I move, That this House has no confidence in the Helen Clark - led Government because it has failed to make significant improvement in the areas of real importance to New Zealanders, because it lacks ambition, because it is tired and bereft of ideas, because it has lost touch with the people who put it in power, and because under its lead our country has become a story of lost opportunities. About the kindest thing I can say about that Prime Minister’s statement from Helen Clark is that it will be her last one. I am really not sure who looked more bored: the Prime Minister reading it out or her own caucus listening to it. Today the Prime Minister had the opportunity to be bold. She had a chance to be visionary. She had a chance to give a sense of hope and aspiration. And she did none of those things. Instead, she gave us her version of sustainability and recycled a bunch of tired old previously announced policies—some of them going back to 1994; in her own electorate she was talking about them back then. She then reused National’s policies around tax, non-governmental organisations, and—that is right, I say to Mr Maharey—public-private partnerships.
In 9 months’ time, this Labour Government will look like a gramophone—confined to history, a relic left gathering dust at the back of the cupboard—and it will be wondering why the music has stopped. Today I have some answers for the Government members as to why that has happened. They need just to look at the Prime Minister’s speech. What a bunch of vacuous statements from the Prime Minister. It was like she has been a bystander for the last 8 years. She has been running the show, and all she can do is tell us about problems. That is what she knows. There were no solutions; there was just a bunch of committees, and a bunch of things that she could look at. There was not one solution there.
New Zealanders will read that speech tonight and ask: “Is that it?”. There have been 9 years of a Labour Government. Where is the beef? This is what New Zealanders know. After 9 years of a Labour Government they have more debt and more of their friends living in Australia. That is the reality of 9 years of a Labour Government. They are sick and tired of Labour. They are sick of Labour telling them that this is as good as it gets, when patently it is not. If the Government really believes that this is as good as it gets, it should get out of the way sooner as opposed to later, because we can show it what things really look like. New Zealanders are sick of a Government that tells them they should be grateful. [Interruption] Michael Cullen laughs, but he wants them to be grateful for a tax cut that he might deliver them one day. We will get back to that in just a moment.
New Zealanders are sick of a Government that wants to blame everybody else. Nothing is the Government’s problem. Even youth crime, according to Helen Clark, can be traced back to the footsteps of Ruth Richardson. If we wandered out to South Auckland we would see that apparently crime is up because of the alignment of the sun and moon. Astrologists are deciding what is wrong with New Zealand. The sun and moon have decided it! New Zealanders are sick of waiting 9 years for a tax cut, which by my calculations is three times as long as it will take for Shane Jones to launch his leadership bid, and that is coming pretty soon. They are sick of a Government that has no answers, and sick of a Government that has excuses.
When one reads the Prime Minister’s statement, one sees that there is a much bigger problem for the Labour Government. It is as simple as this: the public are no longer listening. They are no longer listening to the rhetoric. They heard Helen Clark back in 2001 when she told them that the Government would get them into the top half of the OECD by 2011. We are further away from that now than we were then. We are going down the OECD, not up. New Zealanders are sick of the Government’s empty promises. Most of all, they are sick of reading about the Government on taxpayer-funded pledge cards. The way the Labour Government will be judged is not by the rhetoric of Helen Clark; she will be judged by her record. Her record speaks volumes about her leadership.
Well, let us look at the record of a Labour Government that Jim Anderton is proud to be part of. Interest rates started at 4.5 percent and now they are at 8.25 percent. Jim should go and tell that to the people of Sydenham and see whether they think that is good economic management.
Let us look at the record of a Government that sits back and has no answer for the widening of a wage gap that now sees New Zealanders able to earn a third more when they go to Australia. Let us look at the record of a Government that had 77,000 long-term departures last year alone—77,000 New Zealanders left, with 800 a week going to Australia. That is the worst brain drain to Australia in 20 years.
When we look at the Government’s health system, we see its complete and utter failure. Government members clapped when Helen Clark started talking about health, but on the front page of the Dominion Post this morning is an article about a man who says that his mother is not a statistic. That is the record of Helen Clark.
People are sick of a society that is less safe. Helen Clark said twice in her speech that crime rates in New Zealand are going down. She should go and tell that to New Zealanders—that crime is down. They are sick of a society and a record where young New Zealanders are failing to learn to read and write at the level we need. They are sick of a society and a record where bumbling Treaty settlements are the order of the day, and, quite frankly, they are sick of a record that shows them that the probability of buying a home is next to nil under this Government.
The bottom line is this, and this is the way New Zealanders are looking at it. They know out there in New Zealand voting land the same thing that we know on this side of the House: if 9 years is not enough, no amount of time will ever be enough to actually make a difference. The Government has had 9 years to make a difference, and the Prime Minister can point out only what she might like to do and what the problems are.
What was interesting in the speech today, I thought, was that the Prime Minister talked about Michael Cullen having some budgeted programme of tax cuts in his Budget. Well, after 9 years of waiting, one tax cut would actually be nice, but we will get a budgeted programme of tax cuts. This is from a Government that has collected just under $44 billion worth of surpluses—$26 billion in the last 3 years. Michael Cullen tells people he cares. He just does not care enough to let them keep their own money. He just does not care enough about whether people can meet their mortgage payments, and in increasing numbers they cannot. He just does not care enough about whether people can pay the rent. He cares, but he does not care enough that they cannot afford to fill up the car with petrol. He cares, but he does not care enough that they cannot make the voluntary payments to schools. He cares, but he does not care enough that they cannot buy a house.
It might have been a little bit more useful if the Prime Minister, rather than telling us that Michael Cullen will have a programme of tax cuts, had explained why, after 9 years, those tax cuts are not here. The Government has had the surpluses, it has had the environment, and it has had the opportunity. It has had all the reasons in the world to cut taxes, and it has not done so. We know why it has not done so. It is because Michael Cullen is, with every fibre in his body, opposed to personal tax cuts. It has nothing to do with the environment and it has nothing to do with the economic opportunities. He does not want them, but last week he wanted us to believe he was having a road to Damascus experience about the benefits of tax cuts. Well, I read the speech, and it was a bit more like a tunnel under Damascus experience, really. [Interruption] I say to Mr Maharey that it was a sort of a gold-plated tunnel under Helen Clark’s electorate as a public-private partnership.
What Dr Cullen told us in that speech was quite interesting. He said we would be driving though the Waterview tunnel by 2015. Have these people heard of the Resource Management Act? I have more chance of being Britney Spears’ therapist in 2015 than of driving through the Waterview tunnel in my car. Members can trust me—there is more chance of that!
Then Dr Cullen went on to his four tests for tax cuts. You see, the four tests for tax cuts are to make the system look like it is principled, but, actually, there is only one test: is it election year and how far behind is Labour in the polls? What Dr Cullen likes to do is get up and lecture us about the impact that tax cuts could have on inflation and interest rates. Well, this is my message for Michael Cullen: spare me the lecture! This is the man who came into office when interest rates were at 4.5 percent, and now they are at 8.25 percent.
I will tell the member what is pathetic. It is those thousands of New Zealanders who cannot meet their mortgage payments and are getting forced out of their houses. Forty percent of them have mortgage stress. We are in touch with those people. We are not out there creating four bogus tests.
Michael Cullen has an interesting position here. In 2005 when we announced a tax cut that would cost $2 billion and would have delivered $45 a week to the average New Zealander, this is what he had to say about it. He said it was unworkable, unfair, and unaffordable. Those were his words—unworkable, unfair, and unaffordable. But the problem is that in 2005 the surplus was $11.5 billion and today it is $6 billion, but he is having a tax cut today, apparently. Inflation was at about the same level back then. The cash surplus in 2005 was $3 billion. The cash surplus today, on predictions, is a deficit of $760 million. You see, Michael Cullen does not have four tests. He is having tax cuts because Helen Clark has told him to do it or she will sack him. That is the bottom line, and he can come up with his four tests all he likes.
The Prime Minister says she cares about housing affordability. I am glad she has woken up to the problem. That is, at least, a starting point. Maybe she has reflected on the fact that in 1991 three-quarters of all New Zealanders could afford to buy a house and had one. Today that figure is 65 percent and going down. Maybe she has reflected on the fact that for the average household with a mortgage today, that mortgage is 50 percent of their after-tax income, and when she went into office the figure was roughly a third. Maybe she has reflected on the fact that New Zealanders like owning their own homes.
The Prime Minister said in her speech that she would tackle the issue of building consents. The only problem is that she created the issue of building consents back in 2004. She says she will go out there and force the councils to have developers who can issue affordable housing. But what about the Resource Management Act? What about land banking? What about the other compliance costs? They do not matter.
The Prime Minister told us that she wants to keep kids at school until they are 18. Well, what is her answer to the fact that 31,000 kids are truant from school every day today, when the leaving age is 16? If they do not stay when the leaving age is 16, they will not stay when it is 18. What the Prime Minister needs is a policy like the one National has—a youth guarantee policy, where for 16 and 17-year-olds there is universal—
She will take it, actually—eventually. That seems to be what she is doing at the moment. Ours is a flexible approach, a modern approach, and an approach that allows young New Zealanders to get in there.
The Prime Minister told us she was concerned about literacy and numeracy levels. Well, she would be concerned about literacy and numeracy levels for Māori New Zealanders, but she could not be bothered to turn up to Waitangi and find out what their concerns were. That is the truth of it.
It is time that Labour admitted the truth. It is out of ideas, it is out of steam, and it is out of puff. New Zealanders should stop looking to Labour; they should look to National, because only one party has bold ideas.
I say to Mr Anderton that these are the things we are going to do. The first thing is that we will lift the wages and conditions of New Zealanders, and we will lower taxes—and we will do it year after year. We will invest in the infrastructure that will allow New Zealand to be productive. We will not take a decade to tackle the issues of Auckland governance. Secondly, we will lift long-term productivity growth and we will stop the decline of New Zealand down the OECD. We will invest in science and research and development at a Government level.
We will trim the compliance costs and red tape. I had to laugh when Labour members clapped after Helen Clark said she would do something about compliance costs. I wish they had shown so much enthusiasm when the Labour Government introduced all the compliance costs over the year.
We will tackle the issues of broadband. We will reform the Resource Management Act. We will undertake quality Government spending, we will stop the waste, and we will get to grips with the core bureaucracy. One message I have for the core bureaucracy is that unlike the Labour Government, we will not see the bureaucracy as an extension of the National Party. We will value its contribution, we will listen to it, and, by the way, when things go wrong we will not blame it every 5 minutes.
We will do something about making our communities safer. We will be out there tackling youth crime with Fresh Start programmes. We will have better bail laws. We will have better allocation of resources. We place a higher priority on drug and alcohol rehabilitation than we do on landscaping our prisons. We will have tough sentences for those who deserve them. We will tidy up our prisons and corrections facilities, and we will not be afraid to use the private sector in the case of Auckland Central Remand Prison.
National will demand a higher performance from core State services. We will look for outcomes, not just for processes. When we look at things like health, we will be flexible in our integrated family health clinics. Our priorities will be doctors and nurses, not bureaucrats. We will split up the bureaucracy.
We will lift the performance in education, because we will tackle those issues. We have a policy of national standards. We have been talking about trade and apprenticeship training in schools for a year or more, not just today. We will be looking at the issues.
Mr Goff has had 8 years. That is the point. He has had 8 years to do something about it, and he has failed.
We will tackle the issue of homeownership. We will reform the Resource Management Act. We will fast track the process of systems. We will lower the cost of bureaucracy. We will build the positive values that New Zealanders want. We will celebrate success, unlike a Labour Government that has forgotten how to do that. We will put the word “winning” back into the New Zealand conversation. We will not be afraid to value entrepreneurialism. We will value freedom and confidence.
Most of all, after 9 years of a National Government we will not get up like the Prime Minister did this afternoon, and say: “These are the problems. I was a bystander who did nothing along the way.” There will be change and improvement, and New Zealanders cannot wait for that time.
There will be some furrowed brows on the dusty roads of countryside New Zealand today. In the cowsheds, the woolsheds, the shearing sheds, and the export works there will be some seriously concerned people, because after 20 minutes they heard what the member who leads the National Party will do but they never heard how he was going to do it.
For example, the member said that in public health he would make his priority doctors and nurses. What about the patients? I thought we ran a health system for the people—not for the professionals, the apparatchiks, and the amateurs, but for the people who pay their taxes.
Did members hear how he would correct the slide of immigration to Australia? No. Did they hear what he said about the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act?
Do not be surprised; members are not going deaf. He did not say a thing about it. He complained about interest rates—which, I might add, are higher than in half of the countries that are in the Pacific, like the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu—but he never said he would do a thing about the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act that may make the New Zealand dollar go to US89 or 90c. We did not hear a word about that; not a murmur. But, in their inimitable style, his colleagues jumped to their feet and clapped for another leader. How many times have I seen them clapping for yet another leader?
I have seen it for every leader gone. There was Jenny—brave Jenny. She reminds me of the Flight of the Conchords’ song, actually. I ask members whether they have heard that song. She is very much like that Jenny.
Then they had Bill, and he was brilliant. He was trained by the Treasury of this country and he was the right man for the job—and a family man, as well. That was going to be important. Then they had Don.
I still think that is a National Party conspiracy. I do not believe one of those rumours, at all. I truly do not, because one cannot silk purse a sow’s ear no matter what one does and no matter how different one might be.
I ask Mr Key what National did in all its time in Government about the telecommunication monopoly run by Telecom.
No, not nothing—it did something worse. National tried to stop the Treasurer—namely, yours truly—from opening it up. Members should ask Maurice Williamson. He knows precisely what I am talking about.
Mr Key talked about roading. Excuse me, but what was the National Party’s most recent policy on roading that was of any substance? It was to have four private companies running all of New Zealand’s roads. Members should ask Maurice Williamson. Why? Because he is back on the front bench, and that must mean his policies are important.
And—oh, yes—I have to raise this one. Apparently going to Waitangi was important this year. Let me tell members something. I would never have believed that a political leader would walk on to the lower marae at Waitangi with someone with a conviction and a jail sentence for the brutalisation of children. I will tell members what the National Party tough-love policy on crime is about; I have a photograph of it. This photograph shows real tough love for a criminal facing serious charges. This is the tough-love policy. I bet all the gangsters are trembling with knock knees at the moment.
What that story tells me is that, alongside Television New Zealand (TVNZ), crime not only pays but the taxpayer is now paying for it, and the man who wants to be the alternative Prime Minister thinks it is OK because it is politically correct. He gets taken on to the marae by a person convicted in 1988 and given a jail sentence for the organised brutalisation of children. Then he goes on to the marae, as well, and starts hongi-ing up and making friends with someone facing some very, very serious charges, because the media thinks it is politically correct.
I had calls from farmers, people I would call “old National”, saying: “It cannot be true. Is this a media conspiracy?”. When they said that about the media I thought that maybe I should check out the photograph first to see whether it was genuine. But it was in every print and telecommunications media, so I have to take it to be correct.
I want to say this. It is one thing to talk about Auckland’s transport problems, but if Mr Key’s policy, and the National Party’s policy, is no different from the Government’s—50,000 immigrants per year, the majority of whom will go to Auckland—then there is no solution to Auckland’s roading problems or Auckland’s housing problems, full stop. Everything else is a lie. If Mr Key tells New Zealanders he will solve those problems whilst bringing in 50,000 people, whilst Australia, a country much more huge in its dimensions, takes on only 80,000, then he is not telling New Zealanders the truth. He has not got a solution, and he is just compounding the problems that every Aucklander sees every day now with a trip to the airport. What used to take half an hour is an hour and 15 minutes, if one is lucky, and if one hits peak time, it can be much longer than that. That is a massive loss of productivity costs to this country.
When Mr Key sat down he had not outlined one policy that National would implement, apart from the solution he had for 16-year-olds. What would that be? What did he offer as a solution to the swearing, cursing, badly behaved, and badly parented young people of this country? He said nothing at all.
I did not hear it. Some research unit told him that would be a good idea. He has a few floozies and “dozies” up in the gallery who will actually believe him. They will think it is a policy. But the problem with young people in this country—
Well, I do not mean it in that way; I mean floozie in the head. Young people have decided that the National Party deserves a term in Government, and that they themselves will create the outcome to the 2008 election. Well, they should dream again. That is exactly what is not going to happen. If National is ever to get to the Treasury benches, it will be because it has some policy that is alternative and different to the present Government. Why would people bother to have a change when they get no change? National will not get away with running around boring the rotary clubs and agreeing with them. National has to have a policy.
That is why I am pleased to say that in 2008 New Zealand First will go on ensuring that there is stable Government in this country—that is No. 1—because we keep our word. We are famous for it. What we say we will do, we do. That is why some people do not like us. What we say we will do, we do. We do not back down on our word.
By the way, just one last thing for the media on the word “bauble”. “Bauble” means a trinket not worth having. So some of those dumbos should go back to the dictionary, find out what it means, and stop making damn idiots of themselves every time they repeat it. Which part of my job looks like a trinket not worth having? Members of the media should try to extend themselves.
Today we appointed Brian Donnelly, one of the most eminently qualified people this Parliament ever had—and people cannot deny that—to be a diplomat. Do members know what the media said? It said: “Oh, jobs for the boys.” How do members like that? Let me remind the media who National sent abroad. It sent some seriously untalented people, and, worse than that, people who would have been expelled from Parliament had we known in this Parliament what they were guilty of. May I remind members who they were?
No, I will wait until they die. But all those members over there know what I am talking about, and so would some of those journalists if they were not such young pups. How dare they compare an eminently qualified, suitable person like Brian Donnelly to that? I make one appointment, and they cannot help but have a go and say I am appointing my own mates—one guy in a whole career, and they think that is a fair criticism. For goodness’ sake, I say to the media, try a bit more this year to be neutral, balanced, fair, and slightly professional. The whole democracy depends upon the fourth estate being a watchdog, not a Chihuahua signed up to its ownership from abroad—and that is what they are doing.
Mind you, I have to tell the Minister of Broadcasting that somebody should be asking TVNZ what on earth it thinks it is doing with taxpayers’ money in bringing Tame Iti up to Waitangi. Does it not know that Tūhoe never signed the Treaty of Waitangi? Why bother going to Waitangi if it is so blissfully ignorant that it knows nothing about the history of New Zealand at all? Up comes Tame Iti, having bared his bum at the people, the Crown, and everybody else, and TVNZ thinks that is news. Shame on it. The world deserves to see, and should see, a better New Zealand, but because of TVNZ’s irrelevant attitude and its blatant ignorance, it presents that to the people abroad via telecommunications. Shame on TVNZ—a taxpayer-owned organisation.
I want to say something about being right. Recently, there I was, getting stuck into work on my beach property. I have neglected it for far too many years, while serving the public of this country. I was watching the 6 o’clock news and, out of left field, I heard the name Asha Ali Abdille and I thought, that name rings a bell to me. I remember this person. This person was a case I brought to Parliament. She had come here, brought in by the National Government in 1994. She had, for 6 years under the National Government, done what she liked. She got a house, paid for by the taxpayer, despite tens of thousands of people being on the waiting list. She had a list as long as one’s arm, as I said, that would make Al Capone proud. And, of all things, she then committed this offence, our first hijacking of an aeroplane. Let me remind members of one other fact. Just days before this event, the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board declared her to be sane. I say that perhaps we should have an investigation into the members of the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board by a psychologist, because if she is sane, the board members are not.
But my point is that there are hundreds and hundreds and thousands of these cases. Do members remember a guy called Mohammed Saidi? He was the one who said he could not go back to his country of origin because his life was imperilled. Some soft-headed people, who have far too much prominence in this country, said they agreed with him, so he stayed long enough to get residency and sufficient savings to go back to his country of origin for a holiday.
There is case after case after case like this. What did some of the people in this Parliament say, particularly to my friends in the National Party? They said: “Oh, he’s racist. He leads a party of xenophobic people who are somehow prejudiced against others.” Look, we in New Zealand First do not even mind English people—we have got one here. No party is perfect. But that is what they said, because they were interested in only one thing. A lot of their supporters agreed, because they knew the Business Roundtable liked cheap labour. If we keep up high immigration, we drive wages down. We neglect to train and educate our own, and skill our own, and what happens here is that immigration numbers rise, then immigrants go to Australia. Half of those leaving came here. They were not New Zealanders in the first place. They used our country as a bolt-hole, and they make up the figures.
Up gets Don Brash, and now John Key and his ilk, who say: “Oh, look at Australia. It’s successful. That’s why people are leaving New Zealand.” Well, what policies has National pursued since 1984 that ever helped this darn country? It even supported the Fonterra sale—the proposal to make Fonterra an international market commodity. John Key would love that idea. He is a broker. But right now, with the drought, how many farmers, if they have any brains, would think that was a bright idea? The only thing that is saving the farmers is that Fonterra is a New Zealand - owned company.
It is the same with Auckland airport. What is the National Party’s view on Auckland airport? There is not a word, not a whisper, not a mutter, not a murmur, because National’s political ownership and financiers want it to argue for international ownership of our asset wealth, for privatisation, and for overseas ownership.
What does the National Party say about banking charges? There used to be a time in the National Party—because it was a National Party and believed in the word “nationalism”—when it was very strong on banking, banking practice, and banking costs. Today, there is not a mutter from any of these people, apart from one Bob Clarkson telling everybody that he can fix up every leaky home for $20,000. That is what he said. He also said that he can fix up Tauranga’s new stadium requirements for two-thirds of the price that the council wants to fix them for. This is apart from the fact, of course, that he has just flogged off Baypark Stadium, which is a white elephant and a loser, to the ratepayers of Tauranga and it has cost them a fortune. Bob has just gone off and bought a couple of new farms, worth almost $24 million. Bob is a property developer. Bob is not a builder; he is a property developer and speculator. That is true. Bob does not know I know that. He is not saying too much now. But all I am saying to Bob is: “Come on, Bob. Are you going to stand in Tauranga this year? You have bluffed everybody else. I know they don’t want you. But are you going to stand in Tauranga this year, Bob?”. I am not hearing anything, am I? He is not so loud now.
I know that the National Party’s mates have all these young, bright little lawyers—who do not believe in humanity of course, just themselves—lining up to take over from Bob. I say to Bob: “Are you standing in Tauranga?”. I am sure the Speaker would like to know—not that I can bring her into the debate. Yes or no? There is not a word. [Interruption] He is bluffing and saying if Winston is going to stand, he is going to stand. Only a fool tests the water with both feet, I say to Bob. But is he standing, or is he not?
Well, I suppose he got the ratepayers of Tauranga to pick up a white elephant—which he said was a gift to the people, except when we do the fiscals it looks pretty bad. It required 39 full nights to pay itself, and they cannot fill it for nine. He went with Blue Chip. He dumped Western Bay Finance and went with Blue Chip. Have members heard of this company called Blue Chip? It is making a lot of headlines right now. That company is the co-sponsor with Bob. Bob thought: “I could unload this real fast. I know what I will do. I will do what all Tories of late do”—not the old-fashioned Tories, but the new breed—“and I will socialise my problems and my debts. I will get the taxpayer, or in this case the ratepayer, to pick it up.” It is the oldest trick in the book. Fay Richwhite invented it and Bob refined it, but only in a local way, down there in Tauranga.
Madam Speaker, I am sorry I have diverted but I want to close by saying that on so many things in the last 15 years one party has been right, and that party has been New Zealand First. It has been right on the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act, and on export policy. Members should look at racing. In the space of 2 years racing has been dramatically turned round. Last month at the Karaka sales yearling prices were up a massive 40 percent. My promise to Mr Cullen—was it 60 percent? I was overseas at the time. The news was good but I did not think it was that good. But my promise to the Minister of Finance was: “I bet you will get your money back by having confidence in New Zealand and New Zealanders.”
