My Column: archive 2006

14 December 2006

Surgery increasingly out of reach for ordinary kiwis

Recently Consumer Magazine published a report that, sadly, proves what many of us have suspected for some time; it’s getting harder and harder for New Zealanders to have the surgery they need, when they need it.

Consumer looked at a wide range of information and their investigation revealed several worrying facts.

  • The public health system is increasingly treating only the more serious and acute conditions.
  • Some minor elective services are not available in some public hospitals, or there's a real chance of having surgery cancelled because there are too many acute cases or insufficient staff.
  • For people who can afford it, queue jumping by seeing a specialist privately is common.
  • There are inconsistencies in the assessment criteria used by different District Health Boards (DHBs) – and people with the same conditions and symptoms will be treated in some DHBs and not others.
  • DHBs and the Ministry of Health do not collect adequate data to measure unmet demand.

The sad thing about these findings is that despite Labour spending $4 billion extra, fewer people are getting important surgery that will make their lives better. Doctors have the skills and the knowledge to make life enjoyable again for so many more people, but Labour simply can't organise the health system to make this happen.

There’s an old saying that if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything. It may sound old fashioned but anyone who’s been ill or needed hospital care will know it’s true – without good health, and good health care, there’s no quality of life.

National believes elective surgery could be boosted by the smart use of the private sector, greater involvement of specialists and GPs in decision-making and cuts to bureaucracy.

It’s not lack of money, it’s lack of smart management.

8 December 2006

Taking climate change seriously

When I left college not many people had heard of global warming, and it certainly wasn’t on the mainstream political agenda. Now, no one with any awareness of the world can be ignorant of it.

We know that the risks posed by climate change must be taken seriously. The scientific evidence indicates that the world is getting warmer and, if this does not change, the results could be catastrophic – for our society as well as for our environment.

The devastating effect of the current drought in Australia, with reports of the number of struggling farmers committing suicide, is just one example of the human impact created by adverse climactic conditions.

It would be hugely irresponsible for any forward-looking Government to ignore that threat. If human actions are contributing to a warming world we must do what we can to reduce our impact.

Yet, under the Labour Government greenhouse gas emissions have been growing at a faster rate than in almost any other developed country – by 1.2 million tonnes a year. Simultaneously, forest plantings have plummeted under Labour - for the first time in over 50 years New Zealand is cutting down more trees than are being planted.

New Zealand is also producing less electricity from renewable sources than at any time since records began in 1961. Under Labour, the amount of electricity produced from coal has trebled. The Government has blocked renewable energy projects like Project Aqua and the Dobson Dam and backed new oil and coal stations like Whirinaki and Marsden B.

We know that Labour rushed into ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and now has no idea how it will meet the targets of stabilising emissions at 1990 levels. Treasury recently estimated that it will cost New Zealand $609 million to buy credits to meet these initial commitments.

Now Helen Clark believes she can achieve carbon neutrality. This is inconceivable. Carbon neutrality means offsetting all our emissions – not just the growth from 1990. To achieve this, it would cost us many billions of dollars – or we could just shut down all the factories, turn off all the lights and put all our vehicles on the scrapheap.

What we actually need to do is look forward to pragmatic, sensible solutions to what are deeply complex problems.

National has already started setting out possible solutions in the environment policy discussion paper we published in September: A Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand. We have developed a number of proposals which include a cap and trade regime for electricity emissions and abolishing the deforestation cap. We want to update the building code to emphasise energy efficiency; create incentives for fuel efficient vehicles and implement reform of the RMA to facilitate renewable energy generation.

Labour has been long on talk about climate change but short on action. National’s approach is about practical steps we can take now to secure a healthy environment in the future.

1 December 2006

Values

In a strong show of unity we in the National caucus were delighted to elect John Key as our new leader, with Bill English as his deputy

I was saddened when Don Brash resigned. It is no exaggeration to say that Don had a huge impact on New Zealand politics and was instrumental in National’s resurgence in recent years. Under Don’s leadership, the National Party almost won the last election against all the odds – taking the National caucus from 27 to 48 MPs.

I am very excited by the new leadership and the possibilities it brings. John Key and Bill English make a formidable, dynamic leadership team and will bring an aspirational, visionary style to politics.

John Key outlined last week his values and the direction he wants to take the country in.

His first point was that all New Zealanders would agree that the security, happiness and welfare of their family, which is also dependent on the security and welfare of their community and country, is the most precious thing to them.

He emphasised the core National Party values of personal freedom, individual responsibility, a competitive economy, and support for families and communities. These are the very principles under which the party was formed 70 years ago, and they are as relevant today as they were then.

National is interested in what works, and not what should, or could, or might work in theory. A John Key-led government will have fair policies that encourage enterprise and hard work, and trusts people to get on with their lives and make the best choices for themselves.

He also said that it is in the interests of no one, and to the shame of us all, that an under-class has been allowed to develop in New Zealand. This under-class is represented by all ethnic backgrounds, and when we talk about lifting people's sights, we are talking about all New Zealanders.

It is not the New Zealand way, and if left to fester it will impinge upon us all. The National party is deadly serious about addressing these issues.

John also reiterated National’s commitment to tackling the issue of climate change, following the release of our environment discussion paper, and that we will be taking more steps to do so.

There is much, much more to come, and I relish the challenge of being part of John Key-led National Party, building the policies and vision that will help create for New Zealand a more dynamic future.

27 November 2006

The ’20 hours free’ hoax

In the lead-up to the hotly contested 2005 election, Labour made a promise to parents: From 2007, 86,000 three and four year old children would be entitled to 20 hours of free early childhood education each week.

As 2007 draws closer, parents with young children look set for a great disappointment. The ‘20 hours free’ may have been a great campaign slogan, but Labour simply won’t deliver on its promise.

Ensuring families can access free childcare relies on there being enough childcare centres who are willing and able to provide it. But a survey by New Zealand’s Early Childhood Council (ECC) has found that 40% of early childhood centres nationwide – crèches, day-care centres etc – don’t expect to offer the free service. That’s because they’ll go broke if they buy into Labour’s flagship scheme.

As any parent whose had to put their child on a waiting list for their local crèche knows, there’s only a limited number of childcare centres out there. If almost half of them aren’t able to offer 20 free hours then somebody – in fact thousands of little somebodies – are going to miss out.

So how will the lottery for the free hours be decided? In a cruel twist, families chances of cashing in may well come down to matters of geography.

The ECC survey showed, for example, that only 25% of childcare centres in Auckland and Wellington are planning to offer the free care.

That’s because Labour’s promise to parents relies on childcare centres cancelling the fees they charge and instead covering their costs with a government subsidy.

Those costs naturally vary from region to region, with rents in central-Wellington, for example, being much higher than rents in Invercargill. Despite this fact, Labour wants to pay centres the same subsidy no matter how much it costs them to provide their service.

The upshot of all of that is if you’re a young family living in [pick local area]] then cashing in your promised 20 hours free could be next to impossible. That’s not fair.

Labour made a big promise to parents, but they won’t cover the costs of the childcare centres they expect to deliver it.

Families all over New Zealand have been led to believe that come 2007 they will have an entitlement to 20 hours free early childhood education – the truth is they won’t. That’s not fair.

10 November 2006

Labour’s failing environmental record

Helen’s Clark’s commitment to New Zealand being carbon neutral - a goal more ambitious than any other country - is pure fantasy. Labour is quite simply failing to mitigate for the global threat now posed by climate change.

