I move, That the House take note of miscellaneous business. I think it is a long time since there has been such a level of public interest in economic issues in this county. It has been a long time since so many New Zealanders were so interested in international events, particularly those of the last couple of months, and so interested in the connection between those international events and their own prospects for jobs and incomes. One would think that with such a high level of public interest—which is justified because of the scale of concern about international events—there would be some kind of robust debate about that in New Zealand. But one of the reasons there is not so much robust debate is because Opposition members cannot even organise a member’s question to their own select committee chairman. They cannot even organise a member’s question to their own select committee chairman, let alone organise a reasonably testing economic debate. And we know why, because we have looked at the Labour Party billboards.
Members may recall that over recent years there was no way anyone could be on a Labour Party billboard except its leader. Now there is no way its leader can get on any Labour Party billboard. In fact, the Labour Party has become so disorganised that its posters and billboards do not even ask voters to give their party vote to Labour—they do not. So there is no leader. There was always the leader, and now there is no leader. It was always “Party Vote Labour”, but now it does not mention the party vote, at all. So Labour is now a collection of individuals campaigning to try to rescue their own seats. That is why they do not have the focus or the capacity to mount an economic debate at a time when any Government’s policy on the economy should be tested hard, because the stakes are so high.
I will just set out some of the progress the Government has made, which is helping to give the public a sense of confidence about the direction New Zealand is going in through the increasingly rough seas of the global economy. One of the main measures used to measure New Zealand’s vulnerability to these events is called its net international investment position, which is just the net of its debts and its assets held offshore. On that particular measure we have improved quite significantly in the last couple of years. Two years ago we were looking at over 80 percent of GDP of, effectively, net debt, and were forecasting that to get worse. That put us up there with countries like Spain and Portugal, which are now in trouble. In the last couple of years it has improved quite significantly to where it currently stands at about 70 percent of GDP. So the vulnerability has reduced by around 25 percent. We still have a long way to go. It would be great if New Zealand’s net international liabilities were under 50 percent of GDP.
We are still at 70 percent, but it has improved for two reasons. One is that New Zealand households have understood what is required in these economic circumstances, which is care with their spending and more saving. They have changed their behaviour in quite significant ways, to the benefit of the country as a whole, as well as their own circumstances. The other reason it has changed, frankly, is that Statistics New Zealand has become better at counting the assets owned by New Zealand offshore, particularly assets owned in Australia. We have made considerable progress on what has been one of our biggest vulnerabilities. I have to say, though, in the discussions I have had in the last couple of weeks, the world at large has become much more sensitive to levels of debt. Whether it is private or sovereign, it is just added all together, and even though we are doing better we are under the microscope.
Minister English said he wanted reasoned debate, and then he went on about billboards. He said the net international debt was a problem, and his own Budget forecast it to rise for each of the next 5 years. He said the world is ugly, because he wants New Zealanders to be frightened into returning his Government. He said New Zealand can only muddle through. Well, here is what muddling through looks like: $37 billion more debt since that man became Minister of Finance; 47,000 fewer jobs since he took office; and GDP per capita is down 3.6 percent under this Government.
Before the last election the leader of the National Party said New Zealand had a growth problem, not a debt problem. Well, $37 billion later, it has both a growth problem and a debt problem. Do not take my word for it, take the word of the 3,000 or more New Zealanders voting with their feet every month and joining the 1 million exiles from this country who have lost hope, who have lost patience with muddling through, and who want a better answer and a better future. That Government said that it would close the gap with Australia. When it took office it was 30 percent of GDP per capita; today it is 35 percent.
The numbers do not lie, nor do the 3,000 Kiwis a month who are joining the 1 million who have already left. They deserve better than photo ops and flimflam. They deserve real debate. They deserve courageous policy that will address the underlying problems, the tough problems, that are holding us back. They deserve solutions, like a capital gains tax that will address the fact there is $200 billion locked up in property paying no tax, which is locking young people out the housing market and starving business of capital. They deserve solutions, like the strong savings policy that Labour will bring in, which will close the savings gap and fix our current account deficit. They want a real plan for jobs and growth, not a Prime Minister who just fronts up for the photo opportunities and runs like a rabbit from the hard problems. That is what New Zealanders need, but that is not what they have got. They have got photo ops and flimflam, not real leadership for tough times. They have got the veneer of a personality cult—the leader of the National Party.
The thing that National members are betting their next 3 years on is a smile and a vacuous waft past hard problems, not real solutions or real leadership for hard times. Even today that public relations double act continues. They want the public to be afraid about the international picture. That is why Bill English said that it is ugly. But National members want New Zealanders to feel OK about the Rugby World Cup and the weather at home. That is why John Key tells us: “Don’t worry. The next three quarters are looking good.” Well, they cannot both be right, and they are not both right. They are not both right, because, as everybody knows, New Zealand is slipping further behind—growth down, debt up, unemployment up, the gap with Australia widening.
