My Column: archive 2008

December 2008

Creating a safer New Zealand

The holiday and summer season is traditionally a time of goodwill and relaxation, but it can also be very stressful for some families. Sadly, this can contribute to the rise in family violence that we so often see at this time of year.

During its first 30 days in office, the National-led Government has introduced to Parliament three new pieces of legislation aimed at tackling violence in families and our communities.

We have introduced a bill to allow the police to issue on-the-spot protection orders for suspected victims of domestic violence. With over 200 women and children killed in domestic violence incidents over the last twelve years, it is clear that New Zealand is facing an epidemic of domestic violence. Empowering the police to take immediate action will help protect potential victims until courts are able to fully deal with the matter.

We have passed the Sentencing (Offences Against Children) Amendment Bill. This provides tougher sentences for offenders who abuse children, and will supplement a number of existing government initiatives aimed at preventing child abuse. We believe that the law of the land should more effectively reflect society's abhorrence towards child abuse.

We have also passed the Bail Amendment Bill. In 2007, the previous government changed the law to make it easier for people to get bail. This lowering of the bar needlessly increased the threat to public safety. We have reversed these changes to make it harder for serious offenders to get bail.

In addition to these three bills, which form part of our 100 days action plan, we have also moved to combat crime behind bars by advancing legislation that will make it more difficult for people to bring prohibited items such as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or cellphones into prisons. This will make it easier for prison guards to detect prohibited items and will punish prisoners and others for using these items.

When it comes to law and order, you can expect us to adopt an honest and transparent approach. We will make tough decisions to reach our ultimate goal of fewer victims.

The new government is working hard to bring violence in our society down, but we cannot do it alone. We need all New Zealanders to play their part, take personal responsibility for their actions, and report any crime to the police. Together we can make New Zealand a safer place for us all.

Together, let's make the changes we all want to see in 2009.

18 September 2008

Patients Come First

A well-functioning, efficient and world-class health service is hugely important to all Kiwis. New Zealanders want and deserve shorter waiting times, less bureaucracy, and a trusted and motivated health workforce.

However, the reality is that it's harder to see a hospital specialist, and emergency departments are gridlocked. Kiwis have to be sicker to get surgery, and staff shortages mean the wait to see a GP is ever-increasing. Despite throwing billions of extra dollars at health, all Labour has achieved is a ballooning health bureaucracy and diversion of resources away from patient care.

This can't go on. That's why the first of National's health policy announcements makes it clear we will put patients first and deliver the healthcare that all Kiwis deserve.

We will continue the growth in health spending set out in the 2008 Budget. This includes the Government's indicative spending allocations. However, we will spend that extra funding more wisely by reducing waste and bureaucracy, and lifting productivity.

Rampant and ever-growing bureaucracy is stifling our public health system. That's why National will reduce the bureaucracy in health and move the savings to frontline care.

Under Labour, health professionals have had an increasingly limited say on how health services are provided. National will ensure that doctors, nurses, and other health professionals have more say in how health services are developed and improved.

Many of us know from our own personal experiences the fragility of health services at the country's smaller general hospitals. Among other measures, National will work to address this by requiring the 21 district health boards to work more collaboratively in order to improve access to services and reduce administrative duplication and waste.

Kiwis have made it clear to us that they want faster access to a wider range of health services close to home. That's why National will devolve more hospital-based services into primary-care settings to bring that care closer to home.

Labour's blind ideology has stopped it from allowing our health system to make the best use of private health-sector resources. We believe the focus should be on patients being seen and treated, not obsessing about where this gets done. That's why National will support the smart use of the private sector to increase the number of people getting timely access to vitally needed surgery, and reduce hospital waiting lists.

New Zealand's health services can be improved to meet Kiwis' needs without restructuring. Our medical professionals, who are on the frontline of healthcare, are some of the best in the world. We need to trust them and empower them to do the job even better. National will do just that.

4 September 2008

Bringing More Kiwis Home

New Zealand has lost more than 80,000 people overseas permanently in the past 12 months. That is more than 1,500 per week and the numbers departing have been steadily worsening in recent years. The economic cost of this exodus is all too apparent, but it also has a personal cost, with almost all Kiwis having waved goodbye to a family member or friend to brighter opportunities overseas.

New Zealand cannot achieve the sort of growth that we so desperately need unless we can address these worrying statistics.

That is why National's immigration policy aims to stem the exodus of Kiwis and bring more of our talented ex-pats home, while creating a climate that encourages skilled immigrants to our shores.

Our approach to immigration has three overriding objectives. Firstly, to retain skilled Kiwi workers and attract overseas Kiwis back to New Zealand. Secondly, to better match the skills of immigrants with the employment needs of our economy. And thirdly, to make our immigration services world class in their efficiency and effectiveness.

Creating the right conditions to encourage Kiwis to come home is paramount. National will ensure that tax, regulatory and infrastructure polices make returning home an attractive prospect for highly skilled ex-pat Kiwis. We will also require Immigration New Zealand to initiate a one-stop-shop approach to servicing the needs of returning New Zealanders.

In meeting our skills needs we must do much better at matching the skills of immigrants with the employment needs of our economy. National will streamline the employer accreditation policies to recruit overseas. We will also introduce a Silver Fern Visa to enable people with recognised tertiary qualifications to be in New Zealand for a short period of time, and undertake temporary work while seeking permanent employment in highly skilled areas.

We will also set realistic investment capital and English language requirements for business immigrants, and establish a Retirement Visa for high net-worth people wishing to live in New Zealand at no cost to the taxpayer.

Finally, National will establish a world-class immigration service and restore its integrity and reputation following the countless scandals that have beset it in recent years. Confidence has reached an all-time low, and the image of the service has been seriously damaged.

This process will begin with a full review of Immigration New Zealand to ensure there are clear lines of accountability, and that there is fairness and transparency in all aspects of its work.

National wants potential immigrants, New Zealanders, and Kiwi employers to be assured that they will be given an efficient, world-class immigration service that acts with integrity and produces the best outcomes for the widest interests of New Zealand.

Our immigration policy will do just this, and help to maximise the number of overseas Kiwis who want to, again, make New Zealand their home.

29 August 2008

National's Blueprint for Change

Over the past few months my colleagues and I have been outlining National's blueprint for change.

National will have an ongoing programme of personal tax cuts. Our tax plan will reflect our objectives of allowing Kiwis to keep more of their incomes and ensure they face better incentives. It will be funded by National making clear choices and displaying a sense of our priorities. It will not require the Crown to borrow in order to be funded.

National will be disciplined about government spending. We will do this because we know that the price of extravagant government spending is devastatingly high interest rates for New Zealanders.

We will reign in excessive growth in the public service and will re-balance public spending priorities so critical services like schools and hospitals get a fairer share.

National knows New Zealanders are sick of worrying about the surging levels of violent crime in this country. We are not going to put up with it. National will launch a full-frontal attack on gangs and the "P" trade they support. And we will get serious about youth crime. That will include funding Fresh Start programmes using, for example, army facilities to turn around the lives of youth offenders, programmes that can establish boundaries, discipline, and respect, while giving young people who are running off the rails a chance for a fresh start.

We will also remove the roadblocks that restrict New Zealanders' ability to grow their businesses and grow our economy. Within the first 100 days of our first term, National will introduce to Parliament a bill to reform the Resource Management Act. This legislation will simplify and streamline the existing Act while maintaining important protections for our environment.

It is long past the time to address New Zealand's chronic infrastructure deficit, and so National will increase our investment in infrastructure. We will pay for this through a combination of increased Crown investment, infrastructure bonds, and greater use of public-private partnerships.

And we will invite the private sector back to the table, working with private enterprises, entrepreneurs, and NGOs to get the job done for Kiwis and get it done well.

National will raise education standards. We won't put up with some children leaving school without the qualifications or skills they need to succeed. We will set national standards in literacy and numeracy for all primary school pupils.

We will require schools to test to see if children are meeting the standards. We will require teachers to tell parents about the results – in plain English. And we will require schools to do something about it when children are below standard. We will do this because we refuse to write some off as hopeless.

National will retain all the superannuation entitlements and eligibility rules that our senior citizens currently enjoy. And, as we cut taxes and grow average after-tax wages, we will progressively increase the amount of super paid to senior citizens.

We will repeal the Electoral Finance Act, but retain the measures that provide greater transparency in political donations.

We will open our ears to New Zealanders' views on their voting system. National will hold a binding referendum on MMP by no later than 2011.

National will also continue to resolve historic Treaty settlements. We will do this so New Zealand can unlock the potential and opportunity of the many iwi who have waited too long to have their grievances resolved.

Most of all, National wants New Zealanders to have greater control over their lives. We want them to feel that the Government doesn't get in the way, but instead offers them support when they need it. A Government that underpins our society – not smothers it.

We have a plan to steer New Zealand on a course to a more prosperous future. And we need to get to work on that plan straight away.

5 August 2008

Kick-starting NZ's growth

We've all experienced the frustration of sitting in gridlocked traffic, dealing with a painfully slow internet connection and the almost annual requirement to cut power consumption in order to avoid an energy crisis. These are all signs of the chronic infrastructure deficit that currently faces New Zealand.

