment is a Social Contract - an implied contract because there is nothing formal about it. It is the unwritten contract that exists between the taxpayer and the government.

In return for paying taxes we receive a variety of services - healthcare, education, police, a defence force and support for those who are deemed unable to provide for themselves.

This informal contract is subject to change by the whim of government with the other participant (you and me) only having a say once every three years at election time.

Over time this social contract has grown in complexity and the state has taken more of our money and more responsibility for people's lives - less freedom and more cost for individuals.

The social contract must be rewritten.

The taxpayer is not getting value for his investment and political interest is getting in the way of good decision making.

A contract - even an implied one - is by definition between two parties and in this case one of the two gets little if any say in how the contract is written. The arrangement is vague and the rules are subject to major revision at short notice.

For example the Cullen Fund won't come close to covering the liabilities for future Superannuation, leaving us vulnerable to the whims of future taxpayers.

ACT maintains that Kiwis are best able to spend their own money wisely. Wherever possible decisions should be left to us.

The role of government is to provide for citizens where they cannot provide for themselves. Along the way this basic principle has been lost with government assuming a caretaker role well beyond what is necessary. It is time for proper negotiations to begin.

It is worth asking why so many, especially the working poor, are such staunch defenders of the status quo when it comes to public provision of services.

The answer is that it is all they have got. They fear the loss of essential services such as health and education in a private environment.

To a certain extent their fear is understandable, but there is another choice on the table that is usually overlooked.

It is perfectly possible to have the private provision of publicly funded services. Not only possible, but highly desirable.

Teachers running schools, teachers and parents owning schools, surgeons running surgery in the same way that family doctors run their own businesses, experts working their area. Give the poor parents of bright children a scholarship for a private education and they'll never vote for Helen Clark ever again.

Critics try to destroy the concept of independence with detail that can make the head swim. But the fundamental insight is simple.

People generally spend their own money more wisely than the government and we have to create choices for the consumers of public services and incentives for people to accept responsibility for themselves.

For the most part those consumers are the funders via taxation. That is why we are the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers.

New Zealanders value fairness, a level playing field for all and we value security. The social contract also involves the safety and security of Kiwis.

By security I'm not just talking about the defence forces or the police or prisons. Security in the national sense is no different to the issues around personal security.

As ACT's National Security spokesman I have really enjoyed acquainting myself with the organisations that deal with security. I have spent a day and a night with the police, a shift with St Johns Ambulance, visited the Coastguard and Land Search and Rescue and spent some time with the army and navy.

Many of these organisations depend heavily on volunteers and their passion, dedication and professionalism are extremely impressive. With our defence force I have consistently been impressed by the commitment of the military at all ranks.

I am amazed by their ability to combine discipline and camaraderie.

In previous debates on the military I have made the error of concentrating on hardware when capability of the defence force is the real issue. Our most important asset is the staff within the armed forces and the rich culture that underlies it.

One resource that is currently imperilled is the Territorial Force and it needs a concerted offensive to save it.

True security (and therefore freedom) is only achieved when there are no gaps in the fence of national policy and capability and when we feel safe sitting on either side of that fence.

Governments of all persuasions are guilty of lacking understanding, distorting funding, departmental 'capture' of Ministers and ill- conceived ideological experiments that have brought about today's situation where only the people can force the changes needed to restore integrity to our national security in its broadest sense.

So returning to the issue of the social contract there can be no doubt that there is one, but it needs to be made explicit.

The last election demonstrated that we no longer have the tax cut area to ourselves. But ACT's plans have always gone beyond a small tax cut at the top of the business cycle.

We want to renegotiate the social contract.

ACT believes in making the social contract explicit, in encouraging private provision of services and allowing choice. If we did this we could look at getting tax rates really low instead of forever fiddling at the edges.

ACT is about root and branch reform of the welfare state to limit government's size and power.

We stand for more efficient social services but most of all we stand for a free and fair society.


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