Speech To The SPELD NZ Annual General Meeting

Associate Minister of Education Hon Rodney Hide
Saturday, July 30 2011 Mercy Centre, Guildford Terrace, Wellington.

Good afternoon everyone and thank you for inviting me to speak today.

It is a tremendous privilege to be the Associate Education Minister.  I’ve learned so much about the large and complex area of special education in such a short time.

I have had the opportunity to see the dedication of teachers and staff when working with children who have many learning challenges.   I’ve also seen the determination of students and the joy and excitement on their faces when they are learning and making progress.  And I’ve witnessed how classrooms can be inclusive places for all children.

The work SPELD does in supporting and helping children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities is highly regarded and appreciated by parents and many others.  I want to make sure students with learning needs can access the resources and services that best meet their needs.

This means providing more choices for parents.  And I know that SPELD has been doing a lot of work to position itself as provider of choice for students who have specific learning disabilities.

I strongly share your belief that having a learning disability is not, and should not be regarded as, a barrier to learning. Having learning needs should not stop anyone from reaching their potential.  However, certain attitudes, expectations or the lack of knowledge from other people can be a barrier.  This was one of the themes when developing the special education action plan for the next three years: Success for All – Every School, Every Child.

Last year more than 2,000 people told us what is working and what isn’t working well for young people with special education needs.  While many parents were happy with the level of support they received, they lacked confidence in the system.  So the system isn’t broken – but we need to make it more flexible, more responsive and more accessible.

I was pleased to launch Success for All – Every School, Every Child in October – which has a vision to create a fully inclusive education system in which every child can learn and succeed in every school.  This has a greater emphasis on mainstream schools doing more for students who have learning needs.

An Education Review Office report last year found that half of all schools in New Zealand do a good job of including students with special education needs.  This is not acceptable.  I want all schools to be successfully including students with learning needs.    This will give parents more choice, and it will give these students more opportunities to learn and to succeed.  Many parents of children with disabilities simply don’t have the same choices as others. Some schools do not welcome their child. 

I've had the privilege of spending time with people who have experiences that have been difficult to overcome.  While visiting Christchurch in May I had the pleasure to meet one of Marion’s students, Nathan.  Nathan described the challenges that he is working to overcome at school.  I understand what it is like to not fit in at school, but I had never encountered the type of experience that Nathan shared with me – where his learning differences were the focus for the wrong sort of attention from other children.  I don't want any other child to have to go through that type of painful experience at school.

I believe that ordinary schools can be extraordinary places for learning for all children.  It must be automatic that every child, whatever their learning needs, is included and gets the support they need – without having to fight for it.

Last month I was fortunate to visit Anne Marie Biggs and her staff at Glendowie School, who are working to make their school ‘dyslexia friendly’.  I observed teachers working in new and innovative ways to support children’s learning.   I believe that the key to building confident schools is the willingness of the school to find solutions.  It's not about having all the answers.  A positive attitude is crucial, and that positive attitude is alive and well at Glendowie School.

I have set a target for schools to improve their performance as inclusive environments for students with special education needs.  By the end of 2014 I expect 80 percent of schools to be doing a good job of welcoming and including students with special education needs – with the rest well on their way.

I take this target very seriously.  I want every child to be able to learn and to succeed in every school.  The Ministry of Education will be asking schools to report on how they are using their resources to support students with special education needs.   And ERO will be measuring the progress schools are making.  I expect the first results in August this year.

Last year my colleague Education Minister Hon Anne Tolley, announced changes to the Resource Teachers Learning and Behaviour Service.  It will be transformed to ensure there is a consistent and cohesive service across the country that provides an effective supportive network of RTLB provision for schools.  

Government’s investment in the RTLB Service is not insignificant at $70 million, and we have to be confident that it is delivering the support required.  The proposed changes will see the new service better aligned with other special education services, and better able to work effectively with a range of providers to achieve good outcomes for students.  We want to lift the professionalism of this service, provide career paths to leadership, and develop better capability to support students. We are also keeping the service school-based.

We’re improving teacher education so that all teachers are confident and competent to teach students with different learning needs.  This includes:

A new postgraduate qualification for specialist teachers, which started in February this year. This qualification will provide a sound theoretical base for teachers to enable them to support children with diverse learning needs.

Updated Teachers Council guidelines so all initial teacher education programmes ensure graduating teachers have the knowledge, attitude and skills to support students with special education needs.

The Education Minister has also asked the Teachers Council to review the standards for entry to the profession to ensure teachers are competent to teach students with diverse needs.

I also want it to be quicker and easier for young people with the highest special education needs and their families to get extra help.  I’ve changed the Ongoing Resourcing Schemes (ORS) so they have less unnecessary assessment of students, particularly when it is clear to all that a student meets the criteria.  New funding will enable 1100 more young people with severe difficulties to get the support and services they need through ORS. 

We have directed $25.6 million over four years to support an additional 1,000 children in their first three years in school as part of the Communication Service. 

I’m changing the support for vision and hearing impaired students.  Services are uneven across the country, and many schools don’t have teachers with the specialist skills these students need.  We’re reallocating the existing resources to specialist centres – the two deaf education centres and the Blind and Low Vision Education Network.  A specialised workforce can then provide intensive teaching support to vision and hearing impaired students in regular schools.

I’m finding better ways to bring together the support families receive from different agencies.  There needs to be more coordination and less fragmentation.  I want to relieve stress on parents and students by providing more support from the education system when times get tough.  I’ve asked for advice on a new mediation and disputes resolution service, so issues are addressed faster and more satisfactorily.

I will eagerly monitor the progress of Success for All – Every School, Every Child – I expect to see the following things happening in three years:

Schools to be welcoming and including every student
All young people learning and succeeding, and getting extra help when they need it
Parents being able to see that their child belongs, has friends and is learning and succeeding
Parents receiving good information – without being knocked back.

I know it can be done as there are schools out there that are already doing it.  I will spend every day until November working hard to turn this plan into a reality.  You can be rest assured if schools don’t meet the targets I have set, I’ll make my views known.

Before I finish I want to touch briefly on how SPELD can contribute to the success of National Standards.  There are students who will be identified as not meeting, or are unlikely to meet, the National Standard in reading or writing.  The Ministry is supporting schools to tailor their own solutions for these students.

A nationwide Literacy Intervention pilot project is underway. Schools have been invited to participate in one or more of four pilot projects, which are all about accelerating progress for these students.  The pilot projects are based around reading for Year 1 and Year 2 students; accelerating writing progress for Years 4 to 8 students; and reading and writing for English Language Learners. 

Schools are being encouraged to look to the expertise they already have available in literacy and teaching to guide their work.  They may choose to involve SPELD teachers in this work and in developing their approach to accelerating the progress of targeted students.  I know many SPELD tutors have firm connections with schools and the expertise they bring to teaching approaches is valued.

So there is a lot happening in special education at the moment.  We are strongly focused on choice, on better information and on inclusive learning environments. We want to ensure all students are given opportunities to learn and succeed, and to reach their potential.  Thank you for the part you play already in making this happen.

Thank you.

Fresh Ideas For A Productive Economy

Hon Heather Roy Speech to Fresh Ideas For A Productive Economy, Fabian Society Seminar; Legislative Building, Parliament; Wednesday, July 27 2011.

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. If this is true then those governing New Zealand’s economy must be certifiable.

ACT believes that New Zealand needs more than fresh ideas, more of a revolution in the way we approach the economy. The current system is burying our country in debt.

The government is currently borrowing more than $300 million a week, $15 billion a year. Broken down that equates to $200 a week per household and a debt of around $3,900 for every man, woman, and child.

As we have seen overseas, this kind of borrowing is unsustainable. Greece found that out the hard way, Ireland found that out the hard way. ACT does not want New Zealand to fall into the same hole.

Labour would have us forget that it was their spending binge while in Government that got us into this financial quagmire - but now instead of focusing on ways to reduce Government spending Labour would prefer, as always, to simply tax us more.

National, who so bitterly howled when Labour increased wasteful spending, took over but could not find anything to cut. They are doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

George Orwell, in his dystopian novel 1984, called this doublespeak – in 1948 this was fiction, today is passes for political discourse in New Zealand. We have lived with this doublespeak for a decade – it has been a decade too long.

ACT has long called for fresh economic ideas, but as Audre Lord said, “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” What we need is a fresh way of looking at the economy.

If we just reduced government spending, adjusted for inflation, to the level it was in 2005 we could balance New Zealand’s budget. The public service needs to examine its priorities and goals so that we can live within our means.

It is important to examine what the trade-offs are with high government spending. There is a study of 40 years of OECD data that looks at the relationship between public expenditure and economic growth. It finds that countries that spend less than 25 percent of GDP through government achieve average growth rates of 6.6 percent. Governments that spend 50-60 percent of GDP achieve, on average, 2 percent. In the year ended June 2011 total Government expenditure was forecast, in Budget 2011, to spend over 48 percent of GDP.

Why should we be concerned with growth? The difference between 2 and 5 percent growth over 50 years is massive. A country that grows at 5 percent will be 4 times richer in 50 years than the country that grows at 2 percent.

A wealthy nation has the capacity to afford top quality healthcare, a pristine environment, and decent education for their young people.  However, those that benefit the most from growth in the economy are the poorest in society – individuals who are reliant on the jobs and higher wages that come from growth in productivity.

If we are willing to look, we can identify the formula that will bring productivity and growth. Let’s look at Singapore. New Zealand GDP growth in 2010 was under 1 percent. Singapore grew at a amazing 14 percent.

This is made even more remarkable when you consider that in 1960, our GDP value was almost 3 times that of Singapore. In the last 20 years, Singapore has raced ahead, by 2015; Singapore will have a GDP value that is 3 times that of New Zealand.

If we are to look at labour productivity per capita in New Zealand dollars Singapore labour productivity in 2010 was $182,546 per person, almost twice New Zealand’s $93,365. Why have they been able to achieve such prosperity with no minerals, no land and a relatively small population? It is because they were willing to make tough decisions.

Government expenditure accounts for only 17% of GDP in Singapore, compared to New Zealand’s 48%.

Most importantly, their politicians have a vision for the future, they put aside short-term political gains and focus on the future – in short they had the courage to do what was right. They outlined a blueprint of where they want to go and they moved swiftly to achieve it. In doing so, Singapore has left New Zealand in the dust.

