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Key - National: Valuing Families

John Key MP
Leader of the National Party

8 September 2008

National: Valuing Families
Speech to the Family First New Zealand Forum on the Family


Let me start by acknowledging the many community organisations represented in the room today. You do important work. You have many different perspectives, and we don’t necessarily agree on every issue. But what we all do agree on is the importance of strong families. And we all agree that more can be done to support families in New Zealand today.

By and large, this is a great country to live and raise children in. But we face many challenges. Too many Kiwis are struggling to make ends meet – to pay the bills or service the mortgage. Crime is intensifying. Many of our young people are leaving school grossly ill-equipped for the demands of the modern workforce.

I don’t pretend that government alone can solve all these challenges. These problems will, in part, be solved by people taking responsibility for their own actions, their own families, and their own communities.

But I do think that effective government leadership and the strong foundations that good government is capable of building will be essential in providing a brighter future for New Zealanders and their families.

Community organisations like yours have an important role to play, too – not just in delivering services and binding communities, but in voicing your concerns to the government.

National’s door will always be open to you because we know you have insights into issues that a government may not see or understand. I don’t pretend today that we will respond to every issue you raise with us. But we will always listen.

In a few weeks I will be asking New Zealanders to vote for a National-led Government that can provide new leadership and new solutions to the challenges facing New Zealand.

In doing so I will be conscious of what is most dear to so many of us – the security, happiness, and welfare of our families. As a brother, a husband, and a father, I certainly know that my family is the thing I value most in life. And, as National Party Leader, I am proud to support families as the most important institution in our society.

If I have the privilege of being Prime Minister I will also be conscious of the important role government must play in protecting our most vulnerable citizens.

In my first major speech as National Party Leader, I spoke of an emerging underclass. I spoke of the people being left behind by everyday New Zealand as most of us experience it – people for whom the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have been broken.

I said then and I repeat again today – I want to see all Kiwis having genuine opportunities to use their talents and to be rewarded for their efforts. That desire continues to motivate me and is reflected in the policies that National will promote in this election.

Our policies are aimed at delivering greater prosperity, security and opportunities to all New Zealanders. They touch on many issues important to Kiwi families:

• The strength of the economy, their individual financial circumstances, and their ability to get ahead under their own steam.
• The safety of the communities they live in.
• The opportunities and education available to their children and the children of their fellow New Zealanders.
• The quality of the public services they rely on and the safety net available for them in times of need.


In this speech I’m going to talk a little about National’s approach to each of these important policy areas. In doing so, let me acknowledge that in modern New Zealand, families come in many shapes and sizes.

My views on parenting, on families, and on society are shaped by my own upbringing.
My father died when I was a young child. I was raised by my mother in a single-parent household. I am fortunate to now be married with two children of my own.

From my own experience, I can say that being a parent can be a pretty demanding job, even when you have someone to share the load with. So I acknowledge the tremendous contribution made by single parents. I also acknowledge the great work being done by two-parent households.

Parenting is a hugely important job, and its importance is too often under-estimated by our society and by government agencies.

I salute the parents who turn up in their thousands to Saturday sport, raise money for school trips, and look after each others’ kids while they try to do overtime and keep up with the cost of living. They provide for their children an example of selflessness and good citizenship that you just can’t buy.

So, before I say any more, let’s put our hands together for the Kiwi mums and dads who make this country tick.

Financial security

I’d like to turn now to National’s economic policies and what they will mean for Kiwi families.

Fundamentally, National believes that the New Zealand economy is underperforming – especially when compared to other developed countries. That is translating into lower wages for Kiwi workers and more challenging financial circumstances for Kiwi families.

Since Labour came to office, New Zealand has dropped down the international rankings for average incomes, the gap between our wages and those earned by Australians has increased to more than 35%, and interest rates have soared.

Some people claim these economic indicators don’t matter. The truth is that a lack of money is making things difficult for many New Zealanders and their families.

