29 April 2012
Speech to National Party Mainland Regional Conference
Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow National Party members, welcome to the Mainland Region conference for 2012.
It’s a pleasure to be here in Dunedin at this great new stadium. What an asset it was during the Rugby World Cup, and continues to be.
I’m proud to be here as leader of this great Party – the National Party.
And I’m proud to be here as your Prime Minister.
I’d like to thank you all for being here today.
You are loyal National Party members and you make this Party strong.
It is because of you that National is in government today.
It’s now five months since we won the support of New Zealanders to lead this country for a second term.
On election day last year over a million New Zealanders voted for our clear plan to build a brighter future.
Kiwis said yes to more jobs and less debt.
They said yes to reforming welfare and raising achievement in schools.
They said yes to our tough stance on crime.
And they said yes to our comprehensive plan to build a more competitive economy.
Last election we achieved the highest party vote share ever seen under MMP – 47.3 per cent.
And we lifted that vote from a position of being in government – that’s a great achievement.
Fellow National Party members, we couldn’t have done it without you.
From the volunteers right through to our candidates, we ran a well-funded, well-directed campaign that won the support of New Zealanders.
I’d like to acknowledge and give my special thanks to our Party President, Peter Goodfellow.
Let me also thank your Regional Chairs, Roger Bridge and Ele Ludemann. What a huge effort you put in across the South Island.
Only a handful of electorate seats in the South Island are not blue – and even in those seats, our all-important Party Vote was very strong at the election.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on that.
Last election National reached 49.4 per cent of the Party Vote in Christchurch – that’s higher than Auckland and Wellington.
That’s a great endorsement of what we’re doing, following the earthquakes in Canterbury.
And here in Dunedin, we increased the Party Vote by six per cent in Dunedin South and three per cent in Dunedin North.
Thank you for making that happen.
I’m sure you’ll join me in also thanking the great team of Ministers and Members of Parliament representing this region.
My friend and deputy Bill English.
Bill is about to deliver his fourth Budget and he’s doing a great job to get the best results for every taxpayer dollar.
Gerry Brownlee, the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery.
Gerry can’t be here today because he’s travelling overseas, but I’d like to thank him for his leadership as Canterbury recovers and rebuilds.
David Carter, our very able Minister for Primary Industries, who has also taken up the challenge of Local Government reform. David can’t be here today, but thank you David.
Kate Wilkinson, our Minister of Labour and Conservation. Kate’s making sure we have the flexible and fair labour markets we need to grow our economy and create jobs – thanks, Kate.
Amy Adams – an excellent addition to our Cabinet. Amy is looking after the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband and she’s also helping Gerry with the earthquake recovery. Thank you, Amy.
Finally, Jo Goodhew, our Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector and Senior Citizens, among other things. Jo is a welcome new addition to our line-up.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I think you’ll agree we have a great team of Ministers from this Mainland region.
And right alongside them are our committed MPs working hard for the people of the South Island.
Michael Woodhouse, our senior whip.
Nick Smith – a significant contributor to the National Party over many years, who continues to make a real contribution in caucus.
Eric Roy, Deputy Speaker and MP for Invercargill.
Jacqui Dean, our hard-working MP for Waitaki.
Colin King, looking after Kaikōura.
Chris Auchinvole, continuing to work hard for the people of the West Coast and Tasman.
And last but not least, Nicky Wagner – what a great result, turning Christchurch Central blue on election night. Well done, Nicky.
Fellow National Party members, I am proud to lead a very talented Cabinet and caucus.
It is a tremendous privilege for us to have won the trust and goodwill of New Zealanders for a second term in government.
I don’t take that for granted and I never will.
I believe that a government has to earn the trust and goodwill of voters again and again, every day – and that’s what we’ll be doing.
We have a solid foundation to build on from our first term in government.
We’ve worked constructively with a number of parties in Parliament to get things done for New Zealanders. And we’re going to keep doing that.
I’d like to pay special acknowledgement today to our confidence and supply partners – the Act, United Future and Māori Parties.
As with all partnerships, from time to time we disagree.
That’s healthy and normal – after all, we’re not the same party.
But our relationships work because they are based on trust, respect and a willingness to find solutions together.
We have proven that we can deliver strong and stable government in difficult times.
And despite challenges like the global financial crisis and the destructive Canterbury earthquakes, we’re making good progress towards that brighter future we promised New Zealanders.