Getting our roads moving again, being better connected to the world, generating more renewable energy, and managing our precious water resources are just some of the infrastructure challenges we need to urgently address.

For, though annoying on a personal level, our infrastructure shortcomings are collectively costing our country big dollars. They are stopping New Zealand from achieving its true potential and contributing to the economic conditions driving our young people overseas.

That is why National will take comprehensive and bold steps to build the infrastructure that New Zealand needs for sustained economic growth and prosperity.

National will:

  • Appoint a Minister of Infrastructure to reshape, co-ordinate, and then oversee the government's infrastructure objectives
  • Develop a 20-year National Infrastructure Plan, in conjunction with local government, to set a clear direction for vital national infrastructure investment, including top priority projects
  • Introduce a new category of state highway, called Roads of National Significance, which will be singled out for priority treatment. SH1 is an example. Such roads will be central to our development and investment plans
  • Introduce priority consenting, which will streamline consents for major national infrastructure using a call-in process so the decision is determined nationally. The law will require a decision on priority consents within nine months
  • Increase Crown capital investment by up to an extra $500 million a year above levels projected by Labour. This is in addition to the broadband investment commitment of $1.5 billion over six years. This will result in National investing in close to $5 billion of additional capital investments over the next six years to fund infrastructure over and above that foreshadowed by Labour. This means that at the most, National will be running a gross debt-to-GDP ratio around two percentage points higher than Labour is planning
  • Pass laws to introduce a new range of financing techniques for national infrastructure projects. National will introduce infrastructure bonds as a new asset class, and make greater use of public-private partnerships

These policies make it very clear that National will achieve this step up in investment while remaining within conservative debt levels. Most importantly, this will be an investment that delivers considerable returns to New Zealanders for generations to come. That return will come in the form of enhanced services and enhanced capacity for our economy to grow and compete with the rest of the world.

Because right now New Zealand doesn't have a debt problem, it has a growth problem.

National isn't prepared to stand by and watch New Zealand be held back by utterly inadequate transport networks, inadequate electricity supply, and inadequate telecommunications.

It's time to take the handbrake off. It's time to turn the growth engine on.

31 July 2008

Giving certainty to families

The shape and size of our families differ. The make-up of my family today may be very different from yours, or it may be very similar. Whichever it is, one thing is common. Most Kiwis value the health, happiness, and well-being of their families above anything else.

National understand this and we understand that a lack of money can make things a lot harder for you and your family. And we know that right now many Kiwi families are feeling real financial pressure.

Worrying about how to pay for petrol, a hefty electricity bill, or a dramatic loss of income aren't experiences to be wished upon anyone. They can put significant strain on the strongest relationships or the best parents.

National understands the importance of financial certainty in keeping families strong. We know that in tough economic times, like the ones Kiwis are currently facing, a responsible government, a compassionate government, should do its part to provide that certainty.

That's why we've recently announced that an incoming National Government would make no changes to the Working for Families tax credit system. National wants to offer certainty to Kiwi families about the future of Working for Families.

We know it's hard out there for families with kids. These are families with parents working long hours, trying to get by on a modest wage in the absence of tax cuts under this Labour Government. We don't want to make life more difficult for them.

Though National has long been concerned about how far up the income scale Working for Families stretches, a careful analysis of possible changes at the higher income levels showed that it was not worthwhile making them.

National remains absolutely committed to an ongoing programme of personal tax cuts, and we will announce details of this package before the election. Our tax cut programme will build on the Working for Families policy and will offer additional support for hard working Kiwis.

National is interested in what works. We are not interested in blindly following ideology. We acknowledge Working for Families payments are now an important part of the income of many families. Though we continue to hold some concerns about the system, offering families financial certainty is much more important in these tough economic times.

25 July 2008

Protecting Kiwis' Birthright

Enjoying the great outdoors is a quintessential Kiwi activity. For generations it has been a unique birthright to make the most of New Zealand's wild and beautiful places. The opportunity to camp, fish, tramp, hunt, and picnic is part of what defines us as New Zealanders, and is enjoyed by young and old alike.

This enjoyment also, of course, entails a responsibility to safeguard the amazing biodiversity of our natural environment, and protect it for many generations to come.

National takes this responsibility very seriously and our Outdoor Recreation policy is committed to ensuring that current and future generations can continue to enjoy the great outdoors.

We know how important it is for Kiwi families to be able to get out there and experience the best our outdoors has to offer.

That is why we will make sure that New Zealanders' fundamental birthright to enjoy the outdoors is protected and enhanced. We will do this by improving access to the outdoors for all Kiwi families, and preserving the rights of recreational hunters and fishers while maintaining important conservation values.

Our initiatives to improve access to the outdoors include changing the focus of conservation boards and renaming them conservation & recreation boards. Membership of these boards will reflect the diversity of recreational pursuits. As well, we will ensure that public access is achieved through negotiated agreements between landowners and local conservation & recreation boards.

National is also committed to creating new affordable campsites for Kiwi families so the outdoors is accessible for all. This asset has come under threat in recent years, and National will not stand by and let a great Kiwi institution – the camping ground - disappear.

To enhance hunting, we will recognise the status of hunters as important stakeholders in the outdoor environment and include them in the decision-making process for the management of game animals. Additionally, we will allow the establishment of recreation areas on conservation land that are managed by hunters using a framework that protects conservation values.

To protect recreational fishing, we will give Fish & Game the option to charge a differential licence fee for foreign anglers, and will develop management plans with stakeholders in fragile trout fisheries. We will also oppose the introduction of recreational sea fishing licences and encourage local management of local fisheries.

New Zealand's great outdoors is unsurpassed in the world, and National believes that all Kiwis deserve the opportunity to take advantage of our enviable natural environment.

We are committed to opening up access to these special areas while safeguarding the essential conservation values which make our great outdoors so unique. Our Outdoor Recreation policy provides a toolkit of solutions that will achieve both these aims for many years to come.

17 July 2008

Supporting Kiwi Families

Supporting families is hugely important and something that National is absolutely committed to. We trust families and we trust parents. That's why in the past few weeks alone we've released ambitious policies to get Kiwi kids back into sport, and to improve the quality and choice of early childhood education.

That's also why the worsening shortage of midwives is such a concern. Midwives play a vital role in guiding expectant parents and families through the entire birthing process. For mums-to-be, they are truly invaluable and the service they provide is without doubt world class.

This service, though, is under threat up and down the country as the health sector faces a desperate shortage of midwives.

Documents released by National show that District Health Boards (DHBs) are short of at least 85 midwives to serve their communities. With each midwife normally carrying a caseload of 40 to 50 mothers, this means up to 4,250 mums-to-be are in limbo as they struggle to find a Lead Maternity Carer.

The shortage is truly nationwide, with 15 out of the 21 DHBs affected. Canterbury is short 8 midwives, Waitemata 21, Waikato 12, Taranaki 6, Counties Manukau 22, MidCentral 8 and the list goes on.

Labour has known about this crisis for years but seems to have buried its head in the sand over the issue. They have refused to show any leadership in addressing the problem and have instead produced some 43 reports and a whole truckload of excuses.

National will not turn its back on mums-to-be, and will work with the sector to recruit and retain our health professionals. We will work with them to offer a stronger and more engaged working environment. If we can make employment in our health system a more rewarding career, we will be able to build a stronger workforce. This will mean midwives' focus is on care and treatment.

National is also looking at bonding medical graduates to work in hard-to-staff regional areas in return for student loan concessions.

Midwives have been a critical part of our health system for many decades and nobody wants to see this change. Labour, by turning its back on this crisis, has abandoned Kiwi mums-to-be. They deserve much better. National recognises that for mums-to-be, they are a valued profession, and will work hard to ensure that they receive the support and assistance they need.

11 July 2008

Your Family – Your Choice

The pre-school years are crucial in the life of a child. They take the first big steps in their development, and they start to learn about the world around them, and how to interact with other people and their community.

National believes that all children should grow up in a family environment with love, understanding, and happiness, and that parents – not the state – have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of their children.

That's why it's important that our policies for early childhood reflect what families and parents want. That's why National will improve the choice and quality of early childhood care and education available to parents.

Last week, National announced that we will keep the 20 Hours scheme for three- and four-year-olds and maintain existing subsidies and fee controls. Thousands of parents are using the scheme and we do not want to cause them financial uncertainty.

We will, however, improve the scheme to make it much more flexible and available to more children, while giving parents the freedom to choose which facility best suits them. We will also remove the misleading word 'free' from its title and instead call the scheme 20 Hours ECE.

National will:

  • Remove the six-hours-a-day limit
  • Include playcentres and kohanga reo in 20 Hours ECE
  • Provide 20 Hours ECE to five-year-olds
  • Investigate more frequent payment methods

We will also improve staff ratios, reduce bureaucracy and regulations, and boost participation rates.

To combat teacher shortages, we plan to promote working while training, allow qualified English-speaking foreign teachers to qualify after an intensive six-week programme, and allow Montessori, Steiner, and playcentre qualifications to count towards a degree.

