NZ open for business and people

July 27, 2015

Prime Minister John Key today used his speech to the National Party conference yesterday to reiterate his Government’s commitment to an open economy which embraces free trade and immigration.

. . . Earlier generations could never have imagined the global opportunities opening up for New Zealand.
I want to lead a country that embraces those opportunities.
An open and confident country that backs itself on the world stage.
As I’ve said many times, we won’t get rich selling things to 4.5 million New Zealanders.
But we could by selling to 4.5 billion people overseas.
Our Party supports strong international connections.
We value the benefits that free trade agreements deliver and the opportunities they offer.
I back our farmers, our manufacturers, our ICT companies and in fact all our export industries to succeed.
If we can get an equal crack at world markets, we’re up there with the best in the world.
That opportunity is what free trade is about for New Zealand.
When the previous Government, with the full support of National, signed a free trade agreement with China in 2008, our annual exports to that country totalled $2.5 billion.
Since then, they’ve quadrupled and China is now our biggest trading partner.
That FTA has had huge benefits for New Zealand.
Just a few months ago, I was in Seoul to witness Tim Groser signing another free trade agreement – this time with Korea.
When that agreement comes into force, half our exports to Korea will immediately be tariff-free, and almost all the rest will follow.
I can tell you that the kiwifruit growers of Te Puke are going to be delighted when the 45 per cent tariffs they currently face are finally removed.
We’re also in the final stages of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
TPP has been a big focus for our Government.
A successful conclusion will mean a trade agreement with a number of countries, including the giant economies of the United States and Japan.
This is something that successive governments in New Zealand, of both stripes, have been actively pursuing for many years.
That’s because it will mean better deals for Kiwi producers and exporters, better access to world markets, and better prospects for growing those markets in the future.
It will help diversify the economy through a broader range of trade and investment relationships.
And it will flow through to higher incomes and more jobs for New Zealanders.

The ability to export freely and earn the returns from exports unhampered by tariffs and other protective measures is one part of our international connectedness.

Immigration is the other.

New Zealand’s connectedness with the world is also about people coming to New Zealand to live and work.

Immigration benefits New Zealand because people coming here provide more of the labour, skills, capital and business links we need to grow.
A lot of people coming to New Zealand settle here in Auckland.
But as I go around other parts of New Zealand, mayors and employers often tell me they can’t get enough workers of the type local businesses need.
Southland, for example, is always crying out for workers in the dairy sector.
Across the whole South Island, in fact, the unemployment rate is a very low 3.6 per cent.
I can assure people that New Zealanders will always be first in line for jobs. That will not change.
And Auckland, as our largest city, will continue to grow.
But I believe we can do a better job of matching the needs of regions with available migrants and investors.
So today I’m announcing some changes to our immigration settings.
The first is aimed at encouraging people who come to New Zealand as skilled migrants to take up jobs in in the regions.
Around 10,000 skilled migrants get residence each year, together with their family members, and almost half of them come to Auckland.
We want to balance that out a bit, by attracting more people into other parts of the country to help grow local economies.
Currently, skilled migrants with a job offer get 10 extra points if that job is outside Auckland, and those points count towards the 100 they require.
From 1 November, we will treble that, and give them 30 extra points.
In return, they’ll have to commit to a region for at least 12 months – up from the current requirement of three months.
New Zealand also needs entrepreneurs to start new businesses, expand existing firms and create jobs.
So the second change we’ll make is to encourage entrepreneurs wanting to come to New Zealand to look for business opportunities in the regions.
Last year we launched an Entrepreneur Work Visa, targeting migrants who offer high-level business experience, capital and international connections.
Currently, people applying for this visa get 20 extra points if they set up a business outside Auckland, and that counts towards the 120 they require.
From 1 November, we will double that to 40 extra points.
Immigration New Zealand expects to approve up to 200 people next year under this visa.
With the changes we’re making, we expect to see most of these entrepreneurs setting up or growing businesses outside Auckland and creating new jobs across the country.
The third change I’m announcing will help employers find out faster whether New Zealanders are available to fill a particular vacancy, before they lodge a visa application with Immigration New Zealand.
From 1 November, they’ll be able to contact Work and Income directly to check availability.
This is a small measure, but it’s been really appreciated by employers in Queenstown and we’re extending it across the country.
The fourth announcement I want to make today is that the Government intends to provide a pathway to residence for a limited number of long-term migrants on temporary work visas in the South Island.
These people and their families have been in New Zealand for a number of years.
Their children are at schools. Their families are valuable members of their communities. And they are conscientious workers paying their taxes.
Their employers want to hold onto them because there aren’t enough New Zealanders available.
Around 600 overseas workers in lower-skilled occupations in the South Island have been rolling over short-term work visas for more than five years.
We envisage offering residency to people in this sort of situation, who commit to the South Island regions where they’ve put down roots.
We’ll set out the details of this pathway early next year.
Finally, the Government will consider a new global impact visa.
This would be targeted at young, highly-talented and successful technology entrepreneurs and start-up teams, who want to be based in New Zealand, employ talented Kiwis and reach across the globe.
There’s been quite a bit of interest in this idea and we’re going to look at it carefully over the next few months.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Taken together, the changes I’ve announced today will contribute to a better balance in our immigration settings.
They will help spread the benefits of migration across the country, particularly in those regions crying out for workers, skills and investment.
As I said earlier, we need to be more connected with the world, because that’s where our opportunities come from.
This is just one small part of that approach.
We’ll also continue to press on with free trade agreements, build stronger investment links, and embrace the openness and connectedness that characterises successful countries in the 21st Century. . .