We should be concerned; no, we should be outraged that we are condemning our children and grandchildren to be relatively poorer than they need be.  Worse still, we are saddling them with tomorrow’s public debt that we ourselves are not willing to pay today. Our children ready leave New Zealand for countries where opportunities are greater and taxes are lower. These are likely to be countries where the government does not spend 48 percent of GDP.

ACT does not, however, support a policy of “slash and burn”. We can’t start indiscriminately getting rid of services but we must examine the benefits that this spending has in the short term. Have we actually got value for the money we spend?

In New Zealand, although we spend half of our GDP on the public sector the results are far from favourable.  In healthcare, over the five years till 2009 we increased spending by over 50 percent in inflation-adjusted terms. Of course it sounds good to spend more on healthcare, but what were the results? Productivity actually decreased – doctors by around 15 percent and nurses by around 11 percent. That means despite an increase in money we are in a relatively worse position than we were before.

The only area in which productivity actually increased in the New Zealand healthcare sector was in cleaning staff – this has been outsourced to the private sector.

In education the same is true, again spending has rapidly increased, yet the results have been poor. Tragically 25 percent of children who leave school are functionally illiterate. How can this be when, on average, by the time a child leaves school, they have had $70,000 spent on their education? How is it that we cannot educate so many even to a basic standard?  Not only are we condemning our children to a debt-laden future, we are depriving them of the tools to fix it.

At the moment the government is throwing good money after bad. We cannot continue to spend with no thought about the outcome, with no thought to the growth of the economy. To fix this, we need to tackle the three biggest areas of government spending – education, welfare, and health.

Let’s look at some different solutions to healthcare that I believe would turn around the poor results.

Under Labour we saw the introduction of greater scheme of universal care. This meant that rich parents in Epsom and Remuera could get primary healthcare fully subsidised. It is crazy that we should not target the provision of services based on need. Those that can afford it should have to pay for their own healthcare costs. When Government, not the individual, pays for healthcare we see that consumers have poor incentives to seek value for money, the doctor has poor incentives to provide cost-effective treatments, and the taxpayer has to meet the increasing costs of healthcare. This is why in the long-run productivity fails. We would target subsidised healthcare to those who need it, not those who want it.

Second, following on from the first, if we look around the world we can see that pouring money into the system is not what we need – what we need is to restore incentives. Singapore has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Infant mortality rates and life expectancy are amongst the best in the world. However, what makes it amazing is its cost effectiveness – the government spends very little money making it a good system. The Singapore government spent between 1 and 3 percent of GDP annually. To contrast, New Zealand spends around 9.8 percent of GDP – that is over 20% of all the money that the government directly spends.

A different way of funding healthcare, as happens in Singapore, is to have a health savings account in which individuals pre-save for medical expenses. The government also offers an option of taking out catastrophe insurance – it will pay for any medical procedure over approximately $10,000. The real key is they allow for the private market to operate providing both hospitals and insurance. These compete with the public hospitals making them more competitive. The government even requires these private hospitals to publish pricing lists to encourage comparative shopping. The real point here is it balances incentives – the individual can make a trade-off between medical care and the cost. This is missing at the moment in New Zealand.

Growth in productivity is not a result of working harder or working longer but working smarter. No one would accuse New Zealand of not being a country filled with hard-workers. Encouraging people to develop methods of producing goods in more efficient ways is the key. The focus needs to be on increasing our productivity, making our businesses more competitive and revitalising our economy.

Cutting a dollar of government waste releases that dollar to be usefully employed elsewhere. Cutting government waste has real benefits to the ordinary person – be it in higher wages, better jobs, or better goods and services.

It is not often an MP stands before you and advocates for smaller government. ACT believes that the boldest move, the only real game-changer for New Zealand’s economy is to downsize the bureaucracy.

Why do our politicians lack a vision for New Zealand? Why do we no longer aspire to anything? Labour no longer talks about being in the top half of the OECD and National no longer talks about beating Australia by 2025. We are trapped by the tyranny of the status quo. We no longer aspire to excellence, but expedience.

ACT sees the possibility of greatness in New Zealand’s future. We believe that, with fewer bureaucrats and smaller government, with lower taxes and increased productivity, with improved education and freedom of choice, New Zealand can both aspire to, and achieve, greatness.

What it takes is a vision and a plan – because without a plan, vision is nothing more than a dream.

ENDS

Speech To The Rotary Club Of Newmarket

Speech to the Rotary Club of Newmarket
Chairman's Lounge, Ellerslie Events Centre, Ellerslie Racecourse.

President Roger, ladies and gentlemen - good afternoon.  Thank you for inviting me to your meeting today.

My talk today is about Auckland, its future and the recent amalgamation of eight councils to create one single organisation – the new Auckland Council.  I would also like to touch on what we need to reverse the ever-increasing burden of red tape that is bedevilling New Zealand.

For 50 years, Auckland’s ability to develop and to prosper was stymied by competing leadership, complex and fragmented governance, factionalism and weak accountability.

I decided even before the last election that it would be a good job for me to fix it. That’s why I sought the job to be Minister of Local Government.

It was a big job.  And I was lucky to have a tremendous team get behind the project.

I sat down at the start with the Mayors and Chief Executives.  I said we were doing this for Auckland.  I explained I would listen to all complaints and to all suggestions.  But there would be just one criterion of consideration: what’s best for Auckland?  I wasn’t interested in what was good for the old council structures, interest groups, or particular careers, or the past.  I wanted what was best for Auckland’s future.

I also issued a challenge: let’s show the rest of New Zealand Auckland at its best.

And we did.

Everyone got on board.  We completed the largest restructuring public or private ever attempted in Australasia.  We did so at speed, on time under budget with a minimum of fuss.  Council officers worked hard for long hours for Auckland’s future even though for many of them there was no job at the end.  They worked themselves out of a job.  The professionalism shown was outstanding and commitment shown to Auckland and our future was extraordinary.

I am very proud of what has been achieved.

We have created a legislative framework that is already delivering integrated decision-making and greater community involvement.

Previously, eight long-term plans had to be prepared; five water and wastewater companies operated; and seven district plans existed.  Now, under a unified Auckland governance structure, we have just one of each.

In delivering a more efficient organisational structure, Auckland ratepayers have benefited through lowered rates.

As projected by the Auckland Transition Agency, the new Auckland Council recently announced a below-inflation rates increase of 3.9 per cent.

To put that into context, under the old eight council structure rates across Auckland were to rise by an average of 9.3 per cent, with one council projecting a rise of up to 11.9 per cent!  The reduction in rates equates to a saving of $84 million to Auckland ratepayers.

In addition to the rates savings, on July 1 the price of reticulated drinking water across metropolitan Auckland dropped by an average of 20 per cent.  That's a saving of $30 million.

The reform has more than paid for itself in savings in its first year.

But the benefits don’t stop there.  The new council structure has also created other efficiencies.

Under the old councils there were 60 different categories of dog licence.  This has been halved and fees have been standardised at the lowest level.

Auckland’s libraries have been amalgamated creating the largest library group in Australasia and giving Aucklanders access to around 3.5 million items.

Aucklanders can now use their library cards at any of the 55 libraries and four mobile libraries in the region.

The savings are considerable.  And they are good to have.  But they were not the point of the reform.  The purpose of the reform was to substantially improve the governance of our largest city.  That's where the big gains are to be had.

We now have one Mayor and one council.

That's a big improvement over eight competing, confused and confusing councils.

The Mayor and the new council now have both the mandate and the legislative ability to deliver their vision for Auckland.

Likewise, the people of Auckland now have one Mayor and one council to hold to democratic account.  The endless buck-passing that bedevilled Auckland for decades has gone.  There’s one Mayor, one council, Auckland governance is in their hands. 

It means too that central government can now talk to the political leadership of Auckland, make decisions, and critically have them stick.

That has never before been possible in Auckland.  Fragmented and competing leadership simply made that impossible.

A big challenge for Auckland is transport.  We now have just one entity, the CCO Auckland Transport, instead of the previous nine local transport entities that existed in the region.  We have for the first time a coherent, region-wide approach to solving Auckland’s transport issues.

Auckland now has a strengthened and integrated governance structure.

There will be no more costly duplication of functions with eight rating authorities and a multitude of differing bylaws.

With the new governance structure in place, Aucklanders can now look forward to their city becoming a united, prosperous and dynamic region that all New Zealanders can be proud of.

The project now possible and underway and critical to New Zealand's future success is the Auckland Spatial Plan.

The spatial plan is a first for New Zealand.  It provides, if you like, a helicopter view of how Auckland will develop over the next 20 years.

The plan belongs to the Auckland Council but the Government is closely engaged with the council on the plan.

We have been working with the council and have a dedicated Cabinet Committee that I chair, so central and local government decisions for Auckland can be closely aligned.

The process is working very well and the plan will be completed in early 2012.

Those with an interest in Auckland should put in a submission during the public consultation process.

We now have one Mayor, one council, with the mandate and the ability to deliver the future Aucklanders desperately yearn for and need. I am very proud of the achievement.

Before I finish today, I would like to switch hats and, as Minister for Regulatory Reform, discuss my Regulatory Standards Bill which has had its first reading in Parliament.

Every year, Parliament passes hundreds of laws, and the Government introduces hundreds of regulations.

Many of these laws and rules protect our environment, support a competitive and efficient economy, and ensure that we get treated fairly.

But too many laws unnecessarily limit our freedoms, and restrict our ability to live life as we would like.

For example, until 2009, Aucklanders had to apply for resource consent to trim a tree on their own property!

Ordinarily, we rely on our representatives in Parliament, and on the ability of citizens to make their case before Select Committees, to stop dodgy rules.

But that depends on MPs and citizens being able to keep up with all the proposed laws and rules.  This is increasingly difficult.

Last year, Parliament passed 3,020 pages of laws and the Government introduced 3,953 pages of regulation.  In 2008, the last year of the previous Labour Government, 5,411 pages of regulations were brought in – that’s over 15 regulations a day!

Many of these rules and laws are very technical, and their implications are hard to discern, even for professionals and Members of Parliament whose job it is to scrutinise our laws.

My Regulatory Standards Bill provides better information to New Zealanders about how new laws and rules will affect them, through three key steps.

First, the Bill sets clear standards that new rules and regulations will be measured against.  These standards spell out what good laws look like and should do.

For example, laws and regulations should treat everyone equally. They should be accessible and easy to understand.  They shouldn’t take away your property without good reason or without compensation.    And, they shouldn’t take away your right to appeal to the Courts, when you believe you’ve been wronged.

Second, the Bill would require anyone proposing new laws or regulations to certify that their proposals meet these standards.

