30 June 2008
SPEECH: Sport for young Kiwis - a National priority
Sport for young Kiwis: a National priority
Speech to Waitakere Electorate Lunch, Henderson
Thank you for being here today. I'd like to acknowledge my caucus colleagues Murray McCully, Paula Bennet, and Tim Groser.
In recent months my speeches have focused on my vision for New Zealand, National's economic plan, our plans for fighting crime, for increasing education standards, for improving our health system,and other key issues. Those are very important themes and I will continue to address them in the next few months.
Today, though, I'm going to talk specifically about sport, and the vital role it can play for our young people.
This is a subject I feel strongly about and that I raised in my first State of the Nation speech as National Party Leader.
Most New Zealanders would probably say this is a sporting nation. And though that may be open to debate, what is not debatable is the fact that if New Zealanders can increase participation in sport then we have the capacity to significantly improve their lives.
The results, in terms of healthier, fitter people, who are less of a cost on our health system, are obvious.
Less visible is the improvement in our attitudes, our spirit, and our culture that an increased engagement in sport can bring.
I think playing sport is an important part of growing up in New Zealand. Kids who are out there playing rugby or netball or soccer or cricket, or any other sport, aren't just getting fitter and healthier. They are learning about teamwork and co-operation, about playing fair, and about winning and losing.
Regular involvement in organised sport is habit-forming. The kids who play sport through their childhood and teen years are much more likely to be the adults who keep fit in later years.
I also see participation in sport as one of the ways in which we can improve our national attitude to competition.
I want Kiwis to see themselves as a nation of winners, prepared to do what it takes to compete with the rest of the world and win.
I want to put the word "winning" back into the national vocabulary. And I think we can make a significant difference to troubled young people if we can get more of them playing sport.
Those involved in youth justice tell me that young people who are in organised sport are much less likely to get mixed up in criminal offending. Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft has said that 'a kid in sport stays out of court'.
For kids with difficult home lives, sport gives them something constructive to do, to fill the void they have in their spare time. Otherwise, the temptation is to fill this void by hanging around the streets, drifting into drugs and getting into trouble.
For that reason alone, a greater investment in getting young people playing sport is justified.
I am not going to talk to you today about National's policy on high performance sport – although that is important. Having medal winners as role models is a critical part of motivating young people to participate themselves.
National has been doing considerable thinking about the area of high performance sport, and we will have something to say closer to the election.
For today, let me say that as a government, we intend to take very seriously our responsibility to support those who participate at the very top end of international competition. That's because National views their success as important, not just to sport, but to our country as a whole.
Kids' declining participation in sport
Today I want to focus on where it all begins: with Kiwi kids.
It's no great revelation that New Zealand school children could do with a bit more sport in their lives. Research shows that one in three of them are obese or overweight. While more than a third of them are inactive.
I talk to a lot of parents who are worried that their child is, or might end up in, one of those unhealthy categories. They tell me their kids would rather sit in front of a computer than practice down at the nets.
That's a real worry. It's something our country has to change.
Labour's response to this emerging problem has been to create a large number of strategies, interdepartmental working groups, social marketing plans, and initiatives.
From this tide of paper and bureaucracy has emerged a series of programmes and campaigns. I've counted at least eight. Be it 'Push Play', 'Mission On' or 'Healthy Eating, Healthy Action', every campaign has come with its own 'brand', its own series of meetings, its own action plans.
Many of these programmes have been based on expensive advertising campaigns telling parents things like 'make sure your child eats fruit and vegetables.' As if that makes it easier to convince your five-year-old to eat her broccoli!
True, in among the marketing-speak there's been a few sensible ideas. Ideas like putting water fountains and sports co-ordinators in schools. It's hard to argue with those ideas. It's also not surprising that those ideas didn't come from advisors sitting in Wellington. They came from schools and sports clubs at the coalface.
And for every good idea there have been at least two fairly dubious ideas.
I'm thinking, for example, of the 'Mission On' website that the Prime Minister launched in February. Kids who log on to this website are encouraged to play a series of animated computer games.