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said:

. . . “Thousands of people from all over the world are moving to New Zealand because it is a good place to live, work and raise a family,” Mr Woodhouse says.

“Those people make a significant contribution to New Zealand’s economic growth by providing skills, labour and capital we need, along with valuable cultural and business links.

“New Zealanders will always be first in line for jobs and that won’t change,” Mr Woodhouse says.

“Currently, many new migrants settle in Auckland, which faces infrastructure challenges as it transforms into a truly international city. At the same time, business owners in other parts of New Zealand often struggle to find enough skilled workers to meet their demands.

“While there are already incentives to encourage migrants to move to areas outside of Auckland, we can do a better job of matching the needs of regions with available migrants and investors,” Mr Woodhouse says.

New measures to take effect from 1 November include:

  • Boosting the bonus points for Skilled Migrants applying for residence with a job offer outside Auckland from 10 to 30 points.
  • Doubling the points for entrepreneurs planning to set up businesses in the regions under the Entrepreneur Work Visa from 20 to 40 points.
  • Streamlining the labour market test to provide employers with more certainty, earlier in the visa application process.

In addition, from mid-2016 a pathway to residence will be provided for a limited number of long-term migrants on temporary work visas in the South Island.

“Unemployment across the Mainland is nearly half that of the North Island, and labour is in short supply,” Mr Woodhouse says.

“Most workers in lower skilled jobs must apply to renew their work visas every year. Some of these people have worked hard and paid tax to New Zealand for many years. They are valued at work and in their community, but have no avenue to settle here permanently.

“We’re looking at offering residence to some migrants, who have applied at least five times for their annual work visa. In return, we will require them to commit to the South Island regions where they’ve put down roots.”

These are very welcome changes which will make it easier for immigrants to settle in the regions and for employers in the regions to attract and retain staff.

I know a family who will benefit from the new policy to allow people on temporary visas who’ve been here for at least five years to settle.

They’ve been here for a decade, working, paying tax and contributing to the community.

They’ve spent 10s of thousands on immigration consultants but don’t have enough points to gain residency.

They are good people who would make good citizens and now they will be able to stay in the place they call home.

That’s good for them and the small town where they live.