If their laws don’t meet the standards, the person proposing the law – for example, a Minister or MP – would need to explain to Parliament and to the New Zealand public why the law doesn’t comply and why this is in the public interest.

Finally, if someone believes that a new law doesn’t meet the standards and it has not been disclosed, they will be able to ask the Courts to decide whether or not the law complies.

The Courts would not have the power to overturn a law or award any damages or other remedy.

Even if they decided it violated the standards the law would still be binding.  But a negative judgement from the Courts could embarrass politicians, and discourage them from making the same mistake twice.

That’s the whole point.

That, in a nutshell, is what the Regulatory Standards Bill does.

It simply makes our law making more open and transparent.

To me that openness in respect of clear principles is critical if we are to achieve more accountable law-making and better law.

And better law is crucial to lifting New Zealand’s performance.

So if you want to better understand how laws and regulations could affect you, and what Parliament is doing on your behalf, have a read of my Regulatory Standards Bill.  Even better, make a submission on the Bill to the Commerce Select Committee.

To sum up today, I am hugely excited for the future of Auckland.  Auckland ratepayers are already benefiting from the reforms and it is my expectation that Auckland will continue to grow in stature and efficiency to become a truly international city.

The spatial plan process has the new Auckland Council and Central Government working closely together on the development of Auckland.

I believe too that with my Regulatory Standards Bill passed into law we can start to get on top of the red tape that is throttling New Zealand.

And won’t that be a relief.

Thank you.

ACT Leader's Dinner Keynote Address

Mr President, board members, John Banks, other candidates, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for your warm welcome.  I particularly appreciate it because, in one sense, I’m an outsider – a newcomer to the ACT family.

Of course, in another sense, I’ve always supported the values and principles for which ACT stands, and our former president, Catherine Judd, once memorably referred to me as ACT’s tenth MP (just over a month later the National Party caucus elected me to be leader, so perhaps there’s hope for the National Party after all!).

Tonight I want to talk quite briefly about why I sought to return to Parliament under the ACT banner; about what ACT has achieved over the last few years; and about what we need to achieve over the next four months.

Why on earth did I seek to return to Parliament?  I had an agreeable life, with good income, time with my family (some of whom are here this evening), and time to spend on my kiwifruit orchard in South Auckland.

Well, it’s an easy question to answer.

I was deeply worried about where this country’s heading.

Deeply worried about youth unemployment – 27% among all 16 to 19 year olds, 38% among 16 to 19 year old Maori.

Deeply worried about the fact that, despite a massive increase in spending on our education system over the last few decades, one in four teenagers coming out of school can’t read and write properly.  Teenagers who can’t multiply by 10.  Teenagers who don’t understand how to fill in a job application form.   Teenagers who see going onto the dole, or the DPB, as the only viable option for them.

Deeply worried that 330,000 working age people are now dependent on a state hand-out, with all the social and financial costs of that.

Deeply worried about the fact that this National Government has failed to deal with the fiscal mess they inherited from Labour, so that two years down the track government spending is higher today, as a share of the total economy, than it was in any year of the Labour Government – and the Government is borrowing $300 million every week – the equivalent of $300 for every family of four in the country – week after week after week.

Deeply worried about the fact that, partly as a result of all that government borrowing, the exchange rate has been pushed to a level which makes life extremely difficult for many exporters, so that as a country we are still spending more overseas than we are earning overseas – as we have done every year now since 1973!  With the inevitable consequence that our net debt to foreign investors is now right up there with that of Portugal.

Deeply worried about the fact that, despite the National Party talking grandly about the crucial importance of raising living standards in New Zealand, perhaps even closing the gap with Australia by 2025, living standards today are right back where they were five or six years ago.  And the gap with Australia?  Wider today than it was when this Government came to power.  So that our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our friends and our neighbours, continue to stream across the Tasman, perhaps to return for the occasional holiday.

Deeply worried about the steady drift towards a separate constitutional status for Maori New Zealanders.  Of course Maori culture is an important part of New Zealand culture.  Of course many Maori are on very low incomes, with few educational qualifications, trapped into a life on welfare.  Of course government should compensate tribes which can demonstrate that they were the victims of confiscation.  But that is absolutely no reason to create a Maori Statutory Board; or to retain separate Maori electorates; or to give tangata whenua the right to stop farmers cutting down scrub on their land; or to give iwi a right to veto developments on DOC land.

I strongly suspect that John Key knows what needs to be done.  John Key is the most popular Prime Minister in my memory.  And he’s highly intelligent.  When I was Leader of the National Party, I had no hesitation in appointing him to be my Finance spokesman.  I have no doubt that I can work with him again.

But rightly or wrongly, he holds the view that the Government can go no further than the electorate or his caucus will let him.

My job, your job, our job is to win enough seats for ACT in the next Parliament to enable him to do the things which, in his heart of hearts, he knows need to be done.

We’ve had some success over the last two and a half years.

Most significant of all, of course, is that ACT was a crucial factor in changing the government in 2008.  Many people assume that a National win in 2008 was inevitable.  Quite the contrary.  Had Rodney not won the seat of Epsom and had Winston got just a handful of additional votes, Helen Clark would still be Prime Minister.

ACT was instrumental in getting a three strikes law in place – not the harsh Californian version of that law, but one which focuses on the small number of the most violent repeat offenders in our community and allows them to be locked away for a long time if they persist in violent offending.

In Auckland, Rodney was instrumental in getting the most far-reaching restructuring of local government New Zealand has seen in decades in place within a remarkably tight timeframe.

ACT gave the Government the courage to extend its initially very timid change in employment law to enable all employers to hire staff on a 90 day probationary basis.

ACT persuaded the Government to establish the Productivity Commission along the lines of the very successful Australian model, with former ACT candidate Graham Scott one of the three commissioners.

ACT persuaded the Government to set up the 2025 Taskforce to make recommendations on how to raise living standards in New Zealand to the Australian level by 2025 – and more importantly, to report on progress annually.  (Unsurprisingly, Government decided to wind up the Taskforce before it was due to report shortly before this year’s election.)

I could go on.  These were very worthwhile achievements.

But not nearly enough.  Tragically for our country, the National Party had just enough MPs so they had a majority in Parliament with either ACT’s five MPsor the Maori Party MPs.  This meant that whenever National had something it knewneeded to be done, but that it thought might cost it a bit of political capital, they were able to turn to the Maori Party to avoidtaking action.

And so we continue to have government spending running out of control.  We continue to have a legal requirement for employers to pay inexperienced 16 year olds the adult minimum wage.  We continue to have an ETS, despite the National Party in Opposition pledging that New Zealand should be a fast follower, not a world leader, in seeking to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  And we have a Marine and Coastal Area Act which risks alienating valuable resources previously belonging to all New Zealanders into the hands of tribal elites.

Our aim in the election in just over four months’ time is to get enough Members of Parliament so that National can onlyform a government with us.

Let me repeat: our aim in the election in just over four months’ time is to get enough Members of Parliament so that National can only form a government with our support.

Retaining the seat of Epsom is a crucial part of our strategy, and I’m delighted that the Hon John Banks is our candidate in that electorate.  He didn’t quite win the contest for the mayoralty of the super-city, but he certainly didn’t lose that race in Epsom!

He will win that electorate this year, both because he is a first class man, a man whom I greatly admire, and a man who is personally very popular in the electorate; and because the National Party knows that they can’t afford to have the party votes of those who will vote for ACT at the election wasted.

So with Epsom safely retained, the challenge of winning party votes for ACT will be our sole focus.

In part, this is about reminding voters, especially those who want a National-led Government after the election, that giving their party vote to ACT will strengthen a National-led Government.  Why can we say that with certainty?  Because it’s inconceivable that ACT would support a Phil Goff-led Labour Party, or a Green Party, or a Maori Party, or a Mana Party.  Winston might like to play around offering his votes to the highest bidder.  We do not. 

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’d go into a coalition with the National Party: we might choose to sit on the cross benches.  But we’d vastly prefer a National-led Government to any other kind of government. 

So we’ll be making it clear that, at least after this election, the only party we’d be willing to support would be National.  And we’ll be there to remind the National Party of the values it professes to believe in – personal responsibility, limited government, and equal citizenship.

What would we be trying to achieve?

We will have a clear focus on five main themes:

First and arguably most important of all, we want to improve living standards.  Few people feel better off today than they did three years ago, or even six years ago.  Our sons and daughters, our friends and neighbours, are moving overseas, or are tempted to do so.  Those who remain, worry about making ends meet.  Unemployment is still too high, especially for young people.  Retailers continue to go to the wall.

So we will push for policies to raise living standards – getting inane regulations out of the way; reducing lousy government spending; reducing taxes to encourage investment and initiative.

Second, and vitally important for the longer term, we want to free up the education sector and give parents the choice of where to send their children to school. 

It has to be one of the great ironies of our supposedly cradle to grave society that it’s only those on high incomes who have a choice about what kind of education their children get.  Those on high incomes can afford to send their kids to the best schools in the country, whether they be state schools (by buying into the right school zones) or private schools.  The rest of us have a lottery – our children get whatever education the local school provides.  Of course, some local schools are superb.  Too many are not, with the consequences that we see around us every day.

Third, we want to deal to the culture of welfare dependency which sees some 330,000 working age adults totally dependent on a taxpayer-funded benefit.

I heard John Key say in a speech a few months ago that Paula Bennett spends a million dollars an hour on benefits of one kind or another.  Singapore spends $40 million a year on benefits. 

We’re not Singapore and we’re not likely to get a Singaporean culture in New Zealand any time soon. But the present situation in New Zealand is having a devastating effect on everybody – taxpayers who are footing the bill and those whose lives are blighted by dependency.

I was once told by a prominent Maori leader that, in her opinion, the only way to deal with Maori unemployment was to totally eliminate the dole.  I don’t think that’s realistic, but we should surely make it clear that anybody who turns down two job offers loses their right to the unemployment benefit.

And there should surely be some time limit on the DPB – perhaps six years, to ensure that a parent can receive that benefit until her youngest child reaches school age.

Fourth, we want to ensure that New Zealand honours the Treaty of Waitangi in its entirety – not just the bits which suit a radical Maori agenda. 

You’ll recall that Article I of the Treaty involved Maori chiefs ceding sovereignty to the Crown – so we are one nation not two.

You’ll recall that Article II of the Treaty involved the Crown in return guaranteeing to protect property rights – something the ACT Party believes in very strongly – and it’s on that basis that we’ve always supported compensation being paid where it can be shown beyond reasonable doubt that confiscation of property took place.