We in New Zealand First are saying that if we were given a chance by the New Zealand people, what we have done for the racing industry we could do for all of New Zealand. All we are saying is: “Don’t give us a microlight in 2008 and ask us to fly it to the moon. Get your vote out, buy some insurance on your second vote, and we don’t even mind if you vote Labour for your first vote, or National, if you are really desperate, for your first vote. But if you are wise and you think this country has a future, and you believe in a party that puts the New Zealand interest first, that is not globalisation-mad, that does not believe in one world, but in one country before others, then you will put your vote with New Zealand First.” That is how great societies are made, and those great countries make great international communities in time—not weak countries, but good and strong countries with values and principles. I cannot think of any other party that so fits that description than the party I am proud to lead, and will lead into the 2008 election, called New Zealand First.
Madam Speaker, I am sure you have taken to heart all this advice about how you should be voting in the election later this year, with the speeches in the House being addressed to you. The oldest trick in the book in politics is to spend election year appealing to greed and fear. That is how the year has started, with greed for tax cuts and fear of violent youth and, of course, immigrants. It is an old recipe.
A few weeks ago I challenged our leaders to campaign on something more substantial. I challenged the media to frame their coverage around the substance of policy and the ways that it affects ordinary New Zealanders, not simply around the weekly ups and downs of the political game. Today I challenge the voters to see through this tired old game, to look for the vision and the action to bring us together as a nation, and to make us what we could be—vibrant, prosperous, compassionate, and sustainable. Instead, we have been presented with a vision of New Zealand as a society cowering before the tiny minority of its violent youth, while waiting on a tax handout. There is no plan for how our families, our workplaces, and our country will cope with the looming realities of peak oil and climate change, and with the income gap between rich and poor. In particular, neither major party has offered New Zealand a vision that sees the best in our young people, and one that helps them to flourish.
To bring out the best in our young people, we need to build stable home environments for those most at risk, and to do that we need to tackle the lack of affordable housing in the communities in which they live. It is the unaffordability of rents that leads families to move from flat to flat every few weeks or months. This takes the kids from school to school in a cycle that fatally disrupts not just their education but their lives, and it leads them to see gangs as the only stable social unit in their lives.
The Prime Minister’s lack of targets in her speech to address the crisis in affordable housing was disappointing. Although we welcome the fact that the Government is now prepared to do something, it is a bit late in the day to be starting a stocktake of affordable public land holdings and reducing the compliance costs for building consents, then painting this as a way of getting ordinary New Zealanders on to the homeownership ladder. By now, the Government should be announcing concrete plans to accelerate the building of the State homes it has pledged to build each year, and saying clearly whether it favours medium-density housing close to public transport routes, or whether, like the National Party, it favours freeing up land on the periphery of towns, with all the roading, energy, and infrastructure costs that such ribbon developments always bring in their wake.
The lack of affordable housing is one key factor driving the youth crimes statistics, but a related issue is that of the low wages that force both mothers and fathers to take up two or more jobs to make ends meet, and that limit the time available for quality parenting. As Campbell Roberts says in the report released today, Working for Families has allowed more two-parent families the luxury of one parent focusing more on childcare, but it has pushed even more single parents into the workforce, in many cases increasing stresses on those children.
Ever since the early 1990s, New Zealand has pursued a business model based on cutting labour costs and driving down wages, in marked contrast to Australia, which took a far more sensible, constructive, and much less ideological approach to centralised wage bargaining. Simultaneously, in New Zealand, business has avoided making the investments in technology that are essential for real productivity gains. If John Key and Helen Clark truly wish to tackle the problem of youth crime, they should be willing to renounce the low-wage economic model that both major parties have maintained for the past 20 years.
We have heard a lot in the last year, and today, about the Government’s new vision of sustainability and carbon neutrality. It is great that Labour is finally tackling climate change after presiding for 8 years over the fastest increase in greenhouse gases in the Western World. The emissions trading scheme will put a price on carbon, and will create some incentive to reduce emissions in some sectors of the economy. But direct actions like codes and standards, research and development, better information, and interventions to support new technology and penalise waste will actually do more to meet our Kyoto target than trading—which is mainly a new market for speculators, and that is why businesses love it so much.
While Government members are fixing their eyes on the far shore of long-term sustainability goals, their own actions as a Government are paddling steadily backwards and already mired in the mudflats. Last year the Greens asked repeatedly how we could be the first sustainable nation while the Government’s own companies were ripping out forests to establish dairy farming, with massive effects on greenhouse emissions and water quality, and ramping up coalmining to sell to China and India, while at the same time berating those countries for their increase in emissions. Then, of course, there are the embarrassing BMWs, which will not even meet the efficiency standards that the Government has set for everybody else.
Now let us look at what is planned for this year. New Zealand’s largest and most expensive transport project ever is to be a new motorway tunnel in Auckland—costing more than $2 billion—so that all the people who were starting to think about using public transport, now that it is gradually improving, are sent back to their cars. Let us just think what that money could do to improve public transport services in Auckland—a rail tunnel to link the western and southern lines; a link to the airport so that we would start to see a real electric rail network; safe cycle routes, with intersection priority; or a new busway like the northern one to the south-east. That is what Auckland will need to reduce carbon emissions and cope with rising oil prices. But, no, the contradiction of this Government is a vision of a world first in carbon neutrality and a reality of more coal, more dairy, and more motorways.
This is the year in which the Government hopes to sign a free-trade agreement with China. A little incident the other day shows just what that will mean. When driving through Moerewa on the way back from Waitangi I stopped for a drink. I chose a little can labelled “mango juice”. Puzzled that it cost only $1, I looked at the fine print. I could just make out, at the bottom of the label, “fruit juice drink”—suspicious. On the back, in very fine print, were the ingredients of water, sugar, various additives, and, somewhere down the list, mango juice. There were no percentages, but it was at least labelled with its country of origin—Guangzhou province. I swapped it for a real juice.
As I drove on, I reflected on just what it is that we are trading here. Fruit drink may have as little as 5 percent actual juice in it, in which case we are importing water and sugar from China in an aluminium can. We know that China is short of water; we know that its water is often very polluted and very much less desirable than the water that comes out of our own taps. The aluminium can would have been made with coal-fired electricity. The bottling plant probably also ran on coal-fired power, and marine diesel brought it here.
Mothers in Moerewa buy that drink thinking they are giving their children healthy juice, because it is so misleadingly labelled, when they are actually giving them sugar water. And what are we exchanging for this? We are exchanging dairy products that consume massive amounts of our fresh water. We are currently using two to three times more water per person than most other OECD countries. For every litre of milk produced, 1,000 litres of water are consumed in the process in Canterbury. Every extra cow increases nutrient and bacterial pollution in our waterways, many of which are already not safe to swim in. Every extra cow increases our methane emissions—a potent greenhouse gas. What benefit do we get from these dairy exports? We get cans of water and sugar. We pollute and over-allocate our high-quality water here in order to pay for importing doubtful-quality water from China.
Does this make sense? Well, one may say that it must be profitable or it would not happen. So it is time we looked at why it is profitable. Dairying is hugely profitable at present, partly because it is heavily subsidised. Farming is subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of a million dollars per working day, which is the cost of the greenhouse gas emissions from farming that will be picked up by taxpayers, who at the same time are paying for their own emissions. It is subsidised by our environment, particularly our rivers, which are fouled by the runoff and reduced to a trickle by the irrigation.
On the other side of the equation, how can a can of even water and sugar imported from so far away cost only $1 retail? The only explanation is that, as in so many other industries, China is employing the equivalent of slave labour in prison camps or special economic zones where people are paid as much in a day as we pay for that one can of drink, and often they are not free to withdraw their labour. So, to sum up, free trade with China means swapping our good-quality water, and the health of our children and our rivers, for its poor-quality water, using lots of fossil fuel to arrange the swap, and denying the human rights of its workers. This is what the Government wants us to do more of, under a free-trade agreement. This is part of its vision of sustainability.
The Government is also very keen for a free-trade agreement with the United States. There have been letters in the papers recently asking what the US would want in return for opening its markets to our dairy products. We do not need to speculate, because a few years ago the then Secretary of Trade, Robert Zoellick, told us. The US wants freedom for its citizens to buy our land; it wants access for its GE foods, without labelling; it wants no obstacles to importing its GE seeds for growing here; and it wants access to our market for pig meat and poultry that do not meet our disease control requirements. Great! Surely that trade agreement is a great prize to be sought!
The fact is that sustainability is rather a facade for this Government. The overarching goal is economic growth, and if the economy can be grown bigger by being dirtier, less fair, and less sustainable, that is what the Government will back. The game is to push the brand of the clean, green image in order to sell more goods to expand the economy, but if actually becoming clean and green gets in the way of expanding GDP, that can get lost.
There is a lot of work left to do. This Parliament still has a third of its term left to go. It is too soon to stop the real work and roll out the electioneering slogans. Today I want to echo a call from journalist Colin James and ask the Prime Minister to give us a firm election date, so that we can all stop playing cat and mouse, put the campaigning on hold, and get back to work. The Greens would like to see a binding referendum, to be held with this year’s election, on having fixed election dates in the future. However, fixed election date or not, each of the Green Party MPs is committed to using this year to make as much progress as we can towards our shared goals.
As Government spokesperson on energy efficiency, I am committed to making sure that the new initiatives in the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy actually happen—the bigger programme of home insulation, the bold target for more energy from waste wood, the 25 percent improvement in fuel efficiency of cars coming into the country, a more cost-effective solar water heating industry, regional goals for public transport, and all the rest. Sue Bradford is looking forward to a 2008 where more people become aware of the economic and environmental benefits of buying New Zealand - made products—quality products that create more jobs for Kiwis.
A number of Green Party bills are set to pass this year. Nandor’s Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill will be a significant step towards reducing the legacy of waste that our current rates of consumption and patterns of packaging will leave to our children. We also applaud the Prime Minister’s signalled intention to take seriously the findings of the Greens-initiated Justice and Electoral Committee Inquiry into victims’ rights, which has resulted in a promise to implement a charter of victims’ rights and progress towards a victims’ compensation scheme.
My Climate Change (Transport Funding) Bill would alter funding priorities, so that we see more public transport, rail, and cycle facilities and less funding wasted on building new motorways. Sue Bradford’s Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Bill will provide some of our most vulnerable babies with a safe and stable environment within the prison system, and reduce offending rates among mothers who are able to bond with their babies.
The Greens will be pushing hard to see the remaining initiatives within our cooperation agreement with the Government fulfilled. We are yet to see progress on our agreement to ensure that growers of GE-free crops will be able to continue to meet the requirements of their markets, if approval is ever given to grow GE crops here—which we hope it will not be.
For too long student debt has been crippling the options of our young people. When we talk about losing graduates to Australia, we hear about tax cuts but we fail to acknowledge that many young people are so hobbled with debt that their choices are constrained. They will go wherever they need to go to pay it off, and much of that debt is a result of Government policy that for many years has forced students to borrow, just to pay the rent. New research from the New Zealand University Students Association reveals that there has been a significant reduction in university enrolments from students from poorer backgrounds—down from 15 percent in 2004 to 6 percent in 2007. How can we be a nation of equal opportunity when the cost of education is prohibitive for those less well-off? The Greens are committed to providing every student with a livable allowance, and although this Government’s commitment falls short of that, we were able to negotiate in our agreement a move in the right direction, with an increase in the number of students eligible for student allowances.
Sue Kedgley will continue her struggle to allow consumers the information they need to make informed choices about the food they buy. The Government seems so transfixed by its desire to secure a free-trade deal with China that it will not see reason on this issue, but the Greens will be holding the Government’s feet to the fire on country-of-origin food labelling.
Last year Green MP Keith Locke’s long and patient campaign for justice for the Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui finally ended in success, but the Government appears to have learnt nothing from the experience. Widespread use of classified information and the extension of detention powers in the Immigration Bill fall far short of achieving an acceptable balance between individual liberties and national security. The Green Party will be opposing the widened use of classified information; the denial of the basic right of people to know, and answer, all the evidence against them; and the scrapping of tribunals with proven independence and expertise.
The public expect the Greens to be the environmental conscience of Parliament. Just about every environmental advance and many of the advances in social policy over the last 8 years have been the result of prodding and goading by the Greens. Just in the last week we have seen what an important role that is. Whoever it was who sent us, in plain wrapper, the censored chapter 13 of the new State of the Environment report knew we would not sit on it but would hold the Government to account. The main report shows that in the 10 years after the first report, the crisis in our biodiversity is not overall improved, though there are some local success stories. In addition, we now face major problems of environmental degradation caused by land-use intensification and increased road transport, which in turn are leading to more water quality problems and greenhouse emissions.
The originally unpublished 13th chapter identifies the causes, or the drivers, of the environmental decline. It fingers increased land intensification, with more fertiliser and more stock per hectare; greatly increased use of motor vehicles; and increased consumption. It explicitly acknowledges the conundrum of trying to grow our economy while reducing our environmental footprint. Economic growth is placing increased pressure on the environment, yet the economy is dependent on the environment. Our tourism industry is built on “100% Pure New Zealand” branding, and our dairy industry sells itself overseas as clean and green.
The report dares to speak of environmental limits, and it points out that some of those limits have been reached—for example, freshwater in parts of the country. It calls for regulation on a national level and for the polluter-pays principle to be adhered to, as the Greens have been saying for years. The men and women who wrote this chapter were good public servants. Sadly, someone did not want us to hear their advice, but that attempt failed. We have the chapter; we can choose to listen. I ask both National and Labour whether they have the courage to act on it.
Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Tēnā tātou katoa. I pose the question as to why it is that state of the nation addresses somehow leave references to our founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to the very end of the speeches, or refer to the special characteristics of tangata whenua under the mantle of “tackling inequalities”. To address this constitutional imbalance, I propose instead to place Te Tiriti o Waitangi upfront as the key to advancing our nationhood, and to refer to tangata whenua in ways that recognise our unique status as the indigenous peoples of Aotearoa.
Once again, and for the third year in a row, we have now enjoyed trouble-free celebrations at Waitangi. In addition, many other centres throughout the country can boast successful celebrations of the birthday of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. This is most certainly a positive for our continued development of our nationhood.
The question of precisely where the Treaty sits within our constitution and in relation to our courts, our laws, and to Parliament itself is an issue that has never been discussed and debated at a national level. There have been numerous suggestions, projections, and speculations made by various groups within our society, including a strong call from Māori to have Te Tiriti o Waitangi ratified in one form or another. Successive Governments, both Labour and National, have identified the Treaty as the founding document of this country’s nationhood. So in the current positive climate towards Waitangi Day perhaps it is time for a formal discussion to take place on the status of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in relation to our constitution.
This is the proposal we introduced on Waitangi Day 2007—the concept of a Treaty Commissioner to raise awareness and understanding of the Treaty, to be an advocate for the Treaty, and to promote the proper application of the Treaty in legislation. A working commission of sorts could commission research and discussion on the constitutional possibilities of the Treaty. Such a body could promote widespread hui amongst hapū, iwi, and other forms of Māori authorities, representing the chiefs who were signators and who comprised one partner of the actual event, the original event.
Such proposals would preserve this Māori partner status to the Treaty, but would also present a Māori world view about how Te Tiriti might be formally ratified to suit our new society. In turn, this commission could receive formal submissions through Government agencies representing the Crown, as the second partner to Te Tiriti. Māori and Government representatives could then hold a series of hui to attempt to find a way forward and perhaps to design a single constitution document for ratification, and maybe even to design a new form of governance for our young nation here in New Zealand.
Te Tiriti o Waitangi was first signed in Waitangi by Māori chiefs and the representatives of Queen Victoria. The document was then taken around the country where various other tribal leaders signed it. We know that the Treaty was posited as a tool for aiding colonisation. Nevertheless, it is intended that the articles of the Treaty describe a blueprint, a formula, for Māori and Pākehā to live together and share this country, respecting each partner’s respective genre de vie. The Treaty, in fact, is this country’s first immigration document.
The path of implementing the conditions of Te Tiriti over the years has been anything but smooth. Māori feel aggrieved that the promises contained within the Treaty with regard to Māori ownership of, and governance over, our resources have not been kept. There is a strong sense of: “We have kept our part of this bargain; the Crown has not.” This, of course, is a reference to Māori fighting for this country in numerous wars of the world and contributing to the establishment of our society and the development of our political, social, and spiritual New Zealand culture.
The rocky road of the Treaty’s validation is well documented. Queen Elizabeth II, visiting New Zealand on Waitangi Day in 1990, told our nation: “Today we are strong enough and honest enough to learn the lessons of the last 150 years, and to admit that the Treaty has been imperfectly observed. I look upon it as a legacy of promise.”
On 6 September 2002, speaking at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Prime Minister Helen Clark spoke of New Zealand’s journey of nationhood as a “multicultural nation with an explicitly bicultural foundation”. In this address, the Prime Minister spoke of the Treaty as enabling the British to govern while guaranteeing Māori our fisheries, forests, and lands, and rights of citizenship. The Prime Minister continued by explaining how the Treaty also acknowledged the chieftainship of Māori, and confirmed our special place as the indigenous people of New Zealand. Noting the events of our history, the Prime Minister also said: “as settlers poured into New Zealand, the Treaty was honoured more in the breach than in the observance.” The point I am making is simply that unaddressed issues relating to Te Tiriti o Waitangi are not just going to go away, and that for the good of our nationhood we should, perhaps, face the challenge right now.
Recognising the multiracial nature of our country’s current population make-up, I believe it is pertinent for me here to make the distinction between race and whakapapa. A Māori claim for tūrangawaewae, a place to stand, in Aotearoa, is made not on the grounds of race, ethnic origin, or citizenship but upon whakapapa, a genealogy. Genealogical descent over the past millennium describes a unique history, a distinctive cultural and spiritual past tied intrinsically to the land and to the sea of these islands, a unique Māori history through which we claim the status of he iwi taketake—of this place.
I make this distinction because the Treaty of Waitangi acknowledges this relationship and exists as a contract between the colonisers, via the Crown, and tangata whenua, the occupants of the various rohe. The Treaty therefore does refer to Māori and Pākehā partnership beginnings, and in reality can serve to provide a sound basis upon which to grow our multicultural nation.
The reference to Māori issues in terms of race therefore is a misnomer and totally misrepresents the concept of tangata whenua. Race talks about identity in terms of blood quantum; tangata whenua on the other hand refers to identity through whakapapa genealogical links. Recent references by the large parties in this House to proposed funding for Māori initiatives as racial funding are equally a misnomer. Māori issues are directly concerned with the rights, the opportunities, and the aspirations of the tangata whenua inhabitants of this country. This was, and still is, the home of Māori; there is no other place where Māori culture can live. Te Tiriti o Waitangi guarantees that right.
Another issue that is relevant to the discussion around Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the definition, or the various definitions, of tino rangatiratanga, loosely translated as self-determination. Self-determination is about ownership. The path for self-determination for Māori with regard to the foreshore and seabed was deliberately obstructed by this Government with the passing of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Under this Act, the opportunity to explore ownership through the Māori Land Court was extinguished, and self-determination was replaced by self-management. I recall speaking in this House about the Government’s attempt at the United Nations in 2005 to redefine self-determination as self-management. At Geneva this was turned down, but Dr Cullen is planning to give Ngāti Porou this self-management in their foreshore and seabed deal. No self-determination, ownership, or even governance over the foreshore is offered; instead, Ngāti Porou is offered self-management over the foreshore, and that only in a few selected areas.
Self-determination would have offered Ngāti Porou customary title over their foreshore, but the Government is offering only territorial customary rights, and those rights are totally restricted to the terms of the bill. Real customary rights were extinguished by the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Clearly, this poses a dilemma for the Māori Party. We have an obligation to support the tino rangatiratanga of each iwi, and we recognize that Ngāti Porou have sought certain benefits for their hapū under this Act. Accordingly, we will work with Ngāti Porou to ensure that they get the best deal from the path they have chosen. Similarly, we will support the claim of Tainui before the Government at this time, even though it, too, is concerned with part-management of the river, not governance or customary title.
However, the Māori Party does have a mandate and responsibility to pursue self-determination opportunities of the fullest sense for Māori, and will continue to do this. Needless to say, we look forward to working together with all parties of this House to further this objective and to advance our country’s nationhood in a spirit of understanding and unity. Kia ora.
There are three great cycles in New Zealand politics: stagnation gives way to reform, reform gives way to consolidation, and then the process starts all over again. After the great reforms of the 1980s and 1990s and the consolidation that has occurred over the last decade, we now stand at the brink, where we either move forward or revert to that cycle and a process of stagnation sets in.
Despite the speeches today, the essential problem that this country has long since confronted remains: we are a small, moderately resourced and endowed, commodity-based trading economy at the end of the world. Globalisation, the loss of guaranteed markets, and the freer mobility of peoples have made our problems much greater and our task much harder to address. If we are to survive, let alone prosper, then we need to develop a new distinctive method. It will not be good enough to do more of the same things that we have done. We have to start to live what we have spoken of for years and become one of the truly smart nations, because doing over again what we have done in the past is simply a recipe for stagnation.
All around us we see other countries moving to be smarter and brighter. It is no coincidence that Tony Blair was elected in Britain a decade ago on the basis of an education revolution and that a decade later Kevin Rudd is promoting the same opportunities for Australia. Yet when we look at the challenges confronting New Zealand and hear the responses put forward, we realise it is a pretty sorry story. The two main alternatives presented today were on the one hand a list of very worthy and detailed programmes, and on the other hand a litany of negative criticism. There is no future for New Zealand, moving forward, if either of those options is—to quote the phrase that both members quoted about each other—“as good as it gets”, because this country needs to have the chance to lift its game, to reassert some of the unique Kiwi characteristics and values that we spoke of when we all eulogised Sir Edmund Hillary, and to apply them to the management and governance of our nation.
This country is a unique mix of peoples. The previous speaker, Dr Pita Sharples, touched on that to some extent. The strength and opportunity we have, as we start to face the challenges of the more modern economy of the 21st century, are to draw from that uniqueness and strength and then develop solutions to give effect to them. We talk a lot about sustainability. Well, I suggest that if we focused our policies on what was good for the parents of our country, and for the families and communities of our country, then we would automatically move towards what was sustainable, because we would be facing the situation where our development was community-focused—bottom up, rather than imposed from the top down. If we really want to deal with dysfunction and disadvantage, then we should focus on the points where they are occurring and deal with those situations, rather than standing back and either imposing broad-brush programmes that are so broad as to be meaningless or tut-tutting out of fear and doing nothing, lest we be accused of scapegoating the very people we are seeking to help.
I want to talk about one area today that provides us with a way forward to capture some of the feeling that I have spoken of. As I have said, we need a renewed sense of optimism about who we are, and that will come, I believe, if we start to talk about the sort of country we want to be, moving forward, and the types of changes we need to make in order to give effect to that. That is why I for one and United Future as a party are not afraid to confront the issue of our future constitutional arrangements. I get frustrated every time that issue is raised. People say: “Oh, yes, but not now. It is not the right time. That issue will take care of itself.” We are supposedly proud, bold, and confident about ourselves, but we are scared stiff of engendering any national debate about our constitutional arrangements going forward. Yet if we were to undertake that process, and if we were to do what the select committee that I chaired 2 or 3 years ago recommended—establish a public education process on constitutional issues, and put together a series of proposals relating to whether or not we become a republic, whether we have a written constitution, where and how the Treaty of Waitangi principles ought to be accommodated, and to a range of other constitutional issues—then I think that a couple of things might just happen.
Firstly, New Zealanders would become more engaged in talking about themselves, their country, and their future, and about their expectations of why they want to be here and what makes us different from some other place. We lament the fact that our kids all go overseas, and we say that it is because of the cost of education and because they cannot get a job here, or we give some other reason as to why they do not come back. Yet New Zealanders overseas are proud of being New Zealanders and would desperately want to be here. So let us start to create some opportunities. Let us work towards having a referendum on those matters during the term of the next Parliament, so that changes can then be put in place for the Parliament that follows and for subsequent elections. Secondly, having a focus and a cause like that will bring us back to the basics of what this country’s future is all about, will focus us again on the great economic and social issues that we need to confront, and will give us a framework within which we can start to consider them.
