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New Zealand the Way it Could Be

New Zealand the Way it Could Be

Monday 15 Oct 2001 Dr Muriel Newman Speeches -- Governance & Constitution

Speech to Otaki ACT AGM 7pm Monday, 15 October 2001, Raumati

During the weekend my 80 year old mother was asking me why the country had changed so much since we emigrated here in the fifties. She didn't mean the environment - New Zealand is still, in our minds, the most beautiful country in the world - she was talking about matters that affect each and every one of us in our daily lives.

She reminded me that although we had been a poor family in those days, we got by. There was full employment and little crime. As kids, we got a good education and healthcare when we needed it. New Zealand was a prosperous country by world standards - a great place to earn a living and raise a family.

If we stop and take an honest look at ourselves today, we have to admit that sadly, things have changed. We are no longer that safe and carefree country where people worked hard and did well. From having a standard of living on par with Ireland, Singapore, and Australia in 1990, we have been well eclipsed, with Australia now 40 percent ahead. For many families, life is a daily struggle to keep their heads above water. Schools are fighting a losing battle to maintain educational standards, and the health system is unable to cope with demand.

Intergenerational welfare has become an entrenched problem and the cost to the country in terms of damaged children, violence, crime and lost potential, is enormous. Our individual rights and freedoms have already been eroded by government creep, but the situation is going to get worse as this government's agenda impacts on us all.

The government has signalled it wants to raise taxes further, including taxing charities. It has created a union-dominated and inflexible workplace, to the point where many people are afraid to employ a worker. It has re-nationalised accident compensation, airlines and trains, and is busy regulating teachers, social workers, pilots, restaurants and bars, the gaming industry and telecommunications, to name but a few.

As a nation that depends on global trade, we need to be vigilant against the onslaught of such regulation. It's competition, choice and the free market that drive innovation, quality and service to consumers, not regulation. In fact, it has been said that regulation is for today's socialists what public ownership of the means of production and central planning were for the communists half a century ago.

Sadly, while this government listens carefully to its core voting groups and does what union and beneficiary advocacy groups want, it cares little about business. In fact, it has no compunction about breaking promises to business. The imminent regulation of mobile services designed to give Maori interests free use of the multi-million dollar networks established by competitors, in spite of recent assurances that there would be no mobile regulation, is an absolute disgrace. The effect will be to constrain investment in telecommunications, with the losers, in the end being consumers.

The government's tertiary funding moratorium on new courses being run by private training providers, broke assurances to them. The moratorium was against advice from Treasury, and is responsible not only for driving out investment in education, but also for preventing innovation and progress.

The Government's expected opposition to the recommendations of the $6 million Royal Commission on Genetic Modification in order to appease the Greens so Labour can stay in power will seriously undermine confidence in the agricultural sector. It will drive research and development offshore and will hamper the sector's ability to innovate and remain competitive.

The Government's commitment to being one of the first to sign the Kyoto Protocol could not only push manufacturers off shore and signal the end of processing at the Marsden Point oil refinery, but also significantly undermine the viability of the forestry industry.

Although it can be difficult to see a positive way forward, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Transforming New Zealand into a free and prosperous country, restoring our position as a world leader, is within our grasp.

I believe that the events of September 11th will be seen as a catalyst for generating within New Zealanders both the desire and the commitment we need to make those changes.

The September 11th attacks were an attack on freedom, on democracy, on the rule of law and on free enterprise. They have affected us all. Kiwis around the world, worried about the on-going threats of terrorism, will be re-examining their future plans. Some will look to come home. That creates an urgent incentive for the next government to turn around our falling fortunes and get this country back on the path to prosperity and freedom.

To go forward, to take the country to where it should be, we need to look at international best practice and remind ourselves that we are a country that built a world-wide reputation for punching beyond our weight, on the pioneering strength of our forefathers, and our number-eight-wire Kiwi ingenuity. But we need to get the basics right.

Ireland got itself back on track by reducing taxes to create jobs and growth. Low taxes drove the strategy used by the Governor of Ontario, Canada, Mike Harris, as he sought to raise living standards in his state. His programme of lowering taxes and slashing regulation created incentives for investment and growth. His welfare reform programme helped thousands of beneficiaries to break out of the dependency trap and get a better life.

The Governor of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson, who is now in charge of social services in President Bush's Cabinet, used the same formula: tax cuts, the reduction of business compliance costs and regulation, as well as welfare reform - to transform a state overburdened with a dependency culture to one that is so vibrant and successful that it is attracting back home those who had left.

Welfare reform has to be a key focus for New Zealand as well. With 400,000 adults dependent on welfare, and one in three children living in benefit led families, we need to do better. A parliamentary question I received the other day showed that taxpayers have spent well over $350 million on 844 women who have chosen to remain on the DPB for over 20 years.

We urgently need to bring in time-limits on welfare and require all beneficiaries who can work to engage in a full time programme of activity that will lead them to a job. Let's support them with child care if they need it, but let's break that cycle of dependency and get the country working.

We need to fix the education system as well. It is simply not good enough that children can leave school after twelve years of state education unable to read, write and do simple arithmetic. Funding students and giving parents choice over where they send their children to learn will break the state's monopoly in education, driving up standards and excellence.

Let's benchmark all educational institutions and measure both student and teacher performance, rewarding teachers who do well.

Let's cement in stone a national commitment to private property rights and to the sanctity of contract, by replacing legislation like the Resource Management Act and the Employment Relations Act which don't enshrine these principles.

We need a government that we can trust to protect us. At the last election, 92 per cent of New Zealanders sent the government that message loud and clear, that they wanted a tougher approach to law and order with the priority for criminal justice being in the interest of law-abiding citizens. We want our government to uphold the rule of law, to protect us in our homes and on the streets with focussed policing, a tougher sentencing regime, prisons that are disciplined and totally drug and alcohol free, and a system that supervises released prisoners, to make sure they get a job and stay out of trouble. And, we need a government committed to national defence - a balanced defence force with army, navy and airforce, complete with air combat wing, that works closely with our western allies and rejoins ANZUS.

If New Zealand is to become the country it could be, we need a government pledged to that five step plan. But we need one other thing as well. We need that government to be colour-blind, and unlike the Labour-Alliance-Green government, one that treats us equally under the law. That means closing the growing racial divide through the full, fair and final settlement of legitimate Treaty Claims, as well as the repeal of all legislation based on race.

Doing those things would launch New Zealand on the path to freedom and prosperity. We could all confidently and proudly look forward to knowing that New Zealand would once again become a world beater - a great place to live, to work and to bring up a family. It's all within our reach - we have the vision and we have the plan; all we need is a change of government at the next election!


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