Staff ratios for under two-year-olds are important. We believe the current 1:5 ratio is too high. We do not think one staff member will always be enough to ensure all five infants can be guaranteed the high level of attention they may need. Over time, we will reduce that ratio to 1:4.

We will also ensure that, after 2012, sessions for the under-twos in teacher-led early childhood centres are staffed by at least 50% qualified teachers.

Our plan for early childhood care and education backs parents. It recognises that most parents will make the right decisions for their children, and it gives them the flexibility to do that.

27 June 2008

Time for real solutions

New Zealand is a great country, and most of us would agree that it has the potential to be even greater. To get there, though, we need to confront some of the very serious problems we are currently facing.

Violent crime is rocketing, health services are failing, power crises are now almost an annual event, and one in five of our kids leave school without the most basic reading, writing and maths skills.

Tackling these issues will take fresh and innovative policy. However, the current government seems more interested in out-of-touch initiatives and far-fetched excuses.

In response to a 43% increase in violent crime over the last nine years, Labour ministers have variously blamed a Budget from 17 years ago, the full moon and hot sun and most recently bad urban design. They are clearly on another planet when it comes to dealing with crime.

In education, where many of our kids are failing to be educated to even the most basic standards, and millions are being frittered away by the Government on bureaucracy, the situation is little better. This week alone has seen the Government trying to justify spending $56,000 on badges featuring phrases such as ‘Nice!’ and ‘Wassup!’ How will this help our kids learn?

Meanwhile, as we face yet another winter with electricity shortages, Labour seems more interested in controlling what type of light bulbs people can and cannot use.

Under a National Government, this story of lost opportunities would end. We are ambitious for New Zealand and would bring the fresh leadership that is so badly needed in areas such as education, law and order, infrastructure and health.

We are not interested in reliving the old political battles of the 80s and 90s but rather in embracing good ideas no matter where they come from, and delivering policies that work.

Policies such as setting national education standards in reading, writing and maths, capping the core bureaucracy, and boosting investment in infrastructure such as electricity. We will tackle New Zealand’s law and order problems by enhancing police tools, clamping down on gangs and establishing wrap around programmes for serious youth offenders. On the economy, our policies include an ongoing programme of personal tax cuts and bringing discipline to government spending.

National will not resort to the excuses and half-baked policies that have became the all too common hallmarks of Labour’s attempts to solve the big issues facing New Zealand.

We all know how great this country can be. The challenge is having the boldness, vision and policies necessary to achieve this greatness. National will deliver this.

20 June 2008

Making our communities safer

The senseless deaths of three innocent, hardworking people in South Auckland have left many Kiwis asking just what can be done to combat this epidemic of violent crime.

The notion of New Zealand being a safe place to live and raise a family is at risk. Over the past nine years, violent offending has risen by 43% across the country, while in areas such as Counties-Manukau it has risen by 64%. Last year alone there were 56,983 recorded violent offences - an average rate of more than 150 a day.

The damage this violent crime does to our communities and social fabric is almost incomprehensible.

National is committed to improving the safety of our communities and will tackle with urgency some of the hard problems around crime.

We have a comprehensive plan to combat the law and order problems facing the country and have already laid out our policies in areas like youth justice, policing, and gangs.

A National Government will make cracking down on gangs a priority. Central to this will be giving police and courts significant new powers to fight the gangs.

These will include giving police increased powers to conduct surveillance of gangs and destroy their fortifications. We will also strengthen Crimes Act provisions that make it illegal to be a member of a criminal organisation, and give the courts increased sentencing powers for those involved in gangs.

We will also give police the right tools to fight crime in the 21st century. This will include introducing tasers (subject to a positive evaluation of the Taser trial), requiring DNA samples to be taken from all those arrested for offences punishable by a term of imprisonment, and giving police the ability to issue on-the-spot protection orders.

In the area of youth justice, we will provide a new approach for getting teenagers out of the crime cycle. Key to this is the ‘Fresh Start’ programme, which will provide 12-week ‘army-style camps’ designed to instil discipline and address underlying causes of offending. Other youth justice initiatives include longer residential sentences for serious youth offenders, mentoring programmes, and giving the Youth Court the power to issue a new range of compulsory orders.

A National Government will also axe Labour’s misguided 2007 bail law amendments and make public safety paramount, enhance the rights of victims, toughen sentencing policies for the worst offenders, and improve the management of our prisons.

We can and we must do better at reducing crime levels and keeping Kiwis safer. National is 100% committed to finding practical solutions that clamp down on crime and make New Zealand a safer place.

11 June 2008

Supporting our Rural Sector

The annual National Fieldays at Mystery Creek in Hamilton is always a great time to reflect on the importance of agriculture to New Zealand and on just how things are looking down on the farm.

Kiwis like to think of themselves as fundamentally rural people, but the reality is that for many of us this is no longer the case. We are increasingly urbanised, and not all of us have the opportunity to connect with and experience the rural sector.

Yet agriculture has always been, and will continue to be, vital to New Zealand’s prosperity. When conditions are good at the farm gate, this flows through into the small towns, into the provincial cities and, ultimately, into our major centres such as Auckland and Wellington. And it’s the same when things aren’t going well.

Agriculture is an integral part of New Zealand’s engine room. It is largely what allows us to prosper us a nation. The primary sector is responsible for almost 75% of our export earnings and now accounts for approximately 17% of our total GDP.

Kiwis can rightly be proud of the fact that our farmers and other agricultural producers are truly world leaders in their field. We can and do produce dairy products, meat, fibre, timber, and other primary produce better and smarter than almost anybody else. Companies like Fonterra, Ice Breaker, and Silver Fern show that our primary sector is both sophisticated and innovative.

It is clear that, far from being a sunset industry, agriculture has been one of the success stories of the New Zealand economy. It is one of our greatest strengths, one where we have genuine competitive advantage.

Luckily for New Zealand, the outlook for agriculture is generally bright. Booming world commodity prices, global food shortages, growing demand from Asia’s prosperous middle classes, and improved farm productivity all signal positive times ahead.

Tempering this optimism, however, is the fact that our rural sector faces some very real challenges. Growing international competition, climate change obligations, environmental pressures, a mountain of compliance costs, and a stubbornly high New Zealand dollar are just some of the factors confronting farmers now and in the near future. On top of this, prices remain depressed for both sheep and beef farmers.

National recognises these challenges and the need for agriculture to address them. We also recognise how important it is for all Kiwis that our primary producers continue to prosper and take full advantage of the opportunities offered to them.

We are absolutely committed to policies that support the aspirations and ambitions of our rural communities. We will work with them to ensure they have the tools necessary to deliver a world-leading, innovative, and prosperous primary sector.

6 June 2008

Boosting Investment in our Infrastructure

As winter bites, power bills are growing.

Meanwhile, our electricity infrastructure is struggling. The poorly-maintained Cook Strait cable is operating far below capacity and, increasingly, the nation’s power supply relies on the expensive diesel-fuelled emergency power station at Whirinaki.

Thanks to looming power shortages, the electricity industry is warning that prices will be affected in coming months.

But power isn’t the only infrastructure problem we face. Ridiculous traffic jams in Auckland and other cities are pushing up transport costs and making it harder to get goods and people to where they need to go. Poor broadband penetration has put a brake on our ability to take up the opportunities the Internet has to offer.

Good infrastructure is vital for our future. Workers and businesses rely on decent roads, public transport and telecommunications, and reliable electricity networks to carry out their day-to-day work. When that infrastructure doesn't deliver, they have less time to give to the job at hand.

Labour has failed to address our infrastructure problems. It has blown record surpluses on a massive increase in bureaucracy and spent over $1 billion on re-nationalising rail. It has failed to prepare New Zealand for the future.

National will do better. We know that modern, efficient and reliable infrastructure can lower the cost of producing and transporting goods, lessen impacts on the environment, and help reduce pressure on the cost of living. That’s why boosting investment in infrastructure is a key part of National’s five-point plan for the economy.

We will be announcing our infrastructure policy in the run-up to the election, but we have already outlined several initiatives. These include:

  • Reforming the Resource Management Act and ensuring that high-quality renewable power projects can be built more affordably and more rapidly
  • Working with the private sector to boost investment in roads, electricity, telecommunications and water
  • Investing up to $1.5 billion in Crown capital over six years to accelerate the roll-out of ultrafast broadband to businesses, schools, health facilities and homes
  • Developing a long-term national infrastructure plan that sets out what we are going to build, when we are going to build it, and how we are going to fund it

National will confront New Zealand’s infrastructure problems. We will boost investment in our transport, electricity, and telecommunications networks. And we will build a wealthier, more prosperous future for all New Zealanders.

5 June 2008

Dealing to P

‘P’ is one of the most dangerous drugs available today. It leads to violence and it destroys lives. It is devastatingly addictive and in recent years has caused more problems than any other illegal drug. Here in Northland, the vast majority of violent and serious crimes have ‘P’ involved in way or another and it is having a corrosive effect on our community. Nationwide, the number of ‘P’ offences has tripled in just four years and official analysis suggest the ‘P’ trade is worth somewhere around the billion dollar mark.

It is clear that in combating this drug it is vital the whole community works together in developing solutions. Three years ago, I arranged for local community leaders and business people to meet with Mike Sabin a former police officer and expert on dealing with ‘P’. It was a highly productive meeting and has set in motion some positive solutions for fighting ‘P’ in Northland.

