Helen Clark Address at Grey Power AGM
Monday 1 May 2006
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Address at Grey Power Annual General Meeting
The Rutherford Hotel Nelson
Monday 1 May 2006
Thank you for the invitation once again to speak to your AGM.
Since I spoke at Grey Power’s last AGM, the general election has been held, and Labour has the privilege of leading a government again for the third term. I believe that the work we will be able to do on behalf of superannuitants will be very positive, and I am pleased that we have formal relationships with New Zealand First, United Future, and the Green Party in this Parliament.
Broadly speaking, our government has three top priorities.
want to keep transforming and strengthening the economy.
- We want all our families, young and old, - and that includes superannuitant households - to enjoy more opportunity and security.
- We want to build pride in the unique national identity of New Zealand, and celebrate the achievements and successes of our people, past and present, who have brought great credit to our country. Too often the opposition parties talk our country down. We believe in New Zealand, we are proud of New Zealand, and we will always work to make it the best country in the world to live in.
This is the third time that I have led a minority government. Each time, the support arrangements have been different, and each time they have delivered New Zealand a stable and progressive government.
Labour has a coalition agreement with Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party, confidence and supply agreements with New Zealand First and United Future, and an abstention and working agreement with the Green Party. With New Zealand First we agreed on a specific policy programme for older New Zealanders, including developing a Seniors Card, lifting the rate of superannuation, better recognition of veterans, and improvements in elder care.
Rt Hon Winston Peters has been appointed the Associate Minister for Senior Citizens, and Ruth Dyson continues to represent your interests as Minister for Senior Citizens at the Cabinet table. I understand she will address your AGM tomorrow. Winston Peters is also doing a very good job as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and as Minister of Racing where he has already been able to announce key decisions to improve racing’s tax regime.
At the AGM last year, I announced decisions the government had made on the issues of older driver licensing and the rates rebate scheme.
Let me update on you on progress in those areas.
We are very near the final stages of the process to remove the mandatory driving test for those aged 80 and over. 89 public submissions were received in public consultation on the proposed changes.
Following final consideration by the Minister of Transport, the Minister for Senior Citizens, and the Minister for Transport Safety, the Amendment Rule to make the change must go to Parliament's Regulations Review Committee, and then come back to Cabinet. After this, the Minister for Transport Safety can sign the Amendment Rule, which he hopes to do in July 2006. Land Transport New Zealand must then implement changes to its information systems, and the medical system will also need to be prepared for the role it will play.
Harry Duynhoven, our Minister for Transport Safety tells me that we are on track to end the mandatory testing by the end of this year.
While this will mean that most persons over 80 can re-license with a medical check only, GPs will have the option of referring for an on-road safety test those older patients for whom they have concerns about their ability to drive safely on the road.
To support the new system, there will also be:
- $500,000 extra funding per annum to
expand the popular Safe with Age classroom road safety
- from 1 July 2007, government will provide a fifty per cent subsidy to Safe with Age graduates who want to improve their driving skills further by taking a private on-road driving lesson.
- targeted education packages for GPs, and new education and information materials for older drivers and their families.
Other Amendment Rule changes which have already been signed and take place from 1 June 2006 include
- extension of the period of licence renewal
- you will be able to re-license up to 6 months prior to
expiry of your licence, and
- removal of the 'automatic only' condition for persons who take their current 80+ driving test in an automatic car - they will no longer be restricted to driving an automatic vehicle.
Rates Rebate Scheme
The changes to the Rates Rebate scheme will apply to the forthcoming rating year.
If you believe you are eligible, you should contact your local council once you receive your 2006 rates bill for the new rating year.
On 1 July this year, up to 300,000 low-income New Zealanders, including many older New Zealanders, will become eligible to have up to $500 deducted from their annual rates bill – an increase from the previous maximum of $200.
We’re also raising the income threshold for a rebate from $7,400 to $20,000 per year, and the additional income allowance for dependants from $156 to $500 per dependant.
Whereas in the 2004/05 rating year fewer than 4000 people actually received a rebate, up to 300,000 New Zealanders will be eligible for a rates rebate under the improved scheme.
The total annual cost of these improvements is estimated at around $50 million. We will review how the scheme is working at the end of next year to ensure that the thresholds set and the entitlement levels are appropriate.
Primary Health Care
On July 1 there are further extensions to the age groups eligible for cheaper primary health care. People aged between 45 and 64, enrolled with doctors who belong to Primary Health Organisations (and that’s most people), will become eligible for lower cost doctor visits and for the $3 standard prescription charge.