Well, enough of this rubbish. Enough of muddling through, enough of borrow and hope, enough of running away from tough problems, enough of the widening gap, enough of the loss of hope, and enough of rising unemployment and of 47,000 fewer jobs. National members say that there are more jobs today than ever before. There was a 3.4 percent unemployment rate in New Zealand under Labour; there is a 6.5 unemployment rate today—3.4 percent; 6.5 percent. That has gone backwards, and one cannot argue with that. Enough of the ever-rising cost of living. Food prices are up by 7 percent. Wages are up by 1.9 percent. Real median wages have gone down by 8 percent since this Government took office. People are feeling poorer. Why? Because they are. The rich have got richer with windfall tax cuts and the poor cannot feed their children.
National members call that muddling through; I call that injustice. They call that steady as she goes; I call it lining their own pockets. They call it New Zealanders on Glen Innes housing markets—
The leadership contest continues. I am looking forward to it.
There is no doubt that this country’s economy is in far better shape today than it was when we took office in 2008. What did we inherit? We inherited inflation running at 5.1 percent. We inherited mortgage interest rates of 10.5 percent, food prices that had risen by 11 percent—11 percent—an economy going backwards, and Treasury forecasts of deficits as far as the eye could see. I am proud to have been part of a Government and to have worked with a Prime Minister and a Minister of Finance that have turned that round. We have turned that round despite the constant and continual financial chaos and uncertainty in Europe and the United States. We have done this despite three major earthquakes in Christchurch, our second largest city; despite the failure of innumerable finance companies, with the savings and investments of thousands of New Zealanders going with them; and despite being left with enormous, gaping holes in the Budgets from the previous Government. There was half a billion dollars of unfunded promises in tertiary education alone. That Government went out and promised everything and then did not put any money into the Budget. Despite all of that, this John Key - led Government has turned that round, and I am proud to be part of a Government that has done that.
This Government, as I said earlier in question time, has focused particularly on young people, because as a result of the difficult economic times, too many of them have found that either they have been put out of work or there has not been work for them. We heard from the Minister for Social Development and Employment that at the beginning of last year there were 23,500 young people on the unemployment benefit, but now that figure is down to just under 16,000. Job Ops has been a huge success for young people—89 percent of those who have completed that scheme have gone off the benefit—and 2,800 young people have been prepared and are ready for work through the Limited Service Volunteers. That is fantastic work this Government has done, focused on young people. I am proud to be part of a Government that has put money into making educational opportunities available for young New Zealanders. There are 10,000 places under the wider Youth Guarantee next year for young people.
I just remind this House that the Labour Government said back in 2003 that its Budget contained a comprehensive package of initiatives to ensure that all 15 to 19-year-olds were involved in education, training, work, or other options by 2007. Who said that? The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, said that. Actually, it was a bit like housing in Tāmaki. It promised it again in 2004, in 2005, in 2006, and in 2007, but we have delivered it, actually. This Government, in tough economic times, is starting to deliver that for young people—10,000 places next year and 12,500 places by 2014. We have already opened eight trades academies and promised that possibly another 13 more will open at the beginning of next year. We have increased—
Over 3 years, I say, yes. Over 3 years we did it. Labour members had 9 years and what did they do? They sat back and watched while young people continued to leave school unable to read, write, and do maths. What is the common denominator for those young people who are out there on the dole? They cannot read. They cannot write. I was talking to an employer who had to put off a guy from his apprenticeship, because they could not trust him to take a message on the telephone because he could not write. That kid went through schooling under a Labour Government. Labour members continue to argue against setting national standards in primary and intermediate schools that set benchmarks so that we can monitor whether our young people are learning to read, write, and do maths. I know that Trevor Mallard wanted to do it and the unions stopped him. Well, they are not stopping this Government.
Well, it is hard to tell who is a bigger stranger to the truth: the Minister of Education or the Minister who spoke before her.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The comments that the former Minister just made are unacceptable under the Speakers’ rulings in this House and the Standing Orders. I would ask him to withdraw and apologise.
No, no, the member is now trying under a point of order to argue the case. The issue is whether the language should be allowed. I think I have to support the intervention of Chris Tremain that that is tantamount to saying that a member is a liar, and that is totally outside the Standing Orders.
I seek leave to table—and I know that you do not like press releases, Mr Speaker—
—which quotes the Labour education spokesman, Trevor Mallard, in the Evening Post, saying that his national system of benchmark testing was needed so that principals and teachers could significantly raise—
That is sufficient. We have heard about it. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
There is no problem, at all.
