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Speech: Key - Securing a Brighter Future

Hon John Key
Prime Minister

19 November 2009

Securing a Brighter Future:
One Year In
The Chateau on the Park, Christchurch

On this day exactly a year ago, the 19th of November 2008, the new National-led Government was sworn into office.

I remember the awesome feeling of responsibility as I took my oath that day.

The sense of the huge challenges before us, the sense of opportunity and possibility, and the energising mood created by the hope and expectation New Zealanders had for their new Government.

The National Party had won the most votes in the election. That was our first victory.

You, the Party members, helped make that victory possible, and I am so grateful for your efforts.

We had asked voters for their trust and in the hundreds of thousands they had voted for the brighter future we campaigned on.

Kiwis said good-bye to a distracted, bossy Labour Government, beset by cynicism and political sideshows.

They welcomed in a fresh team, ready to strengthen our economy, raise education standards, improve safety in our communities and get more out of our health system.

And for the past 52 weeks that is what we have worked every day to achieve.

National’s second victory was to put together a MMP-style Government that took in the support of three Confidence and Supply partners.

We laid the ground for constructive working relationships with the Act Party, the Maori Party and the United Future Party.

Those relationships have gone from strength to strength and they have allowed us to lead an inclusive, stable Government.

Twelve months on from these victories, we can look back on a year of change, a year of promises delivered and of challenges met.

The mood of the country is very different today than it was in November 2008.

Remember how dark the global picture was? Banks were being bailed out, sharemarkets were diving, firms were collapsing and our trading partners were haemorrhaging.

New Zealand was looking down the barrel of an exploding debt-track, plummeting growth prospects and soaring unemployment forecasts.

Labour had left us with all sorts of nasty problems to sort out, some we knew about and some that were a surprise to everyone. A gaping hole in the finances of ACC; unfunded commitments in almost every corner of the Budget; and a huge set of fiscal risks and liabilities.

Our Government has squarely confronted these challenges, and as 2009 draws to a close, New Zealand feels like a much more optimistic place.

The unemployment forecasts have come down.

The debt-track has been pegged back.

We have technically exited recession.

And our future growth outlook has picked up.

Many businesses that years ago were looking to retreat and retrench are now seeing new opportunities. New Zealanders have come together, shown their resilience, and soldiered through some very tough times. We’re not over the challenges yet, but a brighter future is looking much closer than it was.

I want to take this opportunity today to look back on the achievements the National-led Government has delivered in our first year in office, and to look ahead to the next steps in our plan.

Economic achievements

Let’s start with the economy.

Accelerating the growth of our economy has been and will continue to be the driving goal of this Government. Because that’s what will provide secure jobs for New Zealanders. That’s what will deliver better living standards. And that’s what will afford us the public services needed to provide strength and security to Kiwi families.

The first year of our economic plan has been about protecting families from the sharpest edges of the recession, supporting jobs and preparing for future growth.

While we have stuck to the core economic objectives we campaigned on, we’ve also taken a range of extra measures in response to the severity of the recession New Zealand has faced.

Let me go over the key achievements:

- We introduced a ReStart package to provide financial support to Kiwi families hit hard by redundancy. That package has delivered some much-needed breathing space to more than 5000 Kiwis and their families.

- We held a Job Summit to generate ideas for keeping Kiwis in work and providing new job opportunities. That summit brought unions, businesses and community groups together and it resulted in dozens of great initiatives. These included the national cycleway and the Government’s Job Support Scheme – the 9-day fortnight – which has built confidence in Kiwi businesses and assisted more than 3500 workers.

- We fast-tracked $500 million of infrastructure spending to boost jobs in the recession. That package has brought forward roading projects like the Kopu Bridge, helped fix or build more than 100 schools, and allowed an urgent revamp of the state housing stock.

- We delivered a $500 million relief package to make life simpler for small businesses. That package has reduced the tax and red-tape burden on SMEs and allowed them to focus their energies on growing their businesses rather than on the taxman’s forms.

- We stopped the ballooning of the bureaucracy by capping the number of government workers in the core bureaucracy. We also conducted a line-by-line review of public spending that resulted in an additional $2 billion being shifted into frontline services.

- We passed a Budget with the biggest health and education votes in New Zealand’s history; a Budget that gave people security during the recession by maintaining benefits and Working for Families payments and a Budget that locked in superannuation payments at a rate based on 66% of the after-tax average wage.