Mr Woodhouse says the Government is also considering a new Global Impact Visa to attract high-impact entrepreneurs, investors and start-up teams to launch global ventures from New Zealand.

“I will announce further details later this year, but we envisage this visa would be offered to a limited number of younger, highly talented, successful and well-connected entrepreneurs from places like Silicon Valley,” Mr Woodhouse says.

This announcement shows National is open to business and people, a policy from which we’ll all benefit.


Quote of the day

July 27, 2015

John Key's photo.

New Zealand’s connectedness with the world is also about people coming to New Zealand to live and work.

Immigration benefits New Zealand because people coming here provide more of the labour, skills, capital and business links we need to grow. – John Key


Tell tale tit

July 22, 2015

Tell tale tit/your tongue will be slit/ and all the dogs in the town/ will have a little bit.

This schoolyard chant has come to mind often as I watch the mainstream media report breathlessly on something someone has posted on the internet.

The latest is Max Key’s video of his family holiday.

If it wasn’t that his father is the Prime Minister would anyone but his friends know about this? Even when he is the PM’s son, some other than his friends might want to know but does anyone but them need to know?

It’s been viewed more than 116,000 times. But how many times would it have been viewed had it not been broadcast by the MSM?

Other political leaders have, rightly, said that politician’s families should be off-limits.

I only knew about it because I read a post on Facebook referring to Barry Soper’s soapbox saying the PM’s son’s lifestyle was a liability to him.

. . . Key’s always been seen as a regular bloke, and regardless of his super wealth, he is. But perhaps he should have a word to his son Max who’s been with the family at their Hawaiian hideaway over the past couple of weeks, along with his model girlfriend who’s soon to become a Miss Auckland contestant, we’re told. . .

Now that isn’t the privilege of the vast majority 20 year old’s who’re struggling to make ends meet in this country.

It’s not an image that should be flaunted when the number of homeless here is growing and when the economy’s beginning to waiver, and it’s not the image that Key’s so carefully cultivated.

To those who like and admire him the PM comes across as who he is, someone who has the rare ability to engage with a wide spectrum of people and who hides neither his humble background nor the wealth he earned through hard work and careful investment.

This story won’t influence them. It might provide some fuel for those who don’t like him or his politics but probably won’t even register with the vast majority.

If there was any flaunting, it wasn’t the original posting of the video, it was the reporting of it which brought it wider attention.

That brings me back to the schoolyard chant.

Social media is part of life now and some matters broadcast on it do have legitimate news value.

However, some which get reported on by the MSM forget the difference between what some of the pubic might be interested in and what’s in the public interest, and they’re just telling tales.

Stories about politicians families should, with very rare exceptions, be in the latter category.


Quote of the day

July 22, 2015

. . . One of the reasons why you probably haven’t had a significant correction is because over the last 45 years there’s probably been a general view that houses are not overvalued relative to a whole lot of different factors. My point is that the market, in the end, assesses when housing is massively overvalued compared to fundamentals, not politicians.John Key


Slower growth still growth

July 10, 2015

Chicken Little would feel right at home with opposition politicians and media who are wanting us to believe the sky is falling.

This season’s dairy payout was low and next season’s might not be much better but banks aren’t going to be forcing farmers out of business.

Providing farmers are prudent and work with their banks they’ll get through.

Dairying is a large part of the economy and those who service and supply farmers will find business tougher as farmers spend less, but the impact of that still won’t push us into the recession some of the gloomier forecasters would have us believe is coming.

Trans Tasman puts it into perspective:

“Complacency” is what Labour finance spokesman Grant Robertson called John Key’s attitude to the economy this week. His leader Andrew Little went further, saying NZ faces a “perfect storm” of economic bad news. Both called for the Govt to do something, although just what remained a bit vague, apart from a generalised call for more spending to stimulate the economy. Key’s “What? Me Worry?” persona can grate at times, but this is all a bit over-egged.