As the member knows, we introduced the asTTle system. We spent tens of millions of dollars on it, and it has been wasted because she has wrecked it, she has not continued to fund it, and she has run away from having a decent system at all. I also say to the member for Clutha-Southland—no, before I finish with the Minister of Education, I will make one final comment. We are facing an uphill battle in the election. We do not know what the result will be, but the one thing we do know is that after the election, when there is a new Cabinet, Anne Tolley will not be the Minister of Education. Everyone in this House knows she is for the high jump in that job because she is basically incompetent.
She is basically incompetent.
I turn now to the misleading statements made by Bill English earlier in this House. He said the Labour Party billboards do not say: “Party Vote Labour”.
They do. They absolutely do. I probably have 70 up in my electorate, which say exactly that: “Party Vote Labour”. The member needs to get his facts right. I think there are three or four that Paul Quinn has up; he was apparently crying because he had to take a few down. He took three or four down. He took a week to put three up, early, and then 2 days to take them down again. He is crying because he has only three or four of them back up again, and they are in bad spots. But just ask Paul Quinn what the Labour Party billboards say. They say: “Party Vote Labour”. They also say the reasons why. They say: “No Asset Sales—Party Vote Labour”. They say: “$15 an hour—Party Vote Labour”. They say: “No GST on fruit and veges—Party Vote Labour”. They say something else, which has not yet been announced and is not up yet, and then “Party Vote Labour”. The member Bill English, I think, needs to reflect on national standards in reading, look at a reading manual, and get someone to read the billboards to him, and he will see that at the bottom of the party vote billboards it says: “Party Vote Labour”.
I do not know what a—[Interruption] Maybe that explains it. Bill English was claiming that the debt was down. There is $37 billion more net debt under National. I repeat, there is $37 billion more net debt under National. In fact, if we had done this graph, which I have here, at another time, we could have got the red into negative, but we thought we would do a fair comparison.
Let us then look at jobs. We had the Prime Minister claiming miracles, claiming miracles in the job stakes. I think the Prime Minister does not know the difference between a job queue and a job. He does not understand that when we have nearly 900 people lining up for 45 full-time, and a few part-time, jobs in Kaiapoi, of all places—900 people in Kaiapoi lining up for 45 full-time, and a few part-time jobs—it is the 45 that counts and not the 900. I think the Prime Minister does not understand the difference between applying for a job and getting a job. We have seen his abysmal misunderstanding—and I will put it that way, Mr Speaker, because if he did it deliberately it would be a breach of Parliament and I would not allege that—therefore he must be incompetent and misunderstanding. The Prime Minister should face up to the fact that he has no plan, he is muddling, and the economy is failing as a result.
The previous speech just shows where Labour is going wrong, because we have had 5 minutes of Trevor Mallard speaking incomprehensibly and focusing on issues that, frankly, have no cut-through with the New Zealand public. The problem, overall, is that Labour’s campaign is fronted by Trevor Mallard, who is probably New Zealand’s most unpopular politician.
I want to know why Phil Goff is not on those billboards. In my electorate Labour will not let him front anything. Phil Goff is absent from the billboards throughout New Zealand. Why is that? Well, there are two theories. The first theory is that when Labour printed the billboards it did not actually know who would be the leader at the time of the election. Would it be the “Camp David” crowd, would it be the “Branch Davidians”, or would it be someone else?
The second theory, and I think this is the true one, is that quite frankly Phil Goff’s brand is toxic. The problem Labour members have is that if they will not back their own leader, how can they reasonably expect New Zealanders to back their leader? Labour members know they are in a hole, because they know that to win under MMP they have to run a party vote campaign. So what are they doing? They are running an electorate vote campaign—it is: “Remove all insignia, disband, last man for themselves.”
The other thing I want to know is why the Labour Party is so nasty towards anyone who supports anything that it does not agree with. Why is Darien Fenton attacking New Zealand icon Sir Peter Leitch? It is because Sir Peter thinks that the Prime Minister is a good guy and the person to lead New Zealand. Do members know what Darien Fenton is calling for? She is calling for Labour supporters to boycott The Mad Butcher shops. That just shows how out of touch this lot are. They are completely down the stream.
I want to know another thing. Why in the last 3 years has Labour asked only four oral questions on immigration in this House? Unbelievable! Why has Ruth Dyson not asked a single question on immigration in this House since she has been the Opposition spokesman on immigration since February 2011? The answer is that Labour left such a horrible mess for us to clear up in immigration, and we have been doing a damn good job of getting it right. We have turned round the performance of the Immigration Service. Members opposite will know that they are no longer getting complaints about Immigration New Zealand, because we have been doing the work, measuring the metrics. Customer satisfaction has gone from 60 to 80 percent, employer satisfaction has gone from 70 to 90 percent, and the quality of decision making has gone up massively. When we came in, only 71 percent of decisions were up to scratch. We have moved that to 87 percent. When we came in, there were huge backlogs in the student queue. We have halved those backlogs. We are putting Immigration New Zealand’s resources around the world, where New Zealand has its strategic future mapped out. There is a clear plan there.