You can see it in the young couple struggling to buy a house, the family struggling to pay the mortgage, and the many families who worry about the unpaid bills piling up. And, increasingly, you can see it in the number of families who are divided by the Tasman Sea.

Added up, these pressures can put a strain on even the strongest marriage or the best of parents.

So, National is very serious about improving New Zealand’s economic performance and improving the financial circumstances of New Zealand families.

We have a five-point plan for doing this.

First, we will have an ongoing programme of personal tax cuts.

Labour has begrudgingly, after nine years in office, given in to the pressure and intends to provide some tax reduction in October this year. But it’s too little too late. Families are already struggling with soaring petrol prices and increasing food prices. Families are already resorting to food banks, multiple credit cards, and loans from finance companies. Labour is asking these families to wait until the eve of an election for a tax cut that they needed years ago.

National is determined to allow Kiwis to keep more of their own incomes and to ensure they face good incentives. So we will build on Labour’s proposed October tax cuts with further tax reductions on 1 April 2009 and 1 April 2010.

Alongside our tax plan, National will keep making the Working for Families payments that so many Kiwi families rely on to make ends meet. We acknowledge that Working for Families isn’t perfect, but at a time when so many families are struggling, we think it’s important to ensure they can have some certainty about the support they will receive from government.

Secondly in our economic plan, National will take a disciplined approach to government spending so that interest rates track down, not up.

For the past nine years, Labour has been indulging in record-beating spend-ups while failing to improve the productivity of the services they’ve been funding. I’m thinking, for example, of the health system. Billions more have gone in but waiting times are just as long.

This lack of productive growth puts pressure on inflation and, ultimately, on interest rates and Kiwis’ mortgages. National knows it’s your money the government is wasting. In tough times, National will be as careful with taxes as families are with their household budgets.

Thirdly, National will stop the massive rise in head office bureaucracy that Labour has encouraged, and we will deal with the regulatory and compliance issues that smother Kiwi businesses.

Labour’s stock answer to social problems is to employ more and more bureaucrats in Wellington to tell us what we already know. Under my leadership, bureaucrat numbers will be capped and additional public spending will be focused on frontline services like those in our schools and hospitals. National will focus the funding where it really makes a difference.

Fourthly, National will have an unwavering focus on improving education standards. I’ll say more about this in a moment. Suffice to say, for our economy to grow we must ensure New Zealanders have the skills needed for modern jobs.

Finally, National will invest in the infrastructure this country needs to unblock the growth arteries. New Zealand has languished for too long with second-rate transport networks, inadequate broadband services, and insecure electricity supply. National is determined to invest in these fundamental building blocks so the businesses that drive our economy can grow productively.

National’s five-point economic plan will ensure the economy can make the step change it so badly needs. This economic plan will underpin everything National does in government, and I am confident it will deliver greater prosperity for Kiwi families.

That is not to say that financial prosperity is the key to happiness.

I was raised, along with my sisters, in a state house in Christchurch. Back then I thought I was poor and, by most standards we were. As I grew up, though, I recognised that what my mother gave to my sisters and I was far more valuable than money.

She instilled in us the desire to improve ourselves by our own hard work, the confidence that we were able to do it, and the hope that it was possible to do so. She instilled in me an ethic of hard work and determination and a genuine belief that “you get out of life what you put into it”.

Ultimately, the mission of the next National Government will be to show all New Zealanders the truth of that saying. To show them that the way to a better future is in their own hands.

I want to give Kiwis the confidence that this is a country where you can get ahead – that government will reward, rather than discourage, their effort. That’s why National will let Kiwis keep more of their own wages and that’s why we will do all we can to improve their prospects of better pay and fulfilling work.

Safe communities

A second area where National will focus is improving safety in our communities.

I don’t think it’s good enough that in so many parts of our country it’s unsafe for our kids to walk to school by themselves.

