Prime Minister’s statement from Bill English on the opening day of Parliament for election year.
DEBATE ON PRIME MINISTER’S STATEMENT
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): I move, That this House express its confidence in the National-led Government and commend its programme for 2017 as set out in the Prime Minister’s statement to Parliament. Happy New Year to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Parliament and to all of those who look after us here in 2017 election year.
I want to confirm that the Government will remain focused on delivering for New Zealanders more opportunities to get ahead. At a time when there is so much distraction and negativity in the wider world this Government will proceed with the programme laid out in the statement: back New Zealanders who take the risks to create new jobs and businesses, back New Zealanders who work so hard each day so that they bring up their families, and back New Zealanders who need support to improve and change their lives.
In remaining focused on the things that matter this year, I want to acknowledge the support of our partners the ACT Party, United Future, and the Māori Party. Collectively our commitment to stable Government is what gives New Zealand so much of an advantage in a world of so much uncertainty. Nothing illustrates that focus better that the announcement last week of over 1,100 police staff. This commitment of half a billion dollars over the next 4 years comes with tight performance requirements for the police, to ensure that our communities are safer because of this investment. It comes after many years, actually, of work with the police to ensure that they can both catch criminals now and improve their crime prevention over time.
And we can make that choice because we have a strong economy and almost uniquely strong Government finances. A strong economy consistently delivering benefits. Higher incomes for families and more jobs.
The current forecasts show this economy growing at around 3 percent on average for the next 5 years. Of course there are risks about what might happen in the world, but that is the potential that we have. Lower unemployment and an average wage reaching $66,000 by 2021. I want to particularly remark on the record participation rate, because this is a dividend of growth. Our participation rate is now at a record high. What that means is that a greater proportion of working-age New Zealanders is now available for and looking for work than ever. That means that because of the growing economy, young people who were disconnected, older women, sole parents, and people with mild disabilities are now more likely to be available because they can see hope for a job. That is a pay-off for our strong economy.
It is no wonder that so many people were happy yesterday about Waitangi Day in New Zealand. It is no wonder. I want to thank the iwi and the urban marae of Auckland and the people of Auckland, hundreds of whom—thousands of whom—showed up to these events yesterday, for showing to New Zealand how Waitangi Day can be a celebration of our nation. It followed on from an excellent discussion between half of Cabinet and the Iwi Chairs Forum in Waitangi just a few days before, along with our partners from the Māori Party. What was striking about that whole week was the desire from people for New Zealand to be open, and for fairness, tolerance, and enterprise, rather than a history of protest and distraction.
When we look around the world, so many other countries are trapped by their internal conflicts. New Zealand is not. We have helped resolve them. Just one startling piece of information: there have only ever been 82 Treaty settlements signed. Of those, 66 were signed by a National-led Government, and 56 of those were signed in the term of this Government. I want to acknowledge our colleague the Hon Chris Finlayson, who has done all that work.
But it appears not everyone is happy. Not everyone is happy, and some of them look unhappy, like the Leader of the Opposition in Waitangi, with only two MPs, one of whom had said it was not a good idea to go. My deputy was there, with a significant delegation of National Party MPs—more than 10. What we saw there made me think of a new bestseller—”Lessons in Leadership”, written by Andrew Little and Winston Peters. Chapter 1 was written by Andrew Little: “How I Went All the Way to Waitangi to Tell Them I Wasn’t Coming”. Chapter 2 is “How, On the Way, I Picked a Star Political Candidate and United the Labour Party”. Chapter 3 was meant to be written by Winston Peters, but did not turn up. I think it would have been “How I Accidentally Spent Time in My Electorate on the Way to Shane’s Party”. Chapter 4 is going to be written by Ron Mark, and it is going to be a potboiler, I can tell you that.
New Zealand is confronted with the political version of what used to be Waitangi Day, and that is Labour and the Greens endlessly moaning about New Zealand—endlessly running down their country, so much so that the moderates and optimists have left the Labour Party. We saw one more resignation today, of the man Labour members now know they should have stuck with as a leader, and that is David Shearer. It is not as if we had not tried to cheer those members up. You would think that the first benefit increase in 40 years would have made them happy. No. No, it did not. You would have thought 130,000 new jobs last year would make them happy. No. You would have thought a new way of dealing with our most disadvantaged children would have made them happy. No. You would have thought a 10 percent increase in the number of police would make them happy. No. You would have thought that better educational achievement, particularly for the Māori and Pacific students that they think they represent, would make them happy. Did it make them happy?
Hon Members: No.
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, it did not. You would have thought that—[Interruption]—listen to this—50,000 fewer children in benefit-dependent households would make them happy. Did that make them happy?
Hon Members: No.
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is a reason why that did not make them happy, because it is 50,000 fewer people dependent on the Government machine; 50,000 more children with the spark of aspiration that they can grow, get their opportunities, in an economy driven by enterprise, not by big, old-fashioned Government that the Labour party now stands for.