At the moment what we have—as this debate this afternoon has typified—is a series of sectional interests, from all sectors of the House, being promoted in a vacuum. Members say they think we should do more of this or say that, no, we should do more of that, and so on and so forth. There is no coherent, overarching strategy or plan, and there is certainly no vision of the type of country we want to become. When a great figure like Sir Edmund Hillary dies, we can all acknowledge his uniqueness as a New Zealander as being one of the factors that made him great. But we do not make the translation of those skills, attributes, and values to our nation as a whole. We can just imagine what we could achieve if we were a nation of Hillarys, or a nation of Rutherfords, Peter Jacksons, or whoever the contemporary icon may be. All those unique Kiwi skills have occurred because those people are New Zealanders and because New Zealand has nurtured and embraced them.
I think what we ought to be doing, as we focus this election year on our hopes and aspirations for our country, is to start to talk much more about those values and what they can contribute to the potential of this country, because at the end of the day, whatever we do, and whoever wins and forms the Government of this country, the challenge that I posed right at the beginning of this speech will still remain. We are small, we are isolated, we are at the end of the trade routes, we are generally a price-taker, not a price-maker, and we have to do the best we can in circumstances that are unfailingly adverse to us. Doing more of the same thing, and doing more of just trying to play the game in the way we used to do because it was safe, will not be enough. We had a Catching the Knowledge Wave conference here a few years ago that was supposed to unlock the key to the future. What happened? Its recommendations were too bold, too imaginative, and too challenging to the Government orthodoxy to be adopted. While that attitude remains New Zealand will remain not just geographically small but also, I think, nationally small, and I for one have greater hopes, greater aspirations, and a greater confidence in our national ability than that. We can do better; we have to do better. This year, and this year’s debate, has to be about the mechanisms by which that can occur.
I have a question for the Prime Minister. I would ask her why, if the record of this Government is so good, and the Government and its support parties have done such a marvellous job for our country, and if Prime Minister Helen Clark has been so good in advancing the cause of New Zealand here and overseas, have New Zealanders been muzzled? What sort of Government would clamp down on political opinion, on political criticism, and on people having their say in election year on the policies that they believe should be followed in this country?
I look to the Greens, I look to New Zealand First, and I look to Labour. If those members have such a proud record, then could they please allow New Zealanders to speak out? If Government members are prepared to stand up in Parliament and say they are proud of their record, why not allow New Zealanders freedom of speech? We stand up in this House and stand for the political rights of people all over the world, while destroying people’s political rights in this country because this Government cannot stand the criticism.
Rubbish! We just say that you’ve got to say what your name is when you criticise.
Judith Tizard calls out “Rubbish!”. I ask her to tell that to the Human Rights Commission, to the Law Commission, to the people of New Zealand, to the young man who was holding the web page that was shut down by the police in New Zealand—[ Interruption]
It is fine if Judith Tizard finally wants to make a contribution to Parliament. I think that if it is by way of interjection, then she should be allowed to, and I am happy for that.
So a Government that was proud of its record, heading to allow the people to have a say at election time, would allow people to have a say all year—not just MPs, but everyone. I heard the Greens talk about having a referendum on setting a date for the election. I heard Peter Dunne speak of having a referendum. Well, I think referenda are a good idea. I think it is a good idea to let people have their say. But if we have referenda, they must mean something, surely? We have 300,000 people signing a petition against this Government’s anti-smacking bill, and already the Greens have come out and said they do not care about the result. What sort of democracy is that? We have had Helen Clark say she does not care about the result. Well, I think it is time New Zealanders, including the Exclusive Brethren, had the right to speak up and have their say. We do not have to agree with people in New Zealand; we just have to accept that they have a right to have their say. I think New Zealanders should also be able to have their say in referenda. I think it is wise for politicians to listen to what the people have to say and not dismiss their efforts to get their voices heard.
We heard today a lot of words but not much policy. There was a lot of talk about the problems that confront New Zealand, but very little about what we can do as a country to fix them. Well, let me in our time talk about what ACT is doing, not by way of talking but by achieving. There is no doubt—and I think we are all agreed—that tax breaks are a great idea. I think even Labour now recognises that tax cuts are a good idea. Let us start on the tax cuts in this way. Let us start by getting rid of the taxes that Labour introduced and that we did not need. Let us get rid of the 39c rate of tax that was introduced not because the Government needed the money because it had a good thing to spend it on or because the Government was running out of cash but simply to punish those New Zealanders working hard to get ahead.
What is the impact of that tax? It lessens entrepreneurship, reduces business, reduces investment in New Zealand, reduces our ability to increase our productivity, reduces our growth rate, and reduces our future prosperity. So that should be the first tax rate to go. I know that Michael Cullen would hate that. He would say: “Oh well, the rich will just get richer. They’ll get the most.” Well, that is what happens. It is those earning over $60,000 who are paying the most tax. So if we would cut tax in a sensible way, let us not get hung up about who gets what in the first instance. Let us design tax cuts that benefit the country, our productivity, and our growth, because that is what will benefit all New Zealanders.
The other problem we have, and the Prime Minister identified it, is the affordability of housing—actually it is the affordability of just about everything in this country. As soon as someone tries to do something, he or she finds out just how costly it is. When we look at it, we see that those costs come largely from our Parliament. We pile up cost upon cost to homeowners, to business, and to people just going about their ordinary business. Indeed, people wanting to be candidates, or who express a political opinion, now have costs piled upon them. In fact even to a person wishing to express a political opinion the advice from this Government is to talk to a lawyer first. That is what we are doing.
So the ACT party, which is not just talking about reducing compliance costs, has done something about it and has produced a bill for regulatory responsibility for this Parliament that would stand alongside the Fiscal Responsibility Act in providing proper criteria when we pass and make laws. I am pleased to say that with the support of parties around this House we have had that bill sent to the Commerce Committee. I am hopeful that this Parliament can demonstrate that it does not just talk about reducing compliance costs but is actually prepared to do something about it. The test will be at the Commerce Committee and then back in this Parliament this year.
The member Rodney Hide’s party has all but disappeared, both from this House and in the public opinion polls, so I do not intend to spend very much time on his speech. But I will give the member this: he has ideas, even if they are ideas that I disagree with.
I contrast that with the speech we heard earlier this afternoon from the Leader of the Opposition and the reaction of his own team to it. There was unambiguous disappointment on the faces of the National Opposition members when Mr Key delivered a speech that lacked substance and had not a word of policy in it. It was all motherhood and apple pies—he said National would increase productivity and have everybody in work, and that living standards would go up. Did he say anything about his ideas for how that would happen? That was a speech from a man who lacks vision—a man who has no coherent set of principles and no idea of where he would want to take this country. But then we heard an extraordinary statement of double standards: we heard that the Government was tired and bereft of ideas! That statement came after the Prime Minister had just spoken for 40 minutes, setting out the hard achievements of this Government and the direction for this country to take over the next 3 years.
What can we say about National’s policy? Well, it was against Working for Families, a policy that helps 70 percent of New Zealand families to raise their kids. National was against that policy, but suddenly it is no longer against it. Labour came up with a very good idea that is very popular and helps low-income families to the tune of $190 a week for someone who is on $30,000 a year. It is hard for the National Party to say it would scrap that policy—although I would not guarantee that if given the chance, it would not do that.
Then there was KiwiSaver. The National Party was against KiwiSaver. National members said KiwiSaver would be a disaster and would never work. Well, 400,000 New Zealanders have voted with their feet and joined up to KiwiSaver. It is a great scheme, enabling those New Zealanders who had no opportunity and no incentive to save for their future to now do so, to the benefit of this country.
But then there are all the other policies, too. Do members remember about Iraq? The National Party voted in this Chamber to send troops to Iraq. Then it said it had not, which was a patent lie. National members fudged. They said they did not vote to send troops to Iraq; it is on the record of the House that they did.
There was also the nuclear-free policy. In public the National Party has always been in favour of it. But Don Brash and Lockwood Smith said the policy would be gone by lunchtime, then were outraged when their duplicity was exposed in this House. How can we believe anything that party says about the nuclear-free policy, when it has flip-flopped over 18 years from one policy to the next on that issue?
Then there was climate change—one of the great issues of our time. John Key told the country that climate change was a hoax, but within 6 months he said there is a crisis. He said there is climate change and asked why the Government was not doing something about it. How can we possibly believe a man who went from one extreme to the other on that issue in a matter of months? John Key is a man who has no analysis, no judgment, and no vision for the future.
And so it goes on. There was the air combat wing. National members said we were letting down the country, that we were abdicating our responsibility, and that they would bring it back. Suddenly, they said that the air combat wing was not really a priority for New Zealand, and that they were adopting Labour’s policy. You know, that is the only policy that National has. Its policy is to adopt Labour’s policy.
The list goes on. There was a National caucus meeting last week. We have the policy of interest-free student loans. It is great. It gives students the opportunity to borrow money without having a mounting debt of extra interest, giving them the chance to have an education. But National Party members said about our policy that it was irresponsible and unaffordable. John Key said that National would fight that policy with every bone in its body. Well, there are no bones—not even a spine any more. That policy is yet another one on which the National Party has simply said “Me too!” to what Labour is doing.
The list goes on and on. John Key then had the temerity to talk about the Labour Party being vacuous—that comes from the “Hollow Man”. That was from the “Shallow Man” who received an email stating that the Exclusive Brethren would secretly give him $1 million. He said he could not remember receiving it. I do not know how often John Key is offered $1 million; maybe it happens a lot in the circles that he travels in. That was very hard to believe. The National Party was the hollow party. That party was prepared to be backed by extremists who gave it money in secrecy. It is no wonder that the National Party does not like the law that forces it into the light of day, so that the public can see what the party really stands for, who supports it, and who it is paying off if it ever gets into Government. That legislation is very necessary indeed.
Then Mr Key talked about Labour driving people to Australia. I thought that instead of rhetoric I would look up a few facts on this issue. What happened between 1999 and 2007 in terms of relative wage rates in Australia and New Zealand? In the last 7 to 8 years they went up by 9.3 percent in New Zealand and went up by 9.7 percent in Australia. My statistician says that the gap in income grew by 1.6 percent in Australia’s favour between 1999 and 2007. I asked what happened between 1990 and 1999. Do members know what the gap was then? The gap grew by 50.4 percent. This country, year after year after year in the 9 years of the National Government, slipped back behind Australia. We are maintaining the pace with Australia today. I find it a bit rich that the guy who is constantly knocking his country, John Key, spent so much of his life out of this country. That is one thing, but what was he doing? He was working for finance companies, speculating against the New Zealand currency in order to damage the New Zealand economy. That is true patriotism!
I find it very hard to accept the accusations that Mr Key made. He asked whether this is as good as it gets. Let us think about it. There were 377,000 new jobs created in 8 years. Unemployment is at 3.4 percent, which is the lowest rate of unemployment in 24 years. What has happened with regard to benefits? The number of people on benefits is down by 140,000—not by their being threatened, as the National Government did, but because people who are given opportunities and the means to take advantage of them do that. They get off the benefit, they work for their country, and they work for their family. Real incomes in this country in the last 8 years—that is, incomes after the increase in prices—are up by 25 percent. One sees those figures and one wonders how the National Party can come into this House day after day and knock this country—particularly when its track record is so bad.
Bill English should look down. He was the man who, as Minister of Finance, cut superannuation from 66 percent down to 60 percent of the average wage. He is the man who promised, no ifs, no buts, no maybes, that National would scrap the surtax, and who brought it back with a vengeance and then cut superannuation again. We have restored the level of superannuation for the older people of this country. We have helped people as they get older. There is a 250 percent increase in home support, giving our elderly folk the chance to stay for as long as they are able to in homes of their own.
The list of achievements in this country is a very long one. This Labour-led Government brought in the Superannuation Fund. This Labour-led Government has got our debt down to 20 percent of GDP, which is one of the lowest levels in the Western World. Labour has provided a stable and consistent Government the last 8 years. This Government has a leader who has ability, understanding, and judgment, who does the hard work, and who will be the Prime Minister for the next 4 years.
Welcome back to what will be an action-packed year! Many of us have returned full of energy and ideas. We heard them today from the Prime Minister and we heard them just before from Phil Goff. We have the ideas, we have the energy, and we are taking New Zealand forward. On the other side of the House, I have to say, a few members look as if they have dragged themselves here and are wondering just what they are doing here and why they are not on holiday—and that was just Maurice Williamson. We have had 43 days of this year. Some of our media commentators have already declared that the election is under way and that National is the winner. National has declared that there is nothing to stop it getting on the Treasury benches. National members are already talking about the cars, the houses, the portfolios, and the baubles of power.
Then we have the ACT party. It is desperately seeking a cause to act as its spine. Gordon Copeland is just seeking another party. In the meantime, the Labour-led Government is getting on with the job of governing. Bill English is green with envy, because he knows that this has been a good Government. We have done plenty in 8 years, but there is plenty more to do. We have a full agenda for 2008, as members heard today. If anybody believes, as National would portray, that this Government is tired and has no ideas, then they know that to be untrue, as shown by the energy and by the policy agenda that has been set out here today. We have policies and programmes.
I have to say that when I look opposite—and I listened to John Key today—I find that National does not have ideas. It borrows them from everybody else, particularly from this side of the House. I was very, very amused when I saw this Tremain cartoon in the Otago Daily Times just last week. It shows Mr Key in front of a stall with a summer flip-flop special. Mr Key is saying: “We Nats have done a total turnaround on the interest-free student loan issue. I mean, to gamble with their vote would run a shiver up your spine … if you had one!”.
That actually just about sums it up. It just about sums up the National Party’s approach. What did we hear from Mr Key today? We did not hear the visionary speech he said there ought to have been. He said that the Prime Minister had a chance to give a visionary speech and she did not. I believe she did, and so do most people who listened to it. But I listened for 8 minutes to Mr Key’s speech, waiting for one visionary word to come out of the man’s mouth. What did I hear? I heard slogans, slugging, and slagging. That is what we heard from the National Party today.
He would be leader. Do New Zealanders want that sort of leadership in this country? No, they do not. They want a leader who is able to articulate where this country is going and the gains that have been made through stable Government. I do not believe that I have heard more blatherskite, jibber-jabber, and cant than I heard in that speech from Mr Key today.
My colleague has set out some of the changes in approach that we have heard from Mr Key. They are worth repeating, because New Zealanders need to know that if they get the National Party they do not get a change, at all. The change, in fact, would be the change of adopting our policies as their policies.
We need only take the student loan issue. National members were going to fight the interest-free student loans with every breath in their bodies, to their dying day. Right up until 2 weeks ago they were going to fight this very issue, and in an election year something that was bad is now good!
Then, of course, as Phil Goff has said, there was the whole issue of climate change. Nobody will forget Mr Key’s speech. He said climate change was a hoax and that he did not believe in it. He got cheers from the doubters all around New Zealand, but, suddenly, when the rest of the world said there is a problem and we ought to be doing something about it, he went from saying it was a hoax to saying he was a believer. But hang on a minute! A report came out that gave him a bit of doubt, so he has gone back to being in between.
Then we had the Kyoto Protocol. What did he say about that? The National Party said it is a failure as a document, and it ranted and raved before the 2005 election. What is National’s position now? Well, now it supports it. National members have changed their minds. What about KiwiSaver? Over 400,000 New Zealanders have signed up to KiwiSaver. National members said it was a flawed policy. Well, National members are telling 400,000 New Zealanders that they do not know what they are doing and that they are flawed people because they have joined up. But, of course, there has been a bit of change in the National members’ approach to KiwiSaver. They now believe that it is not too bad, and I predict that very soon it will be their policy. They will go into the election embracing and loving KiwiSaver, as they have done with many of our other policies.
Of course, we could mention the nuclear-free policy. They fought every election I can remember by opposing our nuclear-free New Zealand policy. Within 5 minutes of Mr Key getting the job, no longer was that a bottom-line principle; they now embraced a nuclear-free New Zealand.
What I am showing is that we have a National Party that is full of flipper-floppers. They will do anything and say anything to become the Government. I need to tell members that one of their own backbenchers said at the weekend that Mr Key will do anything to be the Prime Minister. I believe that. So when the National Party says it is time for a change, I say: “A change to what?”. They have nothing to offer. They have nothing to give this country.
I think what we heard from the Prime Minister today is an agenda for this year that really puts some stakes in the ground. I want to mention in particular investment in our NGO sector, those many hundreds and hundreds of good people who deliver essential services to New Zealanders. In particular I want to talk about victims’ rights. Victims in New Zealand, I think, deserve better. It was not until we got a Labour Government that we got victims’ rights legislation in 2002. We are building on that legislation and in terms of investment in services for the victims of crimes in New Zealand. One of the things the Prime Minister announced today was that we would be setting up a victims’ rights charter so that people know what their rights are. It will be set out clearly for them and for those who provide services to them.
One of the things that has been said many times is that victims deserve to be able to get access to information—good information—and we have set out that we will have an 0800 number so that people can pick up the phone and get advice on the end of that phone when and where they need it.
We have also said that victims need the support of the organisation that provides it to them, and we have provided ongoing, sustainable funding to the organisation that provides support to victims. This is the first of many of our agenda items for victims in New Zealand.
One of the big issues that came out of the victims’ rights inquiry at the select committee was the issue of compensation. This is a complex issue and it is one that is worthy of investigation. We have sent that finding to the Law Commission to give us advice on it. We have taken that select committee inquiry seriously, and we will address other parts of that inquiry in the next few weeks.
There were many important parts to the Prime Minister’s speech today, not the least of which is the investment into our essential social services. I know that that will be welcomed, up and down New Zealand. We do believe that those who go out and work on behalf of New Zealanders are worthy of that support. They would not have got it from the National Party. National members have never valued the not-for-profit sector. They only ever talk about the private sector, but coming into an election year, they have been running around like little rats, meeting with everybody and promising everything they can. Why? Not because they believe in them but because they hope they will get a vote out of them! Well, as that sector knows, there has been ongoing consistent support; and a package that has been announced today by my colleague Ruth Dyson really does show that commitment to the many people who work in the sector.
That was a speech from Parliament’s astrologist, the Hon Annette King, the woman who ascribes most of the ills of this country to the movements of the sun and the moon and the tides.
I rise to support the motion moved by John Key, which is that this House has no confidence in the Helen Clark - led Government because it has failed to make significant improvement in the areas of real importance to New Zealanders, because it lacks ambition, because it is tired and bereft of ideas, because it has lost touch with the people who put it in power, and because under its lead our country has become a story of lost opportunities.
Here are some questions that New Zealanders want answered by the current Government. Why, after 8 years of Labour, are we paying the second-highest interest rates in the developed world? Why, after 8 years under Labour, is the gap between our wages and wages in Australia and other parts of the world getting bigger and bigger? Why, after 8 years of Labour, have we not had a tax cut but are now promised one only because it is election year? Why, after 8 years of Labour, can our hard-working young people not afford to buy their own homes? Why are one in five Kiwi children leaving school with grossly inadequate numeracy and literacy skills? Why, after 8 years of Labour, which claims to aspire to carbon neutrality, are our carbon emissions racing up the scale at an alarming rate? Why has the health system under the Labour Government not provided for the needs of so many New Zealanders, despite the money that has been put in place? Why is it that in New Zealand under a Labour Government violent crimes and other crimes against innocent New Zealanders are so much on the rise?
Let me tell Annette King that the disasters and personal tragedies of the last couple of months have nothing to do with the sun, the moon, and the tide. They have everything to do with a country becoming more and more impoverished and with opportunities slipping away from far too many people. I think one of the ways that I can best express to this House how many young New Zealanders are feeling is by simply reading a letter that was sent to me late last month. The letter comes from a young man in Christchurch, who writes: “I am 32 years of age. My wife is 30, and we have a beautiful 2-year-old daughter. We dearly want to buy a house for our family to call home, yet this is becoming impossible with the current property market. Here’s our situation. We have $50,000 in the bank. I have a $5,000 student loan.” He was at teachers training college in 2007, training for what has to be considered an essential service in this country. He says: “We have no other debt.” This year he has a job at a high school in Christchurch. He starts on a salary of something just over $42,000, and he expects, with some family support, that with one person working the household income will be up around $50,000 for the year. He says: “Last week, we found a fantastic house in a suburb close to the school I work in. It is a $275,000, three-bedroom, completely renovated home; a beautiful house. Keep in mind,” he says, “that this is well below the average house price in New Zealand at present. So I don’t think we are setting our sights too high. It is perfect for us, or so we thought. So we went to the bank manager to do the calculations, and the answer was ‘impossible’.” With an after-tax income from that $50,000 household, they would be spending 70 to 80 percent of their income servicing a mortgage.
Ruth Dyson over there says it is wrong. I challenge her. I will put this man in contact with her, and if that member can take him to an institution in this country and organise a $225,000 mortgage to buy a very moderate house on a $50,000 income, then I would accept that she had the upper hand. But that is not the truth. That will not happen and she will not take that challenge.
He says: “Here is our predicament. There are no options for us other than to rent. So much for every Kiwi being able to own their own home. Why must people like ourselves be forced to rent, etc., etc.” He further asked—and I think this is very telling—whether the situation in New Zealand is that a young family with cash in the bank, minimal debts, a respectable job with an above-average salary, who are keen to buy, keen to settle, and have saved for the last 5 years, and, by the way, in those last 5 years have saved not only $50,000 but also paid off a $13,000 student loan, a huge effort on their part, cannot afford to buy a house in this country. Why is that?
I say to this young person that the problem here is not so much the cost of the housing but, in terms of affordability, the lack of income that so many New Zealanders now put up with. Under the 8 years of the Labour Government so far, the gap between the cost of living and the incomes that people receive has widened enormously. Not a person in this country who has been into a supermarket in the last couple of months has not felt the significant movement in basic food prices. The Government that comes into the House today does not give any hope for people about a better future, but simply goes back to the rhetoric of the 1990s and recounts some of the things it thought were important then, tells us that it has done them, and effectively admits that it has been an abject failure as far as improving the lot of average New Zealanders goes.
We heard the Prime Minister talk about housing affordability. What is her answer to housing affordability? It is to have more State prescription about the sorts of houses New Zealanders have to live in and to empower local authorities to demand that certain areas inside new subdivisions are for low-cost housing. That completely misses the point, because the point is that New Zealanders cannot afford low-cost housing. There was not one thing the Prime Minister said today that would give anyone in this country hope that his or her income may rise any time soon.
It is interesting when one looks at the events of the last couple of weeks. Michael Cullen has been going out there and spruiking the concept of Labour associating itself with tax cuts to the entire force of the media contingent in the Beehive. We saw headlines in the newspapers saying that Labour is going to give us tax cuts. I think that was on the Wednesday. Then in his speech on the Thursday, Michael Cullen said: “Maybe, perhaps, I am not sure.” In today’s statement from the Prime Minister there was just a very, very scant reference to the fact that the Budget may put in place a budget for the delivery of tax cuts.
So all those people out there who are struggling to pay mortgages, who go along to the supermarket and are now paying up to $5 just for a pound of butter or, worse still, well over $5 for a couple of litres of milk, will get nothing from what the Labour Party has offered today. A number of questions I asked at the start of my speech, New Zealanders will be asking the current Government. None of those answers will give them any comfort, and that is because, as time has gone on, this Labour Government has concentrated more and more on its own survival and less on the issues that matter to the people who put that Government there in the first place. Worse, I think, is that as we go through this year it will become clear that this Labour Government has squandered the economic opportunities that New Zealand has had over the past few years. In times past, such years would have seen significant increases in incomes. Under Labour, that has been completely suppressed. I am very proud to support John Key’s motion, and if the House, in its widest sense, has any sense, it will support it too.