Under the Labour Government greenhouse gas emissions have been growing at rates faster than almost any other country – by 1.2 million tonnes a year. Simultaneously, forest plantings have plummeted under Labour - for the first time in over 50 years New Zealand is cutting down more trees than are being planted. The excuse of changing economies does not wash. In Australia, under the same global market conditions, substantial afforestation is occurring.

New Zealand is also producing less electricity from renewables than at any time in our history. Under Labour, electricity produced from coal has trebled. The Government has blocked renewable energy projects like Project Aqua and the Dobson Dam and backed new oil and coal stations like Whirinaki and Marsden B.

There is a total lack of credible policy or direction. We’ve had the abandoned Fart Tax and Carbon Tax policies; the tendering of renewable energy projects has stopped and the negotiation of greenhouse gas agreements abandoned. In 2004, the Government took climate change out of the RMA and now they are proposing to put it back in.

The Energy Efficiency Strategy managed only a 0.4% per year gain in efficiency (less than when no strategy was in place) and the Waste Strategy failed to meet any targets. We have seen no sign of the Biodiversity Policy Statement, promised since 1999, or progress on the Oceans Policy.

Kyoto is a complete mess for New Zealand. Labour rushed into ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and now has no idea on how we will meet the targets of stabilising emissions at 1990 levels. Sending a cheque for hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s dollars to the Ukraine or Russia will do nothing for climate change.

The Green Party, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and business groups have all stated that climate change policy in New Zealand is a vacuum. This is just not good enough for a Government in its seventh year in office.

National has filled the vacuum with a comprehensive Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand. We have developed a number of proposals including: a cap and trade regime for electricity emissions; abolishing the deforestation cap; aggressive investment in research on agricultural emissions and joining the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development. We want to update the building code to emphasise energy efficiency; blend biodiesel into fuel; create incentives for fuel efficient vehicles and implement reform of the RMA to facilitate renewable energy.

Our policy discussion document can be viewed at: www.national.org.nz/environment/

10 November 2006

Food Miles

In recent weeks, the much-publicised ‘Stern Report’ has highlighted the serious consequences facing the world if countries don’t take steps to address global climate change.

Though reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a worthy and necessary goal, some of the means proposed, namely a tax on ‘Food Miles’, ring alarm bells for New Zealand.

The argument that our food products cause environmental harm because they need to be transported long distances is simplistic and dangerous. It implies that European countries can tackle global warming by rejecting our food products in favour of their own.

The ‘food miles’ concept considers only the transport component of getting food to consumers. It ignores all the other energy-intensive elements of food production, such as the use of fertilisers and agricultural chemicals, domestic transportation, and processing. These components all involve greenhouse gas emissions and are necessary whether food is produced in New Zealand or elsewhere.

The good news is that research from Lincoln University shows that when all elements are considered, New Zealand is among the most energy-efficient producers in the world, despite our distance from global consumers. Our dairy products, for example, have an ‘energy footprint’ only half the size of British-produced dairy products, while our apples have an ‘energy footprint’ a quarter of the size.

So, out of the misconstrued idea of ‘food miles’ there is a very good story for New Zealand to tell – a story of efficient farm management, world-class agricultural science and innovative businesses capable of overcoming the huge distances that separate our products from consumers.

For generations, New Zealand exporters have risen to the challenge posed by our great isolation. The ‘food miles’ argument is just another facet of that challenge, and an opportunity to tell and sell our ‘green story’.

New Zealand produce is among the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly in the world. So British consumers can, in good conscience, continue to save the planet while eating our kiwifruit too.

2 November 2006

Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference, Geneva

I was recently very privileged to lead the New Zealand parliamentary delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

The IPU is an international organisation of parliaments from all over the world. At the conference I attended in Geneva, there were over 500 elected politicians from 127 countries.

The Union is an important forum for sharing ideas and experience across nations and considering issues of international significance. The IPU also supports the efforts of the United Nations and works in close co-operation with it to promote peace and defend human rights.

At the conference, we considered a current, high-profile issue – the nuclear weapons test announced by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This was placed as an emergency item on the agenda, and a committee chosen to draft a resolution for the conference to consider.

New Zealand was one of the 15 countries chosen to form part of this committee, and as leader of the delegation, I was privileged to represent our country. I was also given the added honour of chairing the committee itself. This was a real feather in New Zealand’s cap, given that also present were representatives from China, Japan, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Mexico and Chile.

Just as pleasing for our role in this process was the fact that at the end of a very tense and challenging three hour debate, the committee reached a unanimous verdict on the wording of the resolution.

This was a very significant resolution. It set out a request to the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea to revisit its nuclear weapons policy, and in particular, to rethink its decision to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

When I took the resolution to the conference for wider consideration, all but three of the countries present voted to adopt it – sending a clear sign that the IPU was agreed on its position. The conference also called upon all states to redouble their efforts to prevent and curb the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

I am extremely pleased that New Zealand played such a central role in the formulation, debate and passing of this important resolution. This is an excellent example of our involvement in international affairs and demonstrates that we are held in high esteem on the world stage.

29 October 2006

Budget surplus

Last year the Labour Government ran a budget surplus of $11.5 billion. For a company, this $11.5 billion would count as its profit. For a government, however, a surplus of this size is a clear sign that the country's taxpayers are being fleeced.

Such over-taxation of hard-working Kiwis takes away the incentive for people to work harder and get ahead under their own steam. In turn this affects the competitiveness of the economy. In short, it means we're getting more and more sluggish.

The numbers are alarming. The increase in the Government's tax take over the past six years has far outstripped even the hefty rises in local body rates over the same period. Total government tax revenue in the 1999/00 financial year was $32 billion, climbing to $52 billion in 2005/06 - a whopping increase of 62%.

But it's not just the impact on our own incomes that we need to consider. The Government's tax hikes have had a dramatic impact on our position in the global economy.

New Zealand is now running the second biggest surplus in the developed world. Because we're taking so much in tax we've fallen from 10th to 16th in OECD rankings for tax revenue as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. This means the economy is becoming less – not more – globally competitive. Dr Cullen is failing in his responsibilities to strengthen our economic position on the world stage.

The scale of the surplus confirms that a programme of tax cuts is affordable, and that they can be done without reducing public services.

Tax cuts would improve work incentives and help people get ahead under their own steam. They would raise living standards and help prevent the continued exodus of our best and brightest across the Tasman and further afield.

Yet we are likely to see Helen Clark continue to defend the Government's position until just before the next general election - when she is sure to develop a miraculous appetite for tax cuts.

Where is the Government's consideration for Kiwi taxpayers? Where is its sense of fairness and equity? The public will see Labour's cynical announcement of tax cuts just before the next election for what it is - too little, too late.

24 October 2006

The NCEA: Is it up to scratch?

Throughout the country secondary school students are busy preparing for end of year exams. This is the fifth year of exams under NCEA, but the question remains – is the system delivering fair and consistent school qualifications?

The NCEA has some huge benefits. It offers a range of different options for students that can make their school results more meaningful for future study and employment. Students of varying abilities and interests can pick individualised combinations of NCEA ‘standards’ that showcase their knowledge and skills.

But the system of assessing those ‘standards’, both through school-based assessment and external exams, is worryingly inconsistent. We still can’t be assured that an ‘achieved’, ‘non-achieved’, ‘merit’ or ‘excellence’ grade awarded by one school one year means the same as the same grade awarded by another school in another year.