One of these games is Cool Moves. It involves a child using six keys on the keyboard to move an animated character through a series of hip-hop moves on screen. All of this while sitting in their chair and twiddling the fingers of their left hand. How that can possibly be seen as making kids more active is beyond me.
Other ideas have been bureaucratic in the extreme. For example, there's a 'Mission On' initiative to get Wellington officials to develop nutrition and activity plans for their workplaces. Work on these plans has apparently started with baseline questionnaires, organisational audits, and evaluations of those questionnaires and audits.
I'm sure all of this seems very worthy to someone tucked away in an office in Wellington. But it's a very long way from kids getting a ball and kicking it around a field or throwing it through a hoop. It's a classic Labour case of resources being tied up in the back office and not making it through to the front line.
A National Government will have a much more straight-forward approach.
We will focus on a simple goal: getting more school kids regularly participating in sports teams and clubs. We will meet this goal by working with the community organisations that are already in regular contact with these kids – schools and sports clubs.
The role of schools
Schools are the catchment zone in which we can ensure all young New Zealanders are introduced to participation in sport.
Students get involved in school sport in three main ways.
1. Activity as part of the school day
The first is as a casual part of the school day, whether it's kids throwing a Frisbee around at lunchtime or going for a nature walk during science class. Those things are great and schools should encourage that kind of activity.
I'm not convinced, though, that the government should spend a whole lot of money telling schools to do more of this. I can't see why, for example, taxpayer dollars were spent on delivering schools an 'Active Schools' CD with "seven funky tracks for classroom use" and a CD Rom with "interactive ideas and options for physical activity".
I think teachers are smart enough to encourage physical activity without using that sort of guff. I'd suggest that if we really want to help schools get kids running around at lunchtime then we should apply some common sense and make sure they have decent sports equipment.
2. Physical Education Classes
The second way schools encourage kids' sport is through designated physical education classes.
The Government requires schools, particularly primary schools, to give priority to regular physical activity for their students as part of their core teaching curriculum. That's as it should be and National will support that requirement. We will work with schools to ensure physical education classes are valued and of a high standard.
But, again, I'm not convinced that schools should be forced to fill the school day with more hours of PE. Schools have limited time to teach their students and every extra hour of PE has an opportunity cost.
National does not want to weigh schools down with ever-more teaching responsibilities to fulfil during the course of the school day. So we won't be advocating an increase in core physical education requirements.
3. Extra-curricular sports teams and clubs
Instead, National wants schools to encourage more of their students to take part in organised sports teams and clubs outside school hours.
Schools are a unique gateway for kids wanting to get involved in a sports team or club. Sometimes, particularly at secondary school, those teams are run by the school itself. Historically, these teams have played an important role in the character and pride of many of New Zealand's schools.
But there are real challenges confronting this kind of school sport in 2008. Factors like dramatically increased paperwork, a falling number of male teachers, and changing teacher attitudes to managing and coaching school sporting teams have made it more challenging for schools to deliver sport for students.
Some schools are able to pay for sports co-ordinators and coaches. Others are constantly struggling to find the coaches, referees, and volunteers needed to support a range of teams in the school, let alone promote those teams to students. This creates a barrier between kids and sport. It's time that barrier came down.
National will, over time, give schools additional resources to ensure more students can take part in extra-curricula organised sport.
Unlike Labour, we won't make schools apply to multiple funds and fill in copious forms to access these resources. And we won't tell them how best to spend the money.
We will, instead, give them sports funding to use as they see fit – be it buying equipment and uniforms, hiring sports co-ordinators, or paying for service contracts with local sports clubs. We will simply ask schools to ensure that any extra dollars we give result in more students actually taking part in organised sport.
The role of sports clubs
But schools aren't, and never should be, the only players in the delivery of sporting programmes. Even large secondary schools can have difficulty providing the whole range of sporting options students might be interested in.
Instead, the school's role can be to give a friendly shove in the right direction – perhaps by introducing students to a local squash, swimming, or gymnastics club, or encouraging them to join the local league or hockey team.
At primary school level, in particular, many schools just don't have enough students and teachers to support a range of sports teams.