Mike also presented last week to the Law and Order Select Committee here in Parliament on his ideas for dealing with ‘P’ on a nationwide level. His findings, which resulted from an 18-month study into New Zealand’s methamphetamine problem, provide a great blueprint for turning around New Zealand’s ‘P’ problem. Sadly, though the Government’s reaction to Mr Sabin’s suggestions were lukewarm to say the least. Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton effectively dismissed the proposals and suggested that Government’s current initiatives around ‘P’ were working.

National has made it clear that if elected we will launch a serious assault on ‘P’ by cracking down on the gangs making and distributing the drug.

We will make targeting and undermining criminal gangs a key priority for the police. Central to this will be giving police and courts significant new powers to fight the gangs.

These will include giving police increased legal powers to conduct surveillance of gangs and destroy their fortifications. We will also strengthen Crimes Act provisions that make it illegal to be a member of a criminal organisation, and give the Courts increased sentencing powers for those involved in gangs.

It’s a simple equation – gangs are at the heart of the ‘P’ trade in New Zealand. National is sending a clear message that we will clamp down on their criminal activity and make a real effort to end New Zealand’s ‘P’ epidemic.

Labour has talked a lot of talk about cracking down on gangs and ‘P’, but at every turning point they have preferred deferral and inaction over tough measures. This isn’t good enough and is allowing the ‘P’ trade to flourish.

National has the will necessary to get tough on ‘P’ and I believe our practical polices will achieve this and make real dent in the ‘P’ epidemic at both a local and national level.

30 May 2008

NCEA failing our kids

One of the most common concerns raised with me in my work as an MP is the state of our education system. Parents, grandparents, teachers, and young people are all genuinely concerned that our children are being failed by Labour’s approach to our education system.

That is no surprise when you consider that one in five Kiwi children leave school unable to read and write to the level they should. More than one in five of our children leave school with no qualifications whatsoever.

Confusion and concern around NCEA is one particular issue that many people raise with me. Four years on from its implementation and it is clear that NCEA is still failing children and parents.

Recently, National revealed that almost one third of all internal NCEA assessments are incorrectly graded, with markers either being too lenient or too strict. Labour, by refusing for almost five years to introduce true random sampling of internal marking, has effectively used students sitting NCEA as guinea pigs. As a result, up to one third of internal assessment marks for students sitting NCEA are in doubt.

It is incomprehensible that Labour has ignored repeated warnings that its refusal to use true random sampling of NCEA internal marks would put students’ grades at risk.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority has admitted that marking standards for NCEA have not been set right since day one. Teachers have faced an impossible task when it comes to marking and it is no surprise they have struggled with grading standards. Yet despite repeated criticism and complaint it has taken Labour four long years to act.

The Government has failed miserably to deliver on its promise of a world-class qualifications system. Parents, students, and teachers are all hugely frustrated.

National is passionate about delivering high quality education for all Kiwi children, and we will put an end to such experimentation in our education sector. We will introduce credible moderation standards for NCEA marking with true random sampling, so that parents, pupils, and employers are left in no doubt.

Mostly, our education system does a great job for young New Zealanders. But in areas such as NCEA it is clear that our children are not getting the world-class standard they deserve. I believe they deserve better, and National will deliver this.

23 May 2008

Just $16 a Week: The Block of Cheese Budget

Kiwis have waited nine long years for Michael Cullen to admit he’s wrong and deliver tax cuts. And after those nine long years he says he will give the average wage earner just $16 a week – the equivalent of a family-size block of cheese – a few weeks out from the election.

Then, once the election is over, the average wage earner will have to wait a couple of years to get just $6 more. It will be a very long time between toasted sandwiches.

No finance minister in New Zealand history has had the opportunity to cut taxes like Michael Cullen. Yet, after more than 3,000 days in office, he says he will finally deliver – just days from an election. New Zealanders will see this as the desperate and cynical move it is.

Labour has squandered the golden economic weather of the past nine years, and failed to future-proof the economy. Their Budget is all about survival. It’s not about addressing the real priorities of New Zealanders or about our country’s future direction.

That is National’s focus. Tax cuts will be our top priority, and an essential part of our five-point plan for the economy. This plan will include:

  • An ongoing programme of personal tax cuts. We will put the right incentives in place to encourage people to work and save and get ahead under their own steam. Boosting after-tax wages will help stem the flow of Kiwis overseas. It will help New Zealand keep the skilled workers we need to grow our economy and improve our public services.
  • Bringing discipline to government spending. The government should be just as careful with your tax dollars as your household is with the weekly budget. National will direct spending away from low-quality programmes that push up inflation, towards frontline services like doctors, nurses, teachers, and police.
  • Tackling bureaucracy and red tape. We will cap the number of bureaucrats in the core public service, and we will reform the Resource Management Act and the Building Act. We want to cut the high compliance costs that bog down everything from growing a business to building a deck.
  • An unwavering focus on lifting education standards. We will introduce National Education Standards in primary and intermediate schools to improve literacy and numeracy. We will boost trades in schools and encourage teenagers to get the skills they need to make the most of themselves.
  • Boosting infrastructure to help this country grow. We have a $1.5 billion plan to bring ultra-fast broadband to businesses, schools, hospitals, and homes. And we will work with the private sector to substantially boost investment in roads, electricity, and water.

Our plan for the economy is focused on getting New Zealand onto a much stronger path of economic growth and opportunity, and building a wealthier future for all New Zealanders.

16 May 2008

National’s plan to make our communities safer

New Zealanders rightly expect that they should feel safe in their own homes, in their communities, and when they venture out at night. But, sadly, this is increasingly not the case.

The cycle of violence and law-breaking isn’t just a statistical reality – it has a very human face. When crime gets out of hand, everyday New Zealanders are robbed of the right to feel safe. That's just not acceptable.

Improving the security of all New Zealanders is an important part of National’s vision.

There are five key areas where National has already announced law and order policy. They include:

  • Improved rights and services for victims of crime
  • New and practical youth justice initiatives, with increased tools for the Youth Court, including Fresh Start Programmes to instil discipline and personal responsibility in young offenders
  • Tougher bail laws to ensure the public is protected from dangerous criminals
  • An improved toolkit of powers and resources to assist the police

The improved toolkit of powers and resources to assist the police will include:

  • Introducing Tasers, subject to a positive evaluation of the Taser trial
  • Requiring DNA samples to be taken from all those arrested for offences punishable by imprisonment
  • Giving police the ability to issue time-bound, on-the spot protection orders to protect families. These will provide police with an immediate response to dangerous domestic situations, and ensure that potential victims are protected until courts are able to deal with the matter

In dealing with the grave problem of drugs, we will make targeting and undermining the criminal gangs who produce them a key priority for the police. As a matter of urgency, National will pass laws that will dramatically reduce the power and legitimacy of gangs.

  • We will give the police increased legal powers to listen in on gang communications and conduct surveillance of their comings and goings. If police suspect a gang of involvement in the ‘P’ trade then we want to give them every chance of busting their operation
  • We will give police and local authorities increased power to storm gang fortifications and destroy them
  • We will strengthen the provisions in the Crimes Act that make it illegal to be a member of a criminal organisation. We want law enforcement agencies to have the power to crack down, not just on the foot soldiers’ doing the ‘P’ dealing, but also on the gang leaders who are overseeing the operation
  • We will give the courts increased sentencing powers for dealing with those involved in gangs. We will amend the Sentencing Act to make membership of a gang an aggravating factor in sentencing

National has practical, fresh ideas that will improve the safety of all our communities. We want to see all New Zealanders feel secure in their homes and communities.

13 May 2008

Health work forces shortages affect us all

Access to local health services is an ongoing issue for our communities in Northland. Many people in Northland are not able to travel long distances to access good health care and the loss of local services means, in some cases, they may just miss out all together.

Having effective local services is about having enough health staff. The sad fact is, our health workforce is in a critical state. We face shortages in GPs, nurses, midwives, medical radiation technologists, laboratory technicians, dental therapists and pharmacists. Northland, like many other regions, is hard hit by these shortages.

Despite the fact that the Labour government has poured billions of extra dollars into our public health system over the last eight years, its efforts to retain and strengthen our health workforce have been woeful. At last count, it has produced 43 reports on the health workforce crisis, formed endless committees, and done a great deal of talking, but has achieved little.

This isn’t good enough. For the sake of our public health service and the health of New Zealanders, it’s critical we have a medical workforce with the right numbers and the right skills.

To achieve this, we need to do more than just offer bigger salaries to our medical professionals – New Zealand can never hope to win an international bidding war for doctors by trying to compete solely on salaries. We need to do two things – make our public health system a much more attractive place for health professionals to work in, and boost medical training.

We can do the first of these by working with doctors, nurses, and other health professionals to offer a stronger and more-engaged clinical environment. This will allow doctors and nurses to focus more on care and treatment – and less on paperwork and bureaucracy.

If we can make working in our health system a more rewarding career, we can build a stronger workforce and keep the qualified doctors we need.

At the same time, we must also boost medical training.