Much of the egging came from the media, of course, with broadcasters being the worst. One has come to expect a certain amount of arm-wavy economic illiteracy from TV news, but what was more surprising was hearing Radio NZ follow suit, discussing the economy as if a recession 
is imminent.

Essentially there is a buy-in to the Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei’s claim the Govt needs to “start spending again” to avoid a recession. It’s a statement which appears oblivious to the Govt loosening the fiscal purse strings in the May budget, and also of the fact no reputable economist thinks a recession is imminent. Rather, it is a slowdown from a bit more than 3% to probably around 2% growth in GDP.

This means both Treasury and the Reserve Bank’s most recent forecasts are wrong, and not in a minor way. The presumption of 3% GDP growth this year, and for the next two years, now looks just that – highly presumptuous.

But it is not a recession. Growth is still happening. It is just considerably slower than expected. Interest rates and the NZ dollar are adjusting – finally – to take account of this.

Growth may be slowly, but slow growth is better than no growth and still, thankfully, there’s no imminent danger of the sky falling.


Rural round-up

July 6, 2015

Matt Bell wins 2015 ANZ Young Farmer Contest

After a nail-biting finish Matt Bell of Aorangi is the 2015 ANZ Young Farmer Contest Champion.

“This is the most surreal feeling, all the hard work has paid off. The blood, sweat and tears – it was all worth it! It’s somewhat of a dream at the moment” said Mr Bell.

Competition in the 47th ANZ Young Farmer Contest was fierce, with the Evening Show rounds resulting in a tie between East Coast’s Sully Alsop and Aorangi’s Matt Bell. Matt Bell won on a count-back of Practical Day scores. . . .

Young farmers ‘shattered’ after tough contest – Daniel Hutchinson:

The best young farmers in the land flocked to Taupo for a showdown as the town hosted the grand final of the Young Farmer Contest on Saturday.

Animal instincts and rat cunning were on display as the seven contestants battled it out with fencing duels (wire fences), shearing feats and even a speech contest during the three-day competition.

After a nail-biting finish on Saturday night, Matt Bell of Aorangi was declared the 2015 champion. . .

Plans to invest up to $30m goat plant:

A goats’ milk company has announced plans to invest up to $30 million to build processing and packaging facilities in Hawke’s Bay.

Fresco Nutrition’s managing director Greg Wycherley said there was growing demand for infant formula that came from goats and sheep milk, particularly in Asia.

He said Hawke’s Bay was the ideal place to produce and process the product. . .

Speech to Federated Farmers 2015 Annual Conference – Nathan Guy:

Good morning and thank you all for the opportunity to speak to your annual conference here this morning.

I would like to begin by acknowledging your President, Dr William Rolleston; Chief Executive, Graham Smith; members of your National Board; and all other members here today.

My congratulations go to Dr Rolleston who has just been elected as the Vice-President of the World Farmers Organisation.

I met with newly elected WFO President Evelyn Nguleka and Executive Director Marco Marzano in Europe recently.

As an organization “of farmers, for farmers” the main focus of the WFO is to represent the interests of its hugely diverse constituency in international forums where they are often the only voice for farmers. . .

 Low flyer wins top prize at NZ aviation awards:

The business is usually flying close to the ground. But this week, top dressing firm Ravensdown Aerowork was the high flyer when it took out the prestigious ServiceIQ Award for Excellence in Training at the Aviation Industry Association Awards in Queenstown.

ServiceIQ Sector Advisor Gary Scrafton, says the Wanganui-based aviation firm places a strong emphasis on its people, ensuring that they have the skills they need to do both a great job in the air, and to provide customers with top-class service. . .

 

Further boost for New Zealand Cycle Trail:

The Government is investing nearly $400,000 in six new projects to enhance and maintain the quality of the New Zealand Cycle Trail, Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism John Key announced today. 

“This is the second round of funding available through the Maintaining the Quality of Great Rides Fund and brings the total investment under the fund so far to $1.36 million,” says Mr Key.

