Text of an opinion piece that appeared today in Stuff.
Over Christmas, Bill English needs to come up with a plan to tackle the real issues facing middle New Zealand.
John Key’s promises – to lift up the underclass, to fix the housing crisis, to close the wage gap with Australia – have gone unfulfilled.
Will Bill English be any different? Key papered over problems – will English fix them?
When I asked him last week if he accepts his responsibility for the effects his decision have on real New Zealanders, he said no every time.
He doesn’t accept that there is a housing crisis, that the home-ownership rate has fallen to its lowest level in 65 years, that a third of the population faces average house prices of a million dollars, and 41,000 New Zealanders are homeless.
I met a real estate agent in Auckland recently who worries that his young adult son and daughter will never be able to afford a home. And he should know, he’s in the business.
The Kiwi dream is fast fading for thousands of New Zealanders.
Bill English doesn’t accept that there’s a link between him ripping half a billion dollars in so-called profit out of Housing New Zealand, and the fact state houses are so poorly maintained that the cold and the mould is making kids get sick and even die.
I’m sceptical that there will be a real difference because both the new prime minister and the new deputy prime minister have had housing portfolios for the past few years and housing issues have got worse.
Other cost-cutting has had equally devastating consequences. A 96 year old losing her homecare because the local hospital says they can’t afford it any longer, cancer patients not getting the latest medicines because Pharmac funding has been frozen, and now police numbers frozen for four years at a time of a rising population and crime.
No one ever opposed spending taxpayer funds sensibly and for best value, but that can’t be all a government does.
Savings today do not generate wealth tomorrow. And it’s the wealth-creation activity that’s been missing in action with this Government. Without it, we can’t lift wages and standards of living.
So where are the incentives for productive economic activity that generates jobs with good incomes? Where’s the encouragement for small business to expand? Where’s the support to enable business to take up new technology and invest in training staff in new skills?
New Zealand has problems so let’s get on and fix them. Let’s not say “it can’t be done” or “it’s too hard”. Labour’s got the positive plan to do it.
Labour will restore the Kiwi dream because we believe ensuring people have a place of their own, a decent place to live, is a first duty of government. We’ll build affordable houses for first-home buyers, ban foreign speculators who use our homes as gambling chips, and require all rentals to be warm, dry, and healthy to live in.
We have pledged to reverse National’s health cuts and plough extra funding into the care that Kiwis need, like homecare, GP visits, and the latest medicines.
We have said that education is key to opportunity and, so, we said that everyone should get three years of free tertiary education, and the government should subsidise apprenticeships.
We have committed to making our communities safer by undoing National’s cuts to police and putting a thousand more cops on the beat.
We have announced that Labour won’t leave young people to rot on the dole, like the current Government. We’ll employ them to do valuable work to improve the environment and their community, and build their skills while they’re doing it.
We’ll invest in regional infrastructure through our regional development fund, and build the projects that will get our cities moving – like light rail for Auckland.
To keep work and profits in New Zealand, we’ll make sure the government buys Kiwi-made whenever possible.
We can foster innovation and growth through research and development tax credits and tax incentives for new plant and equipment. We can give our people the opportunity to be the best they can be.
That’s Labour’s positive plan for the future. Let’s see if Bill English has one.