National is looking at bonding medical graduates to work in hard-to-staff areas (both geographic and specialty) in return for student loan concessions. By paying for more of their education we can ensure that young doctors stay in New Zealand where they’re needed, for longer.

National is also looking at medical training self-sufficiency. We want to increase the number of funded medical student places on offer at New Zealand universities. This will include more training in rural and provincial areas. Overseas experience shows that medical graduates with substantial training and exposure in rural and provincial areas are much more likely to return to work in such areas.

We will be announcing our health policies in coming months. In the meantime, you can be sure that National is committed to tackling health workforce shortages, improving the quality and performance of our health system, and ensuring that all New Zealanders have access to world-class health care.

12 May 2008

National’s plan to crack down on P and gangs

In recent years, the illegal drug that has caused more problems than any other is ‘P’, or pure methamphetamine. Many people in our region have shared with me their concern about this frightening drug. It’s dangerous, it’s devastatingly addictive, it leads to violence, and it destroys lives.

Disturbingly, as gangs have become more powerful in New Zealand, ‘P’ has become more and more available. This increased availability of ‘P’ has, in turn, led to increased violent crime rates, with younger and younger kids becoming involved in the trade. This must change if we are to have safer communities.

A National-led Government will launch a serious assault on this drug. The number one way we will do this is by cracking down on the criminal gangs that manufacture and distribute it.

We will make targeting criminal gangs a key priority for the police. In mandating this priority, we will give the police significant new powers to enable that crack-down.

As a matter of urgency, National will pass laws that will dramatically reduce the power and legitimacy of gangs.

  1. We will give the police increased legal powers to listen in on gang communications and conduct surveillance of their comings and goings. If police suspect a gang of involvement in the ‘P’ trade, then we want to give them every chance of busting their operation.
  2. We will give police and local authorities increased power to storm gang fortifications and destroy them.
  3. We will strengthen the provisions in the Crimes Act that make it illegal to be a member of a criminal organisation. We want law enforcement agencies to have the power to crack down, not just on the foot soldiers’ doing the ‘P’ dealing, but also on the gang leaders who are overseeing the operation.
  4. We will give the courts increased sentencing powers for dealing with those involved in gangs. We will amend the Sentencing Act to make membership of a gang an aggravating factor in sentencing.

In addition to these four immediate steps, National will work on developing new legal mechanisms to give law enforcement agencies and courts an appropriate range of powers for discovering and punishing those involved in the ‘P’ trade.

Finally, National will investigate banning known ‘P’ dealers and manufacturers from having the right to electronic bail or home detention. We view these drug-related offences as dangerous to the public and we believe those responsible for them should be sentenced accordingly. We will also ensure that those accused of ‘P’-related crimes don’t escape trial on the basis of court backlogs.

Taken together, these policies – an increased emphasis on breaking up ‘P’-dealing gangs, increased police powers for catching them, and tougher consequences for those who are caught – will make it much, much harder to be involved in the ‘P’ trade in this country.

National has the determination to get tough on ‘P’. We have practical policies for achieving this and we are absolutely committed to reducing this key cause of crime in New Zealand.

2 May 2008

National’s plan for the economy

In recent months, more and more people have been telling me how hard they are finding it to get by. The rising cost of food, petrol, and power, along with high mortgage rates and high taxes, are making it really tough for a growing number of families – even those on good incomes.

What’s worse, the Labour Government seems unable or unwilling to do anything about this. It has missed so many opportunities to cut taxes and let people keep more of what they earn. It has wasted too much money on poor-quality programmes that have pushed up inflation and interest rates. It has failed to make the most of eight years of golden economic weather.

And now, families are paying the price.

National is focused on turning things around. We have a five-point plan to lift wages and build a more prosperous future for all New Zealanders.

First, we will have an ongoing programme of personal tax cuts. We will put the right incentives in place to encourage people to work and save and get ahead under their own steam. Boosting after-tax wages will help stem the flow of Kiwis overseas. It will help New Zealand keep the skilled workers we need to grow our economy and improve our public services.

Second, we will bring discipline to government spending. The government should be just as careful with your tax dollars as your household is with the weekly budget. National will direct spending away from low-quality programmes that push up inflation, towards front-line services like doctors, nurses, teachers, and police.

Third, we will stop the massive rise in bureaucracy and red tape that Labour has encouraged. We will cap the number of bureaucrats in the core public service, and we will reform the Resource Management Act and the Building Act. We want to cut the high compliance costs that bog down everything from growing a business to building a deck.

Fourth, we will have an unwavering focus on lifting education standards. We will introduce National Education Standards in primary and intermediate schools to improve literacy and numeracy. We will boost trades in schools and encourage teenagers to get the skills they need to make the most of themselves.

And fifth, we will invest in infrastructure to help this country grow. We have a $1.5 billion plan to bring ultra-fast broadband to businesses, schools, hospitals, and homes. And we will work with the private sector to substantially boost investment in roads, electricity, and water.

There are more details to come, but these five steps – ongoing tax cuts, disciplined spending, tackling bureaucracy, lifting education standards, and boosting infrastructure – will form the core of National’s plan for the economy.

This will raise after-tax wages, take pressure off inflation, build a more prosperous New Zealand, and give every Kiwi family a sounder financial footing.

23 April 2008

Step change: Better Broadband for New Zealand

New Zealand needs a government that is resolutely focused on strengthening the economy and delivering better wages and living conditions to New Zealanders.

To deliver those things, we can’t simply do what we’ve always done. The world is getting more and more competitive every year. New Zealand needs to focus its efforts on the things that will really make a difference to our earning power.

Tinkering around the edges won’t be good enough. We need a step change to deliver New Zealanders the wages and living conditions they have a right to expect.

Our booming and ever-wealthier Asian neighbours are reaching out for new services and new products. People and investors are seeking safe and green havens in an increasingly unstable and dirty world. The Internet is transforming global commerce and eliminating the tyranny of geographic distance.

These trends present massive opportunities for New Zealand.

But to make the most of these trends, New Zealand has to be more ambitious, more outward-looking, and more savvy than ever before. We need to look ahead and future-proof our nation.

National believes there is one thing that – more than any other – New Zealand needs if it is to succeed. That thing is ultra-fast broadband for all New Zealanders. Ultra-fast broadband will draw us closer to our trading partners, put Kiwis at the forefront of technological innovation, and greatly enhance the way we do business and the way we communicate.

We’re not talking about broadband speeds as we know them now. We’re talking about download and upload speeds many, many times faster than most Kiwis have ever experienced.

We will invest up to $1.5 billion to drive the roll-out of a fibre-to-the-home, ultra-fast broadband network. National’s medium to long-term vision is for a fibre connection to almost every home, supported by satellite and mobile solutions where it makes sense to do so.

Our initial goal is to ensure the accelerated roll-out of fibre right to the home of 75% of New Zealanders. In the first six years, priority will be given to business premises, schools, health facilities, and the first tranche of homes.

Just think of the potential productivity gains. Workers won’t have to always fly to meet with their counterparts in other cities - they’ll have access to video-conferencing facilities instead. Small business won’t have to waste precious dollars on expensive toll-calls - they’ll make those calls at next to no cost over ultra-fast Broadband.

Kiwi entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to be at the forefront of developments of this century’s most important technology. If dial-up could deliver Trade Me, who knows what can be done with fibre-to-the-home?

Mums and dads could choose to ‘telecommute’ - work from home while keeping completely in touch with their colleagues, even virtually attending meetings. The savings in travel time could in turn make it easier to achieve work-life balance.

And, as people are able to do more virtually, we’ll see less travelling by car and plane, in turn reducing our individual carbon footprints.

Fibre to schools and children’s homes could hugely enhance teaching and learning, while fibre to hospitals and medical centres could improve the productivity of the health sector.

National will also take additional steps to accelerate the roll-out of high-speed broadband services to rural and remote areas.

As a first step, we will double the size of the Broadband Challenge Fund, from $24m to $48m, and give it the primary focus of providing fast broadband solutions for remote and rural communities. Due to the typography of many of these areas, these broadband solutions will have to include a mixture of fibre, satellite, and wireless technologies.

The possibilities are endless. We can’t begin to envisage them all today.

Our small size and our distance from other countries make it hard for us to compete with the rest of the world. Ultra-fast broadband will help us overcome both of those things.

150 years ago, the government had the vision to build railways and highways to facilitate the movement of goods. Today, we need government to help lay out the information highways of the future. This is National’s commitment.

21 April 2008

Northland will remember them

This Friday is Anzac Day – a truly special day for all New Zealanders.

It is a day to honour our soldiers who fell in battle, and pay tribute to those Kiwis who are helping to build a better world today. It is a day to show our support for the spirit of military service which sustained this country through its most difficult times, and sustains us still.

On Anzac Day we commemorate the landing of New Zealand and Australian troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula on April 25, 1915, in the First World War. The cove where the Anzacs came ashore now bears their name.

In that battle, our nation and our soldiers did their duty, but paid a terrible price. Of the 14,720 New Zealanders who served at Gallipoli, 2,721 died in active service and 4,852 were wounded.

