Bill English - Speech to Rotary Club of Auckland
Rt Hon Bill English
2 February 2017
Speech to Rotary Club of Auckland
My thanks to the Rotary Club of Auckland, and in particular President Andrew Aitken and the Rotary team for hosting this event.
I also want to acknowledge Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett and Finance Minister Steven Joyce, who are here today. Both of them are doing great work on behalf of New Zealanders.
Special guests, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming today.
The start of the year is the time to stand back and look at how we’re doing as a country.
New Zealand is a fantastic place to live, work and raise a family.
We aren’t the only ones who think so.
There are around 200 countries in the world.
Of those, New Zealand is currently ranked first for overall prosperity, first for personal freedom and civil rights, first for ease of doing business, first equal for anti-corruption and second for quality of government. And we want to make that first.
That’s a pretty good record.
We’re a respected participant in international affairs.
A few weeks ago, I returned from meeting leaders of the European Union, Germany and the UK.
I wanted to lock in agreement with the EU to proceed with a free trade agreement and get a commitment from the UK to negotiate an FTA when the time is appropriate.
I’m pleased to say we received a positive hearing on both of those issues.
But these talks look pretty straightforward compared to the complexities and tensions building up in world politics – a newly assertive Russia and China, the ongoing refugee pressures around the Mediterranean, Brexit, a new US President and rising nationalism.
All the political leaders I met were focused on these developments, because their long-held assumptions about how the world works are being tested.
Some people believe New Zealand’s location protects us from the most immediate pressures.
But in time, the effects of decisions made in Washington, Berlin, Moscow and London will wash up on our shores.
When our values and direction are tested, we should remember that history shows we’ve developed a successful recipe for New Zealand over many years, and we can hold true to our values.
That allows us to face international challenges with confidence. Confidence in our resilience, confidence in our ability to adapt and confidence in our place in the world.
We have forged a distinctive place in the global community as a fair minded people with a successful economy open to trade, investment and migration.
That economic success has been hard won by New Zealanders.
It should not be taken for granted.
As some of you know, I was brought up in Southland, a place where hard work and farm skills were respected more than profit, and where no one could do it all on their own.
I got my politics around our large dining table growing up, and from my mother who ran a farm, raised 12 children and was a serial community activist.
By the early 1980s, I was a new, keen and highly indebted young farmer. Interest rates were around 17 per cent, but farm costs were held down by wage and price freezes.
That wasn’t sustainable and just papered over the economic problems that had built up over a number of years.
The economy had to be restructured. My community was hit hard as farm subsidies were wiped.
I made lots of financial and farm management mistakes. But with the help of family and a lot of hard work, we stayed on our feet.
Many New Zealand families had similar experiences in other industries, as jobs were lost and they struggled to rethink where they fitted in a country that had suddenly changed.
We thought the world owed us a living. It didn’t.
I learned then that business and families in a small trading country like ours needs to continuously adapt in small steps – and that government should back Kiwis to do just that, focusing on resilience and aspiration rather than fear and isolation.
Hiding from economic reality eventually requires drastic and damaging change.
This has been the guiding philosophy behind the National-led Government’s approach over the past eight years. And it has delivered the strong economy we have now.
As a new MP in 1990, I saw the deep-seated resilience of our rural families and communities as they rebuilt their skills and their confidence.
I saw the same qualities in the big city when I married into a Samoan Italian family.
I must admit the scruffy unemployed farm worker who turned up on the arm of their eldest daughter wasn’t quite what Mary’s parents had in mind as a son-in-law – busy as they were with several jobs and raising a large family.
From them I saw the grit and determination it takes to feed and educate a large family, own a home and win respect when starting afresh in a new country.
Mary and I have raised six children of our own.
Along with the hundreds of families we’ve met through school, church, relatives and dozens of sports teams, we’ve shared the experience of working multiple jobs, getting everyone everywhere on time, finding time to spend with the children and each other – and for enough sleep – as well as answering the hardest question of all every day: what’s for dinner and who is cooking it?
The people who shaped my life are resilient and capable.
I’m proud that on the other side of the globe from the European capitals I visited a few weeks ago, New Zealanders have built a cohesive and globally competitive country that can provide valuable lessons to the rest of the world.
In recent years, New Zealand has dealt with the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, we’ve dealt with devastating earthquakes and we’ve made significant progress on deep-seated social and Treaty issues.
We now have a dynamic and diversified export sector, sound government finances, low unemployment and thousands of new jobs.
People are voting with their feet. New Zealanders are staying home, more tourists want to visit us, and more people want to live here.