In March, the Government revealed that more than a third of the internal assessment results awarded by schools, and then checked by the NZQA, are found to be wrong, but the results aren’t changed because the school has already awarded them.

That’s not fair. It forces parents, students and employers to ask whether a pass grade awarded at one school is worth as much as a pass awarded at the school down the road.

NCEA exam assessment isn’t much better. Analysis of last year’s exam results showed that thousands of students who failed NCEA standards in 2005 would have passed if they’d sat that exam in a previous year.

So for example, while 17,900 students failed the level one English standard ‘Produce formal writing‘ in 2004, 4000 fewer students failed it in 2005. Who knows if this year’s standard will be as ‘easy’ as it was last year or as ‘hard’ as it was in 2004? What we do know is that thousands of students hang in the balance.

Kids who work hard all year deserve fair and consistent assessment. They deserve at least to get the same chance to succeed as similar students in previous years.

This problem of variable results was brought to wide public attention with the 2004 ‘Scholarship’ debacle. Huge variations in pass rates between subjects and a resulting public outcry forced the Government to introduce a benchmarking system so that assessment would be consistent from subject to subject and year to year.

National thinks the same rigour that has been introduced to those elite exams should be implemented at all levels of the NCEA. Average kids need reliable assessment results just as much – if not more – as the brightest kids.

It’s time the Government took the demands of parents, students and employers seriously. They want accurate, straightforward results information based on consistent and fair assessment.

Surely that’s not too much to ask?

24 October 2006

Environment policy proposals

New Zealand’s unique environment is important to our nation and our lifestyles. But sadly we are falling far short of the tourism marketing slogan of ‘100% pure’. That’s why National has signalled a new direction in environment policy with a 30-page discussion paper.

The initial response to the paper has been very encouraging. We have received positive feedback from a range of individuals and environmental organisations.

I’ve listed some of the proposals below to give you a flavour of the paper.

  • Tackling climate change by capping emissions from electricity generation and offsetting new emissions with forest planting. We suggest incentives for fuel-efficient cars, blending of biodiesel, and updating the building code to emphasise energy efficiency.
  • A $1 billion Sustainability Investment Fund to provide direct Government funding for community conservation projects, incentives for forestry planting, and schemes to ensure clean water.
  • An acknowledgement that about 970 New Zealanders die each year because of air pollution, but that the task of reducing air pollution can be overwhelming for local communities. We propose Government assistance to help low income households change to clean heating.
  • Measures to deal with New Zealand’s serious problems with erosion, and pollution of our rivers, lakes and streams. We consider the concept of transferable water permits; these would provide incentives for the efficient use of water while ensuring that too much water isn’t taken.
  • We propose that we should enforce our high environmental standards by ensuring all imported wood comes from sustainably-managed forests.
  • In the wake of the disastrous management of pests like didymo and the varroa beemite, a tougher approach to biosecurity. We propose instant deportation for visitors who deliberately flout our biosecurity laws.
  • Giving hunters, fishers and trampers more say in their recreation, establishing 25 new campgrounds on public land and establishing two new National Parks - one in Northland and one in the Waitakere Ranges.
  • Tackling urban problems like poor infrastructure, boy racers and solid waste with common sense rules and incentives. We need a standardised system of colouring for recycling bins and financial incentives to support recycling businesses. Noise standards for cars need to be tightened and enforced.

The policies proposed in the paper will impact on every one of us. That is why we want New Zealanders to give us feedback on our website www.national.org.nz or by attending one of the 20 public meetings we are hosting all over New Zealand.

11 October 2006

Rural GP shortage

Those of us living in rural communities are well aware of the problems associated with accessing timely, good quality healthcare. The issue of GP shortages is just one example.

GPs in rural practices face quite specific challenges which are causing them to leave in record numbers. Isolation will always be a factor and recent surveys have shown that the burden of providing after hours care is taking a toll on both doctors and nurses. After hours care adds to stress levels, causes sleep deprivation and exhaustion and is hard on family life. Yet these practitioners know that communities need to be able to access expert care, and they have to provide it.

The problem is only set to get worse if you take into account the fact that 50% of the GP population is over 45 years old and a worrying number plan to leave rural general practice over the next five years. If it takes on average 12 years to fully train a GP, we should not be ignoring these trends.

As if to add insult to injury, the Ministry of Health has announced that it will undertake a reviewing of its Rural Ranking Scale. This wide-ranging review could result in a number of practices no longer qualifying as 'rural'. This will mean less money to attract GPs and nurses to fill vacancies.

This comes on top of recent problems experienced in places such as Levin, Gisborne, Timaru, Waimate and Twizel, where patients already queue to register for a GP, and where it can be a struggle to replace GPs and nurses who have left.

The shortage of rural GPs is not simply a case of unequal distribution. Since 1999, our population has increased, but the full-time equivalent of GPs has not. 44% (South Island) and 50% (North Island) of GPs are overseas trained and this indicates a worrying reliance on recruiting (at a cost) from overseas.

Pete Hodgson's recent U-turn to provide an extra 15 GP Registrar places, falls well short of what is needed to address the shortage of rural health professionals.

Increasing GP Registrar places only addresses half the problem. We need to have a far stronger focus on rural immersion early on in GP training, so that our trainee doctors experience and understand the benefits of working in a rural environment.

National believes that this immersion must be funded, but that also part of the picture must be a vibrant growing economy and lower taxes, thereby ensuring that many of the bright young New Zealanders who train as doctors and nurses, will want to work here.

29 September 2006

National and the environment

Like the rest of New Zealand, I’ve had a gutsful of the sleaze that’s been dominating the political agenda recently.

I am committed to keeping my attention focused on the important issues facing New Zealand.

So are the rest of my National Party colleagues, and for the past few weeks we have been busy finalising a discussion paper on our policy ideas for addressing New Zealand’s environmental problems.

The document, “A Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand” will be launched Friday 6 October and I will be very keen to hear your feedback about the ideas it contains.

New Zealand’s environment is at the core of our quality of life, our national identity and our competitive advantage, yet it’s not being well managed.

Many of our streams, rivers and lakes are deteriorating. Greenhouse gas emissions are soaring and nearly 1,000 New Zealanders die each year from the effects of air pollution. Barely a week passes without a new pest breaching our borders. Our forest estate is shrinking for the first time in decades.

Current Government policies on oceans, waste, biodiversity and climate change have failed. New leadership and direction are needed.

National’s approach to environmental issues is based on some core principals: economic growth and improving the environment can and must go hand in hand, resource use must be sustainable, good science is essential to good environmental decisions, people respond to change when engaged and given incentives, and New Zealanders have a unique birthright to access and enjoy our special places.

The policies in our discussion document are bold, innovative and forward-looking. They cover 15 key topics and bring together a great deal of thinking and discussion.

They include ideas for encouraging community conservation initiatives, insuring New Zealand against the risks of climate change and restoring and maintaining the quality of the air we breathe and the water in our lakes and rivers.

So, despite the distractions of recent weeks, you can be confident that National is focused on pursuing our vision for a better New Zealand. A clean, green environment is an important part of that vision and we look forward to sharing our ideas with you and hearing yours.

25 September 2006

Aged healthcare

The Labour Government is responsible for a number of failings in our health system: the crisis in elective surgery and culling of waiting lists, the disillusioned health workforce and growing shortage of rural GPs. A review of maternity services is well overdue and mental health is bogged down in endless strategies and spin.