“Priority has been given to proposals that aim to improve the safety and quality of the Great Rides – the premier rides on the New Zealand Cycle Trail. Three of the successful applications are for repairs to sections of trail that have incurred storm damage. . .

NZ blackcurrants improve mental agility

Researchers say New Zealand blackcurrants can keep people mentally young and agile, and aid in managing the effects of depression and Parkinson’s disease.

A study conducted by scientists at New Zealand’s Plant & Food Research, in collaboration with Britain’s Northumbria University, showed the compounds found in New Zealand blackcurrants increased accuracy, attention and mood.

The research also found juice from a specific New Zealand blackcurrant cultivar, Blackadder, reduced the activity of the enzymes which regulate serotonin and dopamine concentrations in the brain. . .

Seafood industry supports efforts to save Auckland Islands’ sea lions:

The seafood industry actively supports measures to conserve the Auckland Islands sea lion, Seafood New Zealand Chairman George Clement says.

His comments follow the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) upgrading the sea lions’ status from vulnerable to endangered.

“The decline in the sea lion population at the Auckland Islands has been a cause of concern for some time, although other populations are increasing. . .

Winter Mixed Bloodstock Sale Catalogue Out Now:

The catalogue for New Zealand Bloodstock’s Winter Mixed Bloodstock Sale are due in letterboxes early next week and can be viewed online now.

There are 73 horses catalogued, consisting of broodmares (40), weanlings (6), yearlings (4), two-year-old’s (9), unraced stock (2), racehorses (11) and stallion shares (1).

A range of sires will be on offer at NZB’s Winter Mixed Bloodstock Sale with 53 sires represented, including the progeny of leading sires from New Zealand and Australia, Savabeel and Fastnet Rock. . .

 


John Howard Lecture to Menzies Research Centre – Bill English

June 28, 2015

Our deputy PM and Finance Minister, Bill English delivered the John Howard Lecture to Menzies Research Centre last week:

Thank you for inviting me tonight.

It’s a pleasure to be here in Australia.

What happens over here, and what people are thinking, affects New Zealand profoundly.

That’s why I try to visit here regularly and talk to as many people as I can.

I want to acknowledge the warm relationship shared between our respective Governments – and the constructive engagements we have with Prime Minister Abbott and Joe Hockey in particular.

Australia has enjoyed 25 years of solid economic growth. Following the end of the mining boom, I believe you are well placed to make the necessary adjustments and continue that run of solid growth.

Australia is New Zealand’s most important trading partner and biggest source of overseas investment.

It’s also where many New Zealanders have come to live.

That is, until the last couple of months when – for the first time since 1991 – there was a net migration flow from Australia to New Zealand.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, a net 130 people moved from Australia to New Zealand last month, and I’d like to welcome each and every one of them to our country.

It’s also a pleasure to be following in the footsteps of Prime Minister John Key, who gave this lecture in 2012.

He is the outstanding New Zealand political leader of recent decades.

He brings to bear a remarkable combination of analytical and political skills with the confidence and aspiration New Zealand has needed in tough times.

I know John Key has a huge amount of respect for John Howard.

So do I.

I followed his career for many years through the pages of The Bulletin, which I read in my farming home in the far south of New Zealand.

My first substantial conversation with John Howard was in extraordinary circumstances.

I came over to Australia to meet him in May 2003, as the leader of the opposition National Party.

Unfortunately my visit coincided perfectly with the resignation of the Governor-General.

John Howard obviously had a great deal on his hands dealing with this critical constitutional issue.

However, after watching the Prime Minister answer questions in a very sombre Parliament, I was summoned to his office, greeted warmly and treated to a 45-minute, relaxed, wide-ranging discussion on politics.

That afternoon, I could not have been less relevant to his considerations. But I could not have been treated more warmly and respectfully.

It was a real boost for a young, struggling opposition leader, and I have always remembered his generosity.

Unfortunately, his wisdom and guidance was not sufficient to prevent me from losing my job a few months later.