Since then New Zealand has played a proud and often costly role in conflicts around the globe from World War 2, Korea, the Malaysian Conflict, and the Vietnam War to East Timor, Bougainville, Sinai and Somalia.

Today, our country continues to play its part on the international stage to help protect peace, security, and freedom where these are under threat.

Especially in our thoughts this year are the members of our armed forces who serve overseas. New Zealand personnel are stationed in 15 countries around the world. They are involved in everything from battlefield mine clearance and truce supervision to search and rescue, and border observation - in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Timor Leste, Kosovo, Sudan, Iraq, the Solomon Islands, Egypt, and South Korea, as well as the Antarctic.

Last year’s commemorations saw record numbers of New Zealanders turning out at Anzac Day services. In fact, over recent years, more and more people, especially the young, have been joining veterans and their families at commemorative services throughout the region.

This year, I hope you will do your best to take part in one of the many events being held in Northland in recognition of Anzac Day, our veterans, and the young men and women who are serving our country today.

Northland has a long and proud relationship with the New Zealand Defence Force, which makes the marking of Anzac Day even more special. Along with the celebrations on Waitangi Day, this is another great chance to meet some of the fine members of the New Zealand military.

The Royal New Zealand Navy will have a particularly strong presence, with HMNZ Kahu anchored in Whangaroa Harbour and its crew joining the Anzac Day services in Kaeo.

General Sir Ian Hamilton, who commanded the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in 1915 later said: “Before the war, who had ever heard of ANZAC? Hereafter, who will ever forget?”

We will remember them.

10 April 2008

One in Five

More than one in five Kiwi kids leave school unable to read and write to the level they should. More than one in five of our children leave school with no qualifications whatsoever. That means that when we look around our communities at our children, their friends and their classmates, one in five will leave school unequipped to participate fully in adult life

Being unable to read or write well and having no qualifications means they can’t go on to further study, and will have severely limited work prospects. It means they have difficulty budgeting, figuring out how much a hire purchase will cost them, and have difficulty reading to their own children.

Mostly, our education system does a great job for young New Zealanders. In fact, we are among the best in the world for those kids who are doing well. And that’s fantastic. But we’re never going to be the world-class country we know we can be if we leave fully one fifth of our population behind.

I and National are passionate about delivering high quality education for all Kiwi children.

National has already released several policies in education and we will be releasing more over the coming months.

One such policy is lifting education standards in all primary and intermediate schools by introducing National Education Standards. This will include setting clear standards in reading, writing, and maths. The standards will describe all the things children should be able to do by a particular age or year at school. They will be regularly tested against these standards and parents will be told how their children are doing. If they’re not meeting the standards, they’ll get extra help.

We also know that not all young people are the same, and that some are going to be interested in career paths like trades training. National is committed to putting trades and industry training back in our schools and running trades academies to support this.

Alongside this, National’s Youth Guarantee will mean 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to access, free of charge, educational study towards school-level qualifications at approved institutions. Most will stay in school. But others might be more motivated and might achieve more if given the opportunity to learn in a non-school setting.

Equality of opportunity is one of the National Party’s core principles and is the lynchpin of a fair and just society. Currently, our education system gives most of our children an equal opportunity in life. But not for one in five of them. What we’re asking you this year is, do you think this is as good as it gets?

I know this isn’t as good as it gets. I believe Kiwi kids deserve better than they are getting. I believe we can take our education system forward for those one in five and give them a fresh start.

2 April 2008

Putting Victims First

Crime does great damage to our communities, but it has an even bigger impact on victims who can carry the scars for the rest of their lives.

Yet, too often, victims don’t get justice. Too often, they are forced to re-live a traumatic event because the system doesn’t meet their needs or lets them down. Too often, victims seem to get a worse deal than offenders.

National wants to change that. We want to improve victims’ rights and make sure they get the support they need. That’s why, on Monday, John Key announced several policies to put victims first. These include:

  • Establishing a Victim Compensation Scheme (VCS). This will be funded by a levy on all offenders at sentencing. It will help victims with one-off expenses not covered by ACC or other state help.
  • Directing prisoner compensation into the VCS. Offenders benefit from compensation payouts because the Labour Government lets them, and because victims are often reluctant to make claims. National will redirect any unclaimed money in the Victims Claims Trust Account into the VCS.
  • Establishing a Victims Services Centre. The centre will work within the Ministry of Justice to co-ordinate agencies that deal with victims and help Victim Support, and provide an initial point of contact for victims. It will also administer the VCS.
  • Upgrading the Victim Notification Register. This will allow victims to be on an “active” register, which will notify them of developments relating to their case, or on a “silent” register, for those who don’t want further involvement, but which will ensure offenders are not paroled to live nearby. The registers will be maintained by the Victims Services Centre.
  • Reviewing the Victims Rights Act 2002. National will ensure that victims’ rights are recognised across the justice system. The review will result in amendments to the Victims Rights Act to enhance victims’ rights and access to support services, such as strengthening the ability to make a victim impact statement without censorship.

These policies to put victims first are the latest part of National’s law & order policy package. Last year we announced how we will upgrade police tools and clamp down on gangs. And so far this year we have unveiled our youth justice policy and explained how National will axe Labour’s dangerous bail law amendments.

There is more to come. In coming months we’ll be unveiling the rest of our law and order package so you can see where we stand, and how National will help build a safer future for all New Zealanders.

28 March 2008

Reason to be optimistic

In my last column I touched on the economic difficulties facing us at the moment.

We all know someone – a friend, family member or former colleague – who has packed up and gone to Australia for a chance at a better financial future.

The National Party is committed to changing this. An incoming National Government will tackle the issue of productivity growth. We want to lift after-tax incomes in New Zealand and narrow the wage gap between Australian and New Zealand workers, which has been steadily increasing over the past decade.

We will resolutely tackle areas that have hampered productivity growth like personal tax reform, the Resource Management Act, business and compliance costs, substantial infrastructure investment including the introduction of public private partnerships, national standards in education, and a commitment to improving the connectivity of the country through greater broadband penetration.

National will also be heavily engaged in developing an emissions trading system, and ensuring our policies properly balance our environmental responsibilities with our economic opportunities.

And we are extremely optimistic about the prospects for economic development for New Zealand.

There are two main reasons for this optimism. One; our people have what it takes, and two; our country has unique strengths that will set it apart in our rapidly-changing world.

As Kiwis, we're pretty proud of our reputation as hard-working innovators with a number eight wire approach. Those entrepreneurs and that enterprising approach will provide the fuel for new and exciting business developments in the years ahead. I'm confident that New Zealand will continue to be a great place for Kiwis to put their enterprise and energy to use.

Our growing and ever-wealthier neighbours in India and China will demand more of our protein – be that fish, meat, or dairy.

Environmentally aware consumers will demand sustainably-produced products from good global citizens like New Zealand.

In an increasingly crowded world, tourists will want to travel to safe and green havens like ours at the bottom of the world.

These changing demands play to New Zealand's inherent strengths as an agriculturally-focused, environmentally and tourist-friendly spot on the globe.

So the question I'm asking Kiwis is this: Do you really believe this is as good as it gets for New Zealand? Or are you prepared to back yourselves and this country to be greater still? National certainly is.

20 March 2008

Kiwis finding it tough going too

The turbulent events of the past few weeks in the world economy mean that the international financial environment is increasingly fragile.

As a small, trade-dependent nation, we are not immune to these problems - we are part of the global economic environment. Many ordinary Kiwis are feeling financial stress too, with rising interest rates, rising food and petrol costs, a wobbly housing market, and falling share markets.

In this sort of economic environment it’s crucial that governments respond and adjust their policies. I’m not going to tell you that more government spending is the answer to every problem and that governments can magically change all the factors causing the financial pressures we’re feeling. Because it isn’t and they can’t.

But governments can play an important part in helping the economy grow if they have the right policies. Just as they can slow the economy down if they have the wrong policies.

One of the first places to start is with tax cuts. When New Zealanders are suffering higher prices in groceries, higher rents, or higher mortgage payments, and are worried about inflation, being able to keep more of what you earn makes a difference. National has long been committed to a programme of ongoing, credible tax cuts, and continues to be so.

Another area where government decisions have a big impact on the economy is in government spending.

Reckless government spending on increasing bureaucratic fiefdoms and an ever-increasing number of low-quality programmes leaves a legacy of high inflation and high interest rates. These, in turn, bite hard into the average family budget, driving up the costs of housing, food, and other necessities.

The fact is, most Kiwi households are having to tighten their belts, and governments need to play their part as well.

One example is National’s policy to cap the number of bureaucrats at current levels and make do with the resources we have and to get more value out of them. By doing this we can direct the money saved towards frontline staff and programmes. This also helps relieve pressure on interest rates and inflation as money is directed towards productive areas, rather than unproductive, low-quality programmes.

There are other things governments can do to help increase productivity in our economy, which is what will keep it moving when there are shocks in the global economy. Investing in infrastructure and cutting red tape and compliance costs are two crucial areas where governments can help.

National will be releasing policy on these and other economic areas over the coming months. It’s time governments realised that they’re spending our money and they need to be as careful and disciplined as Kiwi families are with their own budgets.