One of the worst failings is that, under Labour, we have seen the funding of the aged-care sector shrivel to the point where financial pressures are forcing rest homes to close. There have been 40 closures in the past few years alone.

We all recognise that, as our population ages, the demands on the services in the aged-care sector will grow significantly over the next decade. It is essential that we plan for this now.

Eldercare facilities are a top priority for National. Our health policy team, led by my colleague, Tony Ryall, is currently consulting with providers and consumers and working on an aged-care discussion paper. This paper will address the range of complex issues surrounding the care of older New Zealanders and form the basis of our policy to meet the challenges of the next two decades.

National’s health team have outlined five principles crucial to managing these challenges.

The first principle is that of independence and choice. We want to ensure that older people can remain in their own home and retain their independence for as long as it is safe and possible. This means they need a choice of health and social care services which are available at a local level.

Secondly, aged-care should be a continuum of care. Currently services are split between many different providers, which often means that older New Zealanders cannot easily access the best service, support and care for their specific needs. For example, we need to ensure there are better support networks for families and other carers, such as providing respite residential care for those with dementia.

Developing long-term funding partnerships is also critical. We want to see greater public and independent investment to help meet the expected growth in demand for residential care services. This may require setting aside specific funding for aged-care as well as allowing individuals to contribute for additional services. We also need to review the compliance costs involved in monitoring aged-care services.

We want to see more emphasis placed on the importance of a trained and skilled workforce - essential to the delivery of safe, quality care. This requires investment in training and an improvement in remuneration levels.

Finally, we need to ensure that we are making the best use of new technologies as and when they become practicable. For example, there is huge potential for ‘telecare’, which uses information and communication technologies, to help carers monitor the health and safety of older people in their own homes.

These principles will underpin our aged-care policy work. We will not shy away from the challenge to deliver quality long-term care that is affordable to the Government, the independent sector and the individual.

18 September 2006

The pledge card facts

There has been a great deal of talk about Labour’s pledge card spending at the last election. It can seem like a complex issue, but the case is actually very straightforward. National strongly believes that Helen Clark misappropriated parliamentary funds, and therefore taxpayers’ money. Four official bodies agree.

The Chief Electoral Officer contacted Labour during the election campaign to inform them that the more than $400,000 spent on their pledge card would count as part of their total election spend.

The Electoral Commission then reviewed the matter. They then informed the Police that prima facie “there has been expenditure which was over the maximum amount that the party was permitted to spend.”

The Auditor-General is now preparing a report into 2005 election spending. His draft report found that a number of parties had spent taxpayer money illegally. A small number of National MPs were in breach and the National Party paid the money back immediately.

Finally, we have the analysis of the former Solicitor-General, Terence Arnold. He has stated that advertising for parliamentary purposes clearly excludes advertising for electioneering purposes - defined as something intended to persuade a voter to vote for a party in an election. He therefore takes the same view as that of the Auditor-General, the Electoral Commission and the Chief Electoral Officer, that Helen Clark has misspent parliamentary money.

We now wait for the Auditor-General’s final report which should be released by the end of the year. While we expect it to draw the same conclusions as his draft report, Labour maintains its refusal to pay the money back.

Moreover, the Government is now looking to review the very legislation which it has breached. It will continue to engage in this series of distractions, diversions and threats in a cynical attempt at self-preservation. What we want, and what the public deserves, is for Helen Clark to come clean and pay the money back.

8 September 2006

Facing up to school failure

Each year more than 15,000 New Zealand students - almost a third of school leavers - are leaving school with no qualifications, according to figures released by the Ministry of Education.

The picture is even worse for students in low decile (1-3) schools, of whom only two in five leave school with a qualification.

This is an indictment on our education system. Without a basic qualification these young New Zealanders aren’t making it to the starting line in the race for tertiary education or skills training.

Students who fail NCEA Level One - the equivalent of the old School Certificate - have very limited choices. The bulk of trades and pre-apprenticeship courses for example, require a school qualification as a pre-requisite for entry. So the students missing out at school are at risk of missing out on employment opportunities for many years to come.

Rather than confronting this time bomb, Labour is intent on dropping the bar and hiding the failure of thousands of students. The Ministry of Education has issued statistics counting all school-leavers with 13 NCEA credits as having a qualification - despite the fact that NCEA Level One requires 80 credits.

To put those numbers into context, students at Cambridge High received two credits for picking up litter, and it’s conceivable that more than 13 credits could be picked up in a one-week school camp. Labour’s so-called qualified students – sitting on 13 credits – may not have mastered even basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

National believes in lifting standards across the board and taking action where students fall short of the mark.

We would require schools to report the progress of their students towards national literacy and numeracy standards so that failure can be identified early on and something done about it.

Misleading students and parents by telling them a handful of credits ‘qualifies’ them helps no one. Compulsory education is meant to provide all New Zealanders with the opportunity to succeed in life. When it is failing to do that we all have a right to know.

1 September 2006

Elective surgery

The Government’s inability to get value for money from health spending is costing New Zealanders dearly. Figures released recently by the Health Minister, Pete Hodgson, show that fewer patients are getting elective surgery as thousands of Kiwis are culled from hospital waiting lists.

Nationally, the number of surgeries has fallen from 107,881 in 2000-01 to 105,437 in 2005-06– while health spending during this time has gone up by almost a third.

These figures are unacceptable when you consider that the Government put an additional $800 million into health last year alone. But it’s not just the financial implications we should be concerned with - these figures represent hundreds of patients suffering at home - for which the Government seems to show no regard.

The Ministry of Health has also documented that not only did fewer patients receive elective surgery in the past year, but those who were lucky enough to get surgery were sicker and required more complex surgery. Auckland DHB has stated that: "patients treated from the waiting list are sicker now, on average, than they were five years ago". Other DHBs agree.

Instead of boosting the amount of elective surgery, the Government is making it even harder for people to qualify. Thousands of patients have been culled from waiting lists, only to find they need to get even sicker to get an operation.

Mr Hodgson owes the country an explanation. He also needs to explain why there's less elective surgery than in the year 2000. No amount of dressing up of the figures can hide the fact that fewer people are getting an operation, and more people are being culled.

What are taxpayers getting for their money? More bureaucracy, not better healthcare. Since Labour came to power, the number of health bureaucrats has increased by almost 2,000, a rise of 23%.

National wants to boost the number of elective surgeries and reduce waiting times. We would do this by smarter use of the private sector, and by moving resources cut from bureaucracy into services with a greater focus on value for money. We will trust our health professionals.

25 August 2006

Local Rates Inquiry

We’re all concerned about local rates increases. They impact on our lives in a fundamental way - affecting how we manage our household budget on a fixed income and how New Zealand businesses cope with increasing costs and continue to compete in a global market.

The rates increases over the past seven years have stretched many thousands of households and even the most efficient businesses. Since 2000, rates around the country have increased, on average, by a staggering 44.9 percent.

National has been pushing for a full select committee investigation into the rating system and has forced Labour into undertaking an independent inquiry. But given that the Government has been responsible for at least 67 law changes which have loaded costs onto ratepayers, how can we be sure this latest inquiry will not be another whitewash?

Ratepayers deserve much more than a sham inquiry, with limited powers. We need to know the terms of reference of this inquiry, who will run it, and how long it will take.