The Prime Minister’s speech today certainly delivered a build-on in relation to what we have done in 2007 and those years past. Today, sitting in the House, it has been quite surprising to hear all this pontificating from the other side of the House in relation to housing, to jobs, and to the economy. We all know what happened in the 1990s! We have been offered strong and proven leadership today by the longest-serving Labour leader, Helen Clark. In 2007, a year of major achievements, we had a strong and resilient economy. Affordable health care was extended, with prescription costs capped at $3 and the cost of doctors’ visits halved; 20 hours of free early childhood education for 3 and 4-year-olds was introduced; and KiwiSaver was ever expanding.
If we want Kiwis to own houses in this country, then we have to set up a platform whereby they can get the deposit and whereby they can realise their dreams. We know who removed the cap on State house rents in the 1990s; it was the National Government. We know who sold all the State houses; it was the National Government. What has been difficult and hard to do is to create the filler, in the sense of replacing those houses. As the Minister of Housing has said, we are quite clearly making housing affordability—the track to owning a house—a lot easier.
A plan for a truly sustainable New Zealand is under way, with support for economic development—for example, the business tax package, which everybody seems to be forgetting. In relation to the achievements and the economic script of this country, it is fascinating to listen to the leader of the National Party, who was a principal player in the markets’ savaging of this country’s dollar. There were two of them who did that. That is the truth. That is what happened. If he is proud of that, then he should talk about it. If that is what stabilising the country is, if leadership is about that, then one wonders and ponders. If one does understand foreign exchange, if one does understand the markets in relation to futures, and if one does understand about taking the gap between the bottom and the height of the dollar, it is very interesting what one does—one plays with it.
Supporting economic development with the business tax package has been a serious part of this Government’s achievements. We have had the longest run of economic growth since the Second World War. That is incredible. I want to repeat that: this is the longest run of economic growth since World War II. The economy is a third larger than it was when we were elected—a third larger! Everybody forgets about that.
There was an interesting defining-point in this fairytale about people running away from this country because they do not like it or do not enjoy it—which is what the leader of the National Party said up in Waitangi. Truthful Phil Goff has brought out the real figures. What were the percentage gaps and differences? At the moment it is 1.6 percent. Let me add to that that the reason for the gap is the false market in mining prices, and the reserves that China and India are picking up, which put a buttering on the top. The only way that people will survive is with the skills package that this Government is serious about their having. What was the figure in the National Government’s time? It was 54 percent. So I would slow down on knocking on about people going to Australia.
I said this in Waitangi, and I repeat it here: Māori are natural roamers. They roam around. They like roaming. In the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s, 85 percent of Māori lived near the marae. They lived in Ruatōria, lived in Te Kao, lived in the supposed backblocks. Their language and their culture were strong because they were right near the marae. In the space of 10 years they roamed and became urbanised, in response to National’s edict, in response to industrialisation. It was the fastest move by indigenous people in the world—10 years. They came from the country, and born out of that was Manurewa, Papatoetoe, and Wainuiōmata. [Interruption]
Now they go to Brisbane and Sydney—that is dead right. It is an evolving transition of indigenous people—these things have slowed down—and certain parties such as the National Party try to take them down. I want to tell that member over there from Hawke’s Bay why Māori are going to Sydney, to Australia. It is because they are roamers. One in seven Māori now lives there. It is not because they do not like this country; it is because OE is just starting to be accepted by Māori in the same way that it is accepted by that member and by John Key. Pākehā have been doing it for years. They go to school, start in business, then say: “I’m going to go OE-popping, ma.” That is what that member said to his parents. Māori go overseas and they learn things. That is how they get to understand better that home ain’t too bad after all. And they will be back. John Key went on a long-term OE. What was wrong with that? What did he do? He supposedly got other skills. Chris Tremain went on OE—he is always on OE, because I never see him here! But that is what he did. Pākehā have done it for a long, long time. What is the hassle? What is wrong with Māori going over there? That is why Hone Harawira is always going overseas—because Māori are roamers.
Contemplate this: in 1992 one in four of us Māori was on the dole, on the unemployment benefit. That was a repercussion of National’s last session in Government. It was disgraceful how it collapsed businesses, undermined the unions, took the workers out, and sold their houses—such as those in Masterton. It is quite simple: Māori are living longer, more Māori are working, more Māori are participating in education—the number has tripled—and more Māori and their whānau are enjoying a better quality of life, and it just keeps on getting better. Since just over 3 years ago, our language has been in the strongest state it has been in for a long time. People over there pooh-poohed Māori Television. It is 3½ years old and is about to launch its second channel, which will be fully in our language and run for 3 hours every day. That is a great thing.
We heard in the Prime Minister’s statement about support for strengthening the non-governmental organisations, and that is something that I know Katherine Rich is totally supportive of. Everything that came out in that speech she would have said; it is just that we have said it a lot earlier and we have been practising it. I know she would agree with it. [Interruption]
Mr Jones was a gun shearer, and I was a slower one. But the thing about taking wool off sheep is that one has to understand where it goes. One thing about the Māori economy, which is hitting $16.9 billion, is that Māori are big takers. The single biggest meat exporter in this country is Māori. Māori are heading to be the biggest owners of fish in the South Pacific, and I thank Mr Jones for his effort in that regard, in that his commission devolved that industry. People like to paint this picture of poor old Māori. It is not denied that we have blips in Māori society. The rabid bullying by men of women, the violence, is there and is very real. But it is a New Zealand issue. It is something we have all got to get hold off.
Māori youngsters are leaving school too early. What the Prime Minister has said, and what this Government has proposed as one of the best policies going forward, is that people up to 18 years old should be in a form of education. One thing that one learns as indigenous people and tangata whenua is that if one is well skilled, one is skilled for life and one can look after one’s family. Most Māori in the 1980s went into trade training or into the services. Most of those people who qualified and learnt different skills were never on the dole through the hard times when the shots came in. That is what we have to do right now. We have to skill our people with relevant skills for the opportunities that are out there in the labour market. What the last National Government did was to strip that all out. It was jobs for the boys, and it was injection-free capital roaming by those investors, especially overseas.
Māori business is on a roll at the moment, and it is not just because of Treaty settlements. We have grown up. The governance has got better. And guess what? Māori are the best business investment in this country, because they ain’t going to leave here. They are like the old English families. They want to live here. They ain’t going to leave here, and that is really important to understand.
There are problems. Many vulnerable whānau turn to the numerous Māori providers across this country, and that was what the Prime Minister announced today: support for the non-governmental organisations. I commend Ruth Dyson for the effort she has put into that, and I know that Katherine Rich would be totally supportive of it. A large number of Māori community groups deliver essential child, young people, and family services on behalf of the Government. These groups understand their communities and their families. We are trying to ensure that there is a release of funding to them. It is their right to manage, to make sure that their communities get the best in relation to what they want and what they need.
That is dead right. We have outstanding legislation that is coming in at the moment. Māori will not be led by the nose. They will understand. We have seen the gloating and the posing from National members. They think they are already in Government. Well, they ain’t. And we are not going to lie down and roll over.
I am somewhat at a loss, because usually in these debates the Opposition will stand up and draw upon something that the previous speaker has said, and rebut some of the pithier, worthier points. But I have to admit that I did not understand a word of that speech—that stream of consciousness tirade, that bumf, that great wodge of words. I challenge those members over there to actually explain what we just heard: references to “build-ons” and “black boxes”, Māori being “roamers”, and how we are not to worry about the 800 Kiwis who get on a plane every week and leave this country, because somehow that is their overseas experience. Well, I hate to break it to that member there. A lot of people from this country get on those planes, go to Australia, and never come back. So when we are listening to constituents worried about their grandchildren and their children living in another country, it is not enough for that member to stand there and say that this is just some roaming cultural aspect, because it is not.
I stand to support John Key’s motion that the House has no confidence in the Helen Clark - led Government because it failed to make a significant improvement in the areas of real importance to New Zealand, because it lacks ambition, because it is tired and bereft of ideas, because it has lost touch with people who put it in power, and has lost the vision and ability to lead this country and look at the opportunities.
I listened to that speech today and I kept waiting for some kind of big idea, some vision, some set of ideas that hopefully would lift the hearts and minds, the spirit, of this country. I say: “Thank God they had no ideas.” I have not heard a more boring speech in this House. It was delivered in such a dispassionate way that clearly that Government has run out of ideas. Its members are not interested in what they are talking about.
I was left with a whole bunch of questions, actually. If things are so great in this country, how come those 800 Kiwis are getting on a plane and leaving? How come this Government has 6,000 students who do not even know whether they are in a school? There are 6,000 lost students who are nowhere within the school system. If things are so great, then why has truancy increased by 41 percent since 2002? Why, every week, are some 30,000 kids not attending class? [Interruption] It might be a simple statement for that member to comprehend. Students cannot learn if they are not in a classroom.
I would like to know why it is, if things are so great, that a teacher in a classroom is now more likely to be subject to a verbal assault or a physical assault than at any time in our nation’s history. [Interruption] Harry says that there is nothing new about that. Does that make it OK? We heard Helen Clark talking about the importance of non-governmental organisations and their delivery of social services. She did not think that, when she stuck it to Plunket. She took Plunket’s contract from it and gave it to an American firm, which now answers the much-beloved PlunketLine, and that is now funded by fund-raising as opposed to—
Well, it is so easy when that member is in Government, I have to say. Why is it that one in five kids leaves school without the ability to read or to write well? After 8 years we were expecting a few more solutions and a few more ideas about how the Government intends to solve that, as opposed to the same old, same old. The set of ideas we heard from Labour today is the same it had in 1999. We heard today that we are going to have a few more reviews. We are going to have a few more reports. We are going to have a few more workshops. Well, whoop-de-do. I hate to break it to those members on the other side but calling for reports and calling for reviews is not the best part of a decision. Actually doing something as a result of that report or that review, and implementing it, is the main bit. Any fool can call for a review or a report. Any fool can hold a cocktail function and launch something with all the fanfare of a circus, but it is quite a different thing to get results. If we look at this Government, ultimately it will be judged on its results.
Certainly, within the schooling system there is a lot that it should be ashamed of. More kids than ever are now leaving school without qualifications. Government officials predict that it is going to get worse. More 16 to 18-year-olds are leaving school without training and without qualifications. What is Helen Clark’s answer? Well, the Government is going to put up the school leaving age to 18. I can tell the Prime Minister that schools are finding it tough keeping these kids within the school-grounds as it is, without artificially raising the age and pretending that somehow it will make things different.
I suppose ultimately New Zealanders were listening to the Prime Minister’s speech today and searching for some ideas—something that was going to make a difference. One of the things they can look at today and see is that there are no ideas. This Government is tired. It has no new ideas that will make a difference to this country. That is why John Key, who is sitting on the Opposition benches, will roll into town with a momentum that Government members cannot stop. They need to get used to that. [Interruption] It was a 5-minute speech, and we have quarter of an hour, half an hour, to keep going, in which to list the litany of disgraceful decisions that Government members have made over the years.
Ultimately, come election day, I think Kiwis will make their decision on which party is offering a future and which party is still talking about the past. Helen Clark’s comment that youth crime somehow is the result of what Ruth Richardson might have done when most of us were still at university was just a disgrace, I have to say. One of the things this country is looking for is some solutions, and we heard John Key list them today. He listed his solutions. [Interruption] That member over there obviously was not listening. That is why I think even those members on that side of the Chamber know that ultimately there is going to be a change. They are tired and they cannot even work out any witty rebuttals in order to rebut some of the comments being made.
If things are so great in education, why is the Correspondence School being restructured a fourth time? Why are more kids leaving school without the ability to read and write at anywhere near their chronological age? Government members might think that is OK, but members on this side of the Chamber are pretty distressed and disturbed by that. If people cannot read or write in a modern society, then they will have no ability to participate at the level at which we expect New Zealanders to participate. More important, if people cannot read and write well they have no ability to get a good job, and no ability to ensure they can do the things for their families that most Kiwis want to do.
I will come back to Parekura’s pearls of wisdom today. Those hundreds of thousands of Kiwis are not in Australia because they are looking for better prospects; they are there because they are roaming! Well, who believes that? Any Kiwi can step across the ditch tomorrow and earn over one-third more than he or she is earning here. It does not matter whether they are teachers, social workers, or even just builders’ labourers. I think this Government, with its head in the sand, will ensure only that we lose more citizens than we are losing at the moment.
It is a pleasure to speak in this House today. John Key has the answers. He has a vibrant team, a good team, and thankfully our opponents are so damned deluded that they think they are on the side of the angels. Well, if they thought Helen Clark’s speech today was a great speech, then I say: “Why don’t you just pick up your things and go home now?”. We are ready to take it to the election. One thing that is as clear as anything is that John Key will be the next Prime Minister. Not only do we know it, but Government members know.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate on the Prime Minister’s statement. One thing that a Minister of Health always has to have some concern about is the overprescription of prescription medicines. When I look across the House and see this listless, lethargic Opposition I am a bit worried that somebody has been passing around prescriptions on the far side. A bit too much Valium or Mogadon has been dispensed on the far side—those members barely twitched when their own leader was attempting to give a speech.
The contrast I have honestly never seen more clearly than I did today—Helen Clark displaying all of the strong leadership, the substance, and the policy depth that means she can traverse with confidence any issue in any portfolio, and John Key trying to do a few stunts and signifying nothing. When looking along the front bench when that speech was being given we saw Gerry Brownlee looking like some sort of lugubrious bloodhound, with his triple chins below his belt. We saw Nick Smith looking distressed and tense—well, nothing is new there. Bill English was sharpening the knife, knowing that next time it would probably be his turn.
The contrast has never been greater. Labour has a strong vision. We secure the best possible living standards for all of our people. We care about differences and disparities. We believe in an inclusive New Zealand. We are not going to wish it away just by comparing ourselves abstractly with Australia or some other place. We are going to work hard to make this country the best we can be, and that does not come from slogans and it does not come from pretending to be “Labour-lite”. It comes from the long hard graft of policy development in portfolios, processes, implementation, and achievement. That is why, when the Prime Minister sums up progress and next steps, it takes 16 pages, and it is all concrete. There is no flimflam; there are real examples—things that affect real people.
In 2007, it was a year of major achievements, a strong and resilient economy, and affordable health care—$3 prescription charges now to every New Zealander. There is a big contrast between the two sides of the House. Labour members do not think primary health care is there to provide a gravy train for doctors. We think it is about caring for patients. That is why we are capping GPs’ fees, unlike Dr Coleman and his team who are just pandering to vested interests in this very interesting sector. I do not think that does justice to the dedication of those in the medical workforce, who get up every day to make the lives of New Zealanders a little better. This Government is working with them to take them forward—
That has got him riled up. I say, “Good on you, Jonathan.” The member is awake—that is excellent to see. Twenty hours free education for 3 and 4-year-olds has been introduced. KiwiSaver has 400,000 entries. That just happens to be about the same as the number of new jobs since we got elected—another 400,000. What part of cutting the unemployment rate in half does the National Party not understand? There has been a 56 percent drop in Maori unemployment, a 54 percent drop in Pasifika unemployment, and a 47 percent drop for other ethnic groups. That is a solid achievement in anybody’s book.
The National Party had it going the other way. When I was first introduced to the health portfolio I looked at some disparity data. In the bad old days of the 1990s, the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and the gap got wider. In the last 8 years we have repaired some of that damage to our social fabric, and we have—to use an old term—closed part of those gaps. But do members know what? We are not back to where we were before Ruth Richardson’s “mother of all Budgets”. It just happens to be the truth—the numbers do not lie. We have to keep working in the interests of all New Zealanders, including the poor, the old, the young, the marginalised, and the people who rely upon being able to take their kids to the doctor when they are sick without worrying about whether they can afford it.
In 1999, I was door-knocking in my first campaign, in a street in New Lynn called Northall Road, and I will never forget the day I met a young mum. She had three young boys and she had just brought them back from a visit to the doctor. I got talking to her, and she started to cry on the street. I said, “What’s wrong?”. She said: “My youngest is calcium deficient.”, and being naive I said: “What about milk?”. She cried more, and said: “I can’t afford milk. I’ve had to choose between paying for the doctor visit and putting milk on the table.” This happened in a country that exports more milk than any other country in the world. She could afford only milk powder, because she was paying a private rent after a recent separation, and she was being gouged by a landlord, and she had to choose between taking her kids to the doctor and paying for milk. I have never forgotten it. There were hundreds of thousands of families in that situation during the last time that the National Party members were in charge.
They will be back there. Lest New Zealanders believe this “Labour-lite” rubbish that John Key is trying to put as a veneer on the greed and the naivety of National’s policies—lest New Zealanders believe that rubbish—let me tell them that Mr John Key was the right-wing candidate in the leadership race. Bill English was the moderate, and the right-wing candidate—the guy from The Hollow Men, the candidate from central casting—won. He won. We know what the agenda looks like. So if New Zealanders want what they have been getting, which is a record of solid achievement, it is very easy: return this hard-working team. Return this Government that has a brimful of new ideas to take New Zealand forward in cooperation with our support partners.
And do members know what? Sometimes these guys in National look at the polls and they forget that we can work with just about every party in this Parliament, and they cannot. So if these polls are within a bull’s roar, guess who is going to be forming the Government—not them. If they take the smug little grins off their preppy little faces, they might realise they have got another 3 years on that side of the House—a whole generation of Tories washed away in their own decay.
Health is a very, very exciting and interesting portfolio. It is one that matters to every Kiwi family and every Kiwi child. Let me touch on a few things that show where the money—the investment that we made—has gone. In terms of workforce and staffing, we have put in 2,000 additional doctors and more than 4,500 additional nurses since we got elected.
We have put in 2,000 doctors and 4,500 nurses, and we have increased the medical school uptake by 45 a year to 365.
And it is the same in education. The growth rate in the front-line clinical workforce has been higher than the growth rate in the support workforce. What is a health bureaucrat? By the National Party’s definition it is the receptionist at the front desk of a hospital. What does National want to do—have a brain surgeon answering the phones? Is that an efficient way to run a health system? The National members are all looking at their shoes now because they have no answers. They never did have any answers.
So where to from here? I could go on and on about our achievements, about the primary health care strategy, about the low prescription charges—$3 a head now—and about low general practitioner fees so that ladies like the one in Northall Road do not have to choose between food on the table and taking the kids to the doctor. That is what we in Labour stand for—access, affordability, and security for every Kiwi family from the cradle to the grave. That is what Labour has always stood for.
Not every Kiwi likes Labour. Some vested interests out there do not like the fact we stand up for the little guy. But with Labour people know what we stand for. This Government has never erred. It has never strayed from its true north, which is that every New Zealander is worth the same; every New Zealander is of the same value and deserves the same opportunity and security in life.
Shane Jones is right—potential. Our policies are built around providing a roof over people’s head, education for their children, health care when they need it, and economic development so that there are jobs, which is how we have cut unemployment in half. That is what Kiwis want.
As Kiwis reflect in this historic election year on where we want to take our country, the choice is stark. Do they want to take their country back to the 1990s, to a “Labour-lite” leader with a flimflam veneer who has no policy he is willing to talk about? When National started talking about the privatisation of State-owned enterprises and lifting the cap on general practitioner fees, the public relations consultant said: “Focus groups don’t like it. Back to Labour-lite.”
What are they not telling us? For consistency, security, opportunity, and leadership, it is Labour all the way for New Zealand’s future.
It is great to be back after a wonderful New Zealand summer in Wellington—a city that very soon will be strongly National. [ Interruption] It is my hope that those honourable members who are not fortunate enough to live in this great city also had a good summer—and I refer to my friend from New Zealand First. It is also great to support my leader’s motion of no confidence in this grotty Government. Why? Because this Clark-led Government has consistently failed to make any significant improvement in the areas of real importance to New Zealanders. It lacks ambition; it is tired; it is bereft of ideas; it has lost touch with the people who put it there; and under its lead our country has become a story of lost opportunities. It is so apparent that as time has gone on, Labour has concentrated more and more on its own survival—witness its performance last year—and less and less on the issues that matter to the people of New Zealand.
Gerry Brownlee, with his customary accuracy, identified the questions that New Zealanders really want answers to. Harry Duynhoven should listen very carefully to this because the people of New Plymouth will be asking him this before they throw him out at the end of the year. Why is it, I say to Harry, that after 8 years of Labour we are paying the second-highest—
I am sorry to interrupt the member but this has happened quite frequently this afternoon. People are referring to members by their first names. Members must refer to a person by his or her full name or title.
I ask the Hon Mr Duynhoven why, after 8 years of Labour, we are paying the second-highest interest rates in the developed world. Why is it that under Labour the gap between wages here and wages in Australia and other parts of the world keeps getting bigger and bigger? Those are major questions that will haunt Labour throughout 2008. Why is it that under Labour we will get a tax cut only in election year, when we really needed it years ago? Why cannot our hard-working children afford to buy their own house? Why is one in five Kiwi children leaving school with grossly inadequate literacy and numeracy skills? Why, when Labour aspires to be carbon neutral, do our greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at an alarming rate? Why has the health system not improved, when billions of extra dollars have been poured into it? Why is violent crime against innocent New Zealanders continuing to soar, and why is Labour unable to do anything about it? Let the member for New Plymouth answer those questions, if he can.
The answers to those questions are obvious: all these problems are not because of Ruth Richardson; the sun and the moon, as the Minister of Justice would say; or the National Government in the 1990s. It is because Labour is useless. National is going to focus on the real issues facing New Zealand, and we are not going to be fixated on the tired old debates of 20 or 30 years ago. We know that New Zealanders are demanding change, and are demanding change because it is time for a Government that says no to mediocrity and that expects more for New Zealand. We are going to lift wages by driving economic growth. We are going to invest in infrastructure and ongoing tax cuts. We are going to monitor the quantity and quality of Government spending, and, yes indeed, we are going to create safer communities, which do not exist in New Zealand at the moment—certainly not in places like Manurewa.
This Government is going to be held to account in 2008. Helen Clark has had 8 years in office, but in many areas things have gone backwards. Let me illustrate this by referring to a number of matters that the Prime Minister talked about this afternoon. The Prime Minister, for example, has emphasised the importance of the innovation economy to New Zealand’s economic prospects. An important component of the innovation economy is up-to-date intellectual property law, and presumably that is why she made the Hon Judith Tizard the Minister responsible for intellectual property reform—what could be called the ultimate oxymoron! That Minister has made such a hash of copyright law that she needed a ministerial minder in 2007. First it was Steve Maharey, who became so fed up with trying to direct her that he resigned from Cabinet altogether, is resigning from Parliament, and is seeking refuge in Massey University. I do not know who the minder is now. Rumour has it that it is Trevor Mallard. Well, whoever is working on copyright, it is clear that the Copyright (New Technologies and Performers’ Rights) Amendment Bill is going nowhere. It is languishing at No. 17 on today’s Order Paper and I do not believe that it is going to go anywhere this year, other than out the back door.
So much for intellectual property law; so much for the legal infrastructure needed for the innovation economy that the Prime Minister talks about. Indeed, the only intellectual property issue she mentioned this afternoon was the resale royalties for visual artists. Well, that is hardly a mainstream issue. The time has come for a comprehensive review of copyright law, which is fundamental to a knowledge-based economy; and Labour has no answers on this issue.
Then let us look at Treaty negotiations. The Prime Minister mentioned Treaty negotiations this afternoon, and her statements were as supercilious as they were in 2007. Let us look at the reality. Labour has had three Ministers in charge of Treaty negotiations. The first Minister should have been called the “Minister in charge of stopping Treaty negotiations”, because all she did was conduct audits, instigate reviews, and release principles. The one thing she never did was negotiate settlements.