13 March 2008

Getting bureaucracy under control

Times are getting harder for us all, with every week seeming to bring news of worsening economic conditions.

Hard-working Kiwis are feeling the pinch from higher interest rates and skyrocketing costs for everyday essentials such as food, petrol, and power. Within households, people are having to tighten their belts and make hard decisions about where they should be spending their money.

National believes it should be no different in the state sector.

It’s time to stop the growth in bureaucracy we have seen over the past nine years of this Labour Government. It’s time to focus public spending on front-line services that make a real difference in people’s lives, rather than paper-shuffling and report-writing that does not. It’s time to cut out the low-quality spending that goes on in the state sector and let New Zealanders keep a little more of their own money.

Over the past eight years, the bureaucracy has grown out of all proportion to those parts of the state sector that actually serve the public. So bloated has the bureaucracy become that since 2000 it has been the fastest growing sector in the economy.

National is not going to reduce the number of public sector front-line staff. This should be absolutely clear – under National, the numbers of doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, police, and other front-line staff will grow.

Instead, a National Government will cap the size of the core bureaucracy. We are going to make do with the resources we have, and work to get more value out of them.

The simple fact is that we have enough bureaucrats to do the job already and National believes that the priority for resources in the state sector should be the delivery of front-line services.

The past nine years of Labour have been about growing the public service. The next National Government will be about growing services to the public.

It’s time to bring some much-needed discipline into public spending and that’s what a National Government will do.

12 March 2008

Stop the excuses and deal to the gangs

If there’s one issue that gets Northlanders angry, it’s crime. People are sick and tired of the robberies, the thefts, the violence and the mindless vandalism that blight our communities.

If we want to deal to crime, we must deal to the gangs. And to deal to the gangs we must do two things - stop tolerating gangs in our communities, and give the police the right tools to take them on.

Like my colleague, Shane Jones MP, I was disgusted to see a gang at Waitangi last month setting up shop next to Te Tii Marae and giving away food and drinks. They appeared to be recruiting young gang members right under the noses of the organisers and all those who had come to the marae.

That just isn’t acceptable. Only when everyone in our society ceases to tolerate the gangs will we be able to drive them out of business.

But while I applaud Mr Jones for speaking out, I can’t say the same thing for the Labour government. For eight and half years it has sat on its hands and made all sorts of excuses why it is not getting tough on gangs. Meanwhile, they have become a greater and greater menace in our communities.

National will stop the excuses, deal to the gangs, and stifle their ability to operate.

Late last year, John Key announced several law and order policies, aimed specifically at clamping down on the gangs.

We will give police more powers to remove and storm gang fortifications, and greater authority to conduct surveillance and intercept their communications. At the same time, we will strengthen the law to make it illegal to be a member of a criminal organisation, and make gang association a factor in sentencing.

We will toughen the bail laws and require DNA to be taken from people arrested for crimes that could lead to prison. This will give the police yet more tools to clamp down on hardened criminals.

We have also announced a package of youth justice measures aimed at getting tough on the worst youth criminals, and helping lesser offenders turn away from a life of crime.

Together, with more law and order policies we’ll be announcing later this year, you can be sure that a National-led government won’t sit on its hands for eight and a half years. Instead, we’ll deal to the gangs and deal to crime.

Northlanders deserve nothing less.

6 March 2008

Improving fairness and consistency of our health care

One of the main issues people raise with me is health. New Zealanders expect their health system to be fundamentally fair and consistent. In a country of 4 million people, consistent access to health services should be possible.

Sadly, we’re not seeing fairness or consistency from the Labour government when it comes to our health system. Just ask the people of Hawke’s Bay, who’ve seen their democratically elected representatives sacked so the Minister can grandstand. Or the residents of Waitemata, Wellington, Wanganui and Christchurch, all of whom have suffered from the government’s increasingly inconsistent approach.

We’ve also got over 10,000 hospital bureaucrats for the first time in history.

We all know that with 21 DHBs across the country there’s too much duplication, confusion and bureaucracy in the current system. Rather than addressing these problems the Labour Government is focused on trying to manage headlines – ignoring problems that don’t make the news and bullying communities where problems do make the news.

Our communities deserve better than this. We deserve fair and consistent access to health care, not endless political management.

In our health discussion document released last year, National put forward a range of proposals to improve our health system.

One of the ways we can improve fairness and consistency of care is to reduce the duplication, bureaucracy and confusion the health system currently suffers from.

National proposes greater cooperation between DHBs across the regions to tackle the issues of duplication and confusion. We propose that the funding and planning arms of DHBs should work together more as a ‘shared services network’. This would:

  • Support regional clinical networks and promote clinical leadership
  • Concentrate and improve management staff capacity
  • Reduce duplication and waste
  • Ensure more consistent access to services
  • Foster regional workforce approaches
  • Ensure strategic decision-making on investment
  • Share best-practice between DHBs
  • Allow more impartiality in selecting alternative providers, such as using spare capacity in private hospitals

Applying some common sense and improving cross-boundary DHB cooperation can concentrate our scarce medical expertise and improve efficiency and quality. This could apply to all medical services as well as surgery. For example, DHBs working together could use their combined resources to provide more primary care, child health, and aged-care in our communities.

This approach would mean DHBs planning together on a regional basis to ensure we make the most of what we have, while still allowing DHBs to maintain a strong connection with local communities.

Already Otago and Southland DHBs are moving toward this ‘shared-funder’ approach. National is keen to support these practical, common-sense approaches and extend them to all regions.

21 February 2008

Making our hospitals safer

Almost every week there’s another crisis in our health system.
Two weeks ago, the Health and Disability Commissioner, Ron Paterson, declared that our public hospitals are unacceptably unsafe. Last week, it was revealed that Wellington’s new $300 million hospital will not have enough beds for future needs. And, on Wednesday, a report on medical mishaps in our health system found that there were 182 “sentinel” or fatal/serious events last year.
The numbers from the sentinel report are the tip of the iceberg. The Health Minister's own advisers admit the report does not include many fatal or life-threatening cases, and some DHBs can't locate records on serious medical mishaps. Nobody actually knows how many patients are dying needlessly in our hospitals.
And yet the Labour-led Government says the reporting of mishaps should remain voluntary. This is in spite of the Ministry of Health’s recommendation in 2001 for a standard nationwide reporting regime. Seven years on, Labour has done nothing.
Patients deserve better. Doctors and nurses do the best they can but sometimes mistakes are made. Without thorough reporting, the Government can’t determine the extent of the problems in our health system and can’t put things right.
No wonder Labour has failed to make any noticeable improvement in our health services despite pouring $5 billion a year extra into health.
Our hospitals need more than money. That’s why, in our Health Discussion Paper, we have laid out proposals to get ongoing improvements in performance and quality. These include:

  • A new partnership with the health professions: Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals should be set free from the bureaucracy that has taken over our hospitals. They should have more say in the planning and operation of hospitals.
  • Better information for the public: The introduction of star ratings should be considered to improve performance reporting in areas such as safety, staffing, productivity, and patient satisfaction.
  • Clinical networks: Doctors and nurses should work with NGOs, administrators, and patients to help plan, deliver, and evaluate services. Clinical networks would help foster a culture of learning and teaching, as well as develop and improve standards and practices across the country.

National will confront the problems in our health system. We will put patients first. We will focus on improving performance and safety. And we will provide better, sooner, more effective healthcare for all New Zealanders.

15 February 2008

Looking ahead

The start of the parliamentary year is a great chance to look ahead and consider the challenges New Zealand faces in 2008.

There are plenty of them – the one-in-five teenagers who leave school without a qualification; interest rates nearly 4% higher than when Labour came to power; the 800 Kiwis who leave New Zealand every week for Australia; the breakdown in our health system; collapsing finance companies wiping out hundreds of millions of dollars in savings; the drought affecting many parts of the country; the shaky state of our electricity supply.

In her speech at the opening of Parliament, Helen Clark had a chance to address these issues. She had the chance to be bold and visionary, to reveal how she will deal with the problems many New Zealanders face, and to lift the performance of her government after almost nine years in power.

But she didn’t take it. Instead, she announced two “new” ideas – some initiatives for non-government organisations, which borrow from the policy on Turbo-charging Community Groups that National announced last year, and a plan for affordable homes that calls for more government-led housing schemes like the Hobsonville development in Auckland.

Unfortunately, the Hobsonville development is not a glittering success. It has taken at least eight years to get it off the ground. And last week, Housing NZ Chairman Pat Snedden admitted that a couple who wanted to buy one of the “affordable homes” in the project would need to earn $70,000 a year – $2,000 more than the average household income.
Helen Clark’s speech was another lost opportunity. Her Government doesn’t have any new ideas, it doesn’t know how to address the challenges New Zealand faces, and it is obsessed with the arguments of the past.
In contrast, National is focused on tomorrow. This year we will hold Labour to account for its poor management. We will confront the real issues that New Zealanders care about. We will roll out our policies for a more prosperous country.

These policies will give Kiwis confidence in the public services they rely on, ensure they feel safer in their homes and communities, and build the positive values they want.

In 2008, the National Party will bring change and improvement to New Zealand, and I’m looking forward to playing my part in that process.