- In that same Budget we took steps to bring Government spending under control and prevent future generations being weighed down by a large debt burden. These steps have benefited New Zealand’s international credit rating and will ensure the Government can continue to finance the services and entitlements Kiwi families rely on.

- We also included in that Budget $7.5 billion worth of infrastructure investment over the next five years, to ensure New Zealanders can look forward to world-class roads and transport networks, an ultra-fast broadband network, 21st century schools and state housing that is fit for purpose.

- We launched “Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart”, a four year campaign to help fund the insulation of 180,000 Kiwi homes. I know many of you in Christchurch have taken that offer up, and as a result you are looking forward to a warmer home, lower electricity bills and better health.

- We delivered $1 billion of tax cuts to 1.5 million taxpayers on 1 April. We also took the difficult but responsible decision to defer future rounds of tax-cuts until the Government books are in a better position.

- We passed much-needed legislation to simplify the Resource Management Act, making it easier for businesses to grow, invest, and create jobs, while protecting our environment.

- We launched major reviews to examine and improve the building blocks of our economy. These included reviews of our health system, electricity system, overseas investment regime and emissions trading scheme, and ongoing examinations of our tax system, productivity policies and building regulations.

- We created up to 16,900 extra work, education and training opportunities for young people who may otherwise have found themselves hit hard by a growing unemployment rate. We launched that package here in Christchurch three months ago. Since then more than 2700 young people have been given opportunities through the Job Ops and Community Max schemes while thousands more will benefit from new work, training and education opportunities over the next year and a half.

- We opened up New Zealand exporters’ access to world-markets by signing Free Trade Agreements with Malaysia and the 10 countries of the ASEAN block; we’ve concluded free trade negotiations with Hong Kong and the economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council; while progressing negotiations with other countries throughout the world, including the United States.

- We helped strengthen the agricultural backbone of this country by investing $190 million in the Primary Growth Partnership to boost research and innovation in agriculture, seafood, forestry and food, as well as launching and gathering international support for a Global Alliance to conduct research into ways of reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Ladies and Gentlemen, those are some of the highlights of National’s economic achievements in our first year in office.

There is plenty more work to be done and I will discuss our next steps in the latter part of my speech.

Health achievements

But let me first turn to some of the Government’s achievements in other areas, beginning with health.

National campaigned on getting more out of New Zealand’s healthcare system. Because while Labour had put more money in year after year, they failed to deliver the results taxpayers expected in return.

Our goals for the health system are to deliver better, sooner, more convenient patient care; to boost and support our doctors and nurses; to cap the bureaucracy and to focus funding on frontline services.

In our first twelve months we’ve delivered across all these fronts. Let me highlight some of the key achievements:

- We delivered a record increase in the number of elective surgery operations performed in our hospitals. In the year to June, we’ve seen to it that an additional 11,805 elective operations were performed, as compared to the year before. That number represents reduced waiting times for thousands of Kiwis who needed operations like hip and knee replacements, cataract removal and ear surgery.

- We made the compassionate and sensible decision to fully-fund a 12-month course of Herceptin for women with Her-2 positive breast cancer. That decision has made Herceptin available to 191 women who may otherwise have missed out.

- We saved Plunketline, by securing funding for their 24 hour phone service, meaning mums-to-be and new mothers can get the advice they need seven days a week.

- We introduced 960 places in our new Voluntary Bonding Scheme for graduate doctors, nurses and midwives working in hard-to-staff areas or specialities. That scheme will encourage more of our best and brightest to stay in New Zealand, while helping them pay off their student loans.

- We boosted the number of doctors being trained in our medical schools by sixty extra places, putting us on track to reach our target of an additional 200 places in the next few years. We also boosted by fifty the number of GPs that can be trained each year, towards our target of 154 places.

- We capped the numbers in the health bureaucracy, and in line with our focus on frontline services moved $20 million in resulting savings into frontline care. We signed-off future plans to remove 500 more back-office jobs with up to $700 million in resulting savings to be moved into frontline care over the next five years.

- We’ve started the hard-work needed to rescue ACC from financial disaster, and to ensure our 24-7, universal, no-fault accident insurance scheme will endure.

- We invested an additional $750 million in frontline healthcare services. This meant that even during the worst global recession since the Great Depression we were able to boost funding for subsidised medicines by $180 million, to boost funding for hospices and palliative care by $15 million; and to increase funding for maternity care by $104 million.

Ladies and Gentlemen, National has taken these steps to improve the performance of our public healthcare service. We promised we would take these steps and we have delivered.