That was too hard for her. Then we had the member for Taupo—enough said! No parody could ever exceed the reality. Now we have the Deputy Prime Minister, but his tricks fool no one. What we have is a trend of proclaiming agreements in principle, rather than negotiating agreements themselves. Over the adjournment I have had a good look at some of these documents and they indicate that an increasing amount of material is left to the imagination. So we get commitments, and Mr Jones will be interested in this, like “the Crown will explore certain place name changes”, rather than identifying the place names to be changed. Cultural redress sites are being slated for transfer, subject to the usual offer-backs, like under the Public Works Act, with the caveat that if the sites prove to be unavailable to iwi, because the offer-back is accepted, for example, then the Crown is under no obligation to offer any other site. This is the case, even though the list in the agreement in principle will doubtless have been culled from much longer lists that were provided to iwi at the time of negotiation. The result, for example, is that Ngāti Apa may receive much less than they thought they had agreed to. The recently announced, and much-trumpeted, Wellington agreement contains no real historical account, yet manages to make acknowledgments on the basis of that historical account.
So what does all this mean? First, a lot more work will need to be done to complete deeds of settlement—a lot more than used to be done under National in the 1990s. The record of this Labour Government in this critical area of national reconciliation is to do nothing. It has done nothing more than engage in some kind of arid and academic exercise, like the Wilson years; look utterly bewildered and muck up everything one touches, like the Burton interregnum; or sign agreements in principle and then superciliously trumpet success, which is the Cullen postscript. Everything that Labour has touched in this area it has got wrong. It has created intra-iwi scraps in the central North Island; inter-iwi scraps in Auckland; and has bent over backwards to hide redress value; and now it is signing useless agreements in principle.
The Prime Minister does not like this kind of criticism. With her customary zealous regard for the truth, she said last week that she was “waiting for the National Party to vote for a single Treaty settlement negotiated by us”. Well, if she had looked at the facts, she would have seen that there have been nine settlement Acts passed since that Labour lot came to office, and we have voted for all but two. It does not matter whether the issue is education, infrastructure, health, intellectual property, or Treaty negotiations, this Government has no ideas. It is washed up, it is useless, it is incompetent, and in November 2008 it will be something else too—it will be finished. New Zealanders know that it is time for a change and that the National Party can, and will, deliver that change.
Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker. I te tuatahi me mihi ki te Whare i roto i tēnei pō, te pō tuatahi e noho ai tēnei Whare i tēnei tau hōu. Ka mutu, pōuri te whakarongo atu ki aua kōrero rā nō mai i tēnā taha o te Whare. Kei konei ngā whakaaro hōu.
[Greetings to you, Mr Assistant Speaker. Firstly, I acknowledge the House tonight in respect of this being its first night sitting of the new year. I am disappointed at the usual stuff I have heard from that side of the House. There is nothing new. The new ideas are here on this side.]
Greetings to everyone in the House this evening, this the first evening that we are debating with each other when I have the opportunity to amplify what is, by any estimation, the best speech of the day, likely to be the best speech of the year, that offered by the Prime Minister; yet it is disappointing to come back and hear tired rhetoric, look at jaded people, and then contemplate that the last speaker’s contribution actually summed up the whole group. He used words like “arid”, “supercilious”, “bewilderment”. In fact, those words describe the entire countenance of that group of people, who, unfortunately, think that simply by meandering back into the House, sauntering back from the four winds to the head of the fish—into Parliament—victory is going to fall into their laps. Victory will be delivered to those people who ensure that the waka of progress going forward is moved and kept stable by the ballast of policy content, leadership, integrity, and forward motion. Those are absolutely the issues that lie at the centre of, and are the foundation of, our Prime Minister’s speech.
I have to tell members that January showed Aotearoa how we must address the outstanding issues of our youth. Yes, tragedy struck a number of families, and tragedy will follow those families as their young people wend their way through the courts. But never was a truer word said, if I am not mistaken, by, amongst others, Mr Anderton, who, reminded everyone, as indeed Dr Cullen did, that those children are the progeny of that dismal, wretched time when the National Government slashed the guts out of the State. And those are the children who during their most fragile, sensitive, formative years were blighted by the mean-spiritedness, narrow vision, and desire of that Government to enrich their secret supporters and not to look after the mokopuna and tamariki, the young people of this country. Is it any surprise that putrid fruit has started to arrive from that dreadful time?
Of course, what is the response? Today we have had, potentially, the most signal decision that we are likely to encounter this year on the specific area of social service delivery. The Prime Minister has delivered for our non-governmental organisation sector. It is the sector that toils away dealing with the families at the heart of the community, the families that have to wake up and actually wash away from their homes and streets the foulness that is a hangover from that dreadful time. They might say: “Six, 7, 8, 9 years—how can you continue to blame us?”. I can tell folks that, rest assured, it will be 10, 11, 12 years, because there is no single reason why Kiwis in adequate numbers will follow John Key—none whatsoever. There was not a single contribution today from his speech to match the ballast, the power, and the demonstration of progress reflected in the Prime Minister’s speech.
Let us go back to the decision about non-governmental organisations. The non-governmental organisations were atomised; the non-governmental organisations were living in a virtual anaemic State when they were gutted in the 1990s. As a consequence of Dr Cullen’s fiscal stewardship, and the Prime Minister’s unparalleled leadership, we now have a surplus, we now have the resources to resuscitate and strengthen that sector. I challenge the members from National’s side of the House to look at the groups that will benefit from our non-governmental organisation strategy, because those are the groups that silently and quietly fear the return of a Government by members on that side of the House.
I tell the House that, rest assured, the sector has every reason to live in dread that those members will arrive back with a secret agenda they will not reveal. They will not disclose what they hope to achieve. They are, hopefully, going to put it out not only in this House but around marae. Of course, every time they go to marae they are really cuddling up to the Māori Party. The Tories are meeting the Māori Party, believing they are going to form a Government. What a joke! What a wretched trick that is to play on our people, and my Tai Tokerau people, when their real agenda is to destroy the Māori seats.
But let me come back to the non-governmental organisation announcement. This announcement lays down the platform for young families and vulnerable individuals old and young to have a great deal more confidence that their issues will be picked up, that they will not be swept aside, and that they will not be forgotten about.
The Prime Minister’s speech totally eclipsed the very eclectic, mean-spirited, facile, and shallow thoughts of Mr Key that somehow we could set up at the back of the Milford Track some sort of special zone where troublemakers and young gang prospects could be sent, out of sight, out of mind. The Prime Minister’s speech dealt with reality—that is, that the medium and trajectory of education is the only way we will turn the lives of these young people around. That is why Schools Plus, up and down the country, is being embraced.
A speaker earlier said that we were burdening the schools; in actual fact, what the Prime Minister has proposed is that everyone to the age of tekau mā waru, 18 years old, should engage in ongoing learning. That will develop our economy, that will be a sustainable contribution to productivity—not throwing them in the hīnaki, and not locking them in those special zones that Mr Key is talking about.
So we really have had the foundation influences laid out this afternoon. There was a massive contribution to the non-governmental organisation sector. But of course that sector can go only so far, and leaders of communities need to step up to the plate. It is a tragedy that not a single word has come from the Māori Party over the scourge and the blight that gangs represent in our area of Tai Tokerau. Gangs are spreading, knowing that the Māori Party has an air of indifference, or that it fears speaking the truth against them, and challenging community leaders—leaders of our marae, leaders of sports clubs—to say: “By all means join the fray! Come, celebrate your culture but leave the kawa, the terror of your gangsterism, well away from the preserve of identity.” When we hear them provide that quality of leadership, or speak that truth, then our people will know they have genuine spokespersons from the Māori community who can join in common purpose with the non-governmental organisation sector that is completely overwhelmed with joy and gratitude as a consequence of the Prime Minister’s speech.
My friend to the left asks when we are going to hear some policy from National. National’s strategy is not to put out policy, I tell him; National’s strategy is to ape, to purloin—in fact, its members are engaging in the largest heist this House is likely to see. They are quietly and very deviously wandering around, cherry-picking those parts of the Labour programme that we have travailed to deliver to the country. They will cherry-pick them and obscure, under our policies, their true agenda.
The true agenda is to continue the marketisation of service delivery and to continue their reliance on the privatisation and corporatisation of key areas of public good: education and health. There will be a reversion to the privatisation of prisons and a putting on the block of those core State assets that the public has said, time and time again, are not for sale. That is what National’s agenda is about. Its members foolishly think they could be right, and that the bewildered group known as the Māori Party will actually join forces with them and sustain that agenda. Well, that will be the day that our people will curse the existence of the Māori Party, so the National Party is unlikely to do it.
That party is unwilling—and I can understand why it is unwilling, because the agenda is frightening—and unable to pay back its debts to the people who are actually investing in behind. The same group that was delirious with joy when Don Brash at least had the gumption and honesty to spill out his rancid, racist rhetoric, the same group that clapped loudly for him then, still exists in that party. Its members are quietly, sneakily waiting for John Key, who mistakenly believes that he can use his sharemarket trading skills—which brought the subprime crisis to our country—to run the country. Never! Just as he is bike-riding in Rotorua, it will be “On your bike, buddy; haere ra!”. Kia ora tātou.
I have to say of that last member that he must be suffering from amnesia. It may not have occurred to him that his party has been in Government for 8 years, and he holds a ministerial warrant. But what does he do? He complains about the Māori Party as if that is the source of this country’s problems. There is only one source of this country’s problems, and it is that Government. There have been 8 years of lost opportunities. I have to remind members across there, those Ministers sitting in those seats, that they have squandered the best years of prosperity that this country has known in a generation. They have sold our country short. That is why I stand in support of John Key’s motion, which simply states that we have no confidence in the Clark-led Government because it has failed to make improvements in the areas of real importance to New Zealand, because it lacks ambition, because it is tired and bereft of ideas, and—members should get this final point—because it has simply lost touch with New Zealanders. And the previous speech tellingly showed that very point.
I ask any one of the Government members whether he or she can answer any one of these questions. Why does New Zealand now have the second-highest interest rates in the OECD? They are up from 4 percent 8 years ago to over 8 percent today and they are climbing towards 10 percent. Why have 70,000 New Zealanders left our shores for a better future elsewhere? Is it because the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia has widened dramatically? Why have New Zealanders had to wait 8 long years for a tax cut? We know that it is only a cynical manoeuvre being made by Labour for election purposes.
Why are hospital waiting lists catastrophically long? Why is it that every single day now Dr Coleman in Northcote and I are receiving letters, emails, and telephone calls from residents on the North Shore complaining about the crisis at North Shore Hospital? It is so bad now that the Health and Disability Commissioner is having to undertake a full-scale investigation into that hospital. Why can New Zealanders not buy their first home at a reasonable price?
Those are the questions I would put to any one of those members opposite. I ask whether, in their numerous speeches, they have answered those questions at all, or whether they have even attempted to address those questions. The answer is no. The reason is that those members cannot. They know that they have failed on each and every one of those points.
The telling point is this: real wages in this country, after taxes, have not grown. I know that the Government talks about there having been greater growth in the country, but it is largely due to increased employment, not to individuals having real growth in their wages, after taxes. That has not occurred and New Zealanders know the truth of that matter. Labour has had 8 years to fix those problems. We know what happens when a Government has had 8 years in power. I have had the experience of being in a Government in its eighth year and I knew what the situation was. I knew that we were struggling at that point, and I see exactly the same things happening on the Labour Government benches now. When Government members have to hark back to Ruth Richardson’s Budget in 1991 as if that was the cause, and when they have collective amnesia about their having been in Government for 8 years with no answers, then we know that it is a Government on its way out. I remember when we used to talk about what Labour did in 1984. It did not even convince us, so it certainly did not convince the voters of New Zealand. I tell the Government not to look back to 1991, but to look at its own record. It should justify its own record and answer the questions that my colleagues and I have been asking.
It is not just an issue of rhetorical debate in this Chamber; the country wants answers to those questions. National will provide those answers. For those members who say that National does not have any policy, let us just go through the discussion documents we have produced, which are typically 30 to 50 pages long, on the environment, health, local government, foreign affairs, and aged care. Those are the substantive works we have done. As well, we have had speeches on youth crime, sentencing, and policing. This is our platform of policy.
I know that my colleagues will be producing more documents, more speeches, and more comprehensive policy on housing, on infrastructure, on broadband, and—ultimately, of course—on taxes.
I want to talk about two portfolio interests that directly affect me, or, more important, the city of Auckland. Labour’s answer to that issue has been to set up another committee. It will be three worthy people, I admit, who will be appointed to a committee to give an answer. It has taken 8 years, of course, for Government members suddenly to realise that there is an infrastructure problem, a roading deficit, in Auckland. After 8 years those members have decided that the solution to that issue is to deal with it by way of a committee.
I have just heard Mr Harry Duynhoven slip into exactly the same area that we are talking about. He said that it was all due to National in 1991. Well, I tell Mr Duynhoven to get real. He has been in Government now for 8 years and it is time that his Government took responsibility for its decisions, because the voters will hold it to account for those failures.
National will have a comprehensive plan to lift Auckland, and we will deal with the critical issues. We will act. We will deal with the issues of governance. We will deal with the issues of transport, including public transport. We will deal with the international connectivity issues around broadband—connecting our most vital businesses and communities to the globe with fast broadband, not the slow track that Labour would have us on. In truth that plan will produce action because it will be about action, not talk, and that is the difference. We listened to that speech today, and I was just incredibly struck that this is as good as it gets. The only thing Government members can produce after 8 years in Government is a whole lot of footling little plans that do not amount to a hill of beans.
Another area of great interest to me, which I have been interested in for many, many years, is defence. Labour was elected in 1999 on a promise to transform our Defence Force—more depth, less breadth. As a principle, that has some logic and coherence to it; I understand that. I was on the select committee that produced the report Inquiry into Defence Beyond 2000 that dealt with that very issue. So after 8 years we should be reasonably able to measure whether that has been achieved. It is one thing for the Government to say that it did not do it in 2003, but it is quite another thing to ask it whether it has achieved it after 8 years. But we have the figures out from the Government. These are the Government’s own figures. Let us look at all the troubles in East Timor. I thought it was telling that the Government is anxious about deploying one extra platoon to East Timor, because Australia is about to deploy 250 people. On a same-ratio basis, we would expect to be able to deploy 50 or 60 people, but we are anxious about deploying 25 people. I know that the Minister will talk about there being all sorts of policy reasons and so forth, but I suspect there is another reason—that is, a lack of people.
These are the facts. We have two infantry battalions. They are supposed to have three rifle companies each, and each with 120 people. In fact, both of those battalions have only two rifle companies. One of those is already deployed into East Timor and another one is largely up in Afghanistan. That is why the Minister is anxious about the numbers. So we do not have the depth. After 8 years Labour’s own prescription has failed. I have to say that in that one little instance is a microcosm of Labour’s fundamental failure. It is all rhetoric, no action, and no dealing with the real issues. The truth is this. New Zealanders know that this Government has failed. They know it is time for a change. They want action, not talk, and they will get that at the election later this year.
Debate is resumed on the Prime Minister’s statement. The next call is to New Zealand First. It is a split turn between Pita Paraone and Barbara Stewart. There will be a bell at 4 minutes.
Tēnā koe, Mr Deputy Speaker, ā, tēnā koutou ngā mema o te Whare nei. Nā te mea ko tēnei te wā tuatahi i tū ake au i tēnei tau, e tika ana kia mihi kau i a koutou mō te tau hou.
[Greetings to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to the members of this House. As this is my first address this year, it is appropriate that I extend greetings of the new year to you collectively.]
Six days ago we celebrated as a nation the signing of our founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, 168 years ago. The Prime Minister’s statement today made reference to the Treaty and to the need to have historical claims lodged with the tribunal by September of this year. Last week also saw the signing of another document that will prove to be just as important to this nation as it was to those who signed it. I refer to the heads of agreement between the Crown and Ngāti Porou under the Foreshore and Seabed Act.
One would have thought that there would be much rejoicing, particularly from Māori and Māori members in this House. But no, all we got was a raft of derisive comments and a questioning of the right of Ngāti Porou to make the decision that it did in signing a heads of agreement with the Crown. It is ironic that those who passed those derisive comments are among the ones who promote the notion of tino rangatiratanga—the right of independence, and the right to make decisions as they pertain to Māori. Here we have a major iwi of New Zealand, Ngāti Porou, exercising its tino rangatiratanga, yet we have some Māori—particularly some Māori members in this House—questioning Ngāti Porou’s right to make the decision it made.
I will say, in regard to the agreement that was signed between Ngāti Porou and the Crown, that the signing of a heads of agreement in regard to foreshore and seabed matters is a key step forward in the journey that Ngāti Porou has chosen to take. Ngāti Porou has maintained ownership of the land, right down to the sea, along much of the coast in its tribal territory, and individual hapū have always exercised their mana along these stretches of coastline. I believe the agreement that has been signed gives due regard to the exercise of the mana that those hapū of Ngāti Porou exercised over centuries in relation to their coastline. As Dr Mahuika said: “There is still work to do, but we believe that we have made good progress.” Dr Mahuika went on to say: “The framework provided by the draft deed will ultimately provide protection and recognition of the rights our hapu have.”
I have no doubt that many other iwi who have coastline will certainly be watching the outcome of this arrangement. The aim of Ngāti Porou is to have the mana long exercised over these sections of its coast by its hapū legally protected and recognised. I say to the rest of New Zealand, particularly non-Māori New Zealanders, that they should not be afraid of this agreement. They should not think that the Crown has sold them out in terms of the seabed and foreshore legislation. I say that it augurs well for the protection of customary rights of iwi in exercising their right over that part of the coastline that belongs to their territorial area.
I conclude by wishing Ngāti Porou all the best. There is still a lot of work to be done. For those within their tribe who may have reservations about it, I exhort them to participate in the process that will see the appropriate legislation come before this House in due course.
On behalf of New Zealand First I must say that we were very pleased to hear the Prime Minister outline her Government’s priorities for the health system. It is important. The new Minister of Health has a big job ahead and plenty of issues that he can make progress on now that he is “running the show” and has discovered that he can order urgent reviews from the district health boards for action—the latest from Capital and Coast District Health Board. With all of this information he can be ready with the solutions. From the other side of the House health was mentioned only in very broad terms—no specifics, no policies, yet there have been many years for these policies to be considered and formulated.
We expected to have some vision today. But did we? No. In fact, all we heard was the case for Australia. With the Prime Minister’s statement we should be able to expect some further action. Gains can be made from stable government. As we all know, this is election year and completed actions are absolutely essential to go to the country with.
One area of major concern to the public is elective surgery. Patients who enter the system via the accident and emergency system are well catered for within the constraints the system actually has. However, if one is waiting for elective surgery it is a bit like a lottery draw. The worst of it is that if one loses in this particular draw the consequences can be fatal, despite the additional numbers of doctors and nurses. As a “for instance”, three people died in Hawke’s Bay Hospital while they were on the Wellington Hospital waiting list for heart surgery. The Minister has ordered a review. We hope that this will not be a smoke and mirrors exercise.
From the end of life we move to the beginning—specifically, maternity services. They are understaffed, under pressure, and basically in need of a review. According to a senior obstetrician this week, “funding for midwives, the relationships between midwives and doctors, and recruitment of midwives and obstetricians could all be improved.” There is plenty of scope there for improvement. With New Zealand First and with the Government we have restored free health-care for the under-sixes and devised a formula to ensure that it is continued for years to come as part of our confidence and supply agreement, and, of course, we will be monitoring this closely.
The next area we go on to is cancer treatment. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in New Zealand, but we still do not have access to diagnostic equipment that has been in use in other countries for many years. Access to positron emission topography scanners has been the subject of bureaucratic dithering on a huge scale. Currently, the responsibility has been given back to the chief executive officers of the district health boards for a decision by the end of this month. Let us hope that it is not too long before the decision is made, so that people do not have to suffer needlessly. Positron emission topography, I am told, is coming, but it needs to be sooner rather than later.
Public health also rates a mention. Pātea’s old freezing works has been sitting there for years while both local and central government have wrangled over who should pay for the site to be cleared up. Then we had someone come along and light a fire, and there was a potential public health emergency of huge proportions. There is also the matter of the methyl bromide gas from fumigation of the export logs waiting around on the Wellington wharf in the Wellington central business district. Is this just another public health disaster waiting to happen? Whoever is responsible at the ministry needs to get on to these two issues as soon as possible.
Then, right here in Wellington, we have the particular problems of the Capital and Coast District Health Board. Among those problems is the flash new hospital that, even before it is finished, will be short of beds. Meanwhile, out in Porirua and on the Kapiti Coast close to 100,000 people are currently without 24-hour emergency medical care because Kenepuru Hospital’s emergency department has had to close off its late-night services. This is a dilemma that is very unfortunate. It was made by the previous Government, but it still has to be fixed—preferably by this Government—as soon as possible. As I said before, there are plenty of issues to make progress on, and New Zealand First will be monitoring these results closely.
This year, New Zealand will face some crucial choices about our future. We will decide where our priorities lie. Our choices, in my view, are simple. It is a choice between the confident steps towards a stronger and more caring New Zealand that this Government continues to take, or going back to the failed policies of the past. It is a choice between steady and reliable gains for New Zealanders, such as those the Prime Minister outlined today, or ripping it all up for a National Party smash-and-grab raid on the economy, so it can help itself to as much as it can.
I listened carefully to the Leader of the Opposition today, because I thought he might try to sound more responsible for once. I thought a wise leader would have something positive to say—just one thing would have been good—so I listened carefully. Did he for one moment say that he was pleased that 360,000 new jobs have been created since this Government took office? There was not one word. Did he say that he was pleased that we have enjoyed the longest run of economic growth since World War II? There was not one mention. He thinks it all happens by accident. He thinks it is just good luck. How come the National Party never got lucky in 8½ years in Government the last time?
John Key was blaming all the things that happen in New Zealand on this Government. Actually, in 30 consecutive years—from 1970 to 1999—this country went down 1 percent a year per capita income against Australia. For how many years of that period was National in Government? I will tell members that it was 20. National is absolving itself of absolutely the majority of the responsibility for all that time, and blaming it on us. It is almost incredible.
Did John Key say he was pleased that unemployment has fallen from the disastrous levels that the National Party created? Not once; there was not a mention. Pacific and Māori people used to have unemployment rates of more than 25 percent. Unemployment has now fallen to just 3.4 percent of the workforce, and the Opposition has not noticed it. He did not mention it.
Did Mr Key say he was pleased that Working for Families has put cash into hundreds of thousands of homes that need it most? No; he just demanded more for himself. Did he say he was pleased that Working for Families lifted tens of thousands of children in New Zealand out of poverty? More children were in poverty than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s. No; there was not a mention. Why is that, I wonder? I suspect that National does not really care about it. That is why it was not mentioned.
Did Mr Key say that National was pleased that this Government has taken 140,000 people off the benefit lists and found decent, meaningful jobs for them with better wages and better work conditions? There was not a mention. For a party that has spent so much time bashing beneficiaries, it is amazing that National created so many of them and still has so little to say when we come and cut back the benefit rolls, as we have.
National has a hands-off attitude towards jobs and towards reducing welfare payments and a hands-off attitude to the economy, because it simply has no ideas. I listened carefully for any semblance of new ideas from the National Party. I hear all the time how it is now agreeing with a policy that it opposed in the first place, which happens to be one that the Government has implemented. There is no vision there. There are no answers. National has nothing new to say. It promises only a return to the failed policies of the past. That is the choice New Zealanders face this year with National—to go back to the failed policies of the past, a stagnant growth for the future, and high unemployment. That is all there is. That is as good as it gets.
There are four policies that I have counted that National has announced so far. Firstly, to sell all the assets—sell Kiwibank, sell the airline, sell the railways, and then start on some new sales: sell the power companies, sell the roads, sell the lot. That sounds a lot like policies I used to oppose myself. I will not go any further down that road. National’s second policy is to put up doctors’ fees. Its third policy is to cut taxes, but only for the wealthiest New Zealanders. Actually, that was the policy announced yesterday by the Business Roundtable. The silence from the National Party on that policy announcement was deafening. I made a statement on the policy, saying what a load of rubbish it was. We never heard anything from the National Party. Did the National Party make a statement attacking the policy? No; it would not, because it is National’s policy. The Business Roundtable announces its policy, and we know from bitter experience that what the Business Roundtable wants National gives it. That is my experience in watching National in this Parliament. The one thing that National dared not say was what it thought of the Business Roundtable policy. What did National members think of it? Did they think it was great to have a flat tax rate for all New Zealanders, or for the highest-income earners to be paying the same as some of the lowest-income earners? I want to know whether the National Party supports the Business Roundtable. I would like to hear that from the next National Party speaker.