This is where sports clubs have an important role to play. New Zealand's sports clubs occupy a proud place in the history of our country. They have long-standing traditions and extensive networks in their communities. They bring together people of different ages, abilities and walks of life.
In many sports codes and many schools, clubs are the chief mechanism by which sports teams are engaged in local competitions.
Despite this vital role, many of our sports clubs are struggling. They are beset with challenges – not just the constant need to raise funds, but the need to find coaches, administrators, and other officials required to keep sport alive.
Some clubs are able to cover funding shortfalls by leaning more heavily on their communities for help or raising subs. Others simply don't have that option.
For many families, taking part in a sports club can be prohibitively expensive: football boots, netball uniforms, and transport all cost money. It can be hard to find a coach to take the team. In my own electorate, and around the country, many people come up to me with the same observation.
A couple of years ago, after-school sport for children in Otahuhu collapsed. The suburb's five decile-1 primary schools stopped organising sports at a local recreation centre because families couldn't afford the fee increase from $2 a head for each game to $4-$5 a head.
Too many kids in our poorest communities are being excluded from sport because their parents can't afford it. These are the kids who need it most. I am determined to turn that around. We can't hope to see sport thrive in this country without healthier sports clubs.
National will ensure that more of the government's sport spending makes it through to the sports clubs at the front line.
National will be flexible in its thinking about how that funding is best delivered and distributed. Our guiding priority will be to make sure the dollars spent result in a measurable increase in the number of kids taking part in regular sporting activity.
In some parts of New Zealand, regional sports trusts may be a significant player in this process. We do understand the important role they play. However, we will be asking the trusts, too, to buy into our central strategy of moving as much resource as possible to the places where sport is actually played.
New funding priorities
The two pledges I have made today will require taxpayer investment. National will make that investment because we believe getting more Kiwis playing sport will support the well-being of our families and will reinforce the values we believe in.
You might ask "where will the money come from?" I am confident the funding can be found from within budgets currently tied up in anti-obesity and physical activity promotion programmes.
A National Government will bring about a significant shift in emphasis as to where this government funding is spent.
For Labour, fighting obesity is a complex business. It's a business that seems to be spawning an industry of policy analysts, communications managers, human resource consultants, and book-keepers, all built around highly expensive advertising and promotional programmes.
Examples of poor priorities
Every dollar we spend in those areas is a dollar we could spend on codes, schools, and clubs that have bats, balls, sports facilities, and gear ready to ensure more New Zealanders can take part in sport.
If I am Prime Minister, I will give my Ministers a clear sense of priorities about how these funds should be spent: I want more sports coaches and equipment and fewer advisors and reports.
My team has already had a careful look to see what scope for savings exists. The results, even given the limited amount of publicly available information, reveal a skewed sense of priority.
The first thing that is striking is the number of overlapping programmes and initiatives. It's hard to understand why we need at least eight different government programmes in pursuit of what are essentially two goals – encouraging people to eat healthier and exercise more.
The other thing that is striking is how little of the budgeted millions actually manage to flow through the bureaucracy and into the schools and community organisations working with young people.
Take Sport and Recreation New Zealand (Sparc). This is the government agency charged with promoting physical activity and supporting elite athletes. Last year, Sparc had 86 full-time staff. Fourteen of those staff were paid more than $150,000 a year, while 47 of them earned more than $100,000 a year.
You would hope those staff were busy putting funds directly into regional sports trusts, clubs, and national sporting bodies. But no, almost a third of the money Sparc receives - $35 million in fact – never makes it outside the Wellington office.
Instead it gets spent on internal costs associated with running Sparc, and on supporting and developing programmes and social marketing campaigns.
One big cost for example is the Sparc website. This year Sparc will spend $5.5 million on its website. And between 2006 and 2010, Sparc will spend $11.5 million on its website. That's enough to give almost $6,000 worth of sporting equipment to every primary school in New Zealand. Or to buy a decent cricket set for every family in Waitakere City.