Let me take a moment to remind you of the progress we are making.
Under Bill English’s stewardship our economy has grown for 10 of the past 11 quarters.
And Budget 2012 will show we are on track to return to surplus – as we promised – in 2014/15.
So we’re in much better shape than many other countries. But we are not resting on that.
We’re in better shape than other countries because of careful, responsible economic and fiscal management.
Getting back to surplus is a challenge but we are making the decisions required to get there, so that we can pay down debt and have more choices about what we want to do.
It would be so different if our free-spending political opponents had their way.
Unfortunately they don’t seem to have learned anything from the turbulence of the past three years - they’re still out there promoting expensive policies with money that hasn’t been earned yet.
New Zealanders expect better than that. They deserve better than that.
One of the lessons from last year’s election was that New Zealanders expect their government to do what they’ve been doing – tightening its belt, paying down debt and spending carefully.
My fellow Kiwis, the National-led Government is doing just that.
Through our careful management of the books we’ve been able to make economic progress and we’re doing a number of things to benefit the country – let me give you some evidence of this.
In education, National Standards are in place and we’re firmly focused on raising achievement so kids have the skills they need to succeed in the modern world.
We’re lifting participation in early childhood education to the highest it’s ever been.
We’ve opened 16 Trades Academies across the country to give young people the opportunity to gain skills in an environment that suits them.
In health, we’re delivering on average an extra 27,000 elective operations a year, and we’ve lifted child immunisation rates from 67 per cent in 2007 to 92 per cent.
In law and order, we’ve strengthened bail laws and brought in tougher penalties for the worst offenders.
I’m proud to say we’ve also made it an offence to stay silent when it is known that a child is at risk of death, grievous bodily harm or sexual assault.
The crime rate has fallen to a 30-year low, and fewer people are entering the criminal justice system. The number of people in our prisons has dropped and we’re forecasting the first sustained decline in the prison population since the Great Depression.
We’ve also made it easier for businesses to get on with doing business by reforming the Resource Management Act, changing industrial relations law, and lowering the costs they face.
Our multi-billion dollar infrastructure programme is investing in rail, roads, electricity transmission and ultra-fast broadband.
We’ve embarked on significant welfare reform driven by the principle that people who can work, should work. And the Government is investing up front to help them into work.
We’re taking the pressure off interest rates for businesses and everyday homeowners with our careful fiscal management.
And last but not least, we have protected the most vulnerable by retaining entitlements through difficult times.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a record to be proud of.
But we still have a lot to do.
I’ve said before that the next three years are about rebuilding and strengthening our country. We need an economy where businesses have the confidence to invest, grow and create new jobs.
Our four key priorities for this term all aim to achieve that.
Our first priority is to responsibly manage the Government’s finances.
In a world as it is today, the state of the country’s finances is all-important.
You’ve all seen the volatility of world markets and the uncertainty that still pervades through Europe.
The lesson from what is happening in those countries is that we have to live within our means and we have to earn our way in the world.
That means prioritising what little money we do have to get the best results for every dollar. You’ll see us do that in Budget 2012 just three weeks from now.
As we’ve indicated, this year’s Budget will be a zero Budget – our second consecutive one with virtually no new money.
Zero Budgets are a challenge to pull together. But I can assure you we will continue with the same balanced, moderate approach we’ve adopted for the past three Budgets as we chart our path back to surplus.
Our second priority is to build a more competitive and productive economy.
That means an export-focused economy which is selling more of what the world wants, at a competitive price, and is built on a solid base of innovation.
You may have noticed that during Parliament’s Easter recess a number of our Ministers, including me, travelled overseas to countries like Indonesia, Singapore, China, Saudi Arabia and Oman to further New Zealand’s trade interests.
There are some great opportunities out there for New Zealand businesses to sell their products to the world.
And the National-led Government has an ambitious trade agenda to harness those opportunities.
We are in negotiations for trade agreements with nine countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including the United States, and separately with a number of other countries including India, Korea and Russia.
New Zealand is geographically well placed to benefit from the still high rates of economic growth in the Asian region.
We don’t need to look any further than our FTA with China to see what these deals can bring us.
New Zealand has had an FTA with China since 2008, and since that time we have seen two-way trade increase by 50 per cent. China has now leapfrogged the United States to become our second-biggest trading partner.