And you’ll recall that Article III of the Treaty was a promise that all New Zealanders – no matter their ancestry, no matter when they or their ancestors arrived in New Zealand – would have the rights and privileges of British subjects.  No legal preferences for any race.  No separate Maori electorates.  No Maori Statutory Board for the Auckland Council.

And finally, we’re committed to continuing to push for policies which ensure New Zealanders are safe – safe in their homes, safe in the street, safe wherever they go.

In the last year or so, there are some signs that the crime rate may be beginning to fall somewhat.  I’d like to think that our Three Strikes policy may have had a positive effect on helping to achieve that reduction.

But there’s much more to be done.  I believe that some of the most constructive things to make us safer lie in our policies on education and youth rates. 

People who get a good education and have a secure job may still get into trouble with the law, but the evidence suggests they are much less likely to get into trouble than those who face a life without the rewards – financial and other rewards – of a steady job.

So better education, and allowing young people to accept a job at whatever wage an employer thinks they are worth, is important in making us all safer.

But I have no doubt we need to do more, and right now we’re consulting with experts in this field – including the Sensible Sentencing Trust – to ensure that our policies in this area are sound.

Mr President, John, if we fail to get the votes needed to ensure that ACT can make a major difference to the policies of a National-led Government, I believe that the future of our country is bleak.  A country which gradually unwinds and becomes rather like an over-sized version of Fiji – relatively poor, a place of simmering tension between races, a place where people fight to increase their share of an ever-diminishing cake, a place which people seek to leave as soon as they can find another country to take them.

And that would be the ultimate tragedy because it doesn’t need to be like that.

We have a beautiful country, rich in natural resources – richer in natural resources than almost any other country in the world.

We have a country founded on a Treaty which guarantees the protection of property rights and the legal equality of all citizens.

We have a country where, for all their faults, politicians and bureaucrats are almost entirely devoid of corruption.

We have a country where we resolve our political differences with the ballot, not the bullet.

We have a country which has produced some extraordinary sons and daughters:

  • the woman who fought for New Zealand to become the first country in the world to give women the vote;
  • the boy from Havelock School who went on to split the atom, win a Nobel prize, and be described by Albert Einstein as “a second Newton”;
  • and years later the second boy from Havelock School who, not to be outdone, led the team that put a man on the moon;
  • the beekeeper from Tuakau who became the first person to conquer the world’s highest mountain;
  • the woman from Wellington who was the most decorated of all the women in the Allied forces in the Second World War.

We in the ACT Party want New Zealand to be a country where people are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves, but where those who, through no fault of their own, have stumbled upon hard times, are supported through those times and actively encouraged to again have the dignity of self-reliance.

We want New Zealand to be a country where government seeks to expand the choices our citizens have, not close them down.

We want New Zealand to be a country where there is a business environment that attracts the investment that will boost productivity and incomes in New Zealand, so that Kiwis enjoy living standards every bit the equal of those in other developed countries.

 We want New Zealand to be a country where we ensure that every child has access to a first class education by providing parents with choices about where their children are educated.

 We want New Zealand to be a country where everybody has access to good quality healthcare because we are getting value for money in healthcare spending.

We want New Zealand to be a country where people respect the rights of others, and are kept safe from those who would abuse those rights.

 We want New Zealand to be a country where people have equal rights under the law, regardless of race. 

And we must be a country where, in spite of the diversity of our community, we share sufficient common values to bind us together as a nation.

This would be a country to which our children and grandchildren would want to return.

 

Address to Local Government New Zealand 2011 Annual Conference

President of LGNZ Lawrence Yule, Chief Executive Eugene Bowen, other members of the LGNZ National Council, ladies and gentlemen – thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon.  I would like to thank Local Government New Zealand for organising this event and bringing us all together.

This looks to be my last Local Government New Zealand National Conference.  There’s been regime change in my own Party and my time in politics appears over.

I set my goal to be Minister of Local Government well before the last election.  I figured Auckland Governance was broken. And that it would be a good job for me to fix it.

I also realised that local government has a big impact on people's lives and our nation’s prosperity.  It seemed to me too that, for years, central government hadn’t taken local government seriously.  I believed I could do something very positive for New Zealand in the role.

It has been a tremendous privilege being Minister of Local Government.  I have especially enjoyed getting to know and working closely with Lawrence and Eugene.  They do a tremendous job on your behalf and I have been very fortunate as Minister to have had their help, their friendship and their counsel.

I would like to thank all of you too for making me welcome in your districts and explaining for me your issues and challenges.  You made me aware of the diversity that is local government and just how far away your communities are from Wellington and the bureaucratic BS that too often can consume us.

I had a great weekend with Mayor John Forbes and his council. Walking around with him, I realised that everyone in Opotiki knows John.  But what’s more, John knows everyone in Opotiki.  That’s the local in local government.  We must never lose that.

John’s council built an aquatic centre.  Not bad for Opotiki.  And it didn't cost the council a cent. 

One of John’s councillors has heavy machinery.  He dug a mud slide down a hill and diverted a creek for a great ride at a dollar a pop for local charity.  The kids – and adults – had the best fun – as much as in any $20 million facility I have seen.  There was a great community feel.  And the local charity did well too.

We must never lose sight of the Opotikis, the Kaikouras, and the Buller Districts when thinking about local government.  Too often we do.  They are our heart and soul and local government at its very best.

I did get to fix Auckland. It was a big job. 

I sat down at the start with the Mayors and Chief Executives.  I said we were doing this for Auckland.  I explained I would listen to all complaints and to all suggestions.  But there would be just one criterion of consideration: what’s best for Auckland? 

I wasn’t interested in what was good for the old council structures, interest groups, or particular careers, or the past.  I wanted what was best for Auckland’s future.

I also issued a challenge: let’s show the rest of New Zealand Auckland at its best.

And we did.

Everyone got on board.  We completed the largest restructuring public or private ever attempted in Australasia.  We did so at speed, on time under budget with a minimum of fuss.  Council officers worked hard for long hours for Auckland’s future even though for many of them there was no job at the end.  They worked themselves out of a job.  They did it for Auckland.  The professionalism shown was outstanding and local government should be very proud of their work. I know I am.

Looking ahead, I do not see great mileage in further amalgamation.  For me Auckland was unique.

We needed a Mayor and a council with the mandate and the power to provide the political leadership and vision that Auckland lacked.  That was never possible under the old fragmented structure.  We now have it.

The reform was never about savings.  It was about good governance for Auckland.  We achieved significant savings but they were hard work and I don’t believe amalgamation guarantees lower costs.  We were lucky with Mark Ford and his team at the Auckland Transition Authority who kept a very clear vision and a determined focus.

Amalgamation is risky.  It’s too easy to end up with councils even more remote and more bureaucratic – losing the local in local decision making.

So looking ahead I see benefits in shared services and councils working together on both projects and plans for the wider regions of which their communities are a part.  I believe in that way we can enjoy the benefits of amalgamation while keeping the local in local government and avoiding the risks of amalgamation.

It may well be that other cities will copy Auckland in becoming a unitary authority.  There is logic to that.  For example, Christchurch may be best served with a unitary authority with the Regional Council ECan concentrating on the rest of the region.  I believe we might improve both the governance of our cities and our natural resources with such a structure.

But let’s see how Auckland goes.  We have an opportunity now to learn something about what governance structures may or may not best serve our own communities.

Looking forward we must in the future align better local and central government decision making.  That’s the key to unlocking our true potential.  It seems wrong to me that central government requires local government to make 10 and 30 year plans but then itself does not come to the party.  Yet the dominant player in those plans is central government itself.

We have a unique process now for Auckland as it prepares the first spatial plan in New Zealand.  The Government has provided the new Council with background papers on its views on Auckland’s development, officials have been authorised to work closely with council officers on the plan, and we have a dedicated Cabinet Committee to ensure close collaboration between Ministers, central government agencies and the Auckland Council.

The project is proceeding better than I could ever have hoped thanks to the Mayor, his council and council officers.  Central government agencies are taking full advantage of the opportunity of at long last being able to work closely with the political leadership of Auckland in their own areas of responsibility.

We now have a unified Auckland leadership but also we have an Auckland working closely with officials and Ministers on its future development.  That’s a huge improvement over where we were.

I believe the process may offer benefits for other regions in New Zealand.  I can foresee councils of a region working together in developing their own joint plans. And likewise having the opportunity to align central and local government decision making for their region.  I believe such alignment is critical if we are to unlock our full potential.

As Minister, I have always been keen to get costs down for ratepayers and to provide democratically elected councils greater autonomy from Wellington.  We are not rich enough to be able to waste precious resources on unnecessary process and needless bureaucracy.  The result was the changes to the Local Government Act.  These were positive.  But to me they still don’t go far enough.

I still consider the Act too prescriptive.  Mayors and councillors are elected by their communities to make decisions for their community.  The Local Government Act needs to enable them to do that.  Its purpose should be to ensure that decision making is transparent for communities to hold Mayors and councillors to account.  But it shouldn’t disempower them by setting them on railway tracks of process where it’s the process that rules, not the people themselves.  That’s wrong.  We don’t do that for central government.  We shouldn’t do that for local government.

But the challenge of the Local Government Act being too prescriptive pales in comparison to the tidal wave of legislation passed by government and the multitude of policies pursued which further burdens local government operations.  Time and time again principles of good governance are sacrificed for the particular policy objectives being pursued by Ministers and central government agencies

Let me give you a controversial example.

The Government naturally and rightly wants to settle historical Treaty grievances.  In these cash-strapped times it’s getting harder. And the claims are getting tougher.

So now local governance is up for grabs as part of the settlement process.  Treaty negotiators have been discussing co-governance and seats at the council table in lieu of cash and property. Their purpose is not good local government but treaty settlements.

Of course, if the objective is a Treaty Settlement, then it’s unlikely good local governance will be the result.  These are two different objectives.  The drive for a Treaty settlement is quite different to a drive for sound local governance.

The same mixing of objectives occurs in every portfolio and every policy objective of central government.  The same problem arises for Aquaculture, Building Regulation, Transport policy, and so on.

Lawrence, Eugene and I found ourselves always on the wrong side of the Treaty Settlement process, not because we were against the settlements as such but because we were for good local governance.

And, of course, in the past local government and local communities weren’t involved in the process until the deal was done because rightly Treaty Settlements are the responsibility of central government, not local government.

