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John Key: Going For Growth

15 August 2008

Going For Growth

Quality infrastructure is vital for lifting our productivity, improving public services, and generating long-term economic growth. A critical component of that infrastructure is our electricity sector and, in particular, our electricity supply.

Yesterday, in a speech to the Council for Infrastructure Development, I outlined our energy policy. There are four key things National will do to ensure New Zealanders can have confidence in our electricity supply. These include:

- Acknowledging the extent of future demand. National will be realistic about the likely need for more electricity supply to keep New Zealand growing in the years ahead.

- Reforming the Resource Management Act (RMA) and introducing Priority Consenting to allow more generation and transmission to be built. National will introduce to Parliament a bill to reform the RMA within the first 100 days of its first term. The legislation will include removing the ministerial veto over consents, reducing the number of consent categories, and putting an end to frivolous and vexatious objections.

- Sending a clear signal that gas will be a part of the energy mix needed for security of supply. New Zealand has fantastic renewable resources like hydro and wind, and it's important that we develop those. We support the 90% renewables target. However, we accept that sometimes thermal electricity generation is needed for keeping the lights on, as we have seen this winter. National will therefore overturn the Government's ban on new base-load thermal power stations. 

- Streamlining the investment and decision-making processes for investing in new transmission. National will undertake a careful review of the roles played by the Electricity Commission, Commerce Commission, and Transpower. We will do this with a particular focus on reducing duplication and costly bureaucracy, and ensuring the best outcomes for consumers - in terms of security of supply and affordability. 

In addition to security of electricity supply, we need to balance our energy needs with our environmental responsibilities.

National is determined to provide clear policy settings that favour renewable electricity generation. We will have an emissions trading scheme (ETS) on the statute books within nine months of taking office. We expect this ETS will result in no new coal stations being built - unless proven technologies for carbon capture and storage change the emissions profile of coal.

You can read the full policy document here.

AN UNRELENTING FOCUS ON WORK

On Monday, I launched National's benefits policy.

National is committed to a benefit system that is a genuine safety net in times of need. We recognise that many people on a benefit will never be able to work because of illness or disability. But we also believe that returning to unpaid work is the route to independence and well-being for most people, and is the best way to reduce child poverty. Long-term welfare dependency locks people into a life of limited income and limited choices. That's why National has an unrelenting focus on work.

We will require everyone who has been on the dole for more than a year to re-apply for their benefit and undergo a comprehensive work assessment. All long-term unemployment beneficiaries should be doing whatever it takes to get a job. This may include practical training, attending a basic skills course, or being in drug and alcohol rehabilitation. 

We will introduce part-time work obligations to two groups of beneficiaries - DPB recipients, once their youngest dependent child is aged six or over, and people on sickness and invalid benefits who have been assessed as being able to work part-time. About 5,600 sickness and invalid beneficiaries have been categorised as capable of working right now. These beneficiaries will be required to spend at least 15 hours per week in employment, training, or job-seeking activities.

We will introduce a more graduated system of sanctions for people who do not comply with their work obligations. This will give Work and Income case managers more flexibility to encourage beneficiaries into work.

We also want appropriate incentives in the benefit system so that those on benefits actually want to work. Benefit abatement is a necessary part of the system, but the high marginal tax rates it creates are a disincentive for people to work even a few hours a week. So, National will raise the earnings threshold and allow beneficiaries to earn up to $100 a week before their benefit begins to be abated.

We will also:

- Introduce more frequent reassessment during the first few months a person is on a sickness benefit. Anyone on a sickness benefit continuously for 12 months will automatically be sent to a 'designated doctor' for a second opinion on their work prospects.

- Enshrine in legislation CPI adjustments to welfare benefits so they rise each year in line with inflation.

- Reject Labour's planned new benefit terminology. Labour's pursuit of a 'single core benefit' has been a complete farce.

- Require the most frequent applicants for benefit advances to attend a budget advisory service at the Government's expense to get qualified, experienced, non-judgmental budgeting advice to help them manage their finances. Those not attending will not be eligible for any further benefit advances.

National will announce our policies on other aspects of the welfare system soon, including vulnerable children and families, child support, and the community and voluntary sector.

DOWN SOUTH

It was great to spend some time in Dunedin on Wednesday meeting with locals and getting a feel for the issues people are concerned about. I chatted with residents of the Brooklands Retirement Village in Mosgiel, received a briefing on the proposed new stadium, spoke to the Otago Chamber of Commerce, and even spent some time at a hairdresser booking customers in for appointments!

It was also my pleasure - along with National MPs Katherine Rich, Jacqui Dean, and Eric Roy - to attend the campaign launch of our Dunedin candidates Conway Powell and Michael Woodhouse. National faces a big challenge in the city, and Michael and Conway are leading the charge.

Dunedin has been hit pretty hard by recent factory closures and the downturn, and the rising cost of living is at the forefront of most people's minds. Throughout the day I spoke about our five-point plan for the economy - an ongoing programme of tax cuts, disciplined government spending, cutting bureaucracy and red tape, higher education standards, and boosting infrastructure investment - and this got a warm reception. I'll be announcing more details on our economic policies in the run-up to the election.

 ends

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