I heard a Labour politician say recently that crime rates have been improving, as though averaging almost one murder a week is something we should all be relaxed about. In reality, New Zealand families aren’t relaxed about it. Many of them feel unsafe on their streets and even in their homes at night. There’s a reason why and that is because crime is intensifying.

Since Labour came to office, violent crime in New Zealand has increased. The number of robberies has increased. The number of grievous assaults has increased. Drug and gang related crime has increased. And, perhaps most worryingly, violent youth crime has reached new highs.

Labour may be in denial about this but National is not. We take violent crime as seriously as New Zealand families do. We are serious about preventing it.

National will expand the tools and powers available to the police, we will enhance rights and services for victims of crime, we will toughen up the bail laws, and we will reduce the use of parole.

We will also bring a renewed focus to preventing youth offending and dismantling the ticking-time bombs that are today’s youth criminals.

First, we’re going to target youth earlier by giving the Youth Court the power to deal with 12- and 13-year-olds accused of serious offences. Secondly, we’re going to give the Youth Court increased powers for dealing with youth when their offending is at the lower end of the scale.

These powers will include parenting orders that will require mum and dad to attend parenting programmes. These programmes will be designed to address problems at home that might be contributing to a young person’s offending. I’m a supporter of these kinds of programmes and I think they can be of great help to many families.

Thirdly, National will introduce a new sentence of year-long “Fresh Start programmes”. This new sentence will involve up to three months of residential training at, for example, army facilities. Fresh Start programmes will enforce values like personal responsibility and self-discipline, and they will give problem youth the structure, routine, and clear boundaries they need to get back on track.

National will also launch a campaign against gangs and the pure methamphetamine, or “P”, trade that they support. This will include amending the law to give police more power to remove and storm gang fortifications. And it will include investigating other initiatives such as banning gang patches, banning paroled criminals from associating with gangs, restricting gang members’ right to electronic bail or home detention, and ensuring gang members are brought to trial more quickly.

Don’t look to National for hand-wringing about how gangs are misrepresented by just a few bad apples, or about how they offer social bonding. We don’t buy it. The reign of fear must come to an end.

Higher Education Standards

The third key area where National is convinced New Zealand can do better is in education. Education is the great liberator. It can bring hope to even the most disadvantaged child.

Labour is inclined to say that New Zealand’s educational standards are good enough because they are better than some other countries.

But is it really good enough that almost one in five Kiwi kids leave school without even a basic qualification – let alone the skills they need to succeed? Is it really good enough that more than one in three Maori students leave school without NCEA level 1? Of course it’s not. Even the PPTA is telling the Labour Government that its standards are too low.

A National Government will be resolutely focused on raising education standards. We see education as an essential rung on the ladder of opportunity. And we believe government has a duty to deliver a good education to every child.

National has announced several policies for achieving this, and we will be releasing more before the election. Let me touch on some of our plans:

First, we will keep 20 hours ECE and extend it to play centres and kohanga reo. We support the right of parents to choose these kinds of centres and we disagree with Labour that parent-led centres are somehow not a quality option.

Secondly, we will introduce National Standards in literacy and numeracy. We will ensure that schools test students’ progress towards these standards. And, importantly, we will ensure they report the results to parents – in language they can understand.

Because National thinks that every parent, no matter what school their child attends, deserves simple answers to simple questions like: Is my child reading and writing at the expected level? Are they progressing in maths as well as they should be? What is my child struggling in and how can I help them?

National would rather confront failure than ignore it.

Thirdly, National will put trades and industry training back into the heart of the school system. We will develop practical school-based apprenticeships, more practical learning opportunities outside the classroom, and specialist trades academies.

We will do this because we think school should be relevant and interesting for all children, whether they have an academic focus or a trades focus.

