United Future aims high for 2013
31 January 2013
Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future):
New Zealand has been through some pretty tough years of late. Whether it be the outcome of the Christchurch earthquakes or the international global economic meltdown, Kiwi families have had to face some pretty tough decisions in their lives. A number of their dreams have been overturned, and a number of their plans for the future have had to be completely revisited. As a consequence of all those things, they have become pretty understandably intolerant of mere words being offered as solutions—be it from their insurance companies, their employers, their trade unions, their political leaders, or whoever. What the people of New Zealand, as a result of their experience of recent years, are desperately seeking is a sense of reassurance and a commitment that policies being promoted will be achieved and put in place to their benefit. So although they might have enjoyed some of the comedy associated with the various state of the nation speeches of recent days, there is a sense of bewilderment that no concrete plans have been put forward, no concrete strategies have been delivered, and they still live in the hope that things will happen. So what I want to do this afternoon in the time available to me and on behalf of United Future, as a support party to this Government, is outline the things that we intend to achieve this year. They will not be to the grand scale of things, but they are things that we as a responsible support partner will achieve and deliver for the people of New Zealand. The Leader of the Opposition and, I think, the Prime Minister also made reference earlier to the issue of superannuation. One of the issues that is critical for this country’s future is the structure and affordability of national superannuation. This year, as part of our confidence and supply agreement, there will be a Government discussion paper released on the concept of flexible superannuation—a reduced rate, if one chooses to take it, at the age of 60, or an enhanced rate, if you prefer, to the age of 70, with the base rate still being struck at age 65. In other words, the individual makes the choice about their retirement, not the State making that choice for them, as is the case at the moment.
That is a concept where individual choice on retirement is paramount. It is gathering pace. I know the Leader of the Opposition supports it, I know that other parties in this House support it, and a substantial number of members of the New Zealand public do, as well. So we will have a discussion paper out there to kick off that process of debate. It will coincide with the periodic review that the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income undertakes, and I believe it will inevitably lead to a more flexible approach to superannuation in the future that will address all of the concerns that have been expressed by so many over recent years. At the other end of the scale, this year will see establishment of the Families Commission’s Family Status Report . That was part of the legislation that was passed last year. It is built on a concept that that the coalition Government in the United Kingdom has introduced in recent years, where there is an annual report on the impact and effect of Government policies on families to guide policy development for the future. That will be a very practical step forward for a number of families and also for the policy makers and for the decisions that we have to make in respect of those issues, and I welcome that initiative. We will see the Game Animal Council , which has long been something that United Future has campaigned for, passed through legislation in this House, and I give notice also that as part of our confidence-and-supply agreement, the legislation to phase out guided helicopter hunting on the conservation estate will also be prepared and introduced, because that will also have a significant positive impact on recreational opportunities in New Zealand. Although we are making progress in the area of drug and alcohol treatment of prison inmates, there is still a long way to go. As part of our confidence-and-supply agreement, we will be pushing this year for the introduction of the planned pre-release drug and alcohol assessments when prisoners appear before the Parole Board , so that there is information available about the level of their dependency at the time that a decision is made to govern their release and their work back into the community. In the next couple of months, this House will pass the new child support legislation that I have long championed and that has been the biggest change to our child support arrangements since the scheme was introduced in the early 1990s. It will be a fairer scheme. It will provide much greater recognition for shared custody arrangements and a much more flexible approach in terms of the reality of today’s childcare environment, where not all custodial parents are at home—a number of custodial parents, the majority of them, are in the workforce as well—and where the system needs to be balanced out to become much fairer in terms of the contribution that both parents have to make to the upbringing of their children once their relationship has failed. We will also see in place by August of this year the new legislation establishing what has been described by a House of Commons committee in Britain just before Christmas as world class and something to be envied: our psychoactive substances legislation, which will shift the onus of proof to the suppliers of those products to prove they are safe before they are allowed to be sold or distributed to vulnerable young people in New Zealand. That will be a huge step forward, and it will mean that the temporary regime we have at the moment of banning these substances as we become aware of them can be replaced by a more permanent and long-term arrangement. We will also see in the next couple of months the release of our Suicide Prevention Action Plan . This is an updating of the existing strategy. It is one that will focus much more on today’s realities in terms of where the pressure points are, the most at-risk groups, and also the best way of addressing this awful problem in our community. New Zealanders do not appreciate that more people die by suicide each year, by a considerable number, than are killed on the roads. We rightly place huge concern on the road toll. It is time to elevate that level of concern to those who end their lives through suicide, because the 500-odd people in that situation each year leave families, they leave friends, and they leave workmates. They leave a flow-on effect right through society that we have to address. Just before Christmas when the mental health strategy was released, one of the key elements in that, which will be carried through into the new suicide strategy, is the important role of community agencies working alongside official agencies. The previous strategies relied too much on almost a directive approach from the centre, when in fact we have a huge number of agencies and people active in this field with experience, capability, and skills that we need to be utilising to mobilise, if you like, the community at large to make improvements in the overall status of mental health, but particularly to start to address what is an unacceptable suicide rate in New Zealand, particularly amongst young people. Those moves are about making progressive change that will benefit, fundamentally, New Zealand families in a number of ways: through more certainty about their retirement; through more accurate information about the impact of policies on them as they go through life; through enhancing their opportunities to go out and enjoy New Zealand’s great outdoors; through making sure that people with alcohol and drug problems get access to the treatment that they need at an early enough time; through a fairer child support system; through a more accurate regime in terms of the control of these new psychoactive substances; and, ultimately, through working—and the youth mental health strategy and the Prime Minister’s plan released last year are part of this—to bring together all of our mental health resources to improve the mental health of New Zealanders and to reduce the incidence of suicide. They are the things that United Future as a party, which has always put the well-being of the New Zealand family centre stage, will be campaigning on delivering this year. But, more than that, they are the things pursuant to our confidence-and-supply agreement and pursuant to legislation that is either before the House or about to come before the House that I can say with confidence will be achieved during this particular year. For those families around this country who despair often that politicians talk and talk and talk and talk, and deliver little that is of benefit to them, particularly at stressful times, I say look to that record. Look to those achievements, recognise those benefits as being positive, and then judge the performance of others against that standard, because, as we come together for this year—this difficult year ahead of us—the expectation of New Zealanders is that every single one of the members of this House will work to progress policies that are beneficial to New Zealanders. There might be a little bit of rhetoric along the way, but that will not become the dominant element. The dominant element will be our performance, our policy, our delivery, and, ultimately, the benefit we deliver to the people who we represent in this House, the people of New Zealand.