We are getting in much more business migration capital—$700 million compared with $70 million in the last 2 years under those guys opposite. We are getting people with the skills to come here.
We are having a wonderful Rugby World Cup here in New Zealand. The people are loving it, things are going well. It is a great time for New Zealand. It is a terrible time for Labour. Let us keep it that way. Go the mighty All Blacks! Go the Warriors on Sunday night! It is looking good. Roll on, 26 November.
Kia ora, Mr Speaker. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou. Kia ora. This afternoon Parliament looks set to sign the ACT Party’s ideological solution in search of a problem—the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill, a member’s bill. The Green Party is proud to be opposing this bill and we call on the Government benches to reconsider their support. The Minister for Tertiary Education, Steven Joyce, has one last chance to reconsider allowing this bill to pass in order to save quality tertiary education. Mr Joyce, at a minimum, must delay implementation—
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It might be that there has been a massive change in the Standing Orders, but my understanding is that this bill is members’ order of the day No. 1 today. According to the Standing Orders, for a long time, the debate on that occurs when the bill is called and cannot be anticipated.
The Hon Trevor Mallard is quite correct. I did not interpret it as being a particular contribution to the debate on that bill. If it was, the member should be aware of that and not continue.
No, we have dealt with that. The Standing Orders are clear: members should not refer to items further down on the Order Paper.
I would like to talk about tertiary education issues and why this Government, under Steven Joyce as the Minister for Tertiary Education, deserves an F. I will talk about why we saw hundreds of students at Auckland University barricade themselves within the Owen G Glenn Building to take action against this Government and what it is doing to tertiary education. It is not just about the bill that will be passed later on today under this Parliament; there is a whole host of changes that mean that we, as a Government in this country, are not delivering quality education.
In the last week we have seen five of our six New Zealand universities drop down the international rankings. We have seen literally thousands of students turned away from accessing education because the Government has retrospectively applied the rules to students who failed papers more than 2 years ago. That is not fair, that is not right, and that is not how we build a smart economy.
A smart economy is one that invests in its people. It invests in education. But under a National Government we have seen a capping of tertiary education funding at a time when we have inflation at a 21-year high, so of course we are seeing a reduction in tertiary education rates, and it is no surprise that our universities are dropping down the world rankings. This is why, when we hear about delivering a brighter future, we know that we are hearing simple spin—simple spin—from National members, who are not putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to tertiary education.
We have seen changes to the student loan scheme that have meant that over-55-year-olds cannot access a student loan for living costs. Apart from being discriminatory and absolutely unfair, this does not recognise the fact that many Kiwis are working longer, and that they are changing careers many times in their lifetimes. The fact is that we want our elderly workers upskilling so that they can deliver to our economy. On every front when it comes to this most important issue, we are seeing the National Government failing us.
Going into the election, we have to focus on the things that really matter. I am proud to be standing here as a Green member, and going into the election with the priority of delivering 100,000 jobs. Obviously, that will come from investing in our natural assets, which are our natural environment—our “100% Pure New Zealand” and our “clean, green” brand—and also our people. That is why education will continue to be a priority for the Green Party.
Secondly, when we look at our natural environment, we see that it is a tragedy that our kids and our grandkids cannot swim in our waterways, rivers, streams, and lakes in New Zealand simply because of the pollution from the intensive agriculture we are seeing. The Greens have a plan—which we attempted to table in Parliament today—the Green Party plan to clean up our rivers.
Lastly, we are a rich country, yet we have 270,000 kids in poverty. Many of them are growing up going to school without food in their bellies, and many of them are without shoes. Non-governmental organisations are literally required to deliver shoes and rain jackets. The Greens have a plan, fully costed, that means we can, within 3 years, lift 100,000 Kiwi kids out of poverty.
What I have heard in this general debate is a matter of political spin. Again, there is the tribal battle that we hear between the blue team and the red team. But when it comes to the issues that really matter to our future, which is what a rich life means—being able to swim in a waterway, river, or lake in New Zealand, having a rich country that does not have kids in poverty, and having those good jobs—the Green Party will continue to deliver an economy that works for everyone.
I will begin by expressing my personal condolences, and those of the Napier and Wairoa communities, to the family of the SAS soldier who was killed in Afghanistan in the last day. I say that our thoughts are with the family at this point in time.