In 2004 these improvements were extended to those aged 65 and above. This year's changes will help younger Grey Power members.
It is important to the government that the extra subsidies for doctor’s visits which we are paying actually result in lower fees, and we do expect District Health Boards’ agreements with the Primary Health Organisations in this respect to be honoured.
Grey Power members are vigilant consumers. Those of you aged 65 and over who were not already receiving the higher subsidy (through a Community Services Card or a High Use Health Card) should have noticed a substantial drop in doctor's fees from July 2004, as well as a drop in the standard prescription charge. If you find that doesn't continue, or that the fee has climbed steeply, or that those you know between 45 and 64 from 1 July this year don’t get that drop in fees, your District Health Board needs to hear from you.
From the extra money the government is investing in primary health care, we expect to see not only lower cost visits to GPs, and reduced pharmaceutical costs, but also better care. Patients should be beginning to benefit from more use of nurses and other health professionals, and more programmes aimed at assisting us to maintain our well-being as long as possible.
Orthopaedic and Cataract surgery
We are on track to deliver on the pledges we have made to deliver increased numbers of orthopaedic and cataract operations.
In the 2005-06 financial year 7733 procedures are planned. 4870 of these are funded by DHBs as their base. 2863 are to be funded under the Orthopaedic Initiative. Between July 2005 and February 2006, DHBs have delivered 4801 procedures, and are on track to deliver the planned 7733 procedures.
At this stage the Orthopaedic Initiative will be funding between 3470 and 3690 procedures. That means that between 8340 and 8560 major joint operations will be delivered in 2006-07.
In the 2005-06 financial year 8733 procedures have been planned for. 7683 of these are funded by District Health Boards as their base. 1050 are being funded under the Cataract Initiative. Between July 2005 and February 2006, District Health Boards have delivered 5772 procedures, and are on track to deliver more than the 8733 planned procedures.
Planning is almost complete for the 2006-07 financial year. At this stage the Cataract Initiative will be funding between 2287 and 2533 procedures. This means that between 9990 and 10236 cataract procedures will be delivered in 2006-07.
Overall health funding
Labour has increased health spending overall by more than sixty per cent – and we are getting results.
We have undertaken the largest hospital building programme
in living memory, with new hospitals from Kaitaia to
Invercargill. I open the new hospital in Masterton this
- We are making a $2.2 billion investment in primary care over seven years to make doctors’ visits more affordable for all.
- Public hospitals are handling twenty per cent more medical cases and twelve per cent more case-weighted elective surgery procedures – not counting surgical outpatients where so much more is done these days.
- We’ve undertaken the largest mass immunisation campaign in New Zealand’s history, and have already lowered new cases of Meningococcal B by 57 per cent.
- Public hospital nurses have had an historic pay increase.
- And as for spending on bureaucrats – the number in the Ministry of Health is less than it was six years ago.
We are proud of what we have achieved in health, but we know we can do better yet.
Work is progressing on the development of a Seniors Card, as part of Labour’s confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First. The aim of the card will be for seniors to have a card which automatically entitles them to a range of discounts. The government, working with the Ministry of Social Development, will keep Grey Power informed of progress.
Another part of our confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First commits our Labour government to provide an additional 1000 sworn police staff over the next three years.
This is challenging because New Zealand has the lowest unemployment in the Western world and employers across the public and private sectors are looking for quality staff.
Our recruitment campaigns have already begun, and more are being organised. Many good applicants from all walks of life are coming forward, and the extra thousand will be an asset to the police force and the community.
NZ Superannuation Fund
The Fund continues to perform very well. It commenced investing on 1 October 2003 with $2.4 billion cash. Its total assets as at 31 March 2006 are now $9.5 billion. This is a rate of return since inception of 16.62% pa against a risk free rate of 6.12%. Labour designed this Fund to guarantee New Zealand Superannuation on current terms and conditions to future generations.
New Zealand Superannuation
New Zealand Superannuation rates increased by 3.16% from 1 April 2006 following the increase in the cost of living for 2005, as measured by the Consumers Price Index.
The increase also meets the government’s commitment in its agreement with New Zealand First to ensure that New Zealand Superannuation rates are set at not less than 66% of the net, average, ordinary time weekly wage on 1 April each year.
Spouse in residential care
Prior to the last election I announced that all superannuitants living alone, whose spouse or partner was in long-term residential care, would be paid the single, living alone rate of New Zealand Superannuation. The legislation making this change takes effect from 1 July and reverses discrimination which has existed since 1993.