8 February 2008

Toughening up our Bail Laws

On an almost daily basis, we hear of brutal and senseless crimes being committed on innocent victims who simply happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is not good enough, and National has already indicated its determination to crack down on crime with the release of its policing policy last year.

Among other things, we have promised to crack down on gangs, progressively increase frontline police numbers, and strengthen police powers to take DNA samples.

To further keep our communities safe, National has recently announced it will axe Labour’s misguided 2007 bail law amendments.

Labour has admitted that the driving force behind these changes was a reduction in the prison population. As such, the Crown must now show there is a ‘real and substantial risk’ of the accused reoffending in order for them not to be granted bail.

This much higher bar means that the courts are releasing many potentially dangerous individuals back into the community, even if they have previously repeatedly breached bail conditions.

The consequences of this easier access to bail have been all too clear to see, with a string of violent offences in recent months committed by offenders while they were on bail.

Cases like that of Wiremu Nikora Haunui, who in October 2007 was arrested and charged with raping an Auckland prostitute. At the time of arrest he was on bail for two other rape charges, and was granted bail again following the third charge.

Such cases horrify the public and make a mockery of Labour’s claims to be making New Zealand safer.

National believes protection of the public should be the most important consideration when granting bail, not reducing prison populations as this Labour Government seems to think.

That’s why we will be introducing a bill seeking to repeal these dangerous amendments.

All Kiwis can be assured that under National public safety will be paramount.

30 January 2008

National’s Youth Plan

The energy and enthusiasm of the vast majority of our young people make me hugely optimistic for our country.

But, sadly, a growing number of our young people aren’t meeting their potential.

We all see it – early school leavers unable to read or write well enough, drug and alcohol problems, newspaper headlines describing teens walking around bashing people.

This week, National outlined policy that forms part of our plan for giving young people the future they deserve. National’s Youth Plan has two major aspects to it.

The first part will be a new education entitlement - National’s Youth Guarantee.

The Youth Guarantee will allow every young person under the age of 18 to access, free of charge, a programme of educational study towards school-level qualifications. This new entitlement will be on top of, not instead of, the education entitlements they have now.

Many 16- and 17-year olds will continue to choose school as their preferred option, but others might prefer to continue their education through, for example, a polytechnic, a wananga, a private training establishment, an industry training organisation, or a combination of these options.

School doesn’t work for all young people, so let’s apply some common sense and get them into a form of education that does. Sixteen and 17-year-olds who are not working, and who fail to take up this new entitlement, will not be eligible to receive a benefit (except in special circumstances such as illness). Teenage parents will be specifically catered for.

The second part of our Youth Plan will tackle youth offending.

It will give the Youth Court new powers to get young people back on the rails, and tougher sentencing options to deal with those who pose a serious threat to the safety of our communities. We will back those powers up with increased funding to the services involved.

We are proposing new powers for the Youth Court:

  • Parenting orders: Parenting courses to address problems at home that may be contributing to a young person’s offending
  • Mentoring programmes: Providing role models to young offenders for a period of up to 12 months
  • Drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes: Designated funding to help get young offenders sober

National will also enable the Youth Court to impose tougher sentences where needed:

  • Longer residential sentences: Up to six months in a Youth Justice facility
  • Fresh Start Programmes: Revolutionary, year-long, intensive programmes designed to instil discipline and address underlying causes of offending; including up to 12 weeks of residential training at, for example, an army base
  • Spotlight Sentences: Non-compliance with court-ordered supervision contracts will result in electronic monitoring using an ankle bracelet

We will also extend the jurisdiction of the Youth Court so it has the power to deal with 12- and 13-year-olds accused of serious offences. National thinks the Youth Court, with its wider range of powers, could play a much stronger role in getting these young offenders back on track.

National’s Youth Plan is about giving young New Zealanders the opportunity and responsibility to better themselves, no matter what their circumstances, abilities, or track record.

25 January 2008

Strengthening our health workforce

Over the summer break, many worried Kiwis have expressed concern about the state of our health system. There is little wonder why - patients are waiting longer and longer, health bureaucracy is rampant and there is a critical shortage of medical professionals throughout the country.

It is increasingly clear that while Labour may be spending a lot of money when it comes to health, they have simply run out of fresh ideas to make a difference. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the efforts made to retain and strengthen our health workforce. The simple fact is that our health workforce is in a critical state. We face a nationwide doctor shortage with fewer GPs working in New Zealand than in 1999. Shortages are also particularly acute amongst junior doctors, with many hospitals around the country unable to fill medical registrar vacancies.

This just isn’t good enough. To state the obvious, it is critical that we have a medical workforce with the right numbers and the right skills. This isn’t just about offering more money to our medical professionals – New Zealand can never hope to compete solely on salaries.

National believes we need to work with doctors and other health professionals to offer a stronger and more engaged clinical environment. If we can make working in our health system a more rewarding career, we will be able to build a stronger workforce. Practically, this will mean doctors’ focus is on care and treatment - not paperwork and hospital bureaucracy.

National is also looking at bonding medical graduates to work in hard-to-staff regional areas in return for student loan concessions. By paying for more of their education we could ensure that young doctors stay in New Zealand where they’re needed, for longer.

We will also boost the health workforce by making medical training a top priority. This means increasing the number of funded medical student places on offer at New Zealand universities. The increased focus will include more training in rural and provincial areas. Overseas experience shows that medical graduates with substantial training and exposure in rural and provincial areas are much more likely to return to work in such areas.

Current Labour policy is badly failing our health system. The critical shortages in medical professionals across the country are just one symptom of this. National is committed to delivering fresh thinking in health to ensure that all Kiwis have good access to world-class health care.

18 January 2008

Kiwis feeling the pinch

Daily life is getting much harder for average Kiwis as economic conditions tighten. In almost every area, households are being squeezed by price increases in basic goods and services.

Recent months has seen the price of butter increase by more than 20%, and that great Kiwi commodity - milk - increase by more than 12%. Overall, according to Statistics New Zealand food prices increased by 3.9% in the year ended November 2007, with meat, poultry and fish up almost 7%.

Mortgage rates are at an all time high and with the most recent CPI figures showing inflation nearing 4%; further interest rate rises are inevitable.

On top of this, Kiwis continue to pay record high prices at the pump and for other essential household services such as power. Just to make matters worse Labour has recently announced an effective tax rise in disguise by increasing ACC levies for every worker and vehicle owner.

The Government so far has largely brushed of concerns about the pressures on working families. After all high inflation means Labour collects more tax. They don’t seem to understand that gain for Labour is pain for Kiwis.

Some of these pressures are caused by international events, but 8 years of higher than necessary taxes and low quality government spending have made it much worse. The simple fact is that if Labour had applied sound economic management they could have done much to avoid the situation we now find ourselves in.

Instead, Michael Cullen is happy to ride the wave of good economic fortune and simply hope that the good times will continue while his surpluses grow ever larger.

National will not take New Zealand’s economic success for granted, and sound economic management will be a priority. We realise the impact spiralling interest rates and other economic pressures have on everyday Kiwis.

The Government is out of touch with ordinary New Zealanders and just how hard it is to get by and make ends meet every day.

Labour's policies will keep interest rates higher for longer, and many New Zealanders are having to struggle on a daily basis. Their failure to future proof the economy is now coming home to roost.

18 January 2008

Bureaucracy out of control

Bureaucracy is a tricky beast. Unless you keep a close eye on it, it grows and grows and grows – sucking up more and more money with less and less to show for it.

A quick look at the last eight years suggests that Labour has let bureaucracy grow out of control.

Since 1999, the core public service – which excludes teachers, doctors and nurses, the police and the armed forces – has ballooned from 29,500 staff to 42,000, a whopping 40% increase.

In our hospitals, the number of managers and administrators has gone up by almost 2,000 to 10,000 today, while the number of hospital doctors has grown by only 1,200.

Meanwhile, elective surgeries and first specialist assessments have barely increased. Waiting lists continue to grow, and there’s little to show for the extra $5 billion a year that Labour is spending on health.

At the Ministry of Education, the number of bureaucrats has increased by 43% since 2002 to a total of 2,500 last year, and the number earning the highest salaries has increased almost four-fold. In 2002 there were 13 staff members earning over $130,000 a year. In 2007 there were 46.

Meanwhile, schools scream out for teachers, new schools need to be built, and literacy standards fail to improve. The OECD reports that between 2000 and 2005 (the most recent year data is available), the proportion of students who completed high school dropped from 80% to 72%.

The same story occurs in too many ministries – more bureaucrats, more spending, and very few improvements in performance.

Is it any wonder? Labour tends to respond to every problem by imposing a new regulation, creating a new agency, or employing more bureaucrats – because it doesn’t know what else to do. This doesn’t solve the problem. It simply passes the buck and buries it under a mountain of paper-shufflers.

New Zealanders deserve better.

National will halt the rampant growth in bureaucracy. We will make sure that your money is spent more carefully. We won’t just hire more bureaucrats for the sake of it.

We will cut red tape and give the people at the coal face more say over how things are run. And we will focus the state sector on delivering the services that Kiwis need to make the most of their lives.

Only National can get the tricky beast of bureaucracy under control.

 

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