The things that we are going to be doing this year, I guess, will not make them any more happy. In the programme here we have—and the statement that I have tabled—outlines the legislative progress of the Resource Management Act reform bill. This is one part of a comprehensive programme to improve the supply of housing. I will just tell you a bit about the other ones: special housing areas, the HomeStart grants, which are going to help 90,000 young New Zealanders into homes. The Housing New Zealand and Crown Land large scale building programme, which is getting up and under way, particularly in Auckland—the requirement that councils now take into account house-land values when they are deciding their zoning. The $1 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund currently under discussion between the Government and all the growing councils around New Zealand, the unit title reforms, and the upcoming Urban Development Authority legislation—all of these are focused on improving the supply of housing. And, of course, it takes some time for houses to get consented and built after their subdivisions have been consented and built, but we are on the right track. Last year 10,000 new houses in Auckland—because in the long run, it is only more houses on the ground that will enable a reasonable housing market, and we look forward to the Opposition’s support for those measures, because I believe it too actually does want to have a reasonably operating housing market.
The other thing the Opposition is not happy about is our extensive programme of investing in infrastructure for growth. This is about a shift in mind-set—a shift in mind-set—and, in a sense, this Government has shifted its mind-set along with what has happened with Kiwis, because here is one very good measure of how New Zealanders see their own country. Four years ago 40,000 people left this country to go to Australia. That was the net effect. Now, it is a net zero—in fact, a bit more, I think, a slight inflow. Tens of thousands of New Zealanders who are staying here when they used to leave, and they need more schools, more hospitals, more housing, more transport, and, actually, more investment in the core public sector infrastructure such as defence, police, security, tax collection, and so on.
So the capital spend by this Government in the last 5 years was $18 billion. In the next 5 years it is $32 billion, and that is the story of a consistently growing economy, a now-consistently growing population with moderate and consistent growth and incomes, a country with a clear sense of direction, and a Government committed to the policies that will support that direction. I look forward to—now, this is going to make the Opposition really unhappy—the opening of the Waterview Connection in Auckland. This is a project started by this Government, in fact this Minister of Transport, facilitated by legislation that the Opposition opposed, and it will be the biggest single change in Auckland transport in decades. We know the Opposition will complain about it the whole time.
Another one that is dear to my heart, and so important to rural and provincial New Zealand, is the extension of ultra-fast broadband (UFB). Two weeks ago, before we announced the 1,100 new Police staff, we announced that 150 more towns will get UFB. I met a couple that have installed call centres in Waverley and Ruatōria—Waverley and Ruatōria. They said that the next generation of technology they need, will come with UFB and that is on the list. So is that not fantastic. New jobs, real jobs in the regions being part of a comprehensive focus on regional development that is being carried out by a number of the Government senior Ministers.
We have seen the enthusiasm for that in Southland where they went to launch the plan and 500 people turned up. Even I could not get a crowd that big—in Invercargill 500 people turn up. In the West Coast they have got their own internal argument over what should go in the plan. But there is absolutely no doubt that in the regions they are engaged and invested in a process where Government is working alongside them. We do not pretend that the officials know what is going to work in Gisborne or in the West Coast, but they know. We can help them and we can support them because we back them instead of the Government department.
Another part of our agenda this year that is so critical not just to the regions but to the rest of the economy is trade. I know it is fashionable to talk it down and I know on the other side of the House they are right in line with the US policy which is to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Is it not amazing when you find out whose friends are whose? I am sure half the Labour Party members feel comfortable with that and half of them cannot believe they have found themselves in favour of a closed, isolated, inward-looking economy in New Zealand. We support open trade because we are open to investment, open to people, open to the world, and yes, it is a bit harder.
We do not expect the support of the Labour Party to do something in New Zealand’s long-term interests, like find our way through the challenges of a free-trade agenda when much of the world is making that harder. But one way or another working with like-minded countries we will do that because what we know is when we open the door to our exporters, they are better than anyone in the world at getting through it—better than anyone in the world. We back them. But we are not going to pack up and stay home, crying into spilt milk, just because the US has made a decision to pull out of the TPP. The Asia-Pacific is still the most dynamic economic region in the world and we want to ride that dynamism.
So New Zealand is in an increasingly, uniquely positive situation with a very good outlook compared to almost any other developed country. We have political stability, and it is part of the responsibility of the National Party this year to ensure that it stays that way. There is only one party that can guarantee political stability in this country through this election and it is the National Party and its potential support partners. Anything else—anything else—creates uncertainty when we need more certainty, not less. We have got the opportunity for so many positive choices, because we have Government surpluses. We can increase family incomes. We can invest in more public services. We can invest in the infrastructure for growth. We can pay off debt, which we had to run up to rebuild Christchurch and get through a recession, which of course on “Planet Labour” never happened. I am beginning to wonder who else is on “Planet Labour”—the Greens and, well, Willie Jackson might be there, or he might not be.
We are going to continue to be a reliable and considered partner for our friends around the world, at a time when advocates for openness can make a difference, and that is going to be the story of this Government this year.