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Heather Roy's Diary

Heather Roy's Diary

Lets Have Some Real Issues Please

Election year brings out the worst in people - several commentators have already predicted that the 2008 campaign will be a nasty one.

They're probably right - especially when it comes to Labour and National, whose leaders came out of their Blue and Red corners before Parliament began for the year with their gloves up. John Key's State of the Nation speech was all about youth crime and Boot Camps; Helen Clark retaliated the next day with sustainability and keeping kids at school until they're 18.

No vision for our country was visible from either leader, and no assessment or answers for the really important issues facing New Zealand.

Things haven't improved since Parliament returned in mid-February. While the Prime Minister has been pre-occupied with "fixing the tagging problem", her Health Minister David Cunliffe has been busy taking revenge on the Hawkes Bay District Health Board. This week he sacked all seven elected members - who had had been in place for just 72 days, effectively neutered by the Minister, and then sacked for not performing well enough. This was a classic example of how not to fix a problem that didn't exist in the first place.

The proposed tagging solution, however, has been somewhat different. This is the Clayton's solution: how to look tough and appear to be doing something about a problem that worries your opponent's core voting block.

While there's no doubt that tagging is a problem - it is unsightly wilful damage to other people's property and needs to be dealt with swiftly - banning the sale of spraycans to under-18's isn't the answer: it doesn't work with alcohol, and it won't work with spraycans. And neither will issuing those caught with $2,000 fines - they can't afford to pay, and won't, just as their young peers can't afford to pay their speeding and traffic offence fines.

We'd have more luck changing this anti-social behaviour by dressing offenders in pink overalls - with 'TAGGER' emblazoned across their back - and making them paint over unsightly tagging. What has been conveniently overlooked is the fact that the law already exists to prohibit wilful damage to property with spraycans - the real issue is a policing one.

Wouldn't it be a treat this election year if some of the real issues were debated, some real solutions promoted and a vision emerged for our country?

The economy would be a good place to start - there is considerable international unease about the world's economy. The world's largest economy is the US, where people are feeling significantly poorer. A long rise in property values has reversed as many marginal loans are not performing - this is the 'sub-prime' crisis and, on top of a chronic balance of payments deficit, the US dollar is falling.
Japan - the world's second largest economy - has been mired in recession for most of the past 12 years, with its political leaders seemingly unable to boost production. Even China, after three decades of spectacular growth, is facing a steep fall in share values. Because our economy is so small it is subject to wide fluctuations and influenced significantly by other much larger economies and their currencies.

But the news isn't all bad for New Zealand, as prices for a number of commodities are high. This statement will add insult to injury for wool farmers, but international food prices are up 50 percent from a year ago - great for food exporters. Part of the explanation is that many countries have embraced bio-fuels, and many food stocks - from soya beans to maize - are being turned into ethanol to boost petrol supplies. The environmental case is doubtful, but it is popular and is creating a food shortage. What the Finance Minister has never explained is why, at a time of record prices for our exports, we run such a large trade deficit.

Education is another area in which we can make a real difference. The key for our young people getting ahead in life is education. For too long mediocrity has been the goal. This 'no-one should be allowed to fail' attitude has given us the NCEA with its Not achieved, Achieved, Merit and Excellence categories so that students have little idea of what they are really achieving.

Our top students are not challenged to excel, and too many at the other end of the spectrum are left with insufficient three-R skills to get by in daily life. The Labour philosophy that the nearest school to a student's home is the best for them means that, for many, there is no choice of school.

Yet education is not one-size-fits-all. If funding followed the child - the basic cost of a child's education could be spent at any school of choice - and real choice existed for parents and students, competition for school places would lift the level of education. Poorly performing schools would have to lift their game to compete with those that perform well. A greater variety of schools would emerge with greater choice.

At the very least, no child would be worse off; at best, school choice means our children can achieve and excel to the best of their abilities. Our children deserve the best to succeed, but these are just hollow words if the best isn't available to all children. At the moment, only the wealthy have real school choice.

There are plenty of other 'real issues' - Health and Crime for starters. But already the distractions are being reeled out in the absence of knowing how to deal with New Zealand's serious problems. That's where ACT comes to the fore. We're not afraid to confront the real issues. Not only will we be saying it as it is - we also have solutions. Many Kiwis feel it's time for a change of Government - ACT agrees but, more than that, New Zealand needs a change of direction and we'll settle for nothing less.

Lest We Forget

March 1 2002: Operation Anaconda began in eastern Afghanistan
The first large-scale battle of the US-led invasion since the Battle of Tora Bora, Operation Anaconda involved some 2,500 coalition troops - including New Zealand's elite Special Air Service or SAS - and anti-Taliban militia, against an al-Qaeda-backed insurgent force of around 1,000. The result was a hard-fought victory for the coalition: around 500-800 casualties and losses for the Taliban, and less than 100 coalition casualties.

New Zealand has maintained its presence in Afghanistan since the initial invasion, with reconstruction and security for the fledgling - but struggling - democracy being the primary goal. As of January 2008, the New Zealand personnel still based in Afghanistan consisted of: a 107-strong Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Bamyan province; five officers based in the International Security Assistance Force headquarters; two NCOs based with the Afghan National Army; two medical specialists with the Canadian Multinational Medical Unit in Kandahar (southern Afghanistan); and one military liaison with the UN Assistance Mission.


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