We found it impossible to debate every proposed settlement on the basis of the principles of good governance. So we engaged cabinet in a generic debate about what principles for local government should guide the Treaty Settlement process.  That was a whole lot easier.  Having established the principles at Cabinet, we now have a good basis for a proper discussion of Treaty Settlements as they affect local government.

To me the big challenge for local government now and for the future is establishing its proper place in the constitution of New Zealand.  To me it’s very clear.  Local government is our second tier of government, properly constituted and democratically elected.  But successive central governments have not treated it as such.

It’s now become a mish-mash between central and local government of confused roles, overlapping decision-making, blurred accountability, and too often dual funding.

We need to establish some clear principles to guide local government and central government decision making.

That’s why the ‘Smarter Government, Stronger Communities’ project is so important.  It picks up on the many concerns and issues you have raised with me as I have visited and met with you.  And it provides a mechanism and a process for your issues and challenges to be properly considered, debated, evaluated and acted upon.

It’s a big project for local government and for the country.  I intend getting enough momentum behind it in my remaining months to propel it through the next three years to a conclusion.

I don’t have any preconceptions about what the project will conclude.  But I do have one thought to share.

It’s hard in our parliamentary structure to provide proper constitutional protection for local government.  Parliament is after all sovereign.

But I do believe that the Government should sign up to a statement of principle to govern its relationship with local government after each and every election.  And it should be required to adhere to these principles unless it has good reason not to.  Because otherwise, to be frank, councils will continue getting pushed around every which way.  The sort of principles I would like to see recognised are:

1. That there will be a clear assessment of what level of government is most competent to make a particular decision.

2. When central government makes decisions that constrain local decision-making, it will only do so in the national interest.

3. The cost of any central government intervention in local government should be fully costed.

4. If an intervention is considered in the national interest, it should be recognised when developing funding options.

I believe that central government should keep these principles in mind at all times before it makes any decisions relating to local government.

Once we get the principles established decision making becomes a whole lot easier.  What we have achieved for the Treaty Settlement process by way of good principle we should likewise do for all policy.

Once again thank you for inviting me to speak.

Thank you for your great support and hospitality you have shown me.  It has been a tremendous privilege to be Minister of Local Government in this great country of ours.

And let me assure you I am continuing to make every day count. There's much to be done before November, and I am working to achieve a good momentum to ensure the work we have underway continues and is completed in the years ahead.

Thank you.

 

Speech to Cranes Association 2011 Annual Conference

Speech to Crane Association Annual Conference 2011
Minister of Local Government Hon Rodney Hide

Rydges Lakeland Resort, Queenstown; Thursday, July 7 2011 

Crane Association President Grant Moffat, Chief Executive Ian Grooby, ladies and gentlemen - good morning to you all.

It’s a pleasure to be here with you once again to talk to you as Minister of Local Government.

Let me begin by acknowledging your contribution to our nation’s critical infrastructure.  And in particular, your support of crane operators and your campaign for increased training and safety standards.

As result of your efforts to raise industry safety standards, the New Zealand crane industry is now an international benchmark. 
Good on you for being recognised as a world leader. 

Today I would like to talk to you about the Auckland governance reforms eight months on, what the reforms have delivered and the impact they will have on the future of local government in New Zealand.  I will also touch briefly on some of my other work as Minister for Regulatory Reform.  I will be happy to answer any questions at the end.
Increasingly its cities that compete, not countries. 

We think not about locating to Australia or New Zealand but say Sydney versus Auckland or Queenstown verses Taupo. 

Cities must attract business, investment, and people to prosper.

For 50 years, Auckland’s ability to develop and to prosper has been stymied by competing leadership, complex and fragmented governance, factionalism and weak accountability.  That’s what the Auckland reforms set out to fix.

Eight months on I am very proud of what has been achieved.  We delivered – on time, under budget.

We have created a legislative framework that is already delivering integrated decision-making and greater community involvement.

Previously, eight long-term plans had to be prepared; five water and wastewater companies operated; and seven district plans existed.  Now, under a unified Auckland governance structure, we have just one of each.

In delivering a more efficient organisational structure, Auckland ratepayers have benefited through lowered rates.

As projected by the Auckland Transition Agency, the new Auckland Council recently announced a below-inflation rates increase of 3.9 per cent.

To put that into context, under the old eight council structure rates across Auckland were to rise by an average of 9.3 per cent, with one council projecting a rise of up to 11.9 per cent!  The reduction in rates equates to a saving of $84 million to Auckland ratepayers.  

In addition to the rates savings, on July 1 the price of reticulated drinking water across metropolitan Auckland dropped by an average of 20 per cent.  That's a saving of $30 million.

The reform has more than paid for itself in savings.

But the benefits don’t stop there.  The new council structure has also created other efficiencies.

Under the old councils there were 60 different categories of dog licence.  This has been halved and fees have been standardised at the lowest level.

Auckland’s libraries have been amalgamated creating the largest library group in Australasia and giving Aucklanders access to around 3.5 million items.  Aucklanders can now use their library cards at any of the 55 libraries and four mobile libraries in the region.

The savings are considerable.  And they are good to have.  But they were not the point of the reform.  The purpose of the reform was to substantially improve the governance of our largest city.  That's where the big gains are to be had. 

We now have one Mayor and one council.  That's a big improvement over eight competing, confused and confusing councils. 

The Mayor and the new council now have both the mandate and the legislative ability to deliver their vision for Auckland.

Likewise, the people of Auckland now have one Mayor and one council to hold to democratic account.  The endless buck-passing that bedevilled Auckland for decades has gone. 

There’s one Mayor, one council, Auckland governance is in their hands. 

It means too that central government can now talk to the political leadership of Auckland, make decisions, and critically have them stick.  That has never before been possible in Auckland.  Fragmented and competing leadership simply made that impossible. 

A big challenge for Auckland is transport.  We now have just one entity, the CCO Auckland Transport, instead of the previous nine local transport entities that existed in the region.  We have for the first time a coherent, region-wide approach to solving Auckland’s transport issues.

The rules for operating in the Auckland road corridor are now standardised across the region.

For example, fees for overweight permits across the region have been harmonised, something which I know was a real issue for you.  I also understand that Auckland Transport is looking to soon end the requirement that operators get a separate permit for different regions within Auckland.

The Crane Association now has only one local authority to deal with in Auckland.  And I am sure you are already seeing the benefits.  I was pleased to hear that the Crane Association just recently met with Auckland Transport.  I hope that you continue to collaborate with one another and strengthen your relationship.

These are just some of many examples of how one Auckland has delivered more for you. 

Less bureaucracy will save your businesses time and money which can instead be invested in the development of new business opportunities.

Auckland now has a strengthened and integrated governance structure.  No more endless disagreements about the location and funding of regional amenities, and the provision of necessary infrastructure.  There will be no more costly duplication of functions with eight rating authorities and a multitude of differing bylaws.

With the new governance structure in place, Aucklanders can now look forward to their city becoming a united, prosperous and dynamic region that all New Zealanders can be proud of.

Now that I have covered what the reforms have achieved, let's look forward.

Local Government faces considerable challenges in the years ahead.  We need to identify these challenges and come up with solutions to resolve them. 

That's why I have started the ‘Smarter Government, Stronger Communities’ project to look specifically at councils’ structures, functions, funding, and relationship with central government.  I think we can do better at both central and local government, and this project is designed to identify how we can do better.

As a first step in the review, the Department of Internal Affairs has been facilitating a series of informal roundtable discussions.  These discussions have brought together a range of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, including public commentators, academics and other people with knowledge of the sector.

The Department is focussed on scoping the review this year, and the discussion and debate from these meetings will help the Government identify key issues and further focus the review.  Broader stakeholder engagement will take place later in the process.

The information we receive will help us identify the key issues and challenges for local government and further focus the review.
I have no preconceptions about the outcomes of the project.

And we’re not going to rush it.  Decisions will not be made until well into 2014.

There are big issues.  They need proper consideration. 

The other project critical to New Zealand's future success is the Auckland Spatial Plan. 

It's critical to Auckland and I believe the model that we are following will provide the basis for other regions in New Zealand to engage fully with central Government for the development of their regions and communities.

The spatial plan is a first for New Zealand.  It provides, if you like, a helicopter view of how Auckland will develop over the next 20 years. 

The plan belongs to the Auckland Council but the Government is closely engaged with the council on the plan.

We have been working with the council and have a dedicated Cabinet Committee, so central and local government decisions for Auckland can be closely aligned. 
The process is working very well and the plan will be completed in December.

Those with an interest in Auckland should put in a submission during the public consultation process. 

This Government has also set out its vision for New Zealand’s infrastructure by 2030 in the second version of the National Infrastructure Plan. 

The overall purpose of the National Infrastructure Plan is to improve investment certainty for businesses in relation to current and future infrastructure provision. 
The plan seeks to provide common direction for how we plan, fund, build and use all economic and social infrastructure.  This plan focuses on enabling New Zealand businesses to increase their productivity and grow the economy.

We are developing more integrated decision-making for infrastructure and a longer view in decision making, reflecting better the life of the projects involved.   

Before I finish today, I would like to switch hats and, as Minister of Regulatory Reform, discuss my Regulatory Standards Bill which had its first reading in Parliament this week.  

Every year, Parliament passes hundreds of laws, and the Government introduces hundreds of regulations.  Many of these laws and rules protect our environment, support a competitive and efficient economy, and ensure that we get treated fairly.  But too many of laws unnecessarily limit our freedoms, and restrict our ability to live life as we would like. 

For example, until 2009, Aucklanders had to apply for a resource consent to trim a tree on their own property! 

Ordinarily, we rely on our representatives in Parliament, and on the ability of citizens to make their case before Select Committees, to stop dodgy rules.

But that depends on MPs and citizens being able to keep up with all the proposed laws and rules.  This is increasingly difficult.

Last year, Parliament passed 3,020 pages of laws and the Government introduced 3,953 pages of regulation.  In 2008, the last year of the previous Labour Government, 5,411 pages of regulations were brought in – that’s over 15 regulations a day!

Many of these rules and laws are very technical, and their implications are hard to discern, even for professionals and Members of Parliament whose job it is to scrutinise our laws. 

My Regulatory Standards Bill provides better information to New Zealanders about how new laws and rules will affect them, through three key steps.

First, the Bill sets clear standards that new rules and regulations will be measured against.  These standards spell out what good laws look like and should do. 
For example, laws and regulations should treat everyone equally.  They should be accessible and easy to understand.  They shouldn’t take away your property without good reason or without compensation.  And, they shouldn’t take away your right to appeal to the Courts, when you believe you’ve been wronged.

