One of the big disappointments of the Northland by-election was that National went off-message.
Until then the message was clear and consistent – a growing economy is the means for improved services and infrastructure, without compromising the environment, and National’s recipe for that is working.
We’ve had sustained growth, without inflationary pressure, in spite of the financial and natural crisis the government has faced.
That has been achieved by careful management of public finances while looking after the most vulnerable.
A big part of the plan, and its success, is addressing the causes of long-term problems and thereby reducing the costs which go with them.
This is why National has increased money for education and put more in to helping those most at risk from long term welfare dependence.
It is why it has made delivering Better Public Services one of its priorities.
To do this, we set 10 specific measurable targets in 2012 that we expected the public service to achieve over four to five years to improve the lives of New Zealanders, particularly the most vulnerable.
These 10 targets are in areas that have been challenging to governments, not just in New Zealand but all around the world – such as welfare dependency, crime, child abuse, and educational achievement.
This focus on results, and being accountable for achieving them, is changing the way the public service is thinking and operating.
Three years on, we are making progress on all 10 targets and it’s now starting to make a difference that improves the lives of New Zealanders.
In February 2015, we released our twice yearly update on the Better Public Service programme.
Key highlights of the latest update include:
- Immunisation rates of young babies have reached an all-time high.
- Rheumatic fever rates have dropped considerably.
- Crime numbers continue to fall – the crime rate is now at a 35-year low.
- Last year nearly 5,000 people came off long-term JobSeeker Support benefits and into work.
- More 18-year olds are achieving NCEA Level 2.
- More young people are achieving higher qualifications.
- And the number of children who experienced substantiated physical abuse has decreased by almost 200, or 5.6 per cent, over the past year.
There’s still a lot of work to do and we will continue to focus on making strides on the things that matter to New Zealanders and their families.
These matter everywhere in New Zealand, including the provinces.
But there is no doubt Northland had an itch to which Winston Peters applied his usual prescription of charm without substance.
It is possible that no matter how good a campaign National ran it wouldn’t have been able to counter Peters’ persuasion.
But there would have been a better chance of success had it stuck to its message and it must get back on to it.
It has the right prescription and it must keep applying it everywhere including those parts of the country which, fairly or not, feel it isn’t yet addressing their ills.