A family on the average wage in New Zealand with two kids pays the lowest rate of tax in the OECD. The National Party is opposed to that tax rate. Such a family pays virtually no tax at all. I want National to tell us whether it wants to cut taxes for the average family. We have actually cut it to the lowest levels in the OECD. I want National members to tell us whether they would pass on as much of the tax cut for that family as they want for themselves, because I do not think so. They do not care about the family on the average wage; they care only about families that are on wages equivalent to their own.
I acknowledge one area where I think, like the Government, National has made some positive promises. I insist on finding something positive. I am pleased that the emphasis on both sides of the House is on better educating our young people and on better preparing teenaged New Zealanders for the future. That is a good thing. I welcome a stronger priority for education.
Now that more of us in this House are talking about education, one of our top priorities this year should be to remove the tax on education. I am speaking now as Leader of the Progressive Party, of course. The student debt in this country, in my view, is a national outrage. We were told it was introduced because without an education tax tertiary education would be unaffordable. What has happened? We are now carrying as a country no net public debt. But as of last June, students owed the country $9.413 billion in debt. If we project those figures, by 2010 that debt will have risen to $12 billion.
I would like to hear whether National has a policy to abolish this debt. I would like to know that. By 2015 the debt will be $16.5 billion and by 2020 it will be $21.5 billion. At a time when even the most heartless New Zealanders are worrying about affordability of housing for young families, how will students save for a house when they have decades of debt around their backs?
When I hear people in the House talk about tax cuts I think that, yes, there should be some tax cuts for people who need them most. Businesses have had a corporate tax cut, which is something a National Government has never, ever delivered. National is so keen on talking about things that it forgets to do anything. Middle-income earners have missed out, so there should be something for them. But who is the most overtaxed group of all? It is young workers who had to pay a special tax on their education. If we are worried about losing our best and brightest overseas, and if we believe in tax cuts that will keep New Zealanders at home and attract them back, then we should be cutting the tax that drives more of them away: the education tax.
This is really an appeal by me to all parties in the House if they are really interested in education. When I went to training college in New Zealand—a teachers college in Auckland—we were paid a wage. We did not have to borrow money, but we had to pay something back. We had to serve in country areas for 2 years. It was a bond, really. My challenge is: why we do not say to young New Zealanders at tertiary levels now that if they get their tertiary education in areas where there is need—for teachers in the country areas, vets, doctors, nurses, tradespeople, and professionals of all sorts—we will pay them back every year that they serve in areas where they are needed in New Zealand as part of their loan payment? That is not something for nothing.
Well, I get told every day that National is going to be the next Government. I do not actually believe that, but I would like to hear something about what National will do. I listened to the leader of the National Party today saying nothing about what National will do. Nothing! It was bland rhetoric. That was all we got. There was no visionary leadership and no firm policy. National members should tell us what they will do about the debt of education. In my view we have the opportunity to do something for young New Zealanders. We have the opportunity to say to our young people: “Here’s a chance for you to serve your country and repay some of your debt.” We can do two things that are good at the same time.
So if we think about our future and what we can do for young people in New Zealand, we realise that we can take what we can for ourselves or we can offer it to those who need it most. This Government has been offering, to the people who need it most, help where they need, with jobs, payments back to their family for their children, and all the rest of it. Now I am suggesting we do something for the young tertiary students of New Zealand who are training in qualifications to serve this country. We can give them a break, as well.
We have just heard from Mr Anderton, the Minister of Agriculture. He stood up here and waved his finger around, but he did not really address any of the issues in the Prime Minister’s speech today. Right now the country is suffering under a crippling drought, and I want to know why that Minister has been involved with a regime where there has been no tax relief for our primary sector. That Minister has been involved in passing measures in this place that have increased compliance costs and have affected local government and the primary sector. The list goes on and on. So my hand goes out to rural New Zealand, which right now is suffering a crippling drought. I was pleased to see today that there was some rainfall over New Zealand, but, still, it will take more than a few millimetres of rain to get the sheep industry out of the dire situation it is in at the moment.
This evening I want to address the Prime Minister’s statement made today. After 45 minutes it was still bereft of ideas. Labour is languishing behind in the polls, and the Prime Minister got up and delivered what is National Party policy. The Government is turbocharging the community sector, and all those voluntary groups that John Key announced last year. Then, Dr Cullen said it was Tory charity, but now we see the Prime Minister almost word for word adopting the National Party policy that was announced last year.
We also heard Miss Clark talking about tax cuts in election year. We all know that Dr Cullen’s ideology is completely opposed to any reduction in tax at all. I could see Mr Scrooge sitting over there today when the Prime Minister was talking about it. He has been hoarding hard-earned taxpayers’ money. He has been sitting on a huge war chest for election year, and now he is going to dish it out in 2008. When National proposed a very good tax programme in the 2005 election campaign Dr Cullen said it was unworkable, unfair, and unaffordable. The surplus has reduced since 2005, but now Dr Cullen is getting worked over in Cabinet and has to deliver tax cuts, when he is opposed to them.
I also want to mention why New Zealanders are leaving for Australia in their droves. Why are 77,000 New Zealanders leaving to go overseas? Eight hundred a week are leaving to go to Australia. Let us talk about interest rates. When Dr Cullen came into Government interest rates were about 4.25 percent. Under Labour now, interest rates are 8 percent. It is no wonder people are leaving. Interest rates have doubled under this term of the Labour Government. We all know why people are leaving to go to Australia. It is not because of the climate; it is because their wages are up by a third and they pay less tax. So under a National Government—if we are fortunate enough to get in at this election—people can expect us not to squander the economic good times, and not to let people head over to Australia and not return. We will lift wages. We will get us back into the top half of the OECD—a failed promise by the Prime Minister. When she came into office she said she would get us into the top half of the OECD, and we are languishing near the bottom.
National will have a programme of realistic tax reduction and will not deliver it just in an election year. We will not hoard all that cash. We will give hard-working New Zealanders the right incentives to get ahead. There will not be more of the nanny State and more compulsion, which we see from the other side. We will also lift the programme of infrastructure so we can actually release the gridlock that motorists sit in. We can actually get smarter, and we have been talking about public-private partnerships to fund the shortfalls.
Now, because Labour is not doing so well in the Auckland area at the moment and Government members want to come out with more carrots, we see that a $2.3 billion tunnel is planned to go through Helen Clark’s electorate. The Government will set up a quango to have a look at public-private partnerships. The Government has been opposed to this right through its term—it is in its ninth year now—and suddenly it is talking about it. That has to be the way forward to fund projects dear to my heart, like Transmission Gully.
Let us look to the future. How will we get our economy spinning and keep our people in New Zealand? Voters will have to look to a National Government to deliver that.
I say to Mr Cosgrove, who keeps chipping in like a little rooster—and I look forward to his contribution—that under this Labour Government one in five people are leaving the education system unable to read and write. So we have poor numeracy and literacy standards in New Zealand. I look forward to hearing from Mr Cosgrove how he will address that. I will read out a quote today from the Prime Minister, whom Clayton Cosgrove is very close to—or is it Mike Moore he is close to—in his leadership bid in 2009 going forward. Here is a quote from the Prime Minister’s 45-minute speech today. When talking about education she said: “We are selling ourselves short. Close to 30 percent are leaving school before they are 17 and 40 percent are failing to get level 2 of NCEA.” That says to me that the Prime Minister has had 8 years to try to address the reasons why we have poor literacy and numeracy standards in our schools. We have a tight labour market, we have a skills shortage, and we see children slipping through the cracks.
Today the Prime Minister also mentioned that a major OECD report now shows the extent to which teenage participation in education is falling behind. Well, I never! Labour members have had 8 years to work that out, and here it is in the Prime Minister’s speech this year. Now they are going to try to do something in election year, and it is too late. That says “We’ve stuffed up.” The Labour Party has stuffed it up and it is time for education standards under a National Government. Standards will be reported back to parents so they will know how their children are doing. Fundamentally it is important to get on to this issue with 5 and 7-year-olds, to improve our numeracy and literacy.
I want to talk about the Fresh Start programme for 2008, outlined in John Key’s state of the nation address in Auckland. It was very, very well received. We will allow optional training for 16 and 17-year-olds outside of the traditional classroom. Under Helen Clark, the Labour Party, and the nanny State, there is more and more compulsion. They want to see young people kept in school until the age of 18. There will be more and more compulsion under the Labour Government. We have truancy figures that show, I think, that 31,000 pupils are currently truant in New Zealand. So if we drag them kicking and screaming back to school and tell them they have to stay until they are 18, the truancy levels will go up. When we talk to schoolteachers we hear that they do not want those ratbags in school because it will disrupt classrooms. So that went down like a cup of cold sick.
I move on to John Key’s very, very good speech. I want to talk about how well it was received, particularly in my patch of Kapiti. We have a very, very good programme there called Youth Quest that allows for people to be referred to it by the police. The founder is Paul Fong, an ex-Army guy who has given up being a member of the police. He has put his own money into the programme because the Labour Government is not supportive of him, and he has had to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops. He is turning round the lives of young boys between the ages of 16 and 18. He is taking them into the bush. They are sweating out drugs and alcohol. He is putting them on the straight and narrow, in a 3-month project. He has 21 currently on his waiting list. He can take only nine at a time. These are some of the comments made in our local media.
Mr Fong endorsed the Fresh Start programme. “The general public knows there is a problem out there and it needs to be sorted. I’m not sure that keeping kids in school until they are 18 is going to work, because the ones we deal with, who are the higher risk and the ones who are committing most of the crimes, clearly say that the education system is not for them. As John Key specifically said, it’s not about the boot camp; it’s more about the mentorship and the follow-up afterwards. I totally agree that it’s integral to any programme to have those male role models for those boys to look up to.” So there is a programme that is working in our area.
John Key has hit the button there. We have had a heinous month of crimes in New Zealand. Helen Clark got up and said that youth crime is going down, but violent crime is going up. People will turn to a National Government to sort out law and order, to sort out education, and to provide a good tax incentive going forward for hard-working Kiwis in order to stop them going over to Australia in their droves.
There is a fundamental arrogance that says that even when a person speaks nonsense, people will believe that person, and that is what the National Party peddles and believes. The member who just resumed his seat said in the course of his speech that National aspires to increase wages. That is the party that, year on year, refused to support the increase of the minimum wage. Year on year the Labour-led Government has improved the minimum wage because we are the party that can be relied upon to do that, and the National Party is the party that can be relied upon never to do it. The kind of language we have just heard—the dull, empty language from the National member who has resumed his seat—will not wash, will not be sufficient, and will not be believed by people who remember these things.
I turn to the issue of housing. I am delighted to pick up where the Prime Minister left off in her speech today and talk about the issue that is at the heart of some of the greatest need in our society, and that is the issue of affordable housing. The Labour Party has a long history of being the party committed to housing, and this Labour-led Government, under Helen Clark, continues that fine tradition. When this Government came into power in 1999 we inherited a nightmare, and it is one that will be repeated on the hustings. People ought never to forget that the last National Government in a fire sale sold off 13,000 State houses, mostly to property developers and speculators and not to the people who needed them. This Government has put a stop to those sales and during our term we have managed to increase the State housing stock by some 7,500, and we are continuing to do that. That number is growing by the day.
We have also reversed National’s market rent policy, which ripped State housing from those who needed it, and have reintroduced income-related rents. We have also improved a large number of the State housing stock through intensive maintenance and modernisation programmes. We have reduced over-crowding by assisting people into more appropriate homes. In addition, the Healthy Housing programme has helped to insulate thousands of homes and improve the health status of those families living in them, and we plan to do many more. There are plenty of statistics and pieces of evidence to support that.
I want to talk about our future interventions, because, unlike the members opposite, we actually have a soundly based programme to move forward to address the issue of housing affordability. Although we have done a number of really important things to stem the decline in State housing that was left to us by the previous administration, our job is far from done. In the last few years we have seen a steep increase in the rise of the price of houses in New Zealand. This is not a problem we have on our own; we have it in common with other comparable countries. That is why the Prime Minister today outlined an ambitious and comprehensive programme to help make housing affordable again.
I just want to highlight three or four of the points of that programme. First, the Government plans to develop—and is, in fact, developing right now—large-scale housing developments involving partnerships between central, regional, and local government and the private sector to increase the amount of affordable housing being built. There are two immediate examples of this. One is Hobsonville, and the other is Tāmaki. In Hobsonville, in Auckland, where houses are desperately needed, there is a brand new development going on. Right now the infrastructure for that development is under way. We will see the first houses go up next year. We are looking at 3,000 houses.
We are looking at 3,000 houses to be built in Hobsonville. Five hundred of those will be for people who need housing provided by the State. Another 500 will be affordable houses for those who are on low to modest incomes in order to assist them to get on to the homeownership ladder. Apart from that, there is room for an additional 2,000 houses out of that 3,000 to be developed by the private sector and sold on the private market. That is a mixed housing development starting from a brand new starting point at Hobsonville that can be linked in easily to existing roads and infrastructure and will be the kind of mixed community that we are ambitious to create in our society.
In addition to that, there is Tāmaki. In Tāmaki we are talking about Crown-owned land, as in Hobsonville, but this time it is what we call a brownfield site—in other words, one that is already established and being lived in. We are talking about another 3,000 houses, all of which would be available either for affordable housing or for sale on the private market. So we are going to get a mix, again, of the State house tenants who are already there, the private sector owners and renters who are already there, and, in addition, another 3,000 houses.
This brings me to the second point, one of the points that the Prime Minister made this afternoon. A very significant part of our programme moving forward is to assess how much Crown land is available for residential development. What have we got out there that is that is appropriate and available for residential development? This is somewhere where National Party members have not gone. They have not had the wit or the ambition to think this far. Their sole answer to the problem of affordable housing has been to expand urban sprawl into the green belts around cities, and nobody wants that. The other thing they propose is to take away the Resource Management Act, which is the legislation that protects the environment and balances the need for development with the need to protect our environment. We have the possibility of Crown land being put into the private market for the purpose of residential development. Yes, we will want some of that targeted for affordable houses—absolutely. We will insist that some of that be set aside for affordable housing. We will be able to deliver that.
Those two things are initiatives on their own that indicate a serious, thoughtful, and very ambitious project and plan for affordable housing. In addition to those two projects, there are more at Papakura and Weymouth that we are looking to develop through the use of Crown land for affordable housing. In addition to that, we will assist the not-for-profit sector, the third sector in the provision of housing. We are going to assist them to scale up their efforts so that they too can come on board to help all of the interested parties—central government, local government, and private developers, despite the rhetoric of the Opposition—who have an interest in providing affordable housing.
I say to Opposition members that they lack ambition. I do not see any plans coming from them. They have no scale, and no idea about how or where they will effect affordable housing and make it possible for young families to get into their first homes. Young families are the people whom we want to get into their first homes. They are the people whom we want to assist, because we cannot tolerate any longer this intergenerational problem where the cost of land and housing is spiralling out of control. This problem means that people worry for their children, and worry about whether they will be able to afford to buy a house. The message from the Prime Minister’s speech today is that under a Labour-led Government people will have hope and will be able to own their own houses. Under a National Government there would be no show.
The Prime Minister’s statement today covered a number of areas critical to the future of this country, and I would like to take this opportunity to respond to a few of them in particular, further to the contribution made by Jeanette Fitzsimons earlier this afternoon. First of all, the Green Party welcomes the priority given by the Prime Minister to the issue of housing affordability, and to new initiatives such as the ones the Hon Maryan Street has just been talking about—that is, the large-scale mixed developments proposed for Hobsonville and Tāmaki. I am thrilled to hear about the possibilities at Papakura and Weymouth as well, and I hope there will be more. These are the sorts of bold new projects that are so urgently required, meeting a combination of different needs without pushing relentlessly out past the metropolitan urban limits as some would seem to advocate.
We are also interested in what will come of the very overdue review of public land holdings, and the assessment of what land is actually available within the urban limits now. These, and other proposals made today, serve to show up in stark relief the inadequacy, I am afraid, of the small bill on housing affordability currently before the House, and it would be great if the Government could move quickly either to extend the scope and nature of that bill or to withdraw it and introduce a new one that will much more adequately reflect the urgency of housing need in many parts of the country. I believe there would be a lot of support for such a bill.
The Green Party also welcomes the Government’s commitment to supporting the not-for-profit housing sector, but there are a few questions I would like to ask about that. What will that commitment actually mean? Is the Housing New Zealand Corporation consulting not-for-profit organisations in the housing sector on the development of its policy in this area and the nature of the new strategy, or will the corporation simply impose its own vision on top of a beleaguered and under-funded sector, in contravention of all community development principles? Is the Government seriously considering resourcing community sector housing at a level that will mean the groups involved can actually begin to achieve their potential—that is, in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, not just in a few million dollars a year—or will the sector continue to be very much the disrespected poor relation of the State and private sector? Will Housing New Zealand continue to muddle local government and the community sector together as if they are one and same thing, or will it finally wake up to the fact that the State and the not-for-profit sector are actually quite different parts of the economy? I hope those of us with an interest in this area will get answers to these questions, and that one day soon third sector housing will take its rightful place as a fully fledged contributor to meeting social housing need in this country.
Beyond this, I also call on the Government to urgently wake up to and acknowledge the reality of homelessness in Aotearoa. Neither major party here nor, I believe, most of the smaller parties seem to comprehend the extent and nature of homelessness in this country. Homelessness is not just about people who sleep out in parks, cars, bus shelters, and the rest; it is also about those citizens who do not have any permanent shelter of their own and spend their lives moving from couch to floor to bed in the homes of others. It also includes those who are forced to live long-term in accommodation that does not in any way meet even their most basic physical and psychological needs—for example, in cow sheds, caravan parks, wood sheds, wool sheds, and garages, under boats, and so on. Even worse, many children brought up in these kinds of circumstances suffer life-long consequences as a result of poverty and transience, and a lack of the basic essentials of life. This is a reality that a lot of New Zealanders are simply not aware of, but it is happening all around New Zealand right now. The Green Party continues to work for the day when we have a Government that recognises this reality, works from the understanding that homelessness actually is not a choice, begins to measure the true nature and extent of homelessness in New Zealand accurately, and takes the final and most important step of doing something about it by accepting an obligation to house all, not just some, of those in need in secure, affordable, and adequate housing.
The second area I would like to touch on briefly is in regard to the revised funding arrangements for community organisations that contract to the Ministry of Social Development in order to provide key services for families, children, and young people. I am thrilled to see that the Government is finally acknowledging the total inadequacy of current funding arrangements, and is pledging an ongoing relationship based on full and fair resourcing rather than expecting groups like those working for refuge, parenting, and family violence programmes to have to spend their lives fundraising to make up the gaps while burning out generations of volunteers and paid staff, whose wages are way lower than those of the public servants who demand the world from them in terms of accountability. I look forward to seeing how the new arrangements will work out in practice, and await with anticipation the day when the principles announced today are applied across the whole of Government in its relationships with community and voluntary sector organisations.
Finally, I think we are all very well aware that a lot has been said in the last few weeks by Helen Clark, John Key, and others about children and young people. I want to say today, clearly to the House on behalf of the Green Party, that children and young people are not the problem. As a country we have made positive commitments for children, but these commitments are largely yet to be realised. All our babies and children deserve access to their full entitlement of human rights, including the right to grow up free from violence and free from poverty. It is a matter of justice that we prioritise this. It is also a matter of the long-term sustainability of our country—that concept we are all so fond of talking about right now.
Unfortunately, we seem to be going through one of those periods in public life when discussion of children and young people seems focused around a perception of them as being flawed, incomplete, or troubled. Youth crime, youth drinking, youth drug use, child prostitutes, young mothers, boy racers, young drop-outs, layabouts—the list and the images go on. These simplicities dog-whistle to the age-old tendency of older people to see children and teenagers as a strange mix of immoral, criminal, and dumb—despite the fact that we tend not to see our own children in that way—and to believe that these young people and children are a danger we would do well to avoid and ultimately to oppress. If, for example, we look at drinking by age group, then we see that 55 to 65-year olds are drinking the most of any age group, almost five times as much, in fact, as teenagers. Likewise, a number of older people of 40-plus are arrested and convicted of murder and many other serious offences every year, not to mention many more of speeding or drunken driving charges, yet we never hear phrases like “elderly drinkers”, “grandad racers”, or “middle-aged criminals”.
Why are children and young people singled out? I suspect it is because they cannot fight back here in Parliament, in the media, or in other places of power. The never-ending criticism and denigration of at least some children and young people is a cynical abuse of privilege from those who have created this false division in our society, a division that is no less pernicious than others such as those formed around ethnicity, sex, or sexuality.
I am not saying that children and young people do not have or cause problems. Of course they do. Children and young people are, indeed, disproportionately victims of crime, a few do commit crimes, and many struggle to get their mental health needs met. On the latest figures, 23 percent of our children are still growing up in poverty despite our current economic well-being. However, the point is that their needs are like those of any group in our society, and the solutions will not be found in ongoing stigmatisation or marginalisation. I acknowledge Helen Clark’s attempts to frame her policy agenda as an unlocking of the potential of children and young people, but I continue to question the emphasis and limited scope that does seem still to tacitly pose young people as the problem. The Green Party believes in rational debate and solutions that are based on what works. The key factors are giving children and young people a voice, building connectedness between people, and focusing on building strengths, not deficits. It is a holistic approach that strengthens everyone involved.
I would like to issue a challenge to all members of this House, and it is not very difficult. I challenge them to stop continually making young people the problem, and to check that policy solutions involve young people and their answers, and are based on the reality of their lives and not on preconceptions and misconceptions aimed at an easy and non-voting target. The rights of children are all too often posed in opposition to the rights of adults or parents. We know that the majority of young people involved in violent crime have been victims of violence and abuse, and it is worth acknowledging the important action that a vast majority of those in the House tonight took last year to amend section 59 of the Crimes Act. That was an action to protect children, and it is an example of the way in which Parliament, when it chooses, can prioritise rationality, compassion, and the views of children over misinformation and fearmongering.
Our leader, John Key, was right on the mark when he moved the motion that this House has no confidence in the Helen Clark - led Government because it has failed to make a significant improvement in the areas of real importance to New Zealanders. The Salvation Army’s first state of the nation report advised that after 9 long years of the Labour Government, more children are in the care of Child, Youth and Family Services. The number of instances of child neglect and abuse is rising. Youth offending is on the increase, along with teenage pregnancy, abortion, and accident rates. There is continuing education inequality, and a rising number of serious and violent crimes. Against this, wage growth has been modest, 250,000 people remain on welfare benefits, household debt is up, and houses are fast becoming unaffordable. The incoming Minister of Social Development, Judith Collins, has gone on record as saying that under her leadership money would not be wasted on all those bureaucracies. It would go to where it will make an improvement.
National announced last year the policies of working with and trusting proven community organisations to provide a solution. Of course, the Labour Government stole that policy, but I do not believe that community organisations would trust the Labour Government not to interfere and control the way they can deliver results. After all, we have seen Labour Ministers interfering in even the hiring and firing of staff in the Ministry for the Environment.
The Prime Minister claimed in her speech that 2007 was a year of progress, when a record number of New Zealanders left for Australia—42,000 New Zealanders departed for Australia, and only 13,000 came this way. In her speech the Prime Minister announced a raft of so-called policies to improve infrastructure, welfare, families, housing, crime rates, and the environment. This means that after 9 long years the Government has not done anything of significance in those areas.