Even the money that is designated for sports clubs doesn't come in the form of direct grants. Some of it is, instead, spent on "capability development". Sparc kindly provides, for example, reports for people in sports clubs to spend their spare time reading. These 'capability resources' include a web link to purchase a book on "Winning the Red Tape Game". That book is available to clubs at a cost of $44.
Sparc also commissions research. In 2006, for example, they funded a study into volunteers. This report came up with a series of recommendations that can only be described as patronising, stating, for example, that "Organisations with Maori sport volunteers should value this group orientation and take note of the need to build relationships", and "Organisations should not underestimate the power of asking someone to volunteer. Included in an organisation's recruitment strategy should be an 'asking' strategy".
Sparc certainly has a fondness for strategies. They have, for example, invested financially in the development of 33 regional and district strategies, numbering 1,330 pages in total.
Much of Sparc's funding is delivered through a lengthy selection process designed to pick projects that "meet Sparc's vision". While there's no doubt some of this funding ends up in worthy initiatives, I'm sure people in sports clubs can think of better things to do than constantly filling in funding applications for Sparc.
That passion for form-filling is reflected in other government agencies – the Ministry of Health's $32 million 'Healthy Eating, Healthy Action' programme, for example. Much of this funding is distributed to district health boards to spend on physical activity and nutrition programmes, a huge amount of which is soaked up in project management, communications, and co-ordination.
By the time the money has gone through the merry-go-round it can end up being spent on tiny projects such as a $1,300 worm farm, garden and puzzles for a Wellington school, $5,000 for café equipment for a Manukau school, or $4,000 for a dishwasher and kitchen equipment for a school in Northland.
It's hard to see why projects of that type should require an exhaustive application and review process. And it's also hard to see how they will actually prevent kids from becoming obese adults.
An incoming National Government will have a look at all these programmes, regardless of which portfolio technically funds them, to ensure we get the balance right between funding promotional programmes and telling people to lead healthier lifestyles, and funding actual sports organisations with actual facilities at which sport is actually being played.
It's clear that with a firm sense of priorities, and a disciplined approach to taxpayer funds, National will be able to free up meaningful additional funding for schools and sports clubs.
We must all play our part
I am not trying to signal here that an incoming National Government can or will solve all of the problems of schools, clubs, or sports codes. Clubs, regional sports trusts, and other sports organisations will have to play their part in meeting the challenges ahead.
We must improve the efficiency of our sporting expenditure through a willingness to look at amalgamations and the sharing of facilities. New partnerships between sporting organisations, schools and local authorities will need to be considered if we are to get the best sporting bang for our buck.
Local and regional councils will have a role, especially in ensuring communities have adequate facilities where sport can be played and practised.
Parents have an important responsibility here, too. Whether it's encouraging their child to play sport, helping them get to the game, coaching a team, or asking how the game went, their involvement can make a huge difference to young people.
Kids' sport relies on a base of adults prepared to volunteer their time and expertise. That spirit of volunteerism should be supported and encouraged. I would like to see more Kiwis putting their hand up for a role in the sporting lives of our young people. And I'd like to see further business support for sports codes, and teams.
I hope National's leadership on this issue, combined with our suite of charity policies, will encourage more organisations and individuals to donate their resources and time to kids' sport.
But even after all this has been done, it's clear that government has a significant funding role to ensure more Kiwi kids get hooked into sport.
Labour's approach to these issues has been top-down, government-knows-best. Their programmes have been flush with bureaucracy and patronising messages. They want to regulate and control.
National will take a far more practical approach. We will focus sporting dollars where they make the difference - at the front line in schools and sports clubs.
We will, over time, give schools additional resources for ensuring more students can take part in extra-curricula organised sport. And we will ensure that more of the government's sport spending makes it through to the sports clubs at the front line.
We will do this by carefully re-prioritising government funds currently dedicated to a host of bureaucratic anti-obesity campaigns.
In doing so we will ensure that more Kiwi kids take part in sport. And that is something we think all Kiwis will be happy to support.Tweet
National Leader John Key today outlined National's policy approach to boosting the participation of young Kiwis in sport.
In a speech in Auckland he said National will take a far more practical approach to funding sports by focusing government sporting dollars where they will make a difference – at the front line in schools and sports clubs.