Fourthly, National will introduce a Youth Guarantee. This will allow all 16- and 17-year-olds to access, free of charge, education towards school-level qualifications. Most students will choose to stay at school, but others might choose to take up their entitlement in a polytechnic course, or in a course offered by a Private Training Establishment.

A teen parent, for example, might not want to attend a conventional school but could gain a lot from a specialised parenting course, while a young person who isn’t interested in classes at their local high school might be very interested in doing a basic skills course to prepare them for trades training.

Finally, National will ensure that student loans remain interest-free. But we will encourage young people to get rid of their debt sooner by offering them a 10% bonus on any voluntary student loan repayment that they make.

Quality public services and the welfare state

Ladies and gentlemen, beyond these three key areas of focus – a more prosperous economy, safer communities, and a better education system – National will work across the board to ensure government is providing high-quality public services. That means an improved public health system and it means providing a social safety net to the vulnerable.

I think you can measure a society by how it looks after its vulnerable families, and I am a supporter of the welfare state. Once, I was one of them. I will never turn my back on that.

But I also think you can measure a society by how many vulnerable people it creates – people who are able to work, and who are able to take responsibility for their own lives and their children’s lives, yet end up depending long-term on the state,

Long-term welfare dependency locks people and their dependent children into a life of limited income and limited choices. We all prosper, and society prospers, by having fewer people languishing on the fringes, and more of us productively engaged in our communities.

So, National’s benefits policy, like all of our policies, will help people help themselves.
Our benefits policy, including part-time work requirements for DPB recipients with school-aged children, is squarely focused on getting those who can work back to work as soon as possible. Because National believes that paid work is the route to independence and well-being for most people, and is the best way to reduce child poverty.

Section 59

It’s appropriate before I finish today that I touch on a particular issue that I know many parents and many in this room are concerned about. That is Parliament’s move last year to amend Section 59 of the Crimes Act.

That amendment started as a bill promoted by Sue Bradford. I opposed that bill. I opposed it because I thought it would expose good parents to criminal investigation and prosecution.

Despite my opposition, and the opposition of many National Party MPs, there were enough votes to pass that bill. Labour was determined to force it through. I was convinced our parliamentarians could do better. I did not want to see a society where we criminalised good parents for doing their jobs. Nor did I want to see a society where the law could be used to shield people who abused their children.

So I called for a compromise, I sat around the negotiating table and I argued the case for Kiwi mums and dads.

The result was a revised amendment that I believe went a lot further to protect good parents from being criminalised than would have been the case under Sue Bradford’s original bill.

Since that time, a large number of Kiwis have signed a petition calling for a referendum on the changes to Section 59. I support Kiwis’ right to have their say in this way. National’s view is that the referendum should have been held in conjunction with the upcoming election – but Labour has chosen instead to delay it until next year.

But, irrespective of the timing, National will watch the result of the referendum closely.

Last year, when I supported the revised amendment I was clear about my intentions. I continue to be so. If I can see compelling evidence that this legislation is not working, and I am Prime Minister of New Zealand, then I will work to change it. To this point, I haven’t seen such evidence.

Conclusion

I think ultimately the reason this issue touched such a nerve was that it represented the last straw for many Kiwis who are sick of the Government making ever more incursions into their lives.

So let me assure you that a Government I lead will be conscious that the more politicians intervene in our lives, the less opportunity each of us has to take responsibility for our own life choices.

A National Government will focus on the issues that matter. We won’t be distracted by issues that are better dealt with by families making their own decisions within their own four walls.

I want to run a government that isn’t going to tell you how to run your life every few minutes, that isn’t going to put all sorts of roadblocks to stop you getting there – that actually gives you a bit of self belief and confidence that if you work hard, if you educate yourself, if you try hard, then you’ve got a huge future in New Zealand.

In closing, let me congratulate all of you for your work in supporting New Zealand families. I look forward to the possibility of being our next Prime Minister and working alongside you to deliver to those families the increased prosperity, security, and opportunities they deserve.


ENDS

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