I can identify only one important area where there was no announcement of policy, and that is health. There was no announcement on health. One can arrive at only two observations. Either Labour members are kidding themselves that health is under control, or they have completely given up on the fact that they could resolve the health issue. But in the self-promoting style of Labour, the Hon David Cunliffe’s answer to the health problem is that, first of all, he will deny there is a problem and, secondly, he will threaten people who raise the problem. If that fails, then he will threaten to sack the people who are running the district health boards, or if that fails further, he will order an inquiry. The incoming Minister of Health, Tony Ryall, has a well-documented raft of policy, including super clinics, to address those issues.
I also would like to address some of the issues raised by the Minister of Housing, the Hon Maryan Street. She went on and on about the minimum wage. That is the problem with Labour Government members. Their aspiration for New Zealanders is for them to be paid the minimum wage. Well, the John Key - led National Government will aspire for New Zealanders to go on to high wages. We do not want our people to aspire to be on the minimum wage. That is the reason why, after 9 years, the gap between Australian wages and our wages is growing. The Botany voters cannot wait for a John Key - led National Government, because they are hard-working and aspirational people, and they do not want their kids to be on the minimum wage.
Well, it is interesting. The Minister of Housing has quite a bit to say about Labour’s housing policy. The reason is that Labour has announced its policy four times. It should have been in place in 2006. It is no wonder the Minister has quite a bit to say on Labour’s housing policy. But she has very little to say about the accident compensation portfolio. That is interesting. In the whole Prime Minister’s statement there was only one sentence on accident compensation. Apparently legislation is to be introduced that will improve accident compensation coverage. One wonders, better coverage for whom?
In early January we were told that a serial burglar was demanding cosmetic surgery and had threatened to take legal action to have that surgery done while he was serving time in the Auckland Central Remand Prison. The Minister for ACC was nowhere to be seen or heard. It remained for the duty Minister to make a statement that New Zealanders would find it repugnant and offensive to hear that someone was demanding cosmetic surgery. The Accident Compensation Corporation spokesman, Mr Edwards, who was the only one prepared to comment, said that many people would share Ms Wong’s view, but that it would take a change in accident compensation legislation to prevent people from being funded for medical treatment for injuries sustained during a crime.
That statement resulted in a few days of an outpouring of outrage from the public, including from the Dobbs family. This was the family whose house the serial burglar broke into 5 years ago in the incident where his ear was bitten off during his arrest. Listen to this family. They said that this serial burglar took from them their sense of security and left them with the horrible feeling of being invaded. They were always security conscious, but this left them feeling paranoid about locking up everything.
Only after that outburst from the victims was the then acting chief operating officer, Jeff Matthews, prepared to go on record and say that, actually, the corporation does not really have to make this outrageous payment of $12,000 for cosmetic surgery to a serial burglar. It can object, and that right would be exercised. All throughout that saga the Minister for ACC was nowhere to be seen. Where is the leadership?
I have in my hand another pile of Accident Compensation Corporation complaints from individuals throughout New Zealand. It has now become a daily occurrence. I arrive in my office and see another folder of complaints from innocent New Zealanders, who are hard-working, are paying their compulsory accident compensation levies, and are not getting coverage. Instead we have to devote our time to debating a serial burglar who demanded cosmetic surgery while was in prison.
Well, also before Christmas, this Labour Government sent New Zealanders another Christmas gift, on 23 December. It sneaked in an announcement on accident compensation levy increases. For the workers, the hard-working New Zealanders, the accident compensation levy went up by 8 percent, petrol and car registration went up by 24 percent, and the rate for the self-employed actually went up by 30 percent. We want the Minister for ACC or her colleagues to take a call to tell us why the Government is staying so silent on how to improve the coverage of accident compensation—not for criminals, but for innocent New Zealanders.
When I knocked on the doors of the hard-working families of Botany during the Christmas period, the No. 1 concern facing them was crime. They would not accept the Labour Government’s excuse. Indeed, they are looking forward to a John Key - led Government and to John Key being the Prime Minister. Why? Because John Key, as the Prime Minister, would not accept from his Cabinet Ministers who would propose to ban the full moon, hot weather, and Christmas as a policy for reducing violent crime. What sort of leadership is there from this Labour Government? Now is time for those members to go. Nine years is far too long.
I attended a meeting in my electorate last week that summarised what this Labour-led Government has been able to achieve in the past 8 years, and why we cannot afford to see the foundations that we have built knocked away as they were in 1991.
Our election to office in 1999 coincided with my taking on the role of MP for Christchurch East. If someone had described a part of my electorate as harbouring an underclass, then all eyes would have turned to Aranui. This is a part of my electorate where the biggest landlord is the Housing New Zealand Corporation. So not only were the residents of the Aranui community hit by the devastatingly high levels of unemployment in the 1990s—and, for those who were lucky enough to have jobs, the devastatingly low rates of pay due to the impact of the Employment Contracts Act and the refusal of the National Government to provide annual increases to the minimum wage—but they were hit by market rents that were not matched by market incomes. All of the socio-economic indicators were devastating for this part of my electorate.
Aranui has always had poorer statistics than the citywide statistics of Christchurch, which has made what has happened in Aranui even more incredible: under the combined policies of a Labour-led Government, which actually believes that economic transformation has to go hand in hand with social transformation, real transformation has occurred. There are a number of reasons why this has happened, not least of which is that at last there has been the resourcing of the community to play an active and equal partnership role alongside central and local government. No matter how long I spend in this Parliament, or what roles I play here, nothing will ever come close to producing in me the sense of pride I feel as a member of a Government that has empowered a community to transform itself in this way.
Let me share some statistics with the House. In 1996 unemployment in Christchurch was 7.6 percent. The comparative figure in Aranui was 16.7 percent. That shows us the relative disadvantage of Aranui. At the end of last year the citywide rate had dropped to 3 percent, and in Aranui it had dropped to 5.1 percent—from 16.7 percent to 5.1 percent. I can tell the House that 4.8 percent of Aranui people receive the unemployment benefit today. The rate was nearly three times that in 1996. In 1996 nearly a third of Aranui residents had a household income of under $20,000. That figure is now under 20 percent. Although I do not have the exact crime statistics for the area, the local community constable tells me that the statistics have gone through the floor and are at the lowest point that Aranui has experienced in years. So the statistics are all heading in the right direction.
But what statistics cannot tell anyone is what this means in real terms for real people. Behind these statistics is a community that has developed an incredibly positive attitude towards itself, and one that takes great pride in what it has achieved. What has helped to bring this about? Income-related rents for State houses put money in the pockets of some of the poorest families in Christchurch. The Employment Relations Act got rid of the worst excesses of the Employment Contracts Act. This was coupled with annual increases to the minimum wage, which has gone from $7 an hour when we became the Government to $12 an hour on 1 April this year. I remind this House that under a National Government 18 and 19-year-olds received only 80 percent of the adult minimum wage. The Labour-led Government fixed that problem, as well. Employment opportunities have improved. The unemployment statistics are phenomenal. In part they have been brought about by an active work broker who helped people into work. We have had community renewal, with the Housing New Zealand Corporation in partnership with the Christchurch City Council and the community. They asked the people what they wanted and they helped to deliver a better environment for the people. The park was opened up by the city council. The sports are coming back to New Zealand. Rugby league has come back to Aranui. It left a very long time ago.
Although the Opposition mocks these changes, they not only mean that the physical environment is safer because more is going on, but also mean there is more for our young people to do, and that is keeping them off the streets and stopping them from causing the trouble they have caused in the past.
Heartland Services has opened a centre with the Aranui Community Trust in Hampshire Street. That means that Government and non-Government services are being delivered into the heart of the community, improving access for all. The community nursing project has made a real difference to the health status of the children of some of the poorest families in Christchurch. Community consultation has a real meaning in Aranui. This is not about the Government doing something to a community; this is about a community actively working with a Government that cares, and making a difference for itself. Everyone is swept along in the enthusiasm generated by seeing things get done. It looks better, it feels better, and it is not just superficial; it goes deep into the hearts and minds of the people of Aranui.
Everything the Prime Minister announced today has relevance to Aranui going forward. Housing affordability is an issue in Aranui, as it is elsewhere. As I said before, the Housing New Zealand Corporation is one of the biggest landlords, yet Aranui residents aspire to homeownership just like anyone else. I know that the Aranui Community Trust will put up its hand to take up the challenge of partnership with the Housing New Zealand Corporation in the housing ownership quest, as well, making affordable housing available to ordinary New Zealanders. The other announcement around the changes to the resourcing of the non-governmental organisation sector will be very welcome in Aranui, as a number of non-governmental organisations operate from a base in Aranui and are able to provide their services beyond that immediate community. The announcements today will be very, very welcome indeed.
The meeting I referred to at the outset—the meeting I attended in my electorate last week—was a visit by the Minister for Social Development and Employment. The Minister came to Aranui to see what the Government’s investment in that community had made by way of return. She was given a detailed presentation by a community that 8 years ago could not have found a single person to stand up and talk about that community with pride. Its people were dispirited, they lacked direction, but, worst of all, they lacked ambition, and, worse than that, it was not just that they lacked ambition for themselves but that they lacked ambition for their children, as well. That is what they were bequeathed by 9 years of a National Government.
That situation has turned round completely, and I am as proud of the Aranui community as those people are now of themselves. The Prime Minister said in her address today: “Our vision is for a sustainable, prosperous New Zealand, secure in its identity, and proud of its achievements.” Aranui has already realised that vision, and it has done so because a Labour-led Government has provided the foundations upon which it can build. Aranui is only one such story; there are many others, from one end of New Zealand to the other. But Aranui is the one I can tell, because I am proud to represent it in this Parliament as MP for Christchurch East, and because I have seen something happen that I never believed would have been possible in this country when I entered this Parliament 17 years ago.
I have to ask, if Helen Clark and the Labour Government are the answer, I wonder what the question was. I have some questions that I will be asking but I think basically New Zealanders have given up trying to find the answer to that question. They are leaving New Zealand in their droves, and those who are not leaving are looking for a National Government to come into office in November. I support the motion moved by John Key: “That this House has no confidence in the Helen Clark - led Government because it has failed to make significant improvement in the areas of real importance to New Zealanders, because it lacks ambition, because it is tired and bereft of ideas,”—and as much as Labour members clapped this afternoon, they looked tired and worn out. The Government has lost touch with the ordinary New Zealanders who put Labour in power but who have now had a stomachful of them.
As time goes on, Labour has concentrated more and more on its own survival, and we see that in some of the recent Treaty agreements in principle that Labour has put out, and I will come to that in a minute. Labour has squandered New Zealand’s economic inheritance by failing to build on the strong foundations it inherited in 1999. It has squandered the economic strength that was there when it came into Government. I say shame on it. These are the questions that Kiwi people are really asking: “Why after 8 years of a Labour-led Government are we paying the second-highest interest rates in the developed world?”; “Why under Labour is the gap between our wages and wages in Australia and other parts of the world getting bigger and bigger?”; and “Why under Labour do we get a tax cut only in election year?”. New Zealanders really needed and really deserved a tax cut at least 4 years ago, but were promised only a “chewing gum” tax cut 2 years ago, and now in election year Michael Cullen is making all these noises about a tax cut, but we know, and, more important, New Zealanders know that he does not really want to give it, and they do not give a damn, they are not going to wait for his tax cut, anyway.
Why cannot our hard-working young men and women afford to buy their own house? The Minister of Housing comes into the Chamber and talks about all the things that Labour is going to do. This is the last year that it has a chance to do it. It did not do it in 8 years. Why is one in every five Kiwi children leaving school with grossly inadequate literacy and numeracy skills? If Kiwi children are leaving school with that lack of skills, which they are, we can double that for Māori children. I say shame on a Labour Government that for over 70 years, until 2005, enjoyed almost the wholehearted support of Māori people. Well, Labour is paying for it now.
Why has the health system not improved, when billions of extra dollars have been poured into it? There is a quick answer to that, as well. This Government has spent more dollars on bureaucrats and buildings, mostly here in Wellington, and little on the services that New Zealanders really need.
I want to refer to some of the points that Helen Clark made in her speech this afternoon, relative to Māori. The average Māori unemployment rate in the year to December 1999 was 16.6 percent, she said. She forgets that in 1990 when National came into power the unemployment rate for Māori was running at 29 percent. So let us face it: good economic times are not necessarily the work of the Labour Government. It inherited good economic conditions and unemployment should go down. The reality is there might be more jobs for Māori but actually they are leaving New Zealand, too. They are going across the ditch to Australia, as well. I have nephews who have moved to Australia because their hope for better prosperity and a better life is greater there than it has been for the last 8 years under this Labour-led Government.
Then we turn to the other comments about Treaty settlements. Of course, Helen Clark says, and has said for the last 8 years, that critical to New Zealand moving forward is the completion of Treaty settlements. I might be right in saying, and my colleague has already said in this House before, that this Government has taken only one Treaty settlement from go to whoa—only one. All the other settlements that have been completed in this House in the last 8 years were started by Doug Graham in the 1990s. Shame on a Government that speaks as if it does so much for Māori people, yet when one actually measures it, in the cold hard light, it is not what it says it is.
Recently the Government has signed the Waikato River deal with Tainui, and that is fine. It has also just signed the Ngāti Porou foreshore agreement. It is interesting, is it not, that those two agreements are in Māori electorates where this Government is under threat. I guess if we take the Te Ātiawa settlement, which was signed before Christmas, then that is the third area where the Government is under threat of losing a seat. Of the seven Māori seats, four have gone to the Māori Party, and there are three more to go. This Government has the cheek to stand up and try to kid Māori people—try to hoodwink them—that the Government had done so much for them. Well, it has not. After 70 years of enjoying Māori support, Labour’s delivery to Māori has been abysmal and they are paying for it.
We started Treaty settlements. The member asks about National. I will tell her about National. We started Treaty settlements in the 1990s. We established Māori television. We set it up; it was under a different name but we laid the foundations for Māori television. Kōhanga reo came in under Robert Muldoon—match that! That is one of the developments that Māori value most. Kura kaupapa Māori came in under Lockwood Smith—beat that! We even developed the basis for wānanga in the 1990s. If the member wants to know what National did for Māori, we did a lot. We have done more than the Labour Government has ever done. Why do we do it? We do it because we believe in Māori people exercising tino rangatiratanga, knowing what to do; achieving self-determination. So we have done Treaty settlements, kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa Maori, wānanga, and even laid the foundations for Māori television. So there you are!
That Government knows and those members know they are under threat. As I said earlier, they might stand and clap, but, if Helen Clark is the answer, why was she not a lot more buoyant today? Why was she not absolutely confident about what it was she was saying? She was not. We saw her giving her speech, and for a person who says she is so proud of her record, and of her record for Māori, it certainly did not show.
We look forward to the election this year. We look forward to the whole of this year. Everywhere we go New Zealanders say they are tired of this Labour-led Government. Māori are tired of this Labour-led Government. They know who delivers self-determination; it is not this Government. It is not a Government that keeps the hard-earned taxes of New Zealanders and thinks it knows how to spend them best, and that pretends it will give a tax cut this year. Members can talk about Working for Families, but that is not a tax cut. As I say, we look forward to coming into power at the end of the year. We look forward to concluding Treaty settlements—robust Treaty settlements—in a way that respects other interests in any particular settlement. And we look forward to seeing this Government out of power and into the abyss where it belongs.
Obviously the gloves are off for the next 9 months, but I want to talk about a matter of style and substance. All I have heard in the House today is the bitter carping of the Opposition, and if that is the sort of aspirational leadership platform that those members are establishing to fight a campaign out amongst the people of New Zealand, then it is a loser. When I first came into Government in 1999 after 9 long years of being in Opposition, never once did I bag the Opposition. Labour gave an aspirational platform of what we wanted to achieve, we had clear and durable policies, and we went out and spoke positively. If Opposition members think that by bitter carping and bagging they will become leaders and show leadership, style, and gravitas that will inspire New Zealanders over the next 9 months, they have got off to a very bad start.
I heard before about our Prime Minister in her statement today looking uneasy. Well, this is the longest-serving Labour Prime Minister we have had in Government, and there is not one division in our team. It is a team that is working hard to deliver, and it helped to deliver a speech today that inspired New Zealanders. The speech had substance, it had integrity, and it had policies that show we will continue to deliver into the future. The challenges we faced in 1999 have been met; our promises have been kept. In the 8 years since we came into Government people remember that we have never ever welshed on our promises to the people of New Zealand.
We now face very, very complex issues into the future, and these issues will not be limited by short-term fixes or by the sort of rhetoric and carping we heard from the Leader of the Opposition today. In fact, I saw from the Opposition a cockiness and a born-to-rule attitude that the public of New Zealand do not like. They like gravitas, they like an intelligent approach to policy, but I did not hear one policy from the Opposition today—not one new idea. National held a caucus in Rotorua, and I heard quite a lot back from that. One or two of them were out on the street. Taxi drivers were telling me about the comings and goings.
But the people in Rotorua are very satisfied with the achievements of this Government. We are the beneficiaries of those 377,000 more jobs that the economy has contributed to New Zealand. We have the lowest rate of unemployment that we have even seen in Rotorua. In fact, we have a skills shortage, which is a delicious problem to face because we have a skills strategy to fit that skills shortage.
It is not rubbish, at all. And we have the Youth Transition Service in Rotorua that is placing children who were once vulnerable into jobs. These are kids who are now going into jobs and training, and who are proud of themselves and hold their heads up high. We have seen the impact of Working for Families in Rotorua where parents tell me they have stopped part-time work. They have chosen to stay at home with their children because of that extra $120 a week.
We also have paid parental leave, which is something the Opposition voted against, and as the Minister of Women’s Affairs I will never forget that. I will say that as I travel all around the country talking to women’s groups. Paid parental leave is helping women to stay at home with their children, to have bonding and attachment—strong parenting links to their children—and they are loving it. That, with 4 weeks’ annual leave, has been such a gift to young parents, and they have also had reductions in their fees when they go to their doctors. Our communities know this. They are paying $3 for a prescription. They do remember past times, and they will remember that the cap on the fees to general practitioners will change under a National Government. That is the only policy I have heard come out of the Opposition. We also have 20 free hours’ early childcare. Parents are absolutely loving this. These are policies we have delivered on, along with the ones that all my colleagues have mentioned, and they are taking us forward; they are not short-term fixes. In fact, in our community we are reaping the benefits of a 25 percent increase in real terms to household income. That is substantial, and that does not happen just by chance.
I want to talk, as the Minister of Conservation, of some of the aspects of sustainability that were very big in the Prime Minister’s statement last year, and—again—were used as a unifying concept when we stepped up as a country to the sustainability challenge. The Department of Conservation has six projects out for tender to get reforestation on department land. We are stepping up to the challenge of sustainability, and we will be working on that. Another issue that I am very proud of, and that is having benefits in Rotorua, is related to the sustainable water programme of action. I have heard today about drought, and we know that water is a problem. We have either too much of it or too little. But we heard in the Prime Minister’s statement today that we are going to develop a national policy statement on fresh water, and this country absolutely needs that.
Did we hear the Opposition say anything good about anything in the Prime Minister’s speech today? No, National members bagged it. Well, I am in a community that has 14 lakes, but the Opposition when in Government did nothing about water quality and it watched water quality degrade under its very eyes. Under this Government $20 million has gone into restoration of the quality of lake water in our community, and we are proud of it. We have farmers working with us. We do not bag the farmers as polluters; they are in our camp working with us. The council is there working with the regional council. The iwi is there. We have a huge community development project about restoring the water quality in our lakes, and this Government is supporting us every step of the way.
I want also to speak about the impact on our community of the Pathway to Partnership announced today. There will be $446 million allocated to non-governmental organisations in communities around the country. This is huge; it is the answer to a dream for me, having set up the first women’s refuge at home and now with responsibilities as Minister of Women’s Affairs. It is absolutely fantastic to see our voluntary sector, which used to depend on volunteers, handouts, district council benevolence, trusts, and goodwill—and the goodwill with those providers of services had become very, very thin and stretched—so delighted. And when the Opposition says that this is a Government that is not listening, I challenge the Opposition by saying that that package of $446 million is a direct response to listening to our communities and to developing a partnership that is durable and that we have delivered on with our non-governmental organisation partners. We developed that partnership model; we work with people, we listen to people, we find solutions, and then we put our money where our mouth is.
This is a Government with plenty more room and with plenty more energy to go forward, with a fantastic team of Ministers across ministries that are working together on issues like family violence. We are proud of the work we are doing. I come from the community reeling from the death of Nia Glassie, but our community is on the move and finding our own solutions. This package today will be an enormous fillip for us and for our sense of well-being. I think the address from the Prime Minister was inspirational, and I am proud to be in a Government supporting this fantastic team.
My National Party colleagues and I—and the vast majority of New Zealanders across this country; we know this by the polls and by the phone calls to our offices—support the motion of John Key, that this House has no confidence in the Helen Clark - led Government because it has failed to make any significant improvement in the areas of real importance to New Zealanders, because it lacks ambition, because it is tired and bereft of ideas, because it has lost touch with the people who put it in power, and because under its leadership of our country, our country has become a story of lost opportunities. Mark my words, and we all know it by any measurement, as time has gone on, Labour has concentrated more and more on its own survival, and less and less on the issues that matter to the people who put it there. Labour has squandered New Zealanders’ economic inheritance by failing to build strong foundations for the future. These are the questions that Kiwis really want answers to. Why, after 8 years of Labour, are we paying the second-highest interest rates in the developed world? That is the first question.
The second question Kiwis are asking, I say to Trevor Mallard, is this. As Trevor Mallard bullies and punches colleagues in this House, these questions are what New Zealanders really want to hear the answers to. Why, under Labour, is the gap between our wages, and the wages in Australia and in other parts of the world, getting bigger and bigger?
The third question is this. Why, under Labour, do we get a tax cut only in election year when we really needed it years ago? Then there is the fourth big question. If we look at the members opposite, they are hanging their heads. They have stopped heckling, because they cannot answer the first three questions. Question four is, why cannot hard-working kids—and I am not talking about Darren Hughes over there, I am talking about hard-working kids outside Parliament—afford to buy their own house?
Question five is, why is one in five Kiwi kids leaving school with grossly inadequate literacy and numeracy skills? Why, when Labour members claim they aspire to be carbon neutral, do our greenhouse gases continue to increase at an alarming rate? Why has the health system not improved when billions of extra dollars have been poured into it? Why have the Labour members opposite gone quiet? It is because they are all on their phones, ringing the Prime Minister, and saying: “We have not got an answer to Mr Heatley’s questions or Mr Key’s questions. Give us one, Auntie Helen, because if you do not give us one, we will ring Shane Jones, and Shane Jones will give us the answer. He is our man. Yes indeed, we have skipped a whole generation of lazy Labour MPs and we will go to Shane Jones.”
The next question is, why is violent crime against innocent New Zealanders continuing to soar, and why is Labour unable to do anything about it? Those questions are being asked by all Kiwis, up and down the country. They are asking why, why, why. That is why they are demanding the head of Helen Clark—as will those MPs opposite, who would replace it with Shane Jones, but it will probably all be too late.
National will focus on the real issues facing New Zealand. We will not fixate on the tired old political debates from 20 or 30 years ago. We will not blame an MP who was here 30 years ago, as Helen Clark did. Unlike Labour, John Key and the National team understand why Kiwis are demanding change. They are demanding change because they think it is time for a Government that says no to mediocrity and that expects more for New Zealand. National will lift wages by driving economic growth.
Darren Hughes does not know how. National says it will lift wages by driving economic growth. Darren Hughes, who has been working for this Government for 8 years—3 years as a little secretary, and 5 years recently as an MP, and a few of those as a Minister—does not know the answer, so I will tell him. We will do it by investing in infrastructure, through ongoing tax cuts, and through monitoring the quality and quantity of Government spending. There is the answer for Darren Hughes. He should ring the Prime Minister and let her know: “The Nats have the answer. I can’t believe we didn’t get it. Surely we should have talked to the people and we would have known.”