"Participation by kids in sport is declining, but there are many and obvious benefits for both kids themselves, and wider society, in increasing that participation."
• Give schools additional resources over time to ensure more students can take part in extra-curricula organised sport.
• Ensure more of the government's sport spending gets through to the front line.
"We will do this by carefully re-prioritising government funds currently dedicated to a host of bureaucratic anti-obesity campaigns," says Mr Key. "Ministers in a National-led government will be given clear priorities – more sports coaches and equipment, and fewer advisors and reports.
"One striking thing under Labour is the number of overlapping programmes and initiatives. It's hard to understand why we need at least eight different government programmes encouraging people to eat healthier and exercise more.
"National will look at all these to ensure we get the balance right between funding promotional programmes and telling people to lead healthier lifestyles, and funding actual sports organisations with actual facilities at which sport is actually played.
"Another striking thing under Labour is how little of the budgeted millions actually flows through the bureaucracy and into schools and community organisations.
"For example, almost a third of Sport and Recreation New Zealand's money - $35 million – never makes it outside the Wellington head office. This year, Sparc will spend $5.5 million on its website, and between 2006 and 2010 it has budgeted $11.5 million for the website.
"That $11.5 million would give almost $6,000 worth of sports equipment to every primary school in New Zealand.
"Sport is an important part of growing up in New Zealand. Kids who are out there playing rugby or netball or soccer or softball, or any other sport, aren't just getting fitter and healthier – they're learning about teamwork and co-operation, about playing fair and about winning and losing. Regular involvement in organised sport is habit-forming.
"The kids who play sport through their childhood and teen years are much more likely to be the adults who keep fit in later years. And I think we can make a significant difference to troubled young people if we can get more of them playing sport."Tweet
25 June 2008
VIDEO: In the House
25 June 2008
SPEECH: To Grey Power, Upper Hutt
Speech to Grey Power, Upper Hutt
Thank you for your invitation. It's great to be here. I always enjoy attending Grey Power events and I appreciate the good relationship our two organisations share.
Today I want to talk a little bit about some of the challenges I see facing New Zealand and the approaches a National-led Government would take to those challenges.
Right now some of the news for our country isn't that great. New Zealanders are rightly concerned with escalating rates of violent crime, high interest rates, soaring food and petrol prices, long hospital waiting lists, and incomes that just aren't keeping up with the cost of living.
These are significant concerns, and National is intent on addressing them.
But before I say anything more about those concerns I'd like to sound a positive note.
I actually think New Zealand has a really great future ahead of it. Opportunities abound. The things we produce are in great demand – be it food produced efficiently and in a clean-green way, or be it a place to have an exciting holiday experience, or be it providing a secure location for starting and growing a business.
The massive growth of China and India means demand for these things will continue to soar. With that increased demand will come improved economic prospects for New Zealand. And, ultimately, better prospects for our society, our communities, and our families.
The task of the next government, however it is made up, is to grasp those opportunities while squarely facing our immediate challenges.
I'm very optimistic about New Zealand's ability to do that. But we need a government which can clearly see the issues and which has the energy to come up with fresh approaches to them. Obviously, I think National can provide that leadership.
I am going to take this opportunity to briefly address two key issues that may be concerning you and your fellow Grey Power members.
The first is whether superannuation payments will continue to grow.
Let me state very plainly: National is absolutely committed to maintaining New Zealand Superannuation payments at a minimum of 66% of the average after-tax wage. I have said before, and let me say again today, that I put my name behind that assurance.
Furthermore, through our economic and tax policies, National is committed to increasing the after-tax incomes of New Zealanders on an ongoing basis. The good news for superannuitants is that this will, in turn, increase the amount of superannuation you receive each week. So you can rest assured that National is always looking to improve the financial situation of older New Zealanders. You deserve no less.
The second concern that many older New Zealanders are raising with me is the quality and performance of our health system.
We have a chronic shortage of doctors. We have long waiting lists for elective surgery and appointments with a specialist. In fact, here in the Hutt Valley you're getting less elective surgery than you were seven years ago.