The outlook remains positive and the economy continues to grow with over 130,000 jobs created in the last year. Average wages are expected to keep rising and reach $66,000 a year by 2021.
That means more opportunities for our kids to get jobs and more money in people’s pockets.
The global economy is looking a bit better than last year, with improving prospects in Europe and the US. However, the political instability I mentioned earlier means there is no room for complacency.
In this environment, I believe the biggest threat to New Zealand is disruption of the international system of open trade.
Under my leadership, New Zealand will continue to advocate for free trade and aim to execute high quality trade agreements.
When we open doors for our exporters, they walk through and create opportunities and jobs for New Zealanders.
Our immediate challenges at home are what I call the positive challenges of growth.
The Government is building the roads, schools and houses needed to support our growing communities.
We’re providing the public services and infrastructure needed by a successful, growing and modern economy – and there’s much more to do.
The whole point of building a strong economy is to improve the lives of all New Zealanders.
If we can stay on course and build on the progress we’ve already made, we have the best opportunity in decades to make positive sustainable choices for our country - choices that deliver better incomes for our families, safer communities, and provide better government services for everyone.
As Prime Minister, I want people to be rewarded for their hard work and enterprise.
Businesses, farms and entrepreneurs across New Zealand are the engines of growth in our country – as are the people who work hard every day in those enterprises.
So we’ll continue to back people who take risks to create new jobs and new businesses.
We’ll back hard-working people who get up early in the morning to milk the cows or to catch the bus to work, so they can raise their families.
And we’ll back people who bravely leave behind welfare dependency to move into work or who work hard to manage their health issues or disability so they can live independently.
I believe in the capacity of all New Zealanders to improve their lives in some way, large or small. And I believe in the generosity of this country to help them do it.
Here’s what I mean.
Last year, I visited Kaiti School in Gisborne, where many of the children come from low-income families.
I saw inspired teachers sign up parents, mostly young mums, to the local iwi savings scheme.
I met a five year-old who presented me with a business plan for selling toffee apples at the school fair. He told me about his products, his customers and his marketing.
If we accept the normal assumptions, then that young Māori boy hasn’t got much chance. But what I saw in his eyes, and in the teachers supporting him, will change his life.
Through my extensive family and many years as a local MP, I have seen hundreds of examples of suffering and loss of hope turned around by quiet heroism in our communities, families, schools and public services.
It never happens without the hope of one person for another.
I’ve also seen lives blighted by poor public services, bad decisions, neglect and bureaucratic inertia.
A well-intentioned public service on its own is no guarantee of success – we have to help people to fan the small flames of hope.
This Government is committed to doing that.
We’ve developed a better understanding of the needs of people who rely on us most.
Public servants can now see the lifelong benefits of intervening early to help those in need, and the lifelong costs when that doesn’t happen.
We know, for example, that a teen parent on welfare will spend an average of 17 years on a benefit, at a cost of just under $300,000.
There is a group of around 1000 five year-olds each year who, in later life, are far more likely to commit crime, be on a benefit or go to jail, and they’re far less likely to succeed at school.
Left alone, each of these children will cost taxpayers on average around $270,000 over the next 30 years, with some costing over $1 million.
We will spend time and money now to change the course of their lives.
For too long, governments have serviced misery, rather than investing upfront to help people change their lives for the better.
Some New Zealanders need ongoing support to help them lead a decent life – and they should have as much choice as possible in how that happens.
But there are many more who will benefit from smart, lighter-handed assistance and will then move on.
It seems pretty basic to me that if you are spending billions of dollars on social programmes like health, education, welfare, housing and law and order then it should work.
You should actually be achieving something, otherwise you’re wasting taxpayers’ money and messing with people’s lives.
So we now publish results every six months showing what has been accomplished.
Spending more public money is not, in itself, an achievement.
Real achievement is reducing welfare dependency.
Real achievement is getting better results for our kids at school.
And real achievement is preventing rheumatic fever, and reducing emergency department waiting times.
Real achievement is changing lives.
This approach, which we call Social Investment, is showing promising results.
There are now over 50,000 fewer children living in benefit-dependent households than there were in 2011.
And the number of sole parents on a benefit is the lowest since 1988.
My Government is willing to take the risk of trying new ways to help those most in need.
Some new services might not work. Others might be opposed by existing providers.
In election year, some will say the answer is always more money. If that were true, we would have no social problems, as we’ve been increasing funding for decades.
The recent rise in the prison population confirms we need to do better.
We’ve made some progress in breaking the cycle of welfare dependency, child abuse, low education levels and escalating criminal offending, a cycle that is often inter-generational. It is a long job.
But there remains a small number of people who have a disproportionate impact on the safety of our communities.