National will create safer communities. We will take the brave steps needed to address this country’s growing crime problem. We will ensure our education system delivers real opportunity to young people. We will give Kiwis confidence in the public services they rely on. In fact, we are more interested in building performance than in building a bureaucracy, which is all this Labour Government has ever been interested in. Whether it is buying votes through jobs in the Public Service, or cash for votes out there in the communities, that is all Labour members have been interested in—building bureaucracy. We are interested in performance. John Key and the National Party are interested in performance. We will build a more confident New Zealand with a proud sense of nationhood.
It has gone silent again on the Government benches, and I see what those members are doing. They are no longer ringing the Prime Minister; they have their paper out and they are taking notes. Little Darren Hughes is taking notes for Trevor Mallard, because Trevor cannot write because his knuckles are broken. What was he doing in the weekend?
The member will use a member’s full name or his or her title.
This Government is tired. This Government is getting old. This Government has lost ideas, it has lost momentum, and it has clearly lost hope. It has lost opportunities for Kiwis up and down the country, so much so that we have seen 700 Kiwis per week in recent years, many of them young people on whom we have spent money to train here, shoot off overseas, and most of them go to Australia.
Seven hundred a week, going mostly to Australia. The only thing we can be thankful for is that they are still as close as Australia so that they can keep an eye and an ear on what John Key and the National Party are saying about them during this election. We will be talking about how much we value them, saying that we want them back and that we will reward them for effort, and saying that we will reward them with more opportunity. We will be talking about how we will entice them back. It is a big thing to turn round. After 8 years of the flight to Australia, it is a big thing to turn round, but we are positive for our country.
The young Darren Hughes is speaking with his breaking voice. I am glad he has taken notes. I am glad he rang the Prime Minister. I hope he steals some of our policies in this coming election and makes it a real fight.
I am very pleased to stand in support of Helen Clark’s Prime Minister’s statement, which she delivered to Parliament this afternoon. We have just heard from Phil Heatley. It was a rather animated speech from the member for Whangarei, I think it would be fair to say. He was acting as though he was contesting to become the next leader of the National Party, and getting ready for when the leadership eventually changes. Phil Heatley was out there really trying to show his fellow colleagues what a grasp of detail he has when it comes to policy, and trying to show them how charismatic he can be when he speaks in the House. It reminded me of the Republican primary, with Phil Heatley as Mike Huckabee. It was about as good as it got with regard to the kinds of things we heard from Mike Huckabee.
Unfortunately, I missed Mr Heatley’s first question. I was not paying a huge amount of attention to it, but I took down questions two to eight. He wanted to know why wages in Australia are higher than in New Zealand. Well, I will tell him. It is because Australia has a record mining boom that is drawing workers, not only out of New Zealand but also out of New South Wales and Victoria, to Western Australia and Queensland, where they are able to sell off minerals at the most extraordinary rate ever seen. So the Australian economy is going gang-busters at the present time. That is one of the reasons why wages are higher in Australia than in New Zealand.
In New Zealand we have done two things that have been important. We have pushed up the minimum wage year after year, which National has opposed every single time, to try to make sure that working people had a higher rate of pay. That is not just because we want people who earn the lowest wages to earn more. We know that it has an effect right across the wage cycle, as all wages have gone up over the 8 years that we have done it. National opposed every single one of the minimum wage rises made by this Labour-led Government that has tried to address that wage challenge.
The second thing that the Labour-led Government did in New Zealand to try to address the wage gap was to get rid of the Employment Contracts Act. It was a very unfair industrial law in this country, and it did one thing to the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia: it made it worse. The National members sitting over there in Opposition support their party’s record when it was in Government, and it had that law on the books. What happened when that law was in effect? Wages went down in New Zealand compared with those paid in Australia. It was only when John Howard tried to introduce similar employment contract law in Australia that he was kicked out of office and the Australians brought back a Labor Government. So that is the answer to one of Phil Heatley’s questions.
Then he wanted to know about tax cuts. He said Labour is cutting taxes this year only because it is election year. The Minister of Finance has announced that there will be a programme of personal tax reductions starting this year. But I thought I was sure there had been more than that. Then I remembered, of course, that there had been more. Since 2004, Labour has been cutting taxes for working families in New Zealand. The Working for Families package delivers for three out of four families with kids in this country, and they pay less tax to the Government because of that programme. Every single stage of Working for Families was opposed by the National Party, which has voted in Parliament for our families to pay more taxes. Then I thought of savers. We are trying to boost the savings rate in New Zealand. One of the ways we have done that—one of the tools and mechanisms we have used—is to reduce taxes on savers. We brought a bill to Parliament to do that, and the National Party voted for savers to pay higher taxes than those the Labour Government is ensuring that they pay right now.
But the doozy of them all had to be this one. Last year in the Budget—it was not an election year; I point that out to Mr Heatley because he does not seem to be an intense follower of politics in New Zealand—we cut the corporate tax rate from 33c in the dollar to 30c in the dollar, which is the same rate as Australia’s. Forty-nine Labour MPs voted “Yes” for that. The Whip voted on our behalf and made sure that our votes were counted and recorded in the Hansard as being in favour of lower corporate tax rates. But where did the votes of the 48 National MPs go, I ask Dr Wayne Mapp, the representative of the well-heeled suburb of North Shore in Auckland? Did the member vote for or against a 30c in the dollar tax rate for our businesses?
The member says he voted against it. The National members came to Parliament and voted against lower taxes for business, which the Labour Government has delivered. So Phil Heatley’s question about why there are tax cuts only this year is wrong. It has been wrong since 2004. Not only is the National Party wrong in fact but it is wrong in principle, because it has come in here and voted for higher taxes for people in that category.
Then Phil Heatley wanted to know why hard-working kids cannot afford to buy homes. One of the things the member would have heard in the Prime Minister’s statement, if he had been listening, is that we are transfixed by the issue of affordable housing and are trying to make sure that we can get more New Zealanders into homes. We have come up with a range of policies, from Welcome Home Loans—opposed by National—to modifying superannuation savings by way of KiwiSaver to make sure that that programme is able to help people with a deposit on their first home, to introducing an affordable housing bill to Parliament before Christmas. All of those measures have been slammed by National as being useless and hopeless, so I am not quite sure how concerned National members are about trying to get people into affordable homes. Of course, I cannot criticise their housing spokesperson’s policy on this issue, because in his 10 minutes he did not mention it, which is an unusual way of trying to propose new policy while the member is in Opposition.
Then the member asked us why there are more emissions in New Zealand than there were previously. Well, in last year’s speech the Prime Minister set out why sustainability was very important. We have introduced an emissions trading scheme. We have actually taken climate change seriously since the first day we came into Government, with a Minister responsible for policy in that area. The National Party spent the entire campaign period prior to the last election going around making infantile jokes about a thing called a “fart tax”, and its current leader said that climate change was a hoax before he did a U-turn, a flip-flop, and came to support it. So we are trying to address the difficult issues around climate change, and the National Party has opposed that, denied that there is climate change, and ridiculed that, and now climate change is one of Phil Heatley’s big questions here tonight.
Then Mr Heatley asked what has happened in health. He said that billions of dollars have gone into the sector and nothing has happened. Well, that is the most ridiculous comment of all time. What has happened in New Zealand under this Government’s health policy is that, first of all, we have been able to retain workers—a difficult thing in itself—by making sure that people are being paid more to work in the public health system. But the crowning achievement of this Labour-led Government is not in hospitals but in primary health care, where hundreds of millions of dollars every year go into helping ordinary people to go to see a doctor and to pick up $3 prescriptions from their local pharmacies. That is a major change in the way we address health policy in New Zealand, and the member is so ill-informed about it that he is not even aware of health policy in that regard.
Of course, Mr Heatley failed to mention that last year, in September, the National Party was sprung about its health policy, which is that the National Party wants people to pay more to go to see a doctor than the Labour Party does. That is the simple open-and-shut case of it. The National Party wants to reduce Government spending and reduce taxes, and wants to make sure ordinary New Zealanders pay more to go to see a doctor, and Labour says: “No way. We’re going to make sure people pay less to go to the doctor and pay less by providing them with cheap pharmaceuticals, as well.”
I think I have dealt with some of the things that Phil Heatley said in his speech. It just goes to show that when one relies only on the research unit for one’s notes, comes into the Chamber, and just mouths off without having any idea of what one’s party has done previously, one will be open to this sort of thing.
One of the things about Waitangi that amazed me the most is that we have rows and rows of new National MPs, many of them list MPs and some of them provincial members of Parliament, who were elected in 2005 on the back of Don Brash’s dog-whistling red-neckery, and they know it. They know that is how they were elected. They took votes off people who do not like many things to do with Māori, and that drove them right into Parliament. This term, because the National members have decided they want to change tack, we suddenly have speeches given by Georgina te Heuheu actually saying that National stands for tino rangatiratanga! Well, that will come as news to everybody in New Zealand, and especially to the National Party, but National is so devoid of principle at the present time that its members all sat there and said nothing. We used to listen to Don Brash’s droning speeches in Parliament and the words “tino rangatiratanga” did not come out all that often—certainly not pronounced in that way, I might add. John Key has continued in that vein, and is now trying to align himself with people like Tame Iti. The National members sit there and do not want to say anything about it, even though they know they have done a massive U-turn.
The best thing about today’s speech from the Prime Minister was the fantastic news that the people who work in the community and voluntary sector, who provide essential social services and who do real work in our electorates, will now get full funding for the services they contract with the Government for. They will get volume increases in terms of their budgeting. That is a technical term, I know, but what it means is that the more work they do to help the community, the more they will be paid to do it. That will free them up to keep transforming our communities right around the country. The interesting thing for me about today was that when Helen Clark said that over $400 million—
This is the single-biggest investment and increase for our non-governmental organisations ever to have taken place, and Dr Mapp is so out of touch with constituency work that he calls it a band-aid. Women’s Refuge is getting more money; Barnardos is getting more money. There are budgeting services, parenting programmes, and mentoring programmes for kids. Those are real things that are happening and making our communities better off.
The interesting thing is that when Helen Clark announced that programme today, the National members were silent. None of them said a word, and when John Key got up and spoke in a vague way about personal taxes they clapped like the fawning seals they are, because that is all they care about. They want personal tax cuts for themselves, because they all earn over $60,000 a year. It is funny that they criticise some Government department staff for earning over $100,000. Those members all earn over $100,000 and they are all useless, but we pay them anyway. They would not clap the Prime Minister’s great announcement for the non-governmental organisation sector.
This is a good Government. We have changed New Zealand. We will keep on changing New Zealand for the better, because this country needs a progressive Labour-led Government.
At least the previous speaker has some enthusiasm, but that is about all he has. Of course, in a few months he will be gone. Over the barbeques of the New Year and the Christmas period, what were people saying? They were saying that we have a tired, worn-out, out-of-touch Government, a Government that has lost touch with the realities of what is happening in New Zealand. I am sure that those people support John Key’s motion this evening that this House has no confidence in a Helen Clark - led Government, because it has failed to make significant improvement in the areas of real importance to all New Zealanders, because it lacks ambition, because it is tired and bereft of ideas, because it has lost touch with the people who put it into power, and because under its lead our country has become a story of lost opportunities. That is why we are seeing so many people who have decided to vote with their feet and move offshore.
As time has gone on, this minority Labour Government has concentrated more and more on its own survival, because it knows its days are limited. What did the House end up voting for just before Christmas?
No, National did not vote for it. The Electoral Finance Act was a survival tactic. It was designed for no more than to put the Government into a position where it can manipulate what will happen at the next election. We voted against the bill. The Government brought in the bill because it is concentrating on its own survival and nothing else.
The Government has concentrated less and less on the issues that really matter to New Zealanders. Labour has squandered economic opportunities. It has failed in its inheritance by failing to build those strong foundations that we should have had after 8 years when the commodity markets around the world have been good and when we should have been able to capitalise on that. Those foundations are lost.
Let us look at the Roy Morgan New Zealand Consumer Confidence Rating poll, which states: “New Zealand Consumer Confidence drops to a 4-month low.” That is what the consumers are saying. Let us look at the monthly Economic Review. This comes from Parliamentary Library research: “Annual economic output growth in New Zealand has been forecast to decrease in 2008 due to the slowdown in the housing market, higher mortgage and interest rates, and higher energy costs.” Those are some of the issues that New Zealanders are concerned about. This Government does not have any answers, but National does.
Here are some very salient questions that I want to put to this Government, because this is what the Kiwis out there and my constituents are asking. Here are some of those questions that Kiwis really want to have some answers for. Why, after 8 long years of a Labour Government, are we paying the second-highest interest rates in the developed world? In 1999, when this Government came in, interest rates on mortgages were 4.25 percent. What are they today? They are 8.25 percent. That is what they are. In fact, overdrafts are well over 10 percent at the moment. If one happened to have watched Campbell Live tonight, one would have seen that the credit card interest rate ranges are starting off at 19 percent and going up to well over 22 percent. These are the things that are affecting average New Zealanders. Interest rates are something that they have no control over, and this Government under its legacy has forced up those interest rates, which makes it very difficult—in fact, uncontrollable in some cases—for average New Zealanders to be able to survive.
Here is the second question. Why, under Labour, is the gap between our wages and wages in Australia and other parts of the world getting bigger and bigger? We know that in Australia they are better off by a third. The OECD revenue statistics recently quoted a very interesting comparative study between New Zealand and Australian economic performance. The total percentage of revenue collected in Australia, at the provisional level, by state and Federal Government was 31 percent in 2005. The comparison in New Zealand was 37 percent from those sources, which is a significantly higher tax take.
We have fallen behind Australia in productivity. Across the board of the professions and trades—you name it—people are deciding that they are better off moving to Australia. Of the 77,000 long-term departures, 80 percent of those were under 40 years of age. Let me say that again. Of the 77,000 people who left New Zealand last year, 80 percent of them were under 40 years of age. They are the people who should be staying here. They are our future. But where have they gone? They have decided to go offshore. Eight hundred of those people each week have decided to make Australia their home. I have two children who have decided to work in London. They are 28 and 26. [Interruption] I tell members that these kids are the future of New Zealand. These kids are the future of New Zealand and they have decided that the pasture is better over there. We are losing our brightest and best.
Why does the Government run these huge surpluses? Over the last 8 years the surpluses have accumulated to $44 billion. In fact, in the last 3 years it has been $26 billion. We have the surpluses, but we have lost the opportunities. Of course, the compliance regimes that have come into place have stifled investment and initiative and have made it very, very difficult for New Zealanders to make a go of it, especially in business. We have lacked growth and performance. Kiwis are running flat out just to stand still. That is why we are seeing so many deciding to go offshore. Labour wants to tax our talent. That is what it comes down to. We should be growing the economy and making the cake bigger so that everyone gets the benefit.
Here is another question. Why under Labour do we get a tax cut only in an election year, when we really needed it years ago? Is it not very convenient that we are now going to have tax cuts, yet when National promoted it at the last election it was unaffordable? It was seen as being irresponsible, yet the surpluses in 2005 were greater than they are now.
We debated the Building Act back in 2004 and I want just to quote from the Prime Minister’s statement today when she said about the building business: “We will be tackling issues in the building consent process that are adding unreasonably to the costs of building a home, beginning with simplifying the design and building consent processes for starter homes.” I was involved in the select committee that looked at that issue and I said at the time—in August—that this was a very prescriptive, regulatory regime and that it would be an overkill and an overburden of bureaucracy. That is what I said at that time. In fact, the costs estimated then were going to be 2.9 percent. Here they are in the explanatory note of the bill. In fact, those costs have now ballooned out well over 15 percent.
We have identified a number of issues, but there are other questions that we really want to ask, and this Government does not have the answers for them. Why are one in five Kiwi kids leaving school with grossly inadequate literacy and numeracy skills? Why, when Labour claims to aspire to carbon neutrality, are greenhouse gas emissions continuing to rise at an alarming rate? Why has the health system not improved when billions of extra dollars have been poured into it—$6 billion back in the year 2000 and $12 billion in the last Budget? Why is violent crime against New Zealanders continuing to soar? And why is Labour unable to do anything about it? There is nothing more important to any Government in New Zealand than protecting the rights and lives of citizens and their property. This Government has abrogated that responsibility. It does not understand the problem, so how can it possibly have answers for the solution?
In National our focus is on making sure that we use the talents we have and that we are actually able to use the economy to be able to invest in infrastructure through ongoing tax cuts and by monitoring the quality of spending. John Key was able to crystallise and articulate those issues during his speech. That is why National Party members support him—as do all New Zealanders, which we will find out in 9 months’ time, when this Government is out.
I see that the National Party is suffering from a similar problem to that of many of the overseas shows being produced in the United States: it obviously has a writers’ strike on. It has only one writer, who has written the same speech for all of the National members, and they have just mucked around with a few of the words. They are so stressed and pressured that the only thing they can start their speeches off with is the motion moved by John Key. That takes about 5 minutes of their speech, but then they have about 5 minutes more, which they have to make up by using the other lines. They go on about the issues that matter—that is what they talk about—and about how Labour has abrogated its responsibilities.
Let us take the National members’ own rhetoric for what it should be and examine the issues that matter. What could be more important to New Zealanders of working age than having a job? That is fundamental. When I came to Parliament in 1993, 160,000-plus people were unemployed. That was the National Government’s legacy. National had gone through this country and had slashed and burned, and that had caused mayhem and chaos not just to individuals but to families and communities. Lianne Dalziel made a fabulous point when she spoke tonight about the depressed state of her area of Aranui. We could multiply that across New Zealand. I could talk about Flaxmere and other members could talk about many other communities that were devastated by the National Government, which brought in the Employment Contracts Act, cut Government services, cut Government spending, cut benefits, and pushed up State house rentals, all of which impoverished individuals, impoverished families, and impoverished communities.
At the end of the 1990s New Zealand was a desolate country. Kids had no opportunity to get a job. Parents were turning up at my office and asking what their kids were going to do for employment in the future. Young people were going to university because they saw that as the only option to going on the dole. They were getting themselves university qualifications at ever-increasing fee rates. They had to pay interest on all those costs, and when many of them came out of university they had to take on jobs—if they could—such as taxi driving, and so on, which were well below their skill level. New Zealand was depressed.
The Labour-led Government took those issues very, very seriously, and what have we seen? We have seen the number of people on the unemployment benefit drop from 160,000 to below 20,000. We have seen young people get apprenticeships again. When I left school in the 1970s, young people like me were going off and getting an apprenticeship. I should have done that at the time, but I did not. Then, through the 1990s how many kids did we have in apprenticeships? Almost zero, because the National Government abolished the Apprenticeship Act. What do we see now in New Zealand? We see young people leaving school, getting themselves a trade and a skill, and getting themselves a future. That is what the Labour-led Government has done.
Let us talk about something else that is really important. Let us talk about families. National got stuck into New Zealand families in a way that was unbelievable. By pushing up State house rentals to the level of market rentals and not increasing people’s incomes, it impoverished families. Families were under great stress. People had high-earner stand-downs; they had long stand-down periods before they could get the dole. There were redundancies for which there were no redundancy payments, and people were taxed and taxed. There was general disillusionment in families. What do we have now? We have Labour giving families tax cuts through the Working for Families package. Yes, I say to Lindsay Tisch, there have been tax cuts before. He has not been listening to the speeches that have said that over and over again. Lindsay Tisch and his fellow members of Parliament voted against tax cuts for working families. We have brought in the Working for Families package, which has helped families enormously.
We have helped to cut costs for families. We have, for example, cut doctors’ bills and prescription costs. In the 1990s young people were not receiving the health care they should have received and were entitled to receive, simply because the cost of a prescription and of visiting a doctor was too great. We have fixed that. I have a personal example. I went to the doctor several months ago because I was ill. I saw the doctor, went off and had a test, came back, and got a prescription. I paid the doctor’s bill and paid for the prescription, and I had change from $20. That is what Labour did. Everybody can afford to go to a doctor and get a prescription under Labour. That was not possible under National. Under National, doctors’ bills were $40, $50, and $60 a pop. No one could afford to go to the doctor without having to go to the bank manager to get a loan. National wants to take us back to that. I say to National members that they will make our day when it is time to get on the hustings, because we will remind the public of all the things I have said and of all the things that National did.
Labour is concentrating on the key things: jobs, families, and people. We have done an enormous amount. Yes, it is fair to say there is no perfection in New Zealand yet. There is a lot more work to do. That is why New Zealanders need to elect another Labour-led Government. We have much more to do. People may think about the periods of time in which they were growing up, as I do. I think about the 1970s and those early days when everybody could get a job and it was a great time—it was easy to get jobs, and kids could get apprenticeships. I have to say that through most of my life I remember things being quite different from that. The 1980s and, particularly, the 1990s were very, very difficult.
The young people who are growing up today will have a completely different view of New Zealand from the one we had in the 1990s. They will remember being able to leave school and get a job. They will remember having the choice of not just one job but of plenty of jobs. They will remember having choices about what they wanted to do for a career. Whether they want to go to university, go into training, or get an apprenticeship, they have options. They also know that if they are sick they can go to the doctor and get help immediately. They know that their families have had the stress and pressure taken off them by the Labour Government bringing in the Working for Families package. They know that the Government has built houses and given people affordable houses with income-related rents. They will be able to remember a very positive mood in New Zealand, because this is a period of time in which New Zealand has experienced the longest, most sustained period of growth since the Second World War.
I can remember growing up in boom-and-bust times. Muldoon would open up the bank accounts the year before an election, and 2 years after that we would be on rehab. The place would grind to a halt. Then there would be another cycle of it. But we have now had 8 years of sustained growth. We can do better and have longer periods of sustained growth, but it requires good, sensible economic management, which, I am pleased to say, has been the hallmark of this Labour-led Government, and Michael Cullen is to be congratulated on that.
There is a lot of work to be done and there are many things to be achieved. So when we talk about aspiration and our record, I can say that Labour has that in spades on both counts. We have an aspiration for this country to do better. I never thought when I came here in 1993 that I would see a period when New Zealand’s unemployment rate would be as low as it is today. I never thought I would see as much progress as I have seen in 8 years, and, having seen it, I believe that we can do substantially better yet. There is energy and enthusiasm in this Government. We have a belief that New Zealand can do better and must do better, and we want to lead that.
For two really good examples of that energy, let us just look at the announcements made by the Prime Minister today. The first was about the non-governmental organisation sector: a huge commitment of $400 million over 4 years to non-governmental organisations. It is a substantial sum of money that will make sure they have the resources and the capacity to continue to deliver services for their communities. We are also going to tackle head-on the issue of affordable housing for young people. The Prime Minister was exactly right when she said the issue is about supply, and we are going to put our minds to making a difference to that. The public knows that when Helen Clark says she is going to move on an issue, things will happen. The public have seen that many times. Helen Clark has a reputation for delivering on her word, and she will do so on this issue—of that there can be no doubt. This Government has delivered on its word in many ways.
I will just make a point to Lindsay Tisch about people in Australia. I say to him that it makes me mad when I hear people like him say things are very bad in New Zealand. What Lindsay Tisch needs to remember is that when his party was last in office in 1999, the minimum wage was $7 an hour. A friend of mine who lived around the corner from me in Hastings, a qualified tradesman, was being paid $7.30 an hour as a carpenter. Someone else who lived around the corner and worked as a truck driver was being paid $7.20 an hour to drive a $200,000 rig. People in Australia were being paid $16-20 an hour for doing the same job, with four weeks’ annual leave and superannuation. What has this Labour Government done? We have raised the minimum wage. We have put so much money and resources into building and construction around this country that my carpenter friend is now on $30 an hour, and the guy who is a truck driver is on $22 an hour. They have 4 weeks’ annual leave and they have superannuation.
We have made huge advances, and people will remember that when they come to election time. They will remember what things were like under National in 1990, and they will remember what they are like in 2008 under Helen Clark. They will like that a great deal and they will vote, I am absolutely sure, for the continuation of this great Government.
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