I am very proud of what is currently happening across this country. Last night I watched my home town of Napier host yet another stunning Rugby World Cup game, which was between Canada and Japan at McLean Park—unfortunately it was a draw—yet another addition to the games that are proliferating around the country and adding a range of excitement. My province has embraced the cup, and all up and down the country it is absolutely fantastic to see.
Although I do not often like to put accolades on to the Auckland community, I have to say that at this point in time they are taking the cake in terms of their support for the tournament. I was fortunate to be up there last weekend, to walk along some of the fan walk down through Bond Street and over to the All Black game against the French, and to see the way that that community is being inspired by the tournament. Down Bond Street there were parties in every second house, with rear-projection cinema and people sitting on the street watching the pre-game roll-out—absolutely fantastic! And I give particular congratulations to the Pacific Island community up there, who, like no other in this country, have embraced the tournament with multiple flags on the tops of their cars, and who are doing an absolutely wonderful job, I have to say.
The Rugby World Cup is highlighting all the wonderful parts of this country. It is doing an absolutely stunning job. At the same time that we are celebrating the Rugby World Cup, we have heard today from the Minister of Finance about the numerous other nations around the globe that are facing serious difficulties. I do not want to make light of New Zealand’s situation, by any means; undoubtedly, we still face pretty tough times. But by comparison with just about any other nation on the globe, this country is doing pretty damn well, and I am proud to hear that.
I will just briefly repeat some of those statistics of what we inherited as a Government: mortgage rates at 10.5 percent in 2008—just think about that: mortgage rates at 10.5 percent! The average family that has a mortgage is facing interest costs of under $200 a week less now than it was facing 3 years ago. That is absolutely fantastic. We inherited an economy that had had negative growth for four quarters in a row, and we were already in recession on coming into Government. One of the most frightening statistics, which has not been rolled out today, is that there had been no net new jobs in the productive sector since 2004—none. New jobs had all happened in the Government sector and the services sector, and that, regardless of the spin, is no way to grow an economy.
Now as we head into the election, the fact is that the economy has grown—it has grown slowly, but it has grown—at 1 percent in the first two quarters of this year. In eight quarters out of nine since we have been in Government we have seen growth. Interest rates, as I have said, are at a 45-year low, and the unemployment rate is falling. Albeit, we would like to see it falling faster but, as the Prime Minister said today, in 2011 the total jobs in this country are more than the total jobs that were in this country in 2008. That is a fact. The economy is growing, and this Government, at the tiller, is making a difference. But it is not the Government, obviously, that makes the overall difference. It is the employers out there who have put their shoulders to the grindstone through these difficult periods, and who have delivered security, and jobs and wages, to our people. I want to thank them all.
All of us would like to see these statistics being painted in an even rosier light, but those are the facts. Relative to other countries, our future looks exceptionally bright. Although the Government has played a steady hand at the tiller, the position we find ourselves in is, as I say, due to the hard work of employers around this country.
Meanwhile, instead of focusing on the issues that matter, Labour across the House, with its ever-decreasing circle of supporters, continues, unfortunately, to grovel in the sewer. I will take up Mr Coleman’s point, because I was gobsmacked this week when Darien Fenton commented about one of this country’s greatest New Zealanders—a large employer and someone who has supported people who have been in difficult situations. I thought that was appalling.
The speech made by Mr Tremain, the member who has just resumed his seat, is 5 minutes of my life that I will not get back. I will start by saying that economics is obviously not National’s strong point. The number of times I have stood in this Parliament and taken a call after a speaker has taken credit for the fall in interest rates and said it is the result of Government policy—my God! This is the result of a tsunami of different events throughout the world; it certainly has nothing to do with this Government’s policy.
In the last couple of days we have heard that, finally, National has unleashed a new plan, a new strategy. It is called muddling through—it is called muddling through. We have here a plan where we are not quite sure where we are going but we will sort of, hopefully, get there. We have a Minister of Finance who went across to the United States and met in Washington with all the heads of the IMF, the World Bank, etc. He came back and said the sky was falling—he was scaremongering—but our Prime Minister said: “Don’t worry; we’ll muddle through.”
That is not a plan. Nor is what the Prime Minister has been articulating for the last 2 years, and this is how it goes: Asia is getting richer; Asia will need more protein; New Zealand produces more protein; therefore, we will be OK. That is not a strategy or a plan, either. That is a hope that we can continue to do the same old stuff and we will still be able to muddle through and get there. Well, it is not good enough, and I will tell members why it is not good enough.
The previous speaker talked about some statistics. The Government has an $18 billion debt. It inherited a surplus, but it now has an $18 billion debt. GDP per capita is 3.6 percent lower now than in 2008. Half of the population of New Zealand has not had a pay increase in the last 12 months, but they know that prices have gone up by 5.5 percent. There has been 0.1 percent growth in the latest quarter—the second quarter. That is 0.1 percent, which is just above zero but not enough to keep up with population growth. In other words, we are going backwards. Mr Key talked about growth today, and he pointed out a graph. Under his breath he said that we are growing, with the exception of Australia, which is growing much faster. The gap between Australia and New Zealand is growing wider and wider.