Too many people in prison and on community sentences are regulars in the government system.
So today I want to address that issue.
This Government’s Policing Excellence and Prevention First programmes have focused on reducing crime and preventing reoffending.
These programmes contributed to a 20 per cent reduction in crime between 2009 and 2014. They improved public confidence in Police, and they drove productivity gains that freed up the equivalent of more than 350 extra frontline officers.
More recently, we’ve set challenging targets to reduce violent crime, youth crime and reoffending.
We’ve made it harder for violent offenders to get bail and we’ve sharpened our focus on preventing family violence.
And we’re using Social Investment to better understand the people who most need our intervention and identify what really helps them to lead better lives.
We have driven government agencies to address the drivers of dysfunction, rather than just responding to the symptoms.
Because preventing crime often requires intervention from education or housing agencies rather than just the Police, for example.
Here is a surprising fact: The most common age of an apprehended burglar last year was 16. That’s right - just 16-years-old.
We need to push harder to keep every young person on a track that avoids first offending and prevents them moving on to even more serious crime.
But the Police frontline need more time to dedicate additional resources to crime prevention and working with other agencies, while also meeting higher demand for dealing with serious crime now.
Although recorded crime has fallen since 2009, overall demand for Police services has recently increased.
That’s down to the complexity and time-consuming nature of cases such as family violence, child abuse and sexual assault, as reporting of these crimes increases.
In addition, recorded crime has begun to rise again over the last two years - particularly burglaries, robberies and assaults.
As I’ve said, this Government is prepared to invest up front in programmes that will tackle these complex issues and make a positive difference to communities.
We are committed to delivering better public services for a growing country.
So today I’m announcing a $503 million investment in Police and the wider justice sector to reduce crime and keep our communities safe.
This Safer Communities package has three parts:
First, targeting and catching offenders.
Second, preventing crime and reducing victimisation.
And third, delivering a more responsive Police service.
This significant taxpayer investment comes with a range of challenging performance targets for Police.
They include higher attendance at home burglaries, seizing more assets from organised crime, reducing deaths from family violence and reducing reoffending by Māori.
Meeting these targets won’t be easy. But we’re not here to shy away from the hard issues.
Safer Communities provides funding for over 1100 additional Police staff, of whom 880 will be sworn officers. This will increase the number of sworn officers to nearly 9800 by June 2021, and the number of non-sworn staff to over 3200.
That’s a 10 per cent increase in the size of the police force over the next four years.
The package includes:
· A new national 24/7 phone number for non-emergencies.
· More staff for up to 20 rural and regional police stations so that 95 per cent of the population lives within 25 kilometres of a 24/7 police presence.
· More specialist investigators for child protection, sexual assault, family violence and other serious crime.
· Additional resources to deal with burglaries, youth offending and other community crimes.
· More officers to target organised crime.
· And around-the-clock capability for the Police Eagle helicopter.
All police districts will receive extra officers, with Police deciding how many will go where, based on need.
We are unashamedly targeting offenders to ensure they are off our streets - by providing additional resources for Police to resolve more crime, and target criminal gangs and organised crime.
We’re also providing additional resources to address the underlying drivers of crime – through preventative work by the Police and greater investment in rehabilitation for prisoners.
This large investment is possible only because of New Zealanders’ hard work to build a strong economy, backed by the Government’s plan to create economic opportunities and get our books back in order.
While the increase in police numbers is important, what really matters is ensuring it delivers better results for the community.
It’s about doing things smarter.
Here’s what I mean. Last year I visited Palmerston North and was told about a family that Police had visited 87 times for family violence callouts in the previous year.
So rather than continue to visit the house every couple of days, social service agencies, working with Police, got together and identified one aunty the father would listen to. They worked with her to support the family.
The following year those 87 callouts dropped to only one.
That’s what I mean about doing things smarter.
Delivering better public services for a growing country is all about investing where it’s needed, while working smarter and being more accountable for results.
In weighing up promises by political parties this year, I challenge you to look beyond the dollar-figure soundbites.
I want you to ask whether the policy sets out exactly how it will improve people’s lives – or whether it is just taking the easy option of throwing money at a problem.
The Government has been working on this Safer Communities package for several months now. I want to acknowledge the work and strong advocacy of former Police Minister Judith Collins, as well as that of the new Minister Paula Bennett.
Ladies and gentlemen.
On September 23, I will ask New Zealanders for the privilege of leading our country for the next three years. I’m excited by that prospect.
National will go into the election with a positive and ambitious programme that will back New Zealanders to succeed.
Over the coming months, I look forward to setting out the next steps in that plan.