Second, the Bill would require anyone proposing new laws or regulations to certify that their proposals meet these standards.  If their laws don’t meet the standards, the person proposing the law – for example, a Minister or MP – would need to explain to Parliament and to the New Zealand public why the law doesn’t comply and why this is in the public interest.

Finally, if someone believes that a new law doesn’t meet the standards and it has not been disclosed, they will be able to ask the Courts to decide whether or not the law complies.  

The Courts would not have the power to overturn a law or award any damages or other remedy.  Even if they decided it violated the standards the law would still be binding.  But a negative judgement from the Courts could embarrass politicians, and discourage them from making the same mistake twice.  That’s the whole point.
That, in a nutshell, is what the Regulatory Standards Bill does.  It simply makes our law making more open and transparent. 

To me that openness in respect of clear principles is critical if we are to achieve more accountable law-making and better law.  And better law is crucial to lifting New Zealand’s performance.  

So if you want to better understand how laws and regulations could affect you, and what Parliament is doing on your behalf, have a read of my Regulatory Standards Bill.  Even better, make a submission on the Bill to the Commerce Select Committee.

To sum up today, I am hugely excited for the future of Auckland. 

Auckland ratepayers are already benefiting from the reforms and it is my expectation that Auckland will continue to grow in stature and efficiency to become a truly international city.

I am also hugely excited about the future of local government as a whole. 

The ‘Smarter Government, Stronger Communities’ review is an opportunity for councils and ratepayers around the country to have a say in the future of local government in New Zealand.  When the opportunity arises I encourage the Crane Association to make a submission on the review. 

There are some really exciting opportunities ahead and I look forward to seeing what we make of them.

Thank you. 

Regulatory Standards Bill - First Reading

I move, that the Regulatory Standards Bill be now read a first time.  At the appropriate time I intend to move that the Bill be referred to the Commerce Committee for their consideration.

The Regulatory Standards Bill aims to improve the quality of regulation in New Zealand. 

As a Government, we use our power to regulate to ensure that people live safe lives, get treated fairly, protect the environment, maintain a competitive and efficient economy, and much more. 

But regulation also imposes costs.

Excessive regulation can impose unnecessary compliance costs on businesses and individuals, deter investment, and limit innovation and competition.

Decade by decade, the quantity of regulation made in New Zealand has increased.  Between 2000 and 2009, over 68,000 pages of legislation were passed.  This equates to creating or amending around 105 Acts and 405 regulations, every year. 

Many of the countries we compete with have focused on improving the quality of their regulation, with more success than New Zealand. 

New Zealand’s ranking in the OECD Product Market Regulation Indicator has fallen from 4th in 1998 to 14th in 2008.

As a small, isolated country, we need to do better, if we want to be competitive in the global economy.

Regulatory quality has been a strong focus for this Government, as set out in its Statement on Regulation of August 2009. 

We have introduced a number of administrative measures designed to improve regulation as it is made, and the stock of existing regulation. 

These measures include strengthened regulatory impact analysis requirements, a programme of regulatory reviews, and a government-wide scan of the regulation on our books.

These measures have led to improvements in the quality of regulatory policy advice provided to Ministers. 

The fact is, however, that administrative measures alone will never be enough to deliver the level of improvement that New Zealand needs. 

Only the Regulatory Standards Bill’s more stringent requirements can bring about a change in the way governments think about regulation.

The Regulatory Standards Bill has its origins in the Regulatory Responsibility Bill, which I introduced as a Private Member’s Bill in 2006. 

The Regulatory Responsibility Bill was examined and substantially revised by an expert Regulatory Responsibility Taskforce established by the Government in 2009.

The Regulatory Standards Bill is the result of the work of that Taskforce.

I would like to thank Dr Bryce Wilkinson who first put forward the case for a Regulatory Responsibility Bill in his 2001 publication "Constraining Government Regulation".  I would also like to acknowledge Roger Kerr, Executive Director of the New Zealand Business Roundtable for his tireless work in gaining support for this Bill over the past 10 years.

The Regulatory Standards Bill aims to increase the transparency of lawmaking and the accountability of law-makers.  The Bill has three key components:

  • It provides a benchmark through a set of regulatory principles that all regulation should comply with. 
  • It provides transparency by requiring those proposing and creating regulation to certify whether the regulation is compatible with the principles. 
  • And it provides monitoring of the certification process through a new declaratory role for the courts.

The Bill identifies a set of principles of responsible regulation, which all regulation should be consistent with.

“Regulation” is defined to include Acts of Parliament, statutory regulations, and tertiary legislation, but excludes regulation made by local government.

The principles are distilled from sources such as the Legislative Advisory Committee Guidelines, the common law, and Parliament’s Regulations Review Committee.

The principles cover seven key areas including: the rule of law, protection of individual liberties, protection of property rights, taxes and charges, the role of the courts, review of administrative decisions, and good law making.

These principles are guides, not binding rules.  From time to time, breaches of the principles will be necessary. 

The Bill provides for this, allowing Parliament to pass any legislation regardless of whether it complies with the principles.  All that the Bill requires is that departures from the principles are “reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”.

In order to encourage transparency about whether regulatory practices are consistent with the principles of responsible regulation, the Bill imposes certification requirements on those who make regulation.

Under the Bill, Chief Executives and Ministers responsible for proposed regulation must certify whether that regulation is consistent with the principles. 

Where regulation does not comply with one or more principles, the Minister responsible must explain why that non-compliance is demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

If there is no Minister responsible, as is the case with some tertiary legislation, the responsibility falls to the Chief Executive.

Certification allows others to understand the impacts of proposed regulation and the trade-offs that we have had to make. 

We can, and do, have significant impacts on New Zealand businesses and individuals when we use our regulatory powers.  It is only right that we should be open about the impacts that our proposed regulation will have.

The Regulatory Standards Bill provides monitoring of the certification process by allowing the courts to provide declarations of incompatibility where they believe that the principles have been breached.  This power is declaratory only.  The courts will not have the power to strike down legislation, to issue injunctions against Parliament or the Crown, or to award damages to those adversely affected by regulation that is incompatible with the principles. 

The purpose of the declaratory function is to provide an independent, informed opinion on whether regulation complies with the principles.  This function encourages Ministers and Chief Executives to certify diligently and in good faith, as their certifications are liable to be tested in court.

Initially, the courts would only be able to make declarations in relation to regulation made after the commencement of the Bill.  After 10 years, the declaratory power would be extended to all regulation.

In addition to its three key components of principles, certification, and monitoring by the courts, the Regulatory Standards Bill requires the courts to prefer legislative interpretations that are consistent with the Bill’s principles. 

This provision initially applies only to new regulation, but after 10 years applies to the existing stock of regulation.

The Bill also requires every public entity to use its best endeavours to regularly review all regulation that it administers for compatibility with the principles.  The steps entities have undertaken to review their regulation, and the outcomes from this process, must be included in the entities’ annual reports.

This Bill provides us with better disciplines for creating and managing our regulation. 

It provides transparency in a similar way to the Public Finance Act.  That Act imposes certain responsibilities on government spenders.  It says, if you are spending public money, justify it, and be accountable for it.

The Act has created a cultural shift in the way that money is spent in New Zealand and the whole mindset around public expenditure.

The Regulatory Standards Bill places similar responsibilities on government regulators.  It says, if you are using the Government’s regulatory powers, justify it and be accountable for it. 

This transparency will result in higher quality regulation that has fewer unintended consequences, reduced compliance costs and that better achieves policy objectives.

I commend the Regulatory Standards Bill to the House.

Farming: Vital in Our Past, Our Present, and Our Future

Speech by ACT Leader Don Brash to the Federated Farmers Annual Conference
30 June, 2011 

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

This afternoon you're enduring a procession of politicians.

I'm sure we'll all be telling you what a great contribution farming makes to the New Zealand economy.

We'll probably all make the point that exports from the land generated some $23 billion in exports last year, nearly 60% of all exports of goods from New Zealand.

Some of us will acknowledge that, in the decade after agriculture was so abruptly stripped of all subsidies by the Labour Government of the eighties, farming achieved the highest rate of productivity growth of any major New Zealand industry, while over the whole 30 year period to 2008 labour productivity in agriculture has been right up there with the very best in the economy.

And achieved that without subsidies, and with the lowest rate of taxpayer support of any farming industry anywhere in the world.

I was reminded of just how extraordinary that productivity growth in agriculture has been when I visited the Wairarapa last week. I was told by one farmer that in 1946, shortly after the Second World War, it took seven men to produce 300 bales of hay in a day. In other words, one man could produce about 43 bales of hay in a day. Now, one man can produce 2000 bales in a single day - a near 50-fold increase in labour productivity!

If the whole economy had performed as well as farming has over the last 25 years, New Zealand would have living standards on a par with Australia, not well below Australia.

Despite this extraordinary achievement, of which all farmers should feel immensely proud, successive governments have tended to see farming as a sunset industry, important in our past but increasingly irrelevant to our future.

Politicians have talked about riding a Knowledge Wave, about the importance of the creative industries, of movies, and of fashion. They've talked about high tech start-ups, and the opportunity to build a back office for the world's financial industry.

And yep, all of those things are good and to be welcomed. Some New Zealand high tech companies are doing some extraordinarily innovative things.

But the foreign exchange earned from exporting movies and fashion garments is tiny compared with the exports from the farming industry.

And yet farming is pilloried by people who should know better.

All farmers get blamed for the environmental sins of the minority.

All farmers are assumed to be incredibly rich and to pay no tax.

All farmers are assumed to treat their animals with total indifference to their well-being.

After the next election, ACT will not be using its influence to re-introduce subsidies for the farming sector. I know you wouldn't believe me even if I said that we would be doing that!

But to the extent we can influence the policy of the next government - and that depends entirely on how many party votes we get in the election - we will be aiming to achieve three objectives of direct relevance to the farming sector.

First, we will be pushing to get government spending under control.

In the first four or five years of the Labour Government's nine years in office, you'd have to say that they were reasonably responsible, as left-of-centre governments go. Government spending grew slightly more slowly than the economy as a whole.

But in their last three or four years, they started throwing money around in all directions. In the four years to June 2009, national income grew by 20% but government spending grew by an astonishing 43%, and largely as a consequence the government's budget moved from surplus to deficit.

Much of this increase in spending was of very poor quality. Earlier this month, the Minister of Education mentioned that government spending on early childhood education had roughly trebled over the past five years, from about $500 million a year to about $1.4 billion a year - and yet all that extra money has increased the level of participation at preschool centres by just 1%.