Earlier this year it was said that we were going to have an innovative, science-led economic growth plan. It did not happen. In Budget 2011 we had a $12 million decrease in the amount of money we spend on science. More companies have queued up to get development grants—two-thirds—than have actually got any development grants. The innovative economy has been forgotten and we are back to muddling through and relying on those Asians buying our milk and meat and all those other things that we keep on producing because they are getting richer.
The other thing that we rely on, of course, is the Rugby World Cup and the rebuild from the earthquakes. Again, this is a hope; it is not a strategy. We do not see this Government coming up with any plan or strategy to move New Zealand forward. It is simply muddling through on the same old things that it has always muddled through on. The Government has chucked out tax credits, and it has chucked out the money that could have gone into our agriculture sector. It is now putting in half of what Labour already had in place in 2008. Why did the Government chuck them out? Because it gave a whole bunch of tax credits to rich people who did not need them. That is what happened. That is why those particular programmes were canned.
So here we are today, just out from an election, with a recession around the world about to happen, according to the Minister of Finance, and our Prime Minister says to everybody that it is OK and that we will muddle through.
There is a saying that is very appropriate today for the All Blacks as well as a John Key - led Government at this time, leading up to not only the finals of the Rugby World Cup but also the general election at the end of November. That saying is: “When the going gets tough, the tough keep going.”, and “keep going” certainly describes the actions of this Government. On this side of the House we say that we should celebrate that. Just like that dazzling move and perfect timing of the pass between Piri Weepu and Cory Jane on Saturday night that resulted in a seven-pointer to the All Blacks, so too have the policies of John Key and the Government worked well and treated this country to a very positive future during what other members of the globe would call a global financial meltdown.
Today more than ever New Zealanders are confident that we are building towards a brighter future, a future that all New Zealanders clamour for. We on this side of the House believe that that is worth celebrating. Also similar to last Saturday night’s pool match between the All Blacks and the French is the outstanding performance of this Government led by John Key, which has left the Opposition on the back foot, with gaps appearing all across the field in the Opposition team.
Let us celebrate with New Zealand some of the many achievements of this John Key - led Government. We are the envy of the world with our primary sector underpinning the nation’s economy. We produce quality proteins, which the world sees as safe and healthy, and produced in a country that upholds the highest of environmental integrity. Remarkably, this Government has managed to keep down the costs for the producer, and that is compliments to the Government. This has enabled the farming sector, the primary sector, to get back up on its feet after 10 years of spiralling costs. We on this side of the House say that we should celebrate that.
Although we regularly hear of the issues of the financial problems of the United States and Europe, we here in New Zealand have the confidence to know that our sovereign debt will top out at about 30 percent of GDP, and that is after fully funding the recovery after the Canterbury earthquakes. They are the worst natural disasters that have hit this country in its history, and New Zealanders celebrate the way in which the Government has attended to the vulnerability of New Zealand. Incidentally, the top out of debt that this country will face is merely a quarter of the average of the OECD countries. We on this side of the House say that we should celebrate that.
Interest rates are the lowest they have been for 40 years. Although the Opposition may not like to hear that, it is very important to make that point, because, under a John Key - led Government, not only are they the lowest they have been for 40 years but also they will remain lower for longer, and that gives business a lot of confidence. This puts money back into the pockets of all New Zealanders, and a graphic example of that would be that the average family with a $200,000 mortgage for their home effectively have an extra $10,000 that they can decide what to do with. That is $10,000 a year more than they had when Labour left office. On this side of the House we say that that is certainly worth celebrating. That amount of money in the pockets of hard-working New Zealanders is a game changer. It is also points on the board for this Government, led by John Key. All New Zealanders on that account are winners.
There is an incredible amount to celebrate in New Zealand at this time, over and above the Rugby World Cup. We have the best returns for the primary sector in a lifetime, the lowest interest rates in 40 years, and an economic growth strategy that is functioning far better than those of the majority, if not most, of the OECD members. So it is a wonderful opportunity from this point of view to be confronting an election at this time. Economic growth will translate into employment opportunities. We will see the lid sinking on the unemployment numbers—they will become greatly reduced. We are speaking about employment built on productivity gains, not the jobs built on the growth of wasteful government under Labour. In conclusion, it is a wonderful time to be on this side of the House, and we have a lot to celebrate.
I want to talk about a serious matter, and that is the issue of housing. This is not an area for great celebration under this National Government.