We already know that local government is being over-burdened with increasing compliance costs. It’s costing District Councils like Wanganui about $50,000 every time Labour changes its policy. Wellington City Council has identified millions of dollars that have been loaded on to ratepayers by this Labour Government.

National wants the inquiry to take a good hard look at this buck-passing. We will also be putting pressure on the Government to invite individual homeowners and businesses that are facing these crippling rates increases to feed into the independent inquiry. They should have the opportunity to make personal submissions, as they would through the open select committee process.

We hope that whoever is appointed to head the rates inquiry will be able to restore some public faith in ‘independent’ inquiries following the nine-month Phillip Field fiasco. The Field inquiry had extremely narrow terms of reference and left many serious questions unanswered.

This inquiry must look into central Government’s role in driving up rates. Ratepayers can’t be confident that Helen Clark will allow Labour’s inquiry to do so based on her track record.

23 August 2006

Land access still a burning issue

Over the past few months the Government-commissioned walking access panel have been in your area to discuss public access to private farmland.

This has been a hot issue for some time now. Prior to the election the Government was forced by community outcry to give an undertaking that they would not pursue public access across private land. Unfortunately, immediately after the election they backed away from their promise and have relaunched the walking access panel.

This panel is just another talk-fest. At the end of the day it’s about this Government’s agenda of forcing public access over private land.

The current situation is very simple and has worked for generations. If someone wishes to walk across private land they contact the landowner and seek permission.

Most farmers are willing to allow access unless there is a good reason not to, such as lambing, calving or for safety reasons. The existing situation means farmers know who is on their land and when. Given the intense OSH over-regulation brought in by the Labour Government this is critical for all farmers.

Seeking permission is very straightforward and encourages the public to treat land with the respect it deserves. It’s about common sense and common courtesy. Why legislate away common sense?

This is an important issue to the National Party and we are proud of New Zealand’s outdoor lifestyle and long history of respect for both the land and private property rights.

The current system works. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

 

The Role of Local Government

Up and down the country, home owners are being hammered with rates rises averaging well above the rate of inflation. Much of the blame can be slated back to legislation pushed through Parliament by Labour.

Local authorities are overwhelmed with constant demands, more responsibility and compliance costs. Many of the more than 60 recent pieces of legislation affecting local government have loaded extra costs on ratepayers.

The result has been rising rates - averaging 43% over the past six years - and forecasts of greater increases ahead. Most ratepayers have not experienced a related improvement in the quality of local services.

There is an important role for local government in New Zealand – to provide efficient and top quality services in its core activities, to inspire local communities and to build civic pride. But in order to do this effectively, it needs support and leadership from central government.

What Helen Clark has forgotten is that both local and central government are here to serve the efforts of private individuals, families and groups who comprise our community - not the other way around.

National will wind back unnecessary legislative demands in order to give councils a realistic chance of keeping their rates under control and let them play an enabling, rather than disabling, role in their local economy and communities.

For example, there needs to be a much stronger focus on those areas of local government activity that provide infrastructure and related services. We would deal with the worst excesses of the RMA and other relevant legislation that serve as a roadblock for infrastructure applications and routine private business or domestic applications.

National would also work with local government to identify quick and meaningful cost-savings to get some order and rationality into rates. The Long-term Council Community Plan process for example, has, by some estimates, cost up to $100 million across the sector, just to get plans to the draft stage. Then we could add the prostitution legislation, the administrative costs of the rates rebate scheme, and Building Act requirements, just to mention a few.

Central government must get its own house in order before preaching to local councils. This is a necessary element in improving the performance of our economy and therefore the quality of education, healthcare, infrastructure, and the levels of retirement income we can offer our citizens.

17 August 2006

A future with choices

Last week the Government made some changes to the justice system that they say will decrease the prison population.

Unfortunately the government seems more interested in reducing prison numbers alone. The only real way to cut the number of prisoners is to cut crime.

Tough, effective policing will significantly increase the risk of being caught and will help deter crime. Effective policing will also contribute to the urgent need for early intervention for those drifting into a life of crime.

The priority must always be to keep our communities safe, and tough sentencing contributes to that by keeping those committing crimes behind bars.

I believe that, over time, we need to have the courage to shift our thinking, our energy, and our resources towards the prevention of crime. That means we also need to take a hard look at the kind of society we live in.

For most of us, the thought of stealing someone’s property or physically attacking them in the street is utterly alien. So much so that to even think about it would trigger pangs of genuine torment. But for an increasing number of our children, those feelings are missing.

We feel shock each time we are confronted with the news of yet another violent and degrading crime because we cannot understand the mindset of someone who would do such a thing to another human being.

The increasing intensity of these crimes points to something missing in the development of the offender. They often come from families that live on the fringes of our society, who don’t follow its collective rules and norms.

Parents are the first government that our children live under. For too many children that guidance is missing. Some see the seeds of this in dependency on the benefit system, but that risks labelling the many who are in genuine need.

It’s not a matter of what these families live on, it’s how they choose to live. And it’s a lifestyle that they are passing on to their children, who are beginning to commit crimes beyond the conscience and comprehension of most adults.

Make no mistake, those who offend must be punished for their crimes against others. A number of them will never be able to be rehabilitated. But not all of them are hard-wired for a life of crime.

If there’s no attempt to short that circuit, then releasing them back into society is just like re-setting the clock on a time bomb. All it will create is more victims.

The enduring solutions are to reach them at the earliest stages of development, when character, empathy and responsibility can be shaped, and a future defined. A future with choices.

3 August 2006

Funding of the Hospices of Northland

Lynnette Stewart
Chairperson
Northland District Health Board
PO Box
Whangarei

3rd August 2006

Dear Lynette

Funding of the Hospices of Northland

We write to draw your attention to our concern relating to Northland District Health Board’s (NDHB) approach to the funding of the four Hospices of Northland and ask you to arrange a suitable time to meet with us to discuss the matter.

We understand that a palliative care strategy for Northland is currently being developed and therefore this is an appropriate time to address the following:

Due financial recognition of the extent of the core services undertaken by Northland Hospices. All Hospices (Far North, Bay of Islands, Kaipara, and Northhaven) are woefully under funded with between 30% and 50% of their running costs reliant on local community generosity. Any downturn in the local economy puts pressure on these households otherwise enthusiastic to support Hospice.

Acknowledgement of the ongoing relative annual decline in funding given the rate of inflation and increase in the average wage, in particular that of nurse salaries.

Uncertainty about the levels of funding from year to year. Northland Hospices cannot plan when the advice from the NDHB on their annual funding commitment is consistently delayed, well after Hospice spending decisions are made and their own budgets have to be confirmed.

Assurance that all money committed by Central Government to NDHB for palliative care and cancer control is spent on palliative care and cancer control in Northland. We are aware that the Minister has made a directive to NDHB that Hospices should be fully funded for the provision of core essential services (assessment and care coordination, clinical care and support care). We would like to be assured that this is happening.

The four Northland Hospices are well regarded for the work they do in their respective communities. They impress us also.

Please could your office contact us to arrange a joint meeting in the next fortnight to discuss these matters in more detail.

Thank your for your consideration.

 

Letting teachers teach

Parents, students and politicians ask a lot of New Zealand’s teachers. We ask them to set high standards, encourage creativity and help each student fulfil their potential.

National is unashamed of these high expectations.

But we realise that it’s unfair to expect teachers to do everything. A teacher is not a parent or a policeman or a social worker and the school can’t fix every social problem.