Too much money is being tied up in bureaucracy and red tape, and is not getting to the front line. National wants doctors and nurses having a much greater say in the running of the public health system.
We have put considerable effort and thinking into devising new approaches for addressing these problems. Last year we released health and aged-care discussion papers that canvassed some of those ideas.
They include establishing Integrated Family Health Centres. These would be 'one-stop-shops' that combine many of the primary-care services that patients might otherwise have to travel from place to place to get. We think combining services like physios, pharmacists, minor surgery, and doctors in one place would make medical treatment more convenient for many patients.
Our paper also discussed training more doctors in our universities and keeping more young doctors in hard-to-staff parts of the country through the smart use of voluntary bonding and student loan write-offs.
I think those ideas give you a flavour of the fresh thinking National would bring to running the health system. In the lead-up to the election we will be announcing a range of health policies and I'm confident our new ideas can really make a difference.
So those are two concerns - growing Super and fixing the health system – that are often raised with me and that National is intent on addressing.
I'd like to turn now to a concern that I'm sure is top-of-mind for many of you. It's an issue that very much reflects the health of our society. And it's an issue that can make us worry about exactly what is happening to our country. I'm talking about the issue of escalating violent crime.
I'm sure you join me in a feeling of dismay about some of the events of recent weeks, in particular the point-blank, completely unprovoked shooting of shop-owner Navtej Singh.
Here was a man who had come to New Zealand to make a better life for his family. Who worked hard and played by the rules. His family's dreams were cut short on Saturday the 7th of June. The family of Navtej Singh was robbed of its hopes by a group of young men who were definitely not playing by the rules. The callousness of their alleged crime is almost impossible to understand.
In the wake of this murder, newspapers quoted some Manurewa residents as saying it was the sort of thing they'd come to expect in their neighbourhood – but that they didn't want to talk about it for fear of retribution by the gangs.
That really worries me. These are everyday Kiwis who have replaced rightful feelings of outrage with feelings of fear and hopelessness. These are fellow New Zealanders who can no longer rely on the basic right to security in their own community.
As if to prove their fears right, in the days following the killing of Navtej Singh we saw further brutal crimes in Manurewa and elsewhere: a woman mowed down and killed after a thief took off with her handbag. Gangs marauding the streets. More violence, more mayhem.
I took the opportunity in Parliament to ask the Prime Minister about this trend of escalating violence. I quoted statistics that showed violent crime in South Auckland had increased by 64% since Labour came to office, while violent crime nationwide had increased by 44%.
The Prime Minister said that increase was largely due to increases in the reporting of domestic violence. That may be so, but it doesn't explain why the number of robberies in Counties-Manukau has more than doubled since 1999. It doesn't explain why there are now at least 11 robberies every week in that crime-ravaged part of the country.
And it doesn't explain why nationwide there are now 20 more robberies each week than there were eight years ago. There is now an average of seven robberies every day in New Zealand.
And it doesn't explain why the number of violent offences each year in the 'non-family' category increased by more than 4,000 between 1999 and 2007 - from 28,643 to 32,725. That's an additional 10 violent offences every single day.
These are faceless statistics. The Prime Minister will continue to explain them. But the truth is shown by the events before our eyes. Violent crime is threatening the peace of communities up and down the country. Earlier this week, right here in Upper Hutt, a local bank was robbed at gunpoint –the second robbery of its type in a fortnight.
There's no two ways about it – violent crime in New Zealand is a very real problem and it is a problem that demands solutions.
Labour may be in denial about this but National is not. We take violent crime as seriously as you and your families do. And we are serious about preventing it. We don't think Labour is serious enough.
In Parliament last week, I also asked the Prime Minister what her Government planned to actually do about the wave of violent crime. She mentioned a few ideas. One of these was to take a serious look at liquor licensing laws.
The National Party agrees it's about time New Zealand took a closer look at how our liquor licensing laws are working in practice, and we have called for a cross-party inquiry to look into this issue. It may well be that some changes in that area could improve public safety.