But John Howard’s example showed me that in politics, persistence is rewarded.

Here I am part of a successful government, now into its third term and hopefully with more to come.

I want to offer some thoughts tonight about the business of government, from a centre-right perspective.

Others can determine whether those thoughts are applicable elsewhere. Each country has its own set of circumstances and its own unique challenges to deal with.

A guiding principle of the John Key-led government has been to take the public along with us as we make changes, explain the reasons for them well in advance, lay out the logic, adjust expectations and implement those changes competently.

Over time, that builds up a popular support for our changes so they will stick.

This approach was developed partly from the experiences of the 1990-1999 National government.

The early 1990s were a time of extensive and sometimes unexpected changes in New Zealand. We implemented sound policies, but we failed to build broader constituencies for those changes.

As a result we lost support, the electoral system was changed to MMP, and many of our policies were undone by the subsequent Labour government.

Since our election in 2008, we have taken a different approach.

Over the past six-and-a-half years the National-led government has been able to implement sound centre-right policy which is now sufficiently embedded with public support that I am confident it will remain in place.

Our approach has been dubbed ‘incremental radicalism’. This differentiates it from another approach to centre-right reform which I call ‘crash or crash through’.

The elements of the ‘crash or crash through’ method include creating a burning platform, initiating rapid change, and spending large amounts of political capital which you hope you will recoup when the expected benefits flow through sufficiently strongly for the government to be re-elected.

In some circumstances this has worked. In the 1980s it was probably necessary.

We didn’t have that choice this time around – nor did we want it.

Our MMP system ensures that electoral success always comes down to a few seats in Parliament.

In last year’s election we beat our main opponents by 47 per cent to 25 per cent of the vote, but our four-party coalition has only a slim majority in the House.

This means we have had to build and maintain continuous public support for our policies.

We have kept a tight rein on new spending – including delivering two budgets in a row with no net new discretionary spending – but it hasn’t felt to people like fiscal austerity.

For instance we increased welfare benefit rates for families with children in our most recent budget – the first time this has happened in more than 40 years. But it was within an overall spending increase that was very slim by historical standards.

In 2010, we implemented a revenue-neutral tax switch which cut all income tax rates and the company rate, funded by an increase in GST and property taxes.

We spent a long time working publicly through the issues so the changes were largely uncontroversial by the time we finalised them, and people could see that the package of measures was balanced and fair.

We also sold 49 per cent of three government-owned electricity companies.

We laid that plan out to the public at the beginning of election year 2011 and campaigned on it, because the legacy of previous asset sales in New Zealand is one of distrust when the public feels assets are sold without a mandate.

While opinion polls showed people didn’t like the policy, there was no evidence of a backlash against us in the 2011 election, and no question that we had a mandate.

In the right circumstances, I believe people can grasp long-term policy trade-offs, so we’ve tried very hard to be predictable, consistent and upfront with voters.

Our fiscal policies and microeconomic reforms are familiar centre-right approaches adapted to New Zealand’s particular circumstances.

But it’s the third part of our policy programme I really want to talk about tonight, and that’s our public sector reforms.

Excluding transfers, government makes up around a quarter of all economic activity in New Zealand.

Government is a huge, diversified business and we can make a big contribution to the country’s prosperity by running that business more effectively.

Centre-right parties tend to want to limit the role of government, which they believe holds back growth in the economy and undermines individual and community liberties.

I share that view – the more so the longer I am in politics.

However because of their scepticism about government, centre-right parties can underestimate their ability to improve the economy by understanding and improving government.

I believe in smaller government.

I also believe the best way to achieve smaller government is to deliver better government.

The centre-right toolkit has traditionally focused on reducing levels of spending, rather than addressing the long-term drivers of that spending.

But too often, spending cuts are only temporary, as they are reversed in the face of public opinion or reinstated by an incoming government.