Current Government policy says every child should be taught in a ‘mainstream’ classroom if possible. Though nice in theory, this policy causes more problems for teachers than any other.

When teachers say they can’t manage their classrooms of 30 students because of the disruption from students with severe behavioural problems and special needs, we need to act.

Too often the education system relies on exceptional classroom teachers to get results. But some children really do need specialised resources. The cost of failure is high for all concerned.

Research by Auckland University’s Professor John Hattie shows that disruptive behaviour in the classroom has a more negative effect on children’s learning than any other factor.

Many teachers are leaving the profession because of their despair at dealing with dozens of difficult, time-consuming challenges when they walk through the school gate each morning.

‘Mainstreaming’ has had positive effects but it’s time for a more flexible approach that balances the rights of all children, and gives teachers a fair chance to do what we ask them to do. This is common sense.

The best thing we can do to support effective teaching is to provide more options outside the mainstream for students who won’t or can’t be managed in the classroom.

The National Party will continue to expect more from our schools in delivering high standards for our children, and in return we will offer teachers a better chance to do the job of teaching, not social working.

 

The Rôle of Local Government

Up and down the country, home owners are being hammered with rates rises averaging well above the rate of inflation. Much of the blame can be slated back to legislation pushed through Parliament by Labour.

Local authorities are overwhelmed with constant demands, more responsibility and compliance costs. Many of the more than 60 recent pieces of legislation affecting local government have loaded extra costs on ratepayers.

The result has been rising rates - averaging 43% over the past six years - and forecasts of greater increases ahead. Most ratepayers have not experienced a related improvement in the quality of local services.

There is an important role for local government in New Zealand – to provide efficient and top quality services in its core activities, to inspire local communities and to build civic pride. But in order to do this effectively, it needs support and leadership from central government.

What Helen Clark has forgotten is that both local and central government are here to serve the efforts of private individuals, families and groups who comprise our community - not the other way around.

National will wind back unnecessary legislative demands in order to give councils a realistic chance of keeping their rates under control and let them play an enabling, rather than disabling, role in their local economy and communities.

For example, there needs to be a much stronger focus on those areas of local government activity that provide infrastructure and related services. We would deal with the worst excesses of the RMA and other relevant legislation that serve as a roadblock for infrastructure applications and routine private business or domestic applications.

National would also work with local government to identify quick and meaningful cost-savings to get some order and rationality into rates. The Long-term Council Community Plan process for example, has, by some estimates, cost up to $100 million across the sector, just to get plans to the draft stage. Then we could add the prostitution legislation, the administrative costs of the rates rebate scheme, and Building Act requirements, just to mention a few.

Central government must get its own house in order before preaching to local councils. This is a necessary element in improving the performance of our economy and therefore the quality of education, healthcare, infrastructure, and the levels of retirement income we can offer our citizens.

 

Land access still a burning issue

Over the past few months the Government-commissioned walking access panel have been in your area to discuss public access to private farmland.

This has been a hot issue for some time now. Prior to the election the Government was forced by community outcry to give an undertaking that they would not pursue public access across private land. Unfortunately, immediately after the election they backed away from their promise and have relaunched the walking access panel.

This panel is just another talk-fest. At the end of the day it’s about this Government’s agenda of forcing public access over private land.

The current situation is very simple and has worked for generations. If someone wishes to walk across private land they contact the landowner and seek permission.

Most farmers are willing to allow access unless there is a good reason not to, such as lambing, calving or for safety reasons. The existing situation means farmers know who is on their land and when. Given the intense OSH over-regulation brought in by the Labour Government this is critical for all farmers.

Seeking permission is very straightforward and encourages the public to treat land with the respect it deserves. It’s about common sense and common courtesy. Why legislate away common sense?

This is an important issue to the National Party and we are proud of New Zealand’s outdoor lifestyle and long history of respect for both the land and private property rights.

The current system works. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

 

Labour’s wasteful spending

Most of us like to try and spend our money wisely – from budgeting our household expenses to saving for a family holiday. But there is something particularly infuriating about watching someone else waste your money, which is exactly what Kiwi taxpayers have been putting up with.

There are numerous examples of the way in which this Labour Government has frittered away millions of dollars of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars. There’s the hundreds of millions eaten up on Te Wananga o Aotearoa and its subsequent bailout, and the $15 million on adverts for the Working for Families package that were in fact a thinly disguised re-election drive for the Labour Party.

Since the election, examples of yet more wasteful spending have arisen. They include $5 million for do-it-yourself computer courses offered by the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology where there is no tuition, no assessment and no qualification.

The latest case in point comes from the Agriculture Ministry. Its one-day "organisational planning feedback session" at plush Boomrock Lodge near Wellington for 40 senior MAF managers cost a total of $14,724. This included $180 a head for catering and more than $1,000 for outdoor 'team-building' activities, as well as $3,702 on two presenters.

The list goes on and on, which is why National has launched a new website - www.wastewatch.co.nz - designed to highlight the careless spending of this Labour-led Government. We have collected together examples from the last few years, right up to the present, and will add more cases as they are exposed.

Individually, some of these examples may be small amounts, but they all add up and show just what poor value for money we are getting from our tax contributions.

I welcome your comments on this issue. Feel free to contact me or write with your own examples of wasteful spending by Helen Clark’s Labour Government.

4 July 2006

An unworkable law

National worked hard to find a way to defeat the dog microchipping legislation. Our preferred outcome would have been the exemption of all dogs because we do not believe that microchipping will prevent dog attacks on people.

The second best option was to fight for farm dogs to be exempted. Farm dogs live and work on farms and rarely come into contact with people in urban areas. We believe that the cost for most farmers to chip their team of working dogs is unacceptable.

However, this does not mean that we think it is acceptable for responsible owners in urban areas to be stuck with this new dog tax. We are disappointed that those living in towns and cities will be burdened unfairly.

Domestic dog owners should express their frustration with the political parties which refused to budge on this nonsensical microchipping rule - Labour, the United Future and New Zealand First parties.

The costs of this project to both central and local government, and to dog owners themselves, will run into millions of dollars. Local government costs will inevitably be passed to rate payers.

Aside from the negative financial implications of the new law, we maintain our view that the use of microchips to catch the owner of a dangerous dog will have limited success. This is because only responsible owners will ensure their dogs are microchipped. Those who break the laws now, will continue to do so.

30 June 2006

Failing standards in education

While schools may be closed for the winter holiday, we should not be any less concerned about their ability to meet the educational needs of our children.

Figures released recently by the NZQA show that a staggering 27 per cent of 15 and 16 year olds are failing the most basic literacy standards as part of their NCEA qualification. 21 per cent are failing their numeracy core skill requirement.

These NCEA figures may only be a rough gauge of national literacy and numeracy levels, but they should be treated as a timely wake-up call. We’re not just quoting statistics – at least 10,000 Year 11 pupils were unable to read or write properly, or perform basic arithmetic in 2005.

We have to be asking the question why so many children are missing these standards and why this is being picked-up so late in their education? More importantly, we need some answers, and we need some action to address this problem. We must focus on the kids who aren’t succeeding in the present system.

Fortunately, the Education Select Committee is currently conducting an investigation into falling achievement levels and why at least 20 per cent of Kiwi children are not gaining the levels of literacy and numeracy they deserve by the time they leave school.

