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United Future - Leaders Letter 15 December 2006

United Future - Leaders Letter 15 December 2006

The end of the Parliamentary year always ushers in a period of reflection and speculation, as journalists and commentators furiously interview each other to interpret the year's events and rank the performances of those involved. I am often tempted to reverse the exercise and rank the performances and insights of our critics, but that can wait for another day.

For United Future, 2006 has been a very good year. Our focus has been making progress on the items in our confidence and supply agreement with the Labour-led government. As deputy leader Judy Turner aptly put it in Parliament's adjournment debate, we do not see our role as supporters of the government, but rather we see the government supporting us to achieve our policy goals. So, how have we gone?

Here is a checklist of progress on the agreement's provisions to date.

In addition to no decriminalising of the recreational use of cannabis, or legislative initiatives to place limits on freedom of expression through so called "hate speech" laws, the government has agreed that the Families Commission will not be downgraded, and will be the agency responsible for co-ordinating government support to "third sector" organisations providing parenting education and relationship counselling programmes.

The Business Tax Review has been completed , and major decisions will be made early next year, with legislation coming to Parliament and the changes taking effect from 1 April 2008. We have indicated there could well be changes to personal tax arrangements announced at that time as well. The review of the tax treatment of charities and charitable donations is underway, and decisions are due for next year's Budget. The carbon tax was scrapped. The review of the Prostitution Act to address problems associated with street soliciting, under age involvement and local authority control over brothel zoning is underway and due to report its recommendations for change next year.

The discussion paper setting out the framework for the development of a National Medicines Strategy has been released, with decisions on the shape and form of the Strategy, including the future role of PHARMAC to be made next year. Dec 15, 2006 No. 15

Work to establish a nationwide pest reduction and game management strategy is underway, with announcements likely early next year. The government has set aside its share of funding for the Transmission Gully highway project, and Transit has already let the first contracts regarding the geotechnical work necessary for the development of the highway. A discussion paper on income splitting and household income issues is due for release in early 2008.

Discussions regarding non-statutory proposals to negotiate improved public access along rivers lakes and foreshore and issues concerning water quality /agrarian runoff are ongoing with the relevant Ministers and departments.

Next year will see attention paid to measures to further improve access to student allowances including some reduction in the age at which parental income assessment applies and steps to promote the appropriate private hospital capacity will be used to reduce waiting lists where this is feasible. These moves represent substantial progress on the provisions of our agreement and show clearly the important contribution a small party, with a focused agenda, is able to make under our MMP system.

United Future has a new President. Denise Krum has been elected to fill the position left vacant by the retirement of Graeme Reeves and I welcome her to the role.

Denise shares my enthusiasm for United Future's vital role as a modern centre party, that is socially aware and responsive while not blowing the country's chequebook, and is all the while committed to promoting the interests of families and neighbourhoods, and playing a constructive role in the governance of our country.

I am looking forward to working with Denise and the party's Board to expand and revitalise our membership and support base. After all the negative things we have seen in politics this year, United Future's emphasis is on promoting a message of optimism and hope about what New Zealand can be, rather than reciting endless litanies of gloom and doom and how bad things are.

One of the good things that has happened in politics this year has been the new spirit of co-operation between the smaller parties. In part, this has been a reaction to the continued efforts by Labour and National to treat Parliament as just a two-party club, but in much greater part it arises because of a recognition that although we have considerable policy differences in a number of cases, we also have area of common ground that we can pursue jointly.

Because we work closely with Labour while also maintaining good relations with National, United Future is able to bridge the gaps to some extent and to foster good relationships between parties that have previously been at daggers drawn. Expect more developments on this front next year.

We are just a few short days from Christmas. It is one of the most remarkable events each year. The Christmas story of new birth and hope is a powerful message that transcends political and religious differences the world over. My wish is for everyone to be able to enjoy the spirit of Christmas with their families and loved ones, and for that spirit of hope and optimism to carry on into all our lives in 2007. From my family to yours, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


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