From 1 July this year, around 2000 affected superannuitants living alone will be eligible for the higher rate. That’s an increase of $59 a week for a superannuitant living alone, or $39.36 per week for a superannuitant sharing with another person.
Also from 1 July this year, the removal of the ‘shared expenses rule’ takes effect. In the past, this rule has prevented some single superannuitants from getting the Living Alone payment if their families are helping to pay for some household expenses, such as rates. Both these changes make the New Zealand Super scheme fairer and more equitable.
Treatment of Overseas Pensions and Payment of New Zealand Superannuation Overseas
The Confidence and Supply Agreement between the government and New Zealand First contains a commitment to ‘investigate ways to improve options for senior citizens who may be eligible for foreign pensions as well as New Zealand Superannuation’.
Officials from the Ministry of Social Development and Treasury are working with the government to modernise the current policy of ‘direct deduction’ of New Zealand Superannuation where a superannuitant has an overseas pension similar to New Zealand Superannuation. Work is also being undertaken on addressing issues associated with the payment of New Zealand Superannuation overseas.
The KiwiSaver legislation was introduced in February and is currently before a select committee for public feedback. It is due back in the House by 1 September this year and is planned to come into effect on 1 April 2007. This Bill encourages all working New Zealanders to save each week for their retirement, and/or for home ownership.
Those who are KiwiSavers for a minimum of three years and wish to buy a home will qualify for a government grant of up to $1000 a year, for a maximum of five years, at the time of purchase of their first home. They will be able to draw down all of their accumulated savings as KiwiSavers except for the initial $1000 start-up contribution which the government will put into each Kiwisaver account.
Over many years, Grey Power members have raised with me the cost of tertiary education.
Labour in government has worked hard to make higher education more affordable – and with considerable success.
The big initiative launched from 1 April this year is that no further interest will be charged on student loans for those who live in New Zealand.
Under Labour, students and graduates will not be burdened with the compounding cost of interest, provided they remain in New Zealand. This will save them thousands of dollars in many cases, and knock years off repayment times.
Working for Families
Grey Power members’ children and grandchildren may also be benefiting from another important April 1 change – the extension of family tax relief through the Working for Families package.
Around 85,000 more families will benefit. This will lead to about 350,000 families in total receiving family tax relief in 2006. As an example of the changes from 1 April:
A family earning $45,000 per year with two young children will now be receiving $138.50 a week in family tax relief. A couple with four children earning $90,000 will be eligible for family tax relief for the first time and be better off by $3,976 a year – or $76.46 a week.
We have made tax relief for families with dependent children our top priority because of the vitally important job they do raising the next generation.
Paid Parental Leave
The importance of families is also recognised with improvements to the paid parental leave scheme taking effect on 1 July.
Paid parental leave enables working parents to have time at home with their new babies.
Paid parental leave is being extended to the self-employed, who have been working an average of 10 hours a week or more during either a six or 12 month period immediately before the birth or adoption of a child.
It is estimated that 2,173 self-employed parents will apply for paid parental leave each year.
Year of the Veteran
Our government is committed to honouring and supporting veterans, to preserving their legacy and to passing on to future generations the lessons they learned.
That is why 2006 has been designated as ‘The Year of the Veteran.’
The key aim of the Year of the Veteran is to provide opportunities for recognition of veterans in local communities. The Year of the Veteran Community Grants Fund will assist local communities with projects and events.
Every veteran of a recognised war or emergency is eligible for a special ‘Year of the Veteran’ Certificate of Appreciation and Lapel Badge, in recognition of New Zealand’s enduring appreciation and gratitude for their service.
During this Year we wish also to recognise those members of our communities who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in volunteering their time, skills and effort for the benefit and support of our veterans. During 2006, the ‘Year of the Veteran’ Commendations will offer a way of also saying thank you to those volunteers for their hard work and support.
2006 will also mark the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association, an organisation with a proud history of dedication to the welfare and commemoration of our servicemen and women, past and present.
In this speech I have highlighted policies of particular interest to Grey Power members.
I spelled out our three top government priorities at the beginning, – transforming the economy to make it stronger; supporting families young and old; and building pride in our national identity. I know that Grey Power members have a stake in all those areas.
I believe New Zealand has done well during the last six and a half years under Labour, and we aim to do better still this term on behalf of New Zealanders.
I wish you all the best for the rest of your AGM.