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