Let us talk about housing and why it is important. It is something for which there is a fundamental need; we all, as human beings, have the need for shelter. There are important health consequences of our having warm, safe shelter. If we live, as many who are homeless do, out on the streets, our health suffers. If we live in damp houses, our health suffers. Housing also has consequences for education. Ensuring children have a stable home that they can live in means that they will go to the local school, and that they will build up their relationships with their teachers and their fellow students and get better educational outcomes. Housing is important from the point of view of people’s standard of living. The cost of housing is one of the most significant costs that a family bears, whether that be through rental or mortgage costs. That is an important element too. What is left over is what families can then afford to spend on feeding themselves, getting around, and clothing themselves.
But housing is not just about those things; it is about how people have a sense of home and community. Housing is about giving people a place to live, a place to stand: somewhere at which to engage with others, somewhere that is their own. That is just as important. Housing is not about just the building; it is also about what that symbolises, and the connections and relationships that go with it.
This is well understood by Labour. We have always had a strong commitment to housing. We rebuilt homes for New Zealanders after the actions of the National Government in the 1990s, which introduced market rents that put many families in dire financial problems. Thousands of State houses were sold and not replaced, so we had less social housing in which to house our population. There was absolutely no modernisation undertaken during the 1990s. It is very rich to hear from that Government across there, which seems to make a lot of noise about what Labour did and did not do. We added, on the other hand, 8,000 houses. We added back 8,000 Housing New Zealand Corporation homes to its stock. We brought in income-related rents to try to ensure that families could get by. We built Talbot Park, a significant urban renewal project in Tāmaki. So when we talk about the Tāmaki Transformation Programme, let us just recollect that that was started under Labour and that we actually did do something, despite what the members opposite seem to be spinning. We can see their spin lines; it is almost as though they are written in front of me, frankly.
What is happening now? Well, families are struggling to make ends meet, the gap between rich and poor is growing in our nation, we have children living in poverty—one in five of our children is living in poverty—and they will be living, if they are lucky, in a house, because we have children living in garages and cars. If those children are living in a house, it will potentially be overcrowded. Many of them are suffering from Third World diseases caused by overcrowding. This is the picture now under this shiny, John Key - led National Government.
What is National doing now? National’s housing policy is to sell State houses: to get rid of Housing New Zealand Corporation houses and shift the responsibility to others; to move it on to the community sector. Its policy is not to put in new houses or provide the community sector with the ability to create additional houses; it is just to sell them. National will increase the cost to the families that will be housed in the community sector, but they will no longer receive income-related rents. The Minister of Housing has made that very clear. That will mean that rents will rise for low-income New Zealand families.
Let us look at what is happening in Glen Innes. This is the first major housing built under the Tāmaki Transformation Programme. There was Talbot Park, and the Tāmaki Transformation Programme was put in place, but very little has been done since that time. Finally, National is doing something. What is happening? Long-term residents are being relocated. There is no option for them to return to their community, despite weird comments from the Minister about a “whole bundle of options”. A Housing New Zealand Corporation document makes it clear that any transfer will be a permanent one—there is no going back. Housing New Zealand Corporation stock is being significantly reduced. This area, potentially, is seen by National as being too good for the sorts of people who, if they are lucky, have a job in Mount Wellington. That is what Lee Mathias, the chair of Sam Lotu-Iiga’s electorate committee and chair of the interim Tāmaki Transformation Programme board, said. The Government is moving housing stock into the community sector, as I said, where costs will increase.
It has been a tough time in New Zealand in the last 3 years. We have had a global recession, the Pike River tragedy, and the death and destruction caused by 8,000 earthquakes in my home town of Christchurch. But in the face of this terrible adversity we have seen the very best from our people, the very best from New Zealanders.
Obviously, the earthquakes have affected me most, and I have never been so proud of being a New Zealander and a Cantabrian. During this time the way Cantabrians and the whole country have responded to this disaster has been amazing, inspiring, and humbling. People everywhere have worked long and hard to help and support each other, their neighbourhoods, and their communities. We have worked together, we have laughed together, and we have cried together. Most of us who have lived through the last few months in Canterbury have developed a different set of values as we have rocked and rolled, and smashed our way forward. If it is true that every experience one survives without breaking makes one stronger, then Canterbury is invincible.
There has been a similar mind shift across the country and the world in the face of the global financial recession. Both internationally and locally the borrow-and-spend bubble has burst and people have come down to earth with a huge thump. Suddenly, they have rediscovered that a household should not spend more than it earns and that borrowed money has to be repaid. Again, New Zealanders have risen to the occasion. They have responded to the global situation by tightening their belts and, instead of continuing to spend $1.17 for every dollar they have earned, they now spend 98c and are focusing on saving and investing.