But we're not naïve enough to think those changes alone would be enough to stem the tide of violent crime. After all, criminals have no problem finding that evil drug pure methamphetamine, or "P" - despite there being no licensed outlets. New Zealanders need better answers to violent crime than a licensing review.
The Prime Minister has had a couple of other ideas. One of them was to get her bureaucrats together to discuss the problem. Another was some talk about improving the 'urban design' of communities, whatever that means. Those supposed 'solutions' are at best inadequate. At worst, they show a disconnection from reality.
Sadly, that sense of denial and disconnection has come to characterise the Labour Government's approach to crime.
We saw it in January this year when Annette King said a rash of youth crime incidents, including random beatings being dished out by the Killer Bees youth gang on the North Shore, were the result of a hot summer and a full moon. And we saw it later that month when the Prime Minister blamed increasing youth crime on the Budget of 1991.
The time for denial and wilful ignorance has passed. It's time to face up to New Zealand's serious crime problem. That is what National's law and order policies will do.
We have made announcements in a number of law and order areas. These have included an expanded range of powers for the police, enhanced rights and services for victims, tougher bail laws, and reduced use of parole.
In the coming months we will announce further policies. These will include new sentencing policies for the worst offenders. And, importantly, they will include new policies for rehabilitating offenders and improving the management of our courts and prisons.
National does not subscribe to the view that prisons are nothing but holding-pens. We view prisons as correctional facilities, and we intend to ensure they operate as such. That will mean getting smart about what goes on behind their walls and holding those who run them to high standards.
Today, however, I want to spend some time talking about two key issues that are driving crime in New Zealand. These are two areas where I think National's fresh approach can really make a difference.
The first is youth offending.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that the young offenders of today, left unchecked, are the violent offenders of tomorrow. So it's worrying how much the severity of youth offending has increased in recent years.
Violent youth crime is at an all-time high. Aggravated robbery is up. Grievous assault is up. These crimes are committed by a group of serious, repeat offenders, estimated to number about 1,000 in total. Each of those 1,000 kids is a ticking time-bomb.
The good news is that we know who they are. The bad news is that right now these kids are often sifted through the youth justice system into the adult courts in a shoddy game of pass-the-parcel. They are overlooked by the Government and become the robbers and killers of tomorrow.
Earlier this year, I announced National's plans for ending that game of pass-the-parcel.
1. We're going to target youths earlier by giving the Youth Court the power to deal with 12- and 13-year-olds accused of serious offences.
2. We're going to give the court increased powers for dealing with youth when their offending is still at the lower end of the scale. Those powers will include compulsory parenting orders to get mum and dad involved, compulsory drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes, and mentoring programmes to give teens decent role-models.
3. We're going to introduce a new range of tough sentences for the worst offenders, including year-long Fresh Start programmes involving up to three months of residential training at, for example, army facilities.
Since I announced this youth justice policy, some of my opponents have had great fun saying that it's nothing more than an old-fashioned 'boot' camp. They've said that approach has been tried and found wanting.
In one sense, my critics have a point. There is something old-fashioned about the concepts and values behind National's policy. Old-fashioned concepts like structure, routine, and clear boundaries, and old-fashioned values like self-discipline and personal responsibility. If believing in the power of those values makes me old-fashioned then so be it.
But in another sense, my critics couldn't be more wrong, because National's plans for Fresh Start programmes are far more advanced than the 'boot' camps of yesterday.
They won't simply be short-term camps designed to scare kids straight. They'll be run by youth experts and will be designed to address the problems underlying a young person's offending. They will include, for example, drug and alcohol rehab, literacy and numeracy teaching, work towards NCEA credits, and teamwork exercises. They will involve intensive mentoring and supervision in the community, and they will last for up to 12 months.
Since I announced this policy I have talked to youth justice experts all over the country about getting Fresh Start programmes up and running. And let me tell you, they are keen to get going, they think the idea has real legs, and they want to work with a National Government to get kids into these programmes as soon as possible.