Education achievements

We’ve also delivered in education.

Education is an area that is particularly close to my heart. Because education is a liberator. It is the key to unlocking the potential of young New Zealanders from all walks of life.

So this Government is determined to do better for the one-in-five young people who currently leave the New Zealand school system without the skills or qualifications they need to succeed in a modern economy.
In our first 52 weeks in office we’ve already marked plenty of progress towards that goal:

- We’ve legislated for and published ground-breaking National Standards in literacy and numeracy for New Zealand’s 2000 or so primary and intermediate schools. The standards mean that from next year, every child in year 1-8 will have their progress in reading, writing and maths regularly assessed against national benchmarks. The standards will allow every teacher in every school to clearly identify children who are slipping behind or having problems.

- We’ve also introduced mandatory plain English reporting of National Standards. This means that the teachers’ assessment of children’s progress will be reported to parents in Plunket-style report cards, so that mums and dads have a clear idea of how their children are doing, whether they’re learning at the level they should be, and what their parents can do to help.

- We’ve backed the National Standards policy up with an additional $36 million over four years to help schools boost help for the children who aren’t reaching the benchmarks.

- We’ve invested $523 million in a 21st Century Building Plan to build new schools, improve existing schools and future-proof tomorrow’s classrooms. We’ve started work on three new schools already, and ticked off improvements to another 112.

- We’ve created 1800 opportunities for graduate teachers in our new Voluntary Bonding Scheme. This will encourage graduates to work in hard-to-staff areas and subjects by helping them pay off their student loans. We’ve also introduced a 10% voluntary repayment bonus on student loans to help graduates from all disciplines to pay their loans off faster.

- We’ve provided a new vocational education option for 16 and 17 year olds, by creating 2000 Youth Guarantee places in our polytechs and private training establishments. This will allow hundreds of teenagers who might otherwise be left behind by our school system to take part in a fees-free course that fires up their imagination, whether it’s a course in agriculture, tourism or plumbing.

- We’ve announced six new Trades Academies to be developed in New Zealand’s secondary schools. These will provide trade-training opportunities to teenagers while they’re still at school.

- We’ve provided an $82 million boost for school sport, with our Kiwisport programme to boost direct funding for schools and sports clubs. This will allow hundreds of young Kiwis to get increased opportunities to kick around a ball, throw a discus or join a cricket team.

- We’ve changed the rules and provided additional funding so that from next year parents can take up 20 Hours Early Childhood Education in kohanga reo and playcentres as well as in kindergartens and private childcare centres.

- We’ve also offered boosted opportunities for young people from our less wealthy communities, with funding secured for 30,000 extra places in holiday activity programmes from 2011. And we’ve created 100 special places in a Prime Minister’s Programme for teenagers who’ve made a concerted effort to turn their lives around.

Ladies and gentlemen, this Government is delivering in education and it’s delivering for the next generation.

Law and order achievements

Finally today, I want to point to the achievements we’ve made in the law and order area. I know that one of the key reasons Kiwis elected National is because they trusted us to take the tough steps needed to tackle violent crime and make families safer in their homes and communities.

We have taken a multi-pronged approach to addressing New Zealand’s crime problems, by coming down harder on offenders, boosting the tools for catching criminals, and preventing crime from happening in future by tackling youth offending, gangs and the drivers of crime.

Let me go over some of what’s been achieved:

- We’ve passed new laws to toughen sentences and restrict bail for violent offenders; improve police powers, crack down on gangs and support crime victims. These laws includes tougher penalties for belonging to a criminal organisation, tougher sentences for crimes against children, new powers for police to intercept gang communications, dismantle gang fortifications and seize property from criminals, as well as allowing police to issue on-the-spot protection orders for victims of domestic violence. We’ve also introduced legislation to remove parole for the worst repeat violent offenders.

- We’ve budgeted $200 million for an additional 600 frontline police, with 135 officers already deployed to the streets of South Auckland.

- We’ve also boosted the police with new tools to go after criminals, including 720 new tasers and a new power to DNA-test offenders arrested for imprisonable offences.

- We’ve passed a law that will allow police to crush the cars of repeat street-racing offenders under anti-boy-racing laws. I know that’s a policy that the people of Christchurch will welcome with open arms.

- We’ve improved services for victims of crime with a new Victims Fund, established with a $50 levy on criminals. This will provide new assistance to victims in the form of funeral grants, court attendance grants and other services.