These issues require careful examination and a considered response. Clearly, we need schools to tackle these shortfalls in attainment, but we also need to ensure that there is greater consistency in the way this is done.

I don’t mean introducing increasingly complex assessment criteria for pupils, or piling even more paperwork on overburdened teachers. A range of measurement tools is fine – but there needs to be a willingness and ability to use them. There is already a plethora of data on various standards, yet not enough schools are using this information effectively to tackle the problem.

National proposes national literacy and numeracy standards which would apply to primary-age pupils, and to work to ensure pupils meet those standards. Only then will we ever stand a chance of tackling the present cycle of under-achievement.

Achieving basic literacy and numeracy standards is fundamental to equality of opportunity. Moreover, a literate and numerate society underpins a strong economy and a healthy democracy.

23 June 2006

Private prisons deserve a fair trial

The Government often prefers to stick to blind ideology rather than take a common sense approach to policy making, and the case of private prisons is no exception.

There is compelling evidence that privately managed prisons can offer a fresh and innovative approach to prisoner incarceration and rehabilitation, compared to public service management.

Evidence quoted by the Corrections Department itself in a recent report on the management of Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) by a private company supports this argument.

ACRP was judged to have performed extremely well in delivering health, education, physical training, and high-risk assessments. Corrections found that private management had instilled a culture of professionalism, teamwork and pride in performance among staff because it did not have ‘the necessary constraints of a government organisation’.

These higher standards could be achieved with one less layer of management than in the public system. In fact, the private managers were doing so well that Corrections have even adopted some of their practices.

This report is backed up by the Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society, which found that ACRP and privately run prisons in the UK ‘provided services and programmes that were superior to those in the public sector’.

The benefits of private prisons to both taxpayers and prisoners are clear. But unbelievably, ACRP was forced to return to public hands last year as a result of legislation introduced by Labour in 2004. The Corrections Act prohibits any new management contracts from being entered into, requiring all prisons to be managed by the Crown.

National believes that giving the corrections system the flexibility to consider a range of prison providers is nothing less than sensible.

Our Law and Order spokesman, Simon Power, has proposed a bill in the form of an amendment to the Corrections Act, which will allow prisons to be managed under contract by non-government providers. The standards and reporting requirements imposed on private managers of prisons through this bill are no less than those expected of the public prisons service.

New Zealand’s experience of privately managed prisons has been excellent. In light of the huge problems currently being experienced in the publicly run system, the sooner we embrace them, the better.

16 June 2006

Labour’s Power Failure

The Labour Government must take responsibility for Auckland’s catastrophic power failure earlier this week and tell New Zealanders what decisive action it will take to avoid a repeat performance.

The snapping of a single-wire on Monday plunged 700,000 Aucklanders into blackout for five hours, with as much as $100 million worth of business lost from the city.

The extent and duration of the power cut raises serious questions.

If the energy needs of our major commercial centre depend on the strength of a single power line, what does this tell us about Labour’s commitment to both infrastructure and our economy?

Auckland’s vulnerability to such a crisis has been the subject of repeated warnings by businesses and electricity experts, but Labour has failed to heed their advice.

A Business Herald survey last year revealed that 94 per cent of business leaders held concerns about the security of energy supply, with one explicitly warning that: "The high voltage investments in transmission and distribution are already 10 years behind Auckland's requirements”.

Labour has utterly failed in its management of the energy sector. It has had almost seven years to address the issues, including the serious roadblocks posed by the Resource Management Act, but after endless talk and discussion it has only come up with excuses.

New Zealanders have a right to operate without fear of the kind of disruptions to basic utilities more typically found in the Third World.

If National had become Government last year we would now have an Infrastructure Minister, who would have been responsible for accelerating vital infrastructure development. That would have included the national electricity grid.

Without effective leadership on this important issue, New Zealanders will be forced to witness yet another endless stream of reports and recommendations that are simply ignored.

Labour’s assurances are not enough. What we need now is concerted action - before the lights go out again.

12 June 2006

Why we must take action on organ donation

An important proposal is currently under consideration by the Health Select Committee - a Member’s Bill on organ donation, introduced by one of my colleagues, Dr Jackie Blue.

If passed, the Human Tissue (Organ Donation) Amendment Bill will establish an ‘opt on’ national register of organ donors. This means that potential organ donors themselves would be able to choose whether or not they would like to register, and would also be able to nominate which organs they would like to donate.

Organ donation is critically low in New Zealand. We have the lowest organ donor rate in the Western world - in 2005, only 29 New Zealanders donated organs.

As of 6 April 2005, 382 people were waiting for organ transplants. People die every year while they are on the transplant waiting list. By opting to donate a number of organs, a donor can not only save a life, but improve the lives of up to 10 individuals. An increase in donor organs would also save money by avoiding the need for expensive dialysis – which costs about $55,000 dollars a year per patient.

Currently, you can register your consent to donate your organs, but your wishes can be overruled by your next of kin after your death.

The bill, as well as establishing a national register of organ donors, proposes a law change that would prevent anyone from overturning the wishes of a registered organ donor. People who have previously indicated on their driver’s licence a desire to donate organs would be invited to register on a database, which would be managed by the Ministry of Health.

Though this bill will not be a cure-all for low donor rates, it is a step in the right direction. There is also provision in the bill for a public education programme to raise awareness of organ donation.

The organ donation bill is about addressing the acute shortage of donor organs by improving administration and increasing awareness. But it is also about the rights of the individual and establishing a law that gives people the right to have their wishes respected.

6 June 2006

Another Labour Tax Grab

In the midst of the clamour for tax cuts the Labour Government has launched yet another blatant and unfair tax grab.

A new taxation bill before Parliament will impose a capital gains tax on investments held by thousands of New Zealanders. The new tax demonstrates Labour’s refusal to listen to the calls for fairer tax policy and shows its contempt for hard-working Kiwis who are saving for their retirement.

Currently individuals and passive investment funds (including some superannuation funds) who invest in companies in “grey list countries” - Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and five other countries – pay tax on those investments in the same way they do on New Zealand-based investments.

Labour’s bill changes that and introduces a capital gains tax on equity investments in all countries outside Australia and New Zealand. This new capital gains tax will penalise all Kiwis who own more than $50,000 worth of shares outside Australasia, and all those who contribute savings to passive investment funds with investments outside Australasia.

Kiwis will naturally invest in Australia and New Zealand, but when it comes to long-term savings and retirement funds it is important for investors to be able to diversify their investment portfolios, without being penalised.

The government implicitly acknowledges the wisdom of this by including a large number of overseas investments in its very own Superannuation Fund.

Labour’s new bill will punish those Kiwis who have followed a similar approach by imposing a tax grab on the hard-earned money they have sensibly invested for retirement. The new regime will be complex in terms of administration, involve significant compliance costs and encourage non-compliance.

This new proposal should be exposed for what it is – yet another unjustified tax grab by a greedy Labour Government.

19 May 2006

The Bondi Budget

Helen Clark and Michael Cullen believe there is a place for tax cuts – it’s called Australia. This is the Brain Drain Budget; the Bondi Budget. Instead of boosting the country’s capacity to grow, Helen Clark is focused on redistributing what we already have.

Growth has stalled in New Zealand while it continues to charge ahead in Australia. The Government has failed to recognise how important it is to address this problem. Michael Cullen and Helen Clark claim there isn't room for lower taxes, even though there's an $8.5 billion surplus forecast for 2005-06.

