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Selling A Vision for New Zealand

Selling A Vision for New Zealand

Wednesday 28 Nov 2001 Dr Muriel Newman Speeches -- Social Welfare

Wednesday, 28 November 2001

Thank you for inviting me to address you today. Before becoming involved in politics, I spent 9 years working with Michael Hill Jeweller, as his Assistant General Manager for New Zealand. In that arm of retail, the product we sold was jewellery. But we weren't really selling a product; we were selling the benefit ...the symbol of love and affection, the fashion statement, the beautiful accessory, the lasting heirloom.

Politics is different. Our product is ideas. What we are selling is a vision for New Zealand - a taste of what we can aspire to as a nation. And the whole political debate revolves around that battle of ideas ... on the left is socialism and collectivism, and on the right is freedom and liberty.

I have to admit that although I now have the privilege and honour of being a Member of Parliament, I didn't grow up in a political family. My family were working class through and through. We didn't read philosophy or discuss politics, but we did understand the importance of working hard to get ahead.

Between them, Mum and Dad had four jobs. As a teenager, I recall helping them in the evenings, so they didn't have to work too late. But we believed that hard work was the pathway for our family to move out of poverty. And we were grateful for a benign government that enabled us to help ourselves, to raise ourselves effectively into the middle classes, and into a position where we were able to achieve our dreams and our goals.

Mum & Dad are in their eighties now. Next year, Dad at 89 will be pounding the streets delivering pamphlets for ACT, and Mum will be doing volunteer work in the office. Like me they have come to realise that a party that offers freedom and liberty releases people from the shackles of poverty. It enables them to better themselves, and to pursue prosperity. It also has led them to reject the false promises of the left with its offer of collectivism and privilege.

For privilege in particular, captures and holds people, preventing them from reaching out and moving up. Deborah Coddington in a recent speech on Liberal Feminism expressed it this way:

"Those who seek favours or special treatment from the state become owned by the state. They are not free"

How can the family who live in a state house and pay $50 income related rent - while a similar family lives next door, but because the state is not their landlord pay they $150 - how can that $50 family ever be free? Will they ever want to leave their $50 house to pay $150? No, even though it may mean having a better school for their children.. Will they want to get a job and see their rent rise to $60, $70, $80 or more? Probably not. Will they want to buy their own home and take on a mortgage that's more than $50 a week? Almost certainly not.

Income related rents will almost certainly trap that family in a time warp of so-called privilege that ultimately will lead to poorer outcomes for them, including probably poverty in old age. On the other hand, if the state helped them to help themselves by working hard, saving for a deposit and maybe buying their own home and paying off their mortgage, then one day they would have a sizable asset to act as a hedge against the misfortunes of life.

Columnist Chris Trotter recently asked the question "How can a starving man be free?" It is an interesting question, because the approach of the right is to offer him food, shelter, a job, but to expect him to help himself.

That is a very different response from that of the present Labour Alliance government.

This government would say, for example, that he is starving because he is a poor artist. Its not fair that artists are struggling and starving. As a result, being a benevolent government, we will now give all struggling artists the dole so although they may continue to struggle because the market does not value the work they produce at least they will not starve.

If the starving man Chris Trotter speaks of, accepts their helping hand, he is trapped. Why would he reject the steady $154.56 a week, when his alternative is to struggle to better himself?

So, he continues to produce art that nobody wants, taking his $154.56 per week, and he remains in a time warp of dependency - just enough money to put bread on the table, but not enough to get ahead. But although he's not starving, he's not out their looking for a better job that will provide him with opportunity, success and prosperity as well as enabling him to work on his art as a hobby.

Artists are the government's target for the dependency trap. Within ten days of the new dole for artists scheme being launched, 197 people had signed up.

There are already 5000 people on the dole who state that "artist" is their first employment choice. They will almost certainly sign up to the new scheme so that they will not be required to take on any other job. 5000 would-be artists already cost $40m a year. I predict that there will be a rapid escalation in the number of would-be artists in New Zealand.

So while we can clearly see that a dependency trap is being set for artists, who by the way include those in the field of:

· Performing Arts

· Fine Arts and Crafts

· Literary Arts

· Information Technology

· Design and Graphic Arts

· Curation and Preservation

· Arts administration and Marketing

· Pacific Island Arts

· Nga Toi Maori, we should spare a moment to consider that for three decades we have set a dependency trap on a continuing basis for women and children.

Spurred on by the lobbying of feminists, who wanted to ensure that in the event of family breakdown women with children had financial independence, the Kirk Labour government introduced the Domestic Purposes Benefit. I say that that benefit has done more to destroy the lives and futures of families - women, children and fathers - than any other state intervention.

For the DPB radiates the message that if a relationship isn't working out, don't try to fix it, not even for the sake of the children: No, if its not working, the state will pay the mother to raise her children on her own, just so long as she doesn't work, doesn't marry and doesn't let the father of her children care for them for more than 40% of the time.

As a result New Zealand is now a world leader in family breakdown. We also lead the world in infant mortality, child abuse, teenage pregnancy and youth suicide.