They also approve of National's follow-up plans for when young offenders are released. Under our policy, Fresh Start graduates will be monitored on release and expected to comply with Fresh Start contracts outlining the court's expectations of them. Where teens don't comply with these or other Youth Court sentences, they may be required to wear an ankle bracelet and be subjected to intensive electronic monitoring.
Yes, these programmes will be costly. But I think it will be money well spent. It will save lives and it will save young people from a life of crime.
Of course, National's youth justice policies, by themselves, will not be enough to stem the tide of violent crime in our communities. We also need a new hard-line approach to gangs.
Gangs are behind a huge amount of the violence, crime, and disorder in New Zealand. They rule by fear and they laugh at the law.
Gang members, be they Nomads or Headhunters or any other criminal gang, find camaraderie in lawlessness. Criminal gangs do not punish their members for cruelty or violence, they reward them with more power and more respect.
Many gang members make and distribute pure methamphetamine, that horrifically addictive drug that has ruined so many lives. Others deal drugs to kids, burgle for a business, and beat and maim those who get in their way.
Just last weekend we heard about Mongrel Mob members rampaging through a 21st birthday party, swinging knives, baseball bats, and a machete, and putting five people in hospital.
All over the country, tolerance of gangs is slowly eroding the codes of good behaviour and good citizenship that we rely on to keep our communities safe.
On Monday, we learned of three young children - aged five, six and eight - who were beaten, starved, and locked outside their Porirua home and left to huddle under a tree until after dark. The five-year-old had such a severe infestation of head lice that her hair fell out in chunks.
Did the neighbours step in? Did they act to protect these children? No. They said they were too scared to report the cruelty, in part because they feared the wrath of patched Mongrel Mob members who lived on the street. If that tragedy doesn't prove how powerful gangs have become in New Zealand, then nothing does.
So let me be very clear: National will make gangs a key target in the fight against crime. We will go to battle against them. We will act to remove their legitimacy. We will act to remove their status. And we will act to remove their power.
Don't look to us for hand-wringing about how gangs are mis-represented by just a few bad-apples, or about how they offer social bonding. We don't buy it. The reign of fear must come to an end.
Last year, National proposed a series of immediate law changes to assist in a gang crackdown. These included giving police increased powers to listen in on gang communications, and making gang membership an aggravating factor in sentencing. So we were pleased this month when Labour finally introduced a bill that makes those law changes. We will support that bill.
But National's battle against the gangs won't end there. We believe more must be done. I'm not going to stand here today and pretend I have all the answers to this problem. But I can stand here and say that this issue is an absolute priority for me.
I'm just not prepared to sit here and say nothing can be done. It doesn't seem right to me that a law-abiding citizen can get stung with a parking ticket and yet our law enforcement agencies don't have the power to control the biggest criminal organisations in the country.
I may not be a lawyer, but I simply can't accept that New Zealand is doing all we can to strip gangs of their power. I have asked my team of law and order spokespeople to give this issue their upmost attention. And, if National has the opportunity to lead the next Government, I will expect that team to do everything it can to crack the gang problem.
National's mission will be to develop new resources and legal mechanisms in the anti-gang arsenal.
We will, for example, amend the law to give police more power to remove and storm gang fortifications. And we will investigate other initiatives such as banning gang patches, banning paroled criminals from associating with gangs, restricting gang members' rights to electronic bail or home detention, and ensuring gang members are brought to trial more quickly.
Of course, any law changes will involve a balancing of rights and concerns. Let me be clear about where I stand on that. When it comes to serious crime, I believe the individual rights of criminals must at some point give way to our collective right to have peace and safety in our communities.
Labour has not struck that balance. National will work to restore it. National has the will and we have the practical policies needed to get tough on crime.
We will not sweep this or any other problem under the carpet. We will not meet New Zealand's challenges by quietly lowering our expectations. We will not put up with young offenders ticking away like unexploded time-bombs.
We will not put up with LA-style street crime on the streets of South Auckland or any other part of the country. And we will not put up with the gangs' reign of fear.
National will work to keep our communities safe and to make New Zealand as peaceful and as prosperous as it rightly should be.
Our country faces great opportunities and this is our time to maximize them. It's time to bring this country forward. And that is what National will do.Tweet