Last week, the Australian Government, for the fourth year in a row, introduced massive across-the-board tax cuts worth $A36.7 billion ($NZ45 billion). These cuts are a massive incentive for Kiwis to cross the Ditch in even greater numbers than they are doing now.

New Zealand’s economy has to be more competitive and productive, because richer nations can afford better health and education services, and better environmental standards. If National had won the election its first Budget would have been totally focused on the measures needed to make sure that happens.

National would have built the right incentives into the economy through affordable tax cuts that would allow hard-working Kiwis to get ahead under their own effort. Our Budget would have seen 85% of taxpayers pay 19% tax or less. Only 3% of taxpayers would have paid the top rate.

National would also have ploughed more money into desperately needed infrastructure, and waste in the public sector would have been ferreted out.

In health, we would have looked at how to get greater productivity from the dollars we spend, how we could afford better drugs, and how we could better use the private sector for elective surgery.

In education, we want to see national standards in literacy and numeracy - required for better productivity rates across the labour force. We would dismantle the extensive and ineffective tertiary education bureaucracy.

Budgets are about long-term planning and focusing on the kind of New Zealand we want over the next 20 years. The clock is ticking if we are to remain competitive with other First World countries.

12 May 2006

The Australian Budget

All New Zealanders should be concerned by the latest twist in Australia's raid on our best and brightest.The significance of the across-the-board tax cuts announced in Australia’s Budget should not be overlooked.

Tax is a major factor in attracting businesses and skilled people. Australia has made no secret that it is trying to attract skilled workers and the latest tax cuts act as a giant magnet, aimed squarely at New Zealand’s most talented.One in four tertiary qualified New Zealanders already live overseas, and competition is increasing for the skills that we need to keep our economy growing.

The Labour Government doesn't have the first clue about putting the right incentives into the economy to allow people to get ahead under their own steam. Their response to the exodus of Kiwis to Australia has been to launch a $400, 000 advertising campaign to lure expats back home. The nearly half a million New Zealanders now living in and calling Australia home are not going to be lured back by a clumsy advertising drive.

Money talks, and Australia knows that. Michael Cullen does not. He has confirmed he will not be cutting taxes in this year’s Budget. He hasn’t in the previous six either, while his Australian counterpart has delivered his fourth tax cut in a row. New Zealanders deserve better and they should have a Government that delivers them more. We will never be able to provide the social services that Kiwis expect if we continue to bleed skilled New Zealanders across the ditch.

Last month was an opportunity lost in New Zealand, because on 1 April a National Government would have introduced the first tranche of its extensive tax cuts package. Substantial tax cuts are most definitely on the agenda for the next National Government. By then, of course, we will have lost thousands more of our best and brightest people across the Tasman. The public will be thanking Labour for that.

19 April 2006

Labour’s Energy Crisis

Even though it's facing a looming power crisis, the Labour Government has failed to take the prudent step of initiating an electricity savings campaign. Security of electricity supply is absolutely critical to business confidence and the functioning of a modern society. The public must be able to rely on the Government to adequately administer the electricity system.

That confidence took a serious hit when the Government's Electricity Commission was forced to do an about-face recently, admitting errors in the way they had been assessing the risk of electricity shortages. Industry experts and even the Government's own power companies have been warning for several weeks that there was a growing risk of critically low electricity supply this winter, but the Commission dismissed those concerns. Their subsequent change of stance raises worrying questions about the ability of this watchdog to do its job effectively.

Labour must take responsibility for the crisis in electricity supply. Despite much fanfare in 2001 about energy strategy, efficiency and conservation, no real progress has been made. Labour aimed to improve energy efficiency by 20 per cent over 10 years, but five years later it has only improved by a pitiful 2 per cent.

There have been three changes of energy Minister in the last 15 months - none of whom have adequately addressed the policy mess over Kyoto, and our resource management laws which are proving such a roadblock to new generation.

New Zealand needs a robust energy policy that provides security and efficiency of power supply for all New Zealanders. We simply can't afford to prevaricate over new generation options. Solutions are needed now. National would confront this issue on a number of fronts. We would appoint a Minister of Infrastructure to take responsibility for ensuring New Zealand's power needs are met here and into the future. And as a matter of priority we would reform the RMA to provide a better balance between protecting the environment and responding to urgent infrastructure needs.

Extended power blackouts should not happen in a modern economy. Leadership, co-operation and a sense of urgency are required to effectively address this ongoing issue. It is not good enough for Labour to cross its fingers and hope for rain.

Job Description of an MP …

Of course, an MP does not have a 'job' in the nine to five, five days a week sense. My employment contract is with my constituents. It is short term (three years), renewable, performance-related - I am subject first to re-selection by the members of Northland Branch of the National Party and, second, by the whole electorate at each General Election!

Being an MP is a way of life - so I'll tell you about mine. The work of an MP is roughly divided between the House of Parliament in Wellington and the Electorate.

So, what does a working week look like? When Parliament is sitting, I'm in Wellington Tuesday to Thursday and in the Electorate Friday to Monday.

In Wellington, an MP’s time is spent in the House, in Caucus meeting, in Committees, and behind his or her desk!

In the House, MPs listen to debate, make speeches and ask questions. These debates usually lead to a vote, whereby MPs vote for or against bills, or to amend them. The House normally sits from 2 pm till 10 pm each day – or longer if the House is under Urgency.

MPs also attend Caucus meetings, where we share our constituents' views, participate in parliamentary strategy and help develop caucus positions on subjects being debated in the House.

A lot of work is done in the Select Committees, where MPs study and amend bills; closely examine departmental spending plans (known as estimates) and other important issues. Committee work requires MPs to be familiar with a wide variety of complex issues. I am on the Foreign Affairs, Defence & Trade Committee, the Privileges Committee and the Parliamentary Services Committee.

A day in Wellington also includes meetings with the media, with constituents visiting the capital and with interest groups. A mountain of correspondence and telephone messages pile up in the office during the day and need attending to. To keep on top of it, I usually get into the office at 8 am and do a lot of phoning, reading and writing, etc., before the House sits and then after the House rises in the evening when things are quieter and there are fewer interruptions. This makes for a very long day!

My time in the Electorate is spent in the office and on the road visiting constituents. I am a National Party MP, but in taking up my role as Member of Parliament for Northland, I promised to serve all my constituents, whichever Party they voted for. That is why people of all shades of the political spectrum come to me for advice or to remedy wrongs. MPs act as "ombudsmen" for their constituents in matters involving government or its agencies.

My staff and I spend a lot of energy solving the problems that constituents bring to us. Sometimes these issues can be solved with a phone call to the right person; sometimes it requires a letter to the relevant Minister or a personal call into a Minister's office to enlist his or her personal involvement in settling the matter.

Northland is a large electorate, so while my Electorate Office is in Kerikeri I have more than one office to visit. I run “clinics” in the four corners of the Electorate – they run week about in Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Kaikohe and Dargaville. Spending time in the Electorate gives me a chance to hear my constituents' ideas and plans and help with their problems. I do around 40,000 kms a year getting around Northland!

Work in the constituency also involves social and political obligations: as the MP I am often invited and usually attend (Parliament and other diary commitments permitting), various activities, celebrations and opening ceremonies. These occasions give me the opportunity to speak to local media while in the constituency as well.

My working week is usually between 70 - 90 hours. Even when I’m at home in Northland or in Welly, my laptop and cellphone are never far away. As I said, it's not a job - it's a way of life!!

 

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