What is less intuitive for a centre-right party is to better understand the lives and needs of the government’s regular, long-term and most expensive customers.

When government does its job well and intervenes effectively it enables vulnerable people to increase their resilience and social mobility, and it helps them make positive changes to their lives.

It also reduces demand for public services over the medium to long term, and therefore saves taxpayers money.

What works for the community works for the government’s books.

If you compare it to the private sector, a business needs to understand its customers because they drive its revenue. We need to understand our customers because they drive our costs.

It makes sense to get to know our most expensive customers.

Their lives are complex and often challenging. Their interactions with government agencies can be chaotic and crisis-driven.

The result is a loss of human potential and long-term harm to families and communities. And there are big costs for taxpayers.

We are starting to dig into those costs, and the information is proving to be a powerful driver for institutional and policy change.

We can now pretty accurately know the likely life path of different groups of children. For example, there is a relatively small set of children with multiple problems for whom we can expect that:

  • three quarters will not get a high-school qualification,
  • four in ten will have been on a benefit for more than 2 years before they are 21, and
  • a quarter will have been in prison by the time they are 35.

Each of these children will cost taxpayers an average of $320,000 by the time they are 35, and some will cost more than a million dollars.

Front line workers in the community will know most of their names. We can deal with them one by one.

The ideal outcome for us is fewer customers, not more. Fewer dysfunctional families. Fewer parents who spend decades on welfare. Fewer people who commit crimes.

Part of our response is to recognise that people can do more for themselves, and often want to.

We expect more from people, because ultimately they are responsible for their own lives and responsible for their own families.

We expect parents to actively support their children at school. We expect prisoners to get off drugs and gain work skills. And we expect young sole parents who are on benefits to get qualifications.

We’ll help them do that.

We don’t believe that people whose lives are difficult are automatically helpless and will stay that way forever.

But reducing misery, rather than servicing it, requires us to organise responses around these individuals, with them at the centre of public spending.

Inconvenient as it might seem, people don’t live in government departments, they live in families and communities.

Last year we got officials from the health, education, welfare and justice sectors to bring along a summary of analysis about at-risk children and youth.

What we saw were four well-crafted ways of analysing exactly the same people. But they were all quite different because of each agency’s own institutional and professional history and culture.

One agency, for example, used a deprivation index that goes from 1 to 10, while another used one that goes from 10 to 1. Same kids.

That sort of issue is at the easier end of the scale to fix, or at least it should be.

It’s more difficult to set up structures that recognise people’s problems are connected.

Take the case of five-year-olds in state care.

In New Zealand, there are 1,500 of them each year and by the time they are 35 they will incur prison and welfare costs totalling $550 million.

Traditionally we’ve looked after those kids on a shoestring budget, through the valiant efforts of foster parents and front line social workers.

The question is, what can we do differently now, and spend up front, to save those children from such a life and save a good portion of those $550 million in future costs?

When we ask that question, departments usually don’t know the answer because they haven’t tried to solve that problem.

Instead, governments have simply serviced the system for caring for children, and serviced the prison system, and treated those as two separate issues. They are not.

We are starting to link these issues of foster care, education, welfare dependency, youth justice and prison sentences through analysis that shows the costs and potential for more effective intervention at multiple points in a child’s path to adulthood.

We are prepared to spend money now to secure better long-term results for the most vulnerable New Zealanders, and lower costs to the government in the future.

We call this social investment.

It challenges a lot of the structures that have been set up to manage government spending on an annual basis.

If there’s enough good-quality data, the investment approach can look out 20 or 30 years and model the costs of dysfunction, and the benefits of intervention, for particular communities and populations.

That’s how we are now approaching the welfare system.

We previously had a cash-driven, point-in-time view of the welfare system. This led to a focus on short-term results, like bringing down the number of people on the unemployment benefit.

A couple of years ago we commissioned Australian actuaries Taylor Fry to calculate the lifetime welfare costs of people on benefits.

That liability turned out to be $78 billion – or just under 40 per cent of annual GDP.