The National Government didn't create this mess. Labour did. But tragically National has failed to fix the mess.

Why does it matter? Well, most obviously the huge increase in government spending, coming on top of the slow growth in revenue as a consequence of the recession and, now, the cost of the Christchurch earthquakes, is pushing up government debt at the rate of knots.

The Government has been borrowing over $300 million a week, week after week. At that rate, before long you're talking serious money! That's equivalent to $300 for every household in the country, every week.

But from the point of view of you in the export sector the most serious consequence of all this borrowing is its effect on the exchange rate. When the Treasury sells $300 million of bonds every week, most of those bonds are not sold to Mum and Dad investors in New Zealand, or even to New Zealand-based institutions. They're sold to foreign investors, and of course those foreign investors have to buy New Zealand dollars to buy New Zealand dollar bonds.

And that adds to the upward pressure on the exchange rate.

Yes, export prices in foreign currency have been pretty good lately, and this has shielded the farming sector from the worst effects of the very high New Zealand dollar.

But New Zealand needs the export sector to be doing not just well but extremely well at present! Over decades, New Zealand has accumulated massive amounts of overseas debt - indeed, our net indebtedness as a country puts us in the same league as Greece and Portugal. Why? Because year after year (indeed, every year since 1973!) we've run balance of payments deficits, and last month's Budget predicts that we'll be running deficits for as far ahead as the eye can see.

So we need you in the export sector to be doing extremely well, strongly motivated to produce more milk, produce more meat, and produce more wool.

And the high level of government spending, and the resultant high level of government borrowing, is blunting those incentives by putting upward pressure on the exchange rate.

Actually, the high level of government spending - and government spending today is higher, relative to the size of the economy, than in any year under Labour - has another damaging effect on the exchange rate.

The Reserve Bank is charged with keeping inflation low and stable. But when the government is spending a lot more than it's taking in in revenue, the Reserve Bank has to keep interest rates at a higher level than would otherwise be necessary. Today, the Reserve Bank's OCR is lower than at any other time in our history, but it's still relatively high compared with other countries (with the single exception of Australia). That makes New Zealand an attractive place for foreign savers to invest their money, with resultant upward pressure on the exchange rate.

So that is the first thing ACT would try to achieve of direct relevance to you in the farming industry, getting government spending under control to help ease the upward pressure on the exchange rate.

Secondly, we would seek a root and branch reform of the Resource Management Act and all the bits and pieces that hang off it - like the proposed National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity.

As some of you know, I've been the chairman of the 2025 Taskforce for the last couple of years, charged with providing advice to the Government about how to lift New Zealand living standards to the Australian level by 2025.

I'm sometimes asked: what's the single most important thing to be done if we're to achieve that goal? I reply that there's no single thing which will get us all the way there, but the most important single thing to be done in my opinion is to remove the extraordinary obstacles to progress created by the RMA.

I'm constantly regaled with horror stories of the little Hitlers who far too often seem to populate the lower levels of local and regional government, charging for this, complaining about that, throwing their weight around (sometimes in flagrant breach of the law), refusing to grant consents on the most flimsy excuse.

And I've already had anguished letters from farmers distressed about the implications of the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity if adopted in its present form.

As I probably don't need to tell you, that directs that local governments ensure that there's "no net loss of biodiversity of areas of significant indigenous vegetation" (Policy 5); and requires that tangata whenua be fully involved in developing and implementing regional and district plans to protect indigenous biodiversity (Policy 7).

No mention at all of compensation for trespassing on the property rights of farmers. No suggestion that tangata whenua should have no more rights to be consulted than any other member of the community.

ACT believes that if a council wants to restrict your ability to manage your property as you see fit, then, provided that what you are doing on your own property is not directly and adversely affecting others, the council must demonstrate one hell of a good reason for doing so. And if the council does restrict you in a way that disadvantages you financially, it should compensate you.

ACT also believes that local and regional government should have an obligation to consult with all members of the community equally, and not give any kind of preference to one racial group over another.

So that's the second thing of direct relevance to the farming sector we want to do.

And thirdly, and finally, ACT will press for the abandonment of the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Why do we have an ETS? I have to admit I know of no good reason at all.

To be sure, it seems pretty clear that on average temperatures around the world have been increasing. But they've been increasing for at least the last 200 years, since the days when the Thames regularly froze over, and that warming began long before greenhouse gases caused by human activity could've had a significant influence on the climate.

And we know temperatures were very warm in the medieval period, and in Roman times, when grapes were routinely grown in what is now the United Kingdom. And greenhouse gases could hardly explain that, or the cooling which took place between those warm periods.

Even if a case can be made that human activity is behind the gradual increase in global temperature, it isn't obvious that an increased temperature is necessarily a bad thing for life on the planet. We know that plant life thrives on an atmosphere high in carbon dioxide - which is why many market gardeners deliberately pump carbon dioxide into their glass houses.

And we know that human societies thrive both in Singapore and in Finland, though average temperatures in the two places could hardly be more different.

Incurring the many trillions of dollars in cost which would be involved in any serious global attempt to slow the increase in average temperature would place an enormous burden on all societies, especially those already living on the margins of existence.

And even if it were accepted that human activity is causing the planet to warm, and that the enormous cost of trying to slow that warming is justified, it's entirely unclear why New Zealand should be at the forefront of that effort, at considerable cost to all New Zealanders, including New Zealand farmers.

It's estimated that the average dairy farmer is already incurring increased costs of nearly $4,000 annually (including both on-farm costs from the increased cost of diesel and electricity and the increased costs incurred by Fonterra), and that that will rise to over $10,000 annually by 2015.

So ACT favours the abolition of the ETS system, or at very least its suspension until comparable schemes are in place in all our major trading partners.

But Mr President, ACT's ability to achieve those goals - bringing government spending under control in order to take the pressure off the exchange rate, a fundamental reform of the RMA and all its off-shoots, and the abandonment of the ETS - depends entirely on one thing and one thing only: how many party votes we get in the election.

By all means vote for Bill English in Clutha-Southland, or Shane Ardern in Taranaki-King Country - but please give your party vote to ACT!

Speech to the Association of Integrated Schools Conference - Hon Rodney Hide

Speech to the Association of Integrated Schools Conference
Associate Minister of Education Hon Rodney Hide
Wednesday, June 22 2011

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to speak at your conference today - it’s great to be here. 

I believe the best education systems are those where parents have a genuine choice of schools.  And a diverse range to choose from.  

High quality integrated schools make an important contribution to this diversity.

Parents value the range of educational programmes on offer at your schools – particularly the religious or philosophical values and aspirations that underpin them.

Your schools’ special character allows students to have their needs met.  And to be taught in an environment that suits them best.

Today, I would like to talk to you about a subject that I’m very passionate about - public private partnerships - or PPPs.

Since becoming Associate Minister of Education, I have had the chance to visit many schools around the country.  And on these visits nearly every school has the same complaint.  Property - and the amount of time principals and boards are forced to spend sorting out property issues.   

This problem is largely because there are few incentives under our current property procurement processes to think about how a building’s design and construction will impact on its ongoing maintenance and running costs.

This Government has made it clear we are open to greater use of private sector expertise where it makes sense.

Currently underway is a project to commission two new schools at Hobsonville Point in Auckland.  These schools will be financed, designed, built and maintained under a public private partnership.

A single establishment board of trustees is overseeing and assisting in setting up the new schools.

The benefits of a PPP is that it ties a school’s design and construction together with its maintenance for 25 years, forcing people to think about what makes sense in the long run.

The land and school will still be owned by the Government, while the board of trustees will remain wholly in charge of the governance and day to day running of the school.

The private partner provides services such as building and grounds maintenance, cleaning, waste management, security, and furniture and equipment.

Penalties will be charged if these services aren’t carried out to an agreed standard or within a specified timeframe.

In addition, the private partner will carry the risk around time-consuming and expensive problems like leaky buildings, and will be required to sort them out quickly or face financial penalties. 

So it’s like having a 25 year guarantee on the building.

The private partner will have greater flexibility as to how to deliver a solution.  For instance the PPP contract might specify that the buildings don’t leak, but the choice of roofing material is up to the private partner.

All of this means the board of trustees and school leadership can get on with student learning and achievement – and not have to worry about property.

Principals of PPP schools in Australia report having up to fifty per cent more time to devote to improving teaching and learning. 

Other benefits of a PPP include:

• more accurate and transparent assessment of whole-of-life costs.

• more motivation for private partners to find the most efficient ways to deliver the facilities we are after.

• potential for better value for money. 

So as you can see, a PPP is about a three-way partnership between the Government, a private partner and a board of trustees when it comes to property.

A contract sets out the relationship between the Government and private partner, with sub-agreements and property occupancy documents setting out the school’s relationship with the other parties.

A private provider can only make money through a charge specified at the start of the contract.

Your schools, on the other hand, have entered into an educational partnership with the Crown.

You receive the same government funding for each student as other state schools.  But your proprietors retain ownership of land and buildings – and have more say over the school’s operations.  Charging attendance dues is one example of this.

This strong relationship achieves our Government’s aims and preserves your schools’ special character.

Looking to the future, PPPs will only be used again when they stack up against traditional procurement methods.

The Ministry of Education’s investigations revealed that PPPs would not be suitable for all new school projects due to the higher procurement costs. 

Future PPPs will most likely continue to be for small groups of new schools like Hobsonville Point rather than individual schools.

Lessons learnt from Hobsonville Point will be applied to the future use of PPPs.

Before I finish I want to touch briefly on the changes the Government is making to special education, so every single child gets a fair go.

As you know, last year I launched ‘Success for All – Every School, Every Child’ – an action plan for the next three years that will lead to greater emphasis on mainstream schools doing more for special education students.

An Education Review Office report last year found that only half of all schools in New Zealand do a good job of including students with special education needs.

This is unacceptable, so I set a target for schools to improve their performance.

By the end of 2014 I expect 80 percent of schools to be doing a good job of welcoming and including students with special education needs – with the rest well on their way.

I take this target very seriously as I want every child to learn and succeed in every school.
ERO will be measuring the progress schools are making to meet it – with the first results available later this year.

I want it be quicker and easier for young people with the highest special education needs and their families to get extra help.

Children with high and obvious needs can now enter the Ongoing Resourcing Schemes (ORS) with less assessment and no unnecessary reassessment.

Eleven hundred more young people will get ORS support by 2014, and a further thousand will be able to get specialist support in their first three years at school.

