Does the minister of finance understand the needs of Auckland? He lives here, so of course he does, right? Here are five things, and the speech to accompany them, that Simon Wilson would love to hear Steven Joyce deliver in his first budget speech today.
Read all our Budget 2017 coverage here.
1. “Every child will live in a warm dry home.”
My fellow parliamentarians, we stand at an auspicious moment in history. Thanks to our finest medical minds, we know how to eliminate rheumatic fever. And all the other diseases of poverty. We know what families need as the basic foundation for them to thrive. We know how to ensure children go to school and stay in school and achieve beyond their dreams and raise their aspirations for later in life. We know what communities need to build their own strong hearts and strengthen their resilience against every adversity.
We know that all these things start with one core requirement: a warm, dry and safe home. Yes, it’s true we can’t fix all the problems of the world just through housing. But we can’t fix any of them unless we fix housing. Decent housing is the foundation of a decent society.
To that end, this government is going to do what needs to be done for every child to live in a warm, dry home. And we’re going to do it within three years. I promise you this: the electorate allowing, I will stand here, making the budget speech in 2020, and tell you it’s mission accomplished.
Today I’m announcing a substantial increase in the funding for Warmup New Zealand, which puts insulation into New Zealand homes, and for a raft of other domestic energy-efficiency programmes. Warmup NZ has already improved the quality of 300,000 homes. This new funding will allow it to scale up that work.
At the same time, we are increasing the funding across several government ministries and departments to ensure:
- A scaled-up programme of social housing construction, coordinated by the Ministry of Housing.
- New legislation for the mandatory provision of affordable housing in all major private-sector residential building projects.
- Greater uptake of energy-efficient heating programmes.
- Greater wrap-around social services to get homeless families into decent homes and help them stay there.
It will not be easy to allow every child in New Zealand to live in a warm, dry home. So what. This government cannot think of any good reason to avoid the task. We’re up for it.
2. “We’re going to make teaching the most honourable profession in the land.”
Here’s the thing about education. Everybody agrees the foundation for successful schools is to have high-quality teachers. We politicians spend a lot of time arguing about a whole lot of other education issues, but we all know: it’s the quality of teachers – and their principals – that makes the biggest difference. To that end, this government will:
- Introduce a new, significantly improved pay scale for teachers.
- Scale up the Teach First programme, to offer more university students and professionals the chance to try teaching and make a difference in the classroom.
- Require all teachers to hold a degree or equivalent, as well as a recognised teaching qualification.
- Scale up professional development programmes and require teachers to engage in them.
- Apply these principles across all school sectors, from early childhood education to the tertiary sector.
- Introduce an “alternative pathways” programme to help teachers who wish to do so to exit the profession, and to help school boards and principals smooth that process too.
- Work with all parties in the education sector to establish a timetable for implementation.
We want the best and brightest young people in this country to become teachers. Not all of them, but many of them. We’re going to focus on making that happen.
3. “We’ll have an integrated upper North Island freight strategy based on the principles of sustainable economic development.”
The value of competition between the ports of Auckland, Tauranga and Whangarei has come to an end. The country is not well served by a race to the bottom among the ports, nor by the uncertainty surrounding the future of rail and other transport links among the cities of the top third of the country. Nor by neglect of the principles of sustainable economic development.
An integrated strategy will address the future role and location of the key ports, the value of rail links, the relationship of Auckland as a freight centre to Hamilton, Tauranga and Whangarei and the ways in which we can make the most of our opportunities as a trading nation. Above all, for environmental and economic reasons, the new integrated strategy will set out a programme to reprioritise rail in the movement of freight.
In this budget, funding is allocated to allow the strategy to be created. In future years, with key decisions made, we’ll build fast and hard.
4. “I’m not going to mention motorways.”
We need fast-tracked transport projects all over the city, but we don’t need more motorways. The aim is to manage congestion on the roads, and I am now convinced that the best way to do this is to get many more people off the roads. We now favour the rollout of light rail, more rapid busways and more cycling infrastructure.
Better public transport and improved services for people cycling and walking also have other benefits – in health, the environment and the social life of the city – none of which are achieved by continuing to encourage everyone to drive a car.
- The government will pay the full cost of the City Rail Link. In other New Zealand cities, rail projects with as much value as the CRL have been fully funded by central government. That’s also what happens with motorways all over the country. We are bringing Auckland rail into line with that.
- The government will commence work immediately on a rail link from downtown Auckland to the airport. The value of this project will be clear long before it is completed.
- The government will revisit the Auckland Transport Accord, signed last year with the Auckland Council, in order to prioritise public transport and decide which other PT projects should be greenlit in the immediate future.
5. “All prison inmates will receive the help they need with addiction, literacy and mental health issues.”
We know we have a serious problem, in Auckland and elsewhere in this country, with methamphetamines. We know armed robberies are on the rise. And while our prison population is growing we are not keeping up. That’s because prisons are not the solution to crime. They are, as the prime minister has said more than once, a measure of our failure as a society.
This government is going to change that. Prison will become the solution to crime. But not in the way that statement might normally be understood. Prisons will become the solution to crime because they will become the place where prisoners are helped to turn their lives around.
Did you know the proportion of prisoners who are functionally illiterate, which means they could not pass NCEA Level 1, is 63 percent? Two thirds of prisoners can barely read or write. The proportion who do not have a driver’s licence is 70 percent, which is important because it’s necessary for so many jobs. The proportion who have substance abuse problems, and/or mental health problems… you get the picture. And in many cases, the causes of these things things are easy to fix: like undiagnosed glue ear, that creates deafness, that stops a child learning in the classroom, which means they never learn to read. In many other cases they are not easy to fix at all. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
So the government will spend more on prisons this year, and the next, and the one after. But it will do this in order to introduce programmes across all prisons and for all prisoners, to address literacy and other functionality issues, and to help them deal with addictions and mental health.
Think of it this way. The Howard League for Penal Reform runs a driver programme in a prison in Hawke’s Bay. It costs $500 on average per prisoner, and after it, on release, those people have a licence: a tool that will help them get a job and stay away from crime. The cost of keeping them in prison instead is $100,000 per year.
We’re going to scale up that programme, and others alongside it. No longer will we leave it to good-hearted private-sector groups to do in a small way what the state should be doing, as a matter of course, as part of the core role of the Department of Corrections. We’re going to spend money the right way to save a lot more money spent the wrong way later on.
And we’re just getting started. That’s a principle we’re going to apply to a lot more things. Watch this space.
The Spinoff Auckland is sponsored by Heart of the City, the business association dedicated to the growth of downtown Auckland as a vibrant centre for entertainment, retail, hospitality and business.