The Right Honourable Sir Michael Hardie Boyes, our former Governor General put it this way: "Fatherless families are more likely to give rise to the risk of being abused, of being emotionally, even physically scarred, of dropping out of school, of becoming pregnant, of living on the streets, of being hooked on alcohol or drugs, of being caught up in gangs, in crime, of being unemployable, of having no ambition, no vision, no hope, at risk of handing down hopelessness to the next generation, at risk of suicide"

If present trends continue, by the year 2010, half of European and three quarters of Mäori infants under 12 months old will live in families where there are no fathers.

Yet as Deborah Coddington said:

"How can a welfare cheque take the place of a father at football on Saturdays; watching his little girl in the nativity play at school break-ups; helping construct trolleys out of pram wheels, huts out of car cases, surprising kids at Christmas with a puppy?"

"Where's the Minister of Social Services at 4 in the morning when the washing machines overflowing from a sink blocked with dirty nappies, the last clean sheets have been vomited all over by a 4 year old, and Mum needs someone to take her in their arms and hold her while she has a good howl?"

And I would ask, additionally:

Where's the Minister of Social services when the father is prowling around his sparse flat, at 4 in the morning, sad-eyed and beaten; denied by the welfare system and the Family Court, his right to be able to be a Dad to his 4 year old, and to sharing the raising of his child with the mother?

The welfare system has incentivised family breakdown and our family law system has ensured that a quarter of all children whose parents separate lose all meaningful contact with their non-custodial parent.

A further 40 % see that parent for only a few hours every month. More children lose a parent through separation or divorce in New Zealand every 3 months than lost a parent through the entire period of the Second World War.

Yet research now clearly shows that families do matter; that two parent committed to their children are better than one, and that children raised on welfare fail to do as well in all areas of life than those raised by parents who work.

So when are we going to change the system, to reduce the damage of welfare and the Family Court?

With this government in power, it doesn't look hopeful on either front. This present government is expanding the welfare system: by making it more freely available and generous, it is harder to get off. As a result, more families will be destroyed and more children will be blighted.

That is why the ACT party intends to focus on welfare as a priority, to reduce dependency and to ensure that welfare families can look forward to a future where they are self sufficient and independent of the state.

And any attempts to reform family law by introducing shared parenting, and opening up the Family Court were rejected out of hand by the government. In spite of widespread public interest and support, the government voted against both of my Private Members Bills - the Shared Parenting Bill and the Open Family Court Bill - denying those New Zealanders who believe in the fundamental importance of change in these areas the right to have a Select Committee of Parliament investigate these matters.

Again, this is an issue that ACT treats very seriously, and family law reform to introduce shared parenting and open up the family court is a high priority for the party.

During the process of those Private Members' debates, I was astonished at the extent of the concern about the state of family law in New Zealand. I quickly realised that the reason I had not appreciated how widespread that concern was, is that the media is effectively gagged from any reporting on these issues. Without reporting by the media, the unaffected public remain blissfully unaware of the extent of the problem.

The reason that the media do not report on family law cases is that they face a criminal conviction if they publish any information that could be claimed to be a breach of the Guardianship Act. As a result, faced with a criminal conviction although tempted to publish, the media will not run the risk of that criminal conviction. The threat of criminal conviction acts as an effective blanket gag on the media.

That is why a new clause in the Electoral Amendment Bill (No 2) in front of parliament right now, that revives an old criminal libel law which was thrown out in 1992, is so disturbing. The new law was introduced by stealth by the Attorney General in cahoots with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister remains the only politician ever to bring a conviction under the old criminal defamation law, which will effectively gag the media in the run up to an election.

It will make it a criminal instead of civil offence to publish anything that could harm the reputation of a political candidate - effectively, judging by the lack of journalistic coverage of the Family Court, preventing free reporting.

The move by the government also flies in the face of recent requests regarding this matter by the United Nations. The UN, in seeking to promote freedom and democracy, has specifically asked member nations to ensure defamation is a civil not a criminal offence.

The new law, which would provide greater protection for politicians than for the public, smacks of elitism, an "us and them" mentality. That it has come from the very top of the government is worrying.

A free press is fundamental to a free and open democracy as the daily news reports on the liberation of Afghanistan remind us. In appreciating the injustice and persecution felt by children and families, who feel disadvantaged by the lack of open scrutiny within the Family Court, I believe the freedom of the press is a right that must be protected at all costs.

The move by the government to gag the press and to fundamentally erode our freedom and democracy is very significant and extremely disturbing.

I'd like to finish by reiterating that collectivism and privilege undermines liberty and freedom. Although the words used by those promoting collectivism and privilege may sound compassionate and caring, we must be cautious because they can be spiked with dependency and limitation.

As I stated at the beginning, politics is the contest of ideas. I would like to leave you with two ideas. The first is from the Russian writer Ilya Ehrenberg, a few years before the Berlin wall went up in 1961- it depicts the struggle for freedom and has been described as a fitting epitaph for communist tyranny: "If the whole world were to be covered with asphalt, one day a crack would appear in that asphalt; and in that crack, grass would grow."

And final word comes from a great and wise politician whose words are as relevant today as they were back when President Abraham Lincoln spoke them:

"You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn,

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift,

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong,

You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer,

You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich,

You cannot build character and courage by taking away men's initiative and independence,

You cannot help man permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves."


For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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