I want to make better use of the special school teaching expertise.  Special schools are being encouraged to provide outreach specialist teaching – making their skills and support available to more students in mainstream classes.

In four years time I expect to see:

• Schools welcoming and including every student
• All young people learning and succeeding, and getting extra help when they need it
• Parents who can see that their child belongs, has friends and is learning and succeeding
• Parents receiving good information – without being knocked back.

In conclusion, I believe that innovation is the key to transforming our education system, so it delivers for every single young New Zealander.

We need to look at new ways of doing things, and we need new attitudes and new expectations.

That’s why I’m excited about the potential of PPPs to introduce innovation that will be beneficial across the wider schooling network.

Thank you – and I wish you all the best for the remainder of your conference.

Speech to ACT Scenic South Regional Conference

Speech by Hilary Calvert MP to the ACT Scenic South 2011 Conference
Mercure Leisure Lodge Hotel
Sunday, 19 June 2011


The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law. - Aristotle

Today I want to talk to you about some of the principles the Act Party holds dear by highlighting two major issues that are important to all New Zealanders.

First I want to talk about our policy of one law for all, a principle that has been alive and well at least since Aristotle’s days.

The second issue I want to canvass is how we improve our standard of living generally, but with particular reference to employment at the beginning and end of our working lives.

An underlying theme is that sometimes the best-intentioned measures end up harming the very people they were meant to help – the law of unintended consequences.

ONE LAW FOR ALL

ACT’s bottom-line support for One Law For All has been criticised by some as Maori-bashing racism.

This is to completely misconstrue Act’s position.

In 1840 the British Crown signed a Treaty with Maori. Under Article III the Crown granted Maori “the rights and privileges of British subjects”. By implication this includes the right to be treated equally under the law, a right which is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights 1689.

Over the years the Government on behalf of the people did not give Maori equal rights – courts ruled against them on dubious grounds and settler governments confiscated land illegally (eg in the Waikato 1860, Raglan golf course in 1940s).

Many New Zealanders became concerned about the way the government was behaving.

We tried to redress earlier wrongdoings and to show Maori the respect they should always have been able to take for granted.

But we made serious mistakes while trying to correct the wrongs. The law of unintended consequences struck.

If we want to honour the treaty, correct the historical property issues and pay proper respect to Maori we should:

  1. Repeal special laws – all issues should be resolved by general agencies under universal principles (eg breaches of Treaty should be resolvable at law under Article 3 – if Labour had let this happen in 2004 with Ngāti Apathere would now be no Marine & Coastal Area Act.
  2. Review how agencies deliver on general principles – everyone has a taniwha at the bottom of the garden and legislation/courts/agencies should be able to deal with them sensitively and in the right context. We do know how to deal with spiritual issues – we deal with them all the time when we sort out what to with consecrated ground for example the cemetery that is in the way of the proposed dam at Beaumont.
  3. Allow for majority to prevail while having regard to the rights of the minority. The disaffected can bring issues to the attention of the majority and demand a fair hearing.
  4. Remember that Parliament as the House of Representatives is supreme, and has full power to make *and unmake* laws (Constitution Act 1986 s 15)

We did a reasonable job trying to sort out treaty settlement claims.

But then we went completely down the wrong track.

We created a separate class of New Zealanders with special rights that applied only to them.

Sometimes we kept the rights in place long after they had fulfilled their purpose.

In 1867 the government created four seats reserved for Maori to bridge the gap until enough Maori met the property qualification then in place. Although only intended to last five years, this ‘temporary’ measure is still in place, but expanded, despite more people of Maori descent standing for general seats than for reserved seats.

It is interesting to compare our history concerning Maori treatment with our history concerning another section of society who were not always treated equally - women.

We have also reached the conclusion that we should have women treated as equal citizens – we legislated for women’s suffrage in 1893; Otago was the first University in the British Empire to admit women students by right; we brought in widows’ pensions, the Married Women’s Property Act, the Domestic Purposes benefit.

But we did not try to give women special seats in parliament, or give them special quotas at university or special laws that allowed them to occupy public land and charge their neighbours for walking on it.

What held women back was a lack of equal opportunity – nothing else.

We dismantled the unfair barriers and women are doing the rest. When I entered law school, women made up 10% of the roll. Now the majority of law graduates are women and women are taking their places as judges and senior counsel and partners – without having to rely on positive discrimination which, positive or not, is still discriminatory.
 

MARINE AND COASTAL AREA (TAKUTAI MOANA) ACT

This is example of what can happen when the process goes wrong and also a time when the government went against the overwhelming will of the people as expressed to a government review and a select committee.

If the issue of customary title had been left to the courts in 2004, there would be no fear and loathing on the high-tide line.

The new law gives Maori the right to go to the High Court to ascertain the extent of their property rights in the foreshore and seabed.

This was the right thing to do. It is also where the new law should have stopped.

Instead, the Government gave some Maori special rights that are denied to all other New Zealanders.

  • Iwi can avoid the court process by negotiating privately with the Crown. Political negotiations almost always lead to political outcomes. Justice will take a back seat as deals are struck that would never have made it through the transparent court system.
  • The new law gives customary titleholders the right to override resource management laws that apply to everyone else. It creates a special ability to fine people and to charge any amounts for use of some resources.
  • Iwi can unilaterally declare that a part of the foreshore is a sacred site, a wahi tapu area and then stop others from going on it, rather than using current law to protect special and historical sites.

The National Party knew this separatist law went against all they stood for.

National’s concessions were made for political reasons, and now we all need to know:

How much more are the two major parties willing to concede in exchange for the Maori Party’s support?

I spent some time in the impoverished and strongly Maori Far North talking to Northlanders about what is holding many Maori back.

Up there many pakeha feel that Maori have not had a fair go.

They are concerned that Maori are still not getting the same chances as other New Zealanders. Too many Maori are forced to attend inferior schools, receive sub-standard medical treatment, and end up entangled in the welfare net with little hope of escape.

One hundred and sixty-one years after the Treaty was signed there are still proportionately more Maori in prison, unemployed, in ill-health or earning less income than the rest of us.

But instead of focusing on these issues, Parliament has been tied up with legislation giving special rights to Iwi over the foreshore and seabed. The Marine and Coastal Area Act will do nothing to address the issues that really matter. It will divide us even further and advance the separatist agenda.

Separatism will not keep Maori out of prison or in the workforce.

So what’s the alternative?

We can implement policies that bring New Zealanders together. That’s one law for all again.

A Government that borrows over $300 million a week and refuses to cut spending hurts everyone – Maori and non-Maori.

New Zealand will prosper again only if we get government spending under control, and let our entrepreneurs and industries create high-paying jobs.

In short, we must take New Zealand off the separatist path and focus our energy instead on creating a successful and prosperous nation.
 

IMPROVING LIVING STANDARDS THROUGH EMPLOYMENT

It used to be said in farming circles that if dairy, sheep meat and wool prices ever peaked at the same time New Zealand would be the richest country on earth.

Well, they have. We’re not. But we should be, if not the richest, at least well up in the top quartile of the OECD.

This week our neighbours in Canterbury have had to contend with yet more rumblings under their feet. It must be terrible to live with the constant fear that any shake might be another disaster on the scale of the two big quakes, and we can only admire the courage of those who stay to keep the city running.

In addition to the human cost there is also a financial cost to us all. The effect on the national economy of the big shakes so far has been in excess of $20 billion. If we are to do justice to the people of Christchurch by reinstating our second largest city we must take a firm line with some of our sacred cows.
 

THE PENSION

John Key has said that the pension age will not go up while he is Prime Minister. But we should all admit that the age at which people become eligible for New Zealand Superannuation will need to gradually increase to ensure that the cost of the scheme remains fair to younger New Zealanders.

This affects Dunedin people more than most, given the high ratio of seniors in the city. It’s time that we stopped dumping people into retirement when they can work and want to work. Someone who was 60 in 1960 was old, but today’s 60 year-olds have had a dream run compared their parents: no war, no depression, no hunger –and they can expect to live another 20 or more years in comparatively good health and mobility.

We need to stop treating seniors as if they were past their use-by date. There’s many a good meal to be had from mature beef.

Some countries allow people to defer their pensions until a later age in return for which they receive a larger annuity. We should look at new paradigms rather than relying on policies designed by the first Labour government for our grandparents.
 

EMPLOYMENT

At the other end of our lives we have an issue of youth unemployment.

In this regard I would like to mention the role of youth rates in keeping young people out of work.

It’s vital that this issue doesn’t disappear from the radar screen because it would be so easy to deal with it without Bill English having to lose a night’s sleep.

The tragedy is that 44% of New Zealand’s unemployed are under the age of 24. Nearly 28% are in the 15-19 age group where unemployment has more than doubled since Labour abolished youth rates in 2005.

Forcing employers to pay school leavers the same rate as more mature workers is a substantial barrier to getting many of these young people on to the first rung of the career ladder.

ACT wants the Government to allow employers to pay youth rates. This is apparently an “extreme” policy.

In 2007 John Key said in the House that he thought that a Youth Minimum wage is good for young people.

On May 11 2011 I asked him in the House whether he supported Paula Bennett in her opposition to youth rates when Labour’s abolition of youth rates increased youth unemployment by 12,000,

He replied: “I think that we all admit that and accept that one of the factors for youth is the rate they are paid.

“Yesterday in the ODT we saw an article entitled “Indications youth minimum wage not ruled out as policy option”. This article explained that in March the Government ruled out supporting Sir Roger Douglas’ bill to allow the reintroduction of a youth minimum wage. Now the Government has said they will not rule this out as a policy option.

Maybe this is because as The Honourable Kate Wilkinson said “National is always willing to listen to good ideas”. We the Act Party remains ready willing and able to provide good ideas for the government.
 

CONCLUSION

Ours is a potentially prosperous and socially homogenous country which could be the envy of the world if we would just stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

We are subject to the vagaries of world markets and we have inherited a legacy of racial injustice that has generated resentment in some sectors of our community.

We face some challenges in social policy and we have to solve those by managing our costs and increasing our revenue, just as households have to – in fact, the research suggests that New Zealanders have heard the message about borrowing and spending less much more clearly than the Government has!

Despite all this, ACT is positive about the future. We must give centre-right New Zealanders the message that a party vote for ACT will return a National-led government with a steel spine comprised of a team of ACT MPs who will give John Key and his colleagues the support they need to deliver a stable platform of equality before the law and economic sanity.

Thanks to ACT, the future has never looked brighter.

Pages