- We’ve invested $72.4 million in our Fresh Start programme to turn young offenders away from crime. This will provide the Youth Court with new powers to place young offenders in 3000 new programme places, including new military-style activity camps, mentoring courses, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and outdoor activities.

- We’ve launched a full-scale attack on P. Our plan includes restricting access to the precursor chemicals gangs use to make P; new dedicated anti-drug Customs taskforces; a new police strategy to go after gangs and dealers; the formation of a new Police Assets Recovery Unit which consists of 22 hardened investigators whose sole mission is to track down and seize the assets of organised crime; and a funding boost of $22 million to provide more places in drug and alcohol rehab. The new strategy is already having considerable success with police and customs working together to make massive seizures of P, including 6kgs of the drug intercepted at Auckland Airport just last week.

My fellow National Party members, as in the economy, health and education, this Government has made considerable progress in law and order in our first year in office.

Taken together, it’s been a super-busy twelve months for the Government. Knocking off these achievements has relied on the efforts of a stellar-team of hard-working Ministers. I want to acknowledge that team today and assure you that I expect our team to redouble their efforts in 2010.

Our ministerial team is supported by the best caucus in the country. I also want to thank them today. National’s MPs do a great job of listening to their constituents, keeping our Government in touch with the concerns of the people who put us in power, and doing the hard yards in Parliament’s Select Committees and House debates. They too will have to redouble their efforts next year.

Because there is so much more that needs to be done to secure the brighter future this country deserves.

As we look ahead to 2010, the Government will remain focused on addressing the concerns and hopes of everyday New Zealanders.

That means supporting jobs, working to ensure wages keep up with cost of living, improving living standards, continuing to strengthen our health and education systems, supporting families and addressing some of New Zealand’s toughest social problems, including the underlying drivers of crime.

Doing those things will require work across a range of fronts. You will see the Government delivering on more of our manifesto promises, and responding to new pressures. You will see us getting stuck into longer-term work programmes like Whanau Ora and improving the performance of New Zealand’s public services. And you’ll see us building on the work that’s already been done to improve frontline services, tackle gangs and violent crime and improve the opportunities available to our most vulnerable citizens.

Amongst all of this, our most crucial task will be developing the policies needed to kick start New Zealand’s growth engine. Because over the next few years a faster growing economy will mean better jobs and better living standards, and in time it will allow the Government to pay down our debt and fund the improved services Kiwi families expect.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am hugely optimistic about New Zealand’s prospects as we exit the recession. We have so much going for us. We are one of the best food-producing nations in the world; we’re blessed with beautiful scenery that tourists love to visit; we’re located in this century’s economic powerhouse region - Asia - and we are home to some of the smartest, hardest-working and most creative people in the world.

The Government’s mission is to unlock this potential.

I want to see our farmers and exporters producing more and fetching better prices for their goods overseas.

I want to see our tourism industry growing, and attracting bigger-spending tourists all year round.

I want to see more of our smart Kiwi entrepreneurs selling their goods and ideas to the world so they can expand their businesses and provide new and better paying jobs to New Zealanders.

I want to see more of our talented young people realising their potential in New Zealand rather than abroad.

So as we look to the future I’ve tasked my Government ministers with working on the key drivers needed to realise these ambitions. They are about:

1. Ensuring our tax system encourages people to work hard, save and invest in productive Kiwi businesses.

2. Focusing the Government’s considerable share of economic activity on better, smarter frontline services, rather than waste and backroom bureaucracy.

3. Providing all New Zealanders with the education and skills they need to perform productive well-paid jobs.

4. Building the transport, broadband, and other infrastructure networks that people and businesses need to get their jobs done as efficiently as possible.

5. Removing the red tape and cumbersome regulation that can prevent businesses from expanding, taking on new workers and making the most of new ideas.

6. Supporting Kiwi firms to grow and develop new ideas by connecting them with our smartest researchers and scientists, and helping them reach more global consumers by signing free trade agreements with our trading partners.

That constitutes a huge programme of work, over a wide range of areas.

As a Government, it is a matter of rolling our sleeves up, focusing on the issues that matter and, in some cases, making some difficult decisions.

By creating the right conditions, we can give people the confidence to work hard, invest in a business, and take up new opportunities.

New Zealanders certainly want to do that.

And we were elected to represent them.

They are the people we swore an oath to serve. And they are the people this Government works for every day.

Together we can realise the brighter future this country deserves. Thank you.


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