And Kiwi companies are moving into overseas markets.
When I was in Indonesia just over a week ago I was alongside Fonterra as it announced new investment in a plant in that country. Fonterra has also just unveiled plans to develop two new large-scale dairy farms in China, adding to its presence there.
Ladies and Gentlemen, our third key priority is to deliver better public services to New Zealanders within the tight budget the Government is operating under.
To do this, we’ve turned around the public service model to focus squarely on results.
New Zealanders rightly expect a world-class health service, an education system that delivers for every child, a strong and effective justice system and social services that protect our most vulnerable.
But it became clear to us during our first term in government that the way public services are organised needed to be improved.
So we’ve made changes to ensure that the state sector becomes much better at delivering value for money and achieving results at the coalface.
The public sector will become more innovative, efficient and focused on delivering what New Zealanders really want and expect.
That means getting traction on difficult issues like reducing crime, reducing long-term welfare dependency and reducing educational underachievement.
The public service has been set challenges and it is now accountable for achieving them.
Just a couple of months ago I announced the 10 challenging results that I want to see achieved over the next three to five years.
I won’t go into all of them today but I’d like to talk about a few you will be interested in.
First, I expect a reduction in long-term welfare dependency and in particular, I want to see a significant drop in the number of people who have been on a benefit for more than 12 months. At the moment there are about 215,000 people in that category, and that’s far too many.
Second, I expect a reduction in the number of assaults on children. Far too many children in New Zealand suffer abuse and assault, and that is simply not acceptable.
Third, I expect more young people to come through the education system with a solid base of skills, whether they get those at school or at a tertiary institution. So I want to see an increase in the proportion of 18-year-olds with NCEA level 2 or equivalent qualification.
And fourth, I expect to see a one-stop online shop for all government advice and support that businesses need. Doing business with government, and getting information from government, should be easy.
These are just four of the 10 results we are driving the public sector to achieve.
They are difficult and demanding, in fact some of them will be extremely difficult.
But that is as it should be. New Zealanders have high expectations of their public services and so should the Government.
Delivering those results with little or no new money is a challenge the National-led Government is well and truly up for.
Ladies and gentlemen, that brings me to the last of the Government’s four key priorities for this term – rebuilding Christchurch.
Many of you here today have been living through the aftermath of the earthquakes and many of you have been helping with the recovery.
I’d like to say a special thank you to our Canterbury MPs who are doing such a great job in difficult circumstances.
I’m proud of our Government’s response to the series of earthquakes. We’ve worked together with the people of Canterbury and faced challenges alongside them.
Christchurch is our second-largest city and it’s an important gateway to the South Island.
It is home to so many people and it has a big role to play in our economy.
That’s why we moved decisively to support the people of Christchurch and set aside $5.5 billion in a recovery fund in Budget 2011.
We supported businesses in Canterbury through the initial aftermath of the quakes with financial help so they could keep their staff – as many as 63,500 people were covered by our wage subsidies.
And while I know there are some frustrations with the recovery, there is good progress being made, progress which compares very favourably with international examples of disaster recovery.
As Bill English outlined just a few days ago, construction is underway on more than 20 significant commercial buildings in the CBD.
Work on around 80 per cent of the 1,500 buildings required to be partially or fully demolished in greater Christchurch has been completed.
More than 300 infrastructure repair projects, worth more than $700 million, are underway or about to be completed across the city.
Over 11,000 quake damaged homes have now been repaired.
And about 60 per cent of the more than 7000 property owners in the residential red zone have formally accepted the Government’s offer to purchase their properties.
Rebuilding Christchurch is a huge task but it is a top priority for our Government and we will stand alongside Canterbury for as long as it takes.
Ladies and Gentlemen, today I’ve broadly outlined what your National-led Government is working hard to achieve over the next three years.
We have an extensive work programme to rebuild and strengthen the economy, and to deliver better public services within tight fiscal constraints.
We are focused on building a more competitive economy so that New Zealanders can have the jobs, higher incomes and opportunities they want here at home.
Over a million Kiwis voted for us to implement our plan to secure a brighter future.
They chose aspiration over envy.
They chose careful fiscal management over reckless spending.
And they chose strong and stable government over an unwieldy rabble of competing parties.
National Party members, we have been given the mandate by New Zealanders to go ahead and secure a brighter future for this country.
We have a big job to do.
Let’s go out there and do it.