When National came into Government the country was already in recession, and we have worked hard to cushion the worst effects of that recession, allowing New Zealanders to adjust to a new economic situation and to make the changes that position this country well to manage the ongoing global uncertainty. We are now on the road to reducing our debt, to getting back into surplus within 3 years, and to building a faster-growing economy based on savings and exports. We are in much better shape now than we were when we inherited the free-spending economic shambles of the last Labour Government. This Government has delivered tax cuts to hard-working New Zealanders and lowered the company tax rate. We now have better, smarter public services that are delivering more for less. We have lifted the quality of education, introduced national standards, and developed trades academies. And we are investing in infrastructure and developing lucrative international trade agreements. We have put money into science and innovation, cut red tape, and made it easier to do business in New Zealand.
And we are beginning to see some results. Our economy has grown for eight of the last nine quarters. Our interest rates are the lowest in 45 years, and our unemployment rate is beginning to fall. I am particularly proud of how well Canterbury has bounced back. We have the most number of advertised jobs in the country, our employment rate is down, and in the last quarter the Canterbury economy has grown by 1.6 percent—the highest in New Zealand. I feel really positive about our future. I know that the National Government, true to plan, through hard work and intelligent economic management is turning the economy round for a better future for New Zealand.
The ACT Party plays a vital role in this House, and to see that that is true, one has only to look at four distinct things that will happen this week. Just yesterday the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill came back with major changes. Why were those changes achieved? It was because of the ACT Party. The bill came back with substantial changes. When it was reported back from the Justice and Electoral Committee, there were fundamental changes to New Zealanders’ constitutional right to remain silent. The ACT Party was asked to support that and, en masse, we objected. The result we see today is purely as a consequence of ACT’s opposition.
As we speak, the Justice and Electoral Committee is also meeting to consider the Government’s Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill. It is meeting only because of the ACT Party. We were asked to support that legislation. We could have given the Government the support; we could have given the Government the votes; it could have been passed under urgency last Thursday. But we said no and we forced the select committee consideration. Labour may want to try to take the credit, but the blunt reality, as Mr Mallard knows, is that the ACT Party is the reason that the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill was amended, and the reason that the Justice and Electoral Committee is meeting this afternoon is the ACT Party.
Not only that but also we have top lawyers telling that committee that the bill will not achieve its objectives. We have top lawyers telling the select committee that the so-called over-the-wall surveillance will not be legal, and that although pictures might be able to be recorded, audio will not be.
In a very short time we expect the voluntary student membership bill in the name of Heather Roy to be passed. It is another major achievement for the ACT Party.
I want to come to the issue that this House and this Parliament probably should be most ashamed about—utterly ashamed about—and that is New Zealand’s unacceptably high rate of youth unemployment. Our youth unemployment runs at some 27 percent. Sadly, among Māori it is even higher. Of course, there is a global recession. Times are tough—we know that. The Prime Minister reminds us of that every day that we question him on this issue in question time. But the blunt reality is that regardless of a global recession, the problem with youth unemployment has been made worse by the actions of every single party in this House bar the ACT Party. We know the reason that youth unemployment is higher than it should be. It is that youth rates were abolished as a consequence, first of all, of a Green Party member’s bill that was supported by the Labour Government in the last session of Parliament. The National Government had the opportunity to repeal that bill and it refused. What does that lead to? It leads to young people sitting at home on the unemployment benefit being denied the chance to work, denied the dignity of work, and denied the opportunity to gain experience. This Parliament has legislated against the right of young people—people of 16 and 17—who do not have the maturity or the experience to go out and to get a job. This Parliament has condemned them to sit at home on the unemployment benefit, earning $4.50 an hour. It is a disgrace.
How interesting that just this afternoon there was another major achievement for the ACT Party. The Minister of Labour acknowledged that a Department of Labour report has been put out in the last 2 weeks that actually acknowledges that despite the fact that the world is in recession, youth unemployment is some 20 to 40 percent higher than it needs to be. We heard this afternoon from Mr Joyce, who was speaking on behalf of the Minister of Labour, that that report will inform Government policy. He told us that it will inform Government policy. We can only hope that that is a smoke signal to say that National is finally prepared to listen to what the ACT Party has been saying for the last 2 years and longer. It is the ACT Party that cares for young people more than any other political party in this Parliament.
Absolutely. The people on that side of the House—and, sadly, those in the Government ranks as well—close their ears. Although Labour members may not want to agree with me, National members know I am telling the truth. They know I am telling the truth, because they had the chance to oppose the Green Party member’s bill and they did so. National voted with ACT to oppose the abolition of youth rates. When National members had the chance to reverse that, what did they do? They sat on their hands and did nothing. Let me say to National members that it is an absolute disgrace. Sadly, they sit there knowing that we need not have the situation we have today.