And we discovered that those on the unemployment benefit made up only 4 per cent of the future liability.

Groups you never thought of made up a bigger percentage. Like those we call ‘recent exits’ – people who have recently returned to work after being on a benefit.

It turns out that many come back on welfare, and their long-term cost was higher in total than the people currently on an unemployment benefit.

Sole parents had an even larger lifetime liability. So did a large group of people with psychiatric and psychological conditions.

You can drill down further into this information.

Among sole parents, for example, you can then ask “Who is going to cost us the most money?” and it turns out it’s the ones who go onto a sole parent benefit before they turn 20.

A teen sole parent on a benefit in New Zealand is on a benefit for around 20 years, on average, with a net present cost of $213,000 per person. So that helps us know where to focus our efforts.

The next obvious question is “what can we do about it?”

With that group of teen sole parents, for example, we no longer just give them a fortnightly benefit and wish them good luck.

They are now enrolled in a scheme that, among other things, ensures they are in school or training, gives them each a supervising adult, and manages their money for them. That programme is showing promising results.

We are also much more focused on getting sole parents of all ages off a benefit and into work, through extra support and greater work obligations.

The latest welfare valuation, which is updated every six months, shows the future liability of beneficiaries has reduced by $7.5 billion in the last year, with $2.2 billion of this due to steps we have taken as a government.

There are now 43,000 fewer children living in a benefit dependent household than there were three years ago, and the number of sole parents on a benefit is the lowest since 1988.

In other areas too, there is a role for better data, and better use of data.

We need to manage privacy and other issues very carefully, but data gives us an opportunity to drive a programme of work firmly focused on getting better results.

That focus is a challenge to public accounting.

The traditional public finance structure is designed to track where every dollar goes, but was never designed to find out whether it made any difference.

Making a difference is the whole point though.

Too often, success has been defined simply in terms of spending money on something. Politicians say “look, we spent more” as though that on its own is what matters.

Public services, which are full of good and capable people, still spend a lot of time not sure of the effects of what they’re doing.

The public think we know, or at least they think we’ve got good intentions.

Borrowing and committing billions of dollars on good intentions has been the post-war model.

Where possible we want to start purchasing results.

We want to buy reductions in recidivism, for example, more educational achievement, and lower welfare dependence.

We also want to broaden the range of organisations and providers we buy these results from.

The more people who worry about New Zealand’s longstanding social challenges, and work on innovative approaches, the better.

The Government doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas, resources and expertise.

So I expect more involvement from not-for-profit and private sector providers alongside government agencies.

We are aiming to make data more open, so people and organisations outside the usual public policy process can analyse it to develop new ways of reducing dysfunction in vulnerable groups.

Individuals will also benefit from more information about what works, because it supports the ability for them to make choices.

Why shouldn’t someone with a disability, for example, have access to comparisons of different employment support services?

Technology is allowing us to develop new tools to take these sorts of ideas and make them a reality.

Our social investment approach is based on common sense, not a profound new theory.

People have talked about having a results focus for years, and taking a cost-benefit approach to social spending is probably taught in all good public policy courses.

But the difficult part is being able to put these ideas into practice in the real, messy and contentious world of government.

The social investment approach won’t be suitable for all public spending, or even a majority of it, but we’re rolling it out as far as we can.

That’s the opportunity for the centre-right.

Parties to the left of us appear to have given up on innovation in public services. Certainly that is the case in New Zealand, where the Labour Party consistently argues for the status quo.

Centre-right governments have the opportunity to achieve smaller government by delivering better government.

Public services should make a genuine difference to those people in our communities who live with the least resources, and the least hope.

In fact, they should make enough of a difference to reduce the number of people who suffer these disadvantages.

If we focus on making that difference, the centre-right can change government for the better.

More importantly, we can build on the resilience and aspiration of those who are excluded from the economy and community by a passive, unaccountable welfare state.

Thank you.


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