John Key commits to tacking NZ’s growing underclass

John Key has just finished delivering a speech at the Burnside Rugby Clubrooms in Christchurch. The speech is online and titled “The Kiwi Way: A Fair Go For All”.

Well worth reading the whole thing. A few paragraphs that resonated with me:

For me, politics is not about the pursuit of power for the sake of it. Unlike some, I won’t measure the success or failure of my political career by the number of years I hold office.

For me, politics is about the ability to make change for the betterment of all New Zealanders. It’s about challenging us all to dream how great our country can be and then setting out to achieve it.

We have, over generations, evolved a set of essential New Zealand values, attitudes and shared experiences. These represent what I call ‘The Kiwi Way’.

You get a taste of this when you listen to foreigners talking about what New Zealanders are like. They typically say we are friendly and modest people; we are inventive and empathetic; we are proud of the natural beauty of our country; we believe in working hard and getting rewarded for it; we think no one is born superior to anyone else and that everybody deserves a fair crack in life.

We are not four million spectators, having a passing interest in someone else’s game. This is our country; we make the rules and we should decide its direction.

There are streets in our country where helplessness has become ingrained. There are streets of people who believe they are locked out of everyday New Zealand the way most of us experience it, and are locked into a way of life for which the exit signs and the road maps have long since been discarded. These streets have become dead ends for those who live in them.

I’m not just talking about poor communities – because we all know that being poor needn’t rob you of hope. I’m talking about places where rungs on the ladder of opportunity have been broken. I’m talking about streets like McGehan Close, in Owairaka, Auckland. In one week last year, two kids in that small street killed themselves and another two made unsuccessful attempts. It is a street terrorised by youth gangs.

Around the country there are other places like this. The worst are home to families that have been jobless for more than one generation; home to families destroyed by alcohol and P addiction; home to families where there’s nothing more to read than a pizza flyer; home to families who send their kids to school with empty stomachs and empty lunch-boxes; and home to families where mum and the kids live in fear of another beating from dad.

Last week, for the first time in its history, New Zealand Post stopped delivering mail to three streets in Hamilton. They stopped delivering to Tennyson Road, Emerson Place and Dryden Road because gang violence has made them too dangerous for posties to enter. If it’s too dangerous for a postie to enter, what is it like to live there?

We are seeing a dangerous drift toward social and economic exclusion.

That is not The Kiwi Way. It’s not the kind of New Zealand I grew up in and it’s not the kind of New Zealand I want my kids to grow up in. It’s not the kind of New Zealand I want anyone’s kids to grow up in.

These are tough problems – very tough problems. But I have no intention of being a Prime Minister who tackles only the easy and convenient issues. I don’t pretend I’ve got all the solutions. But I can tell you that dealing with the problems of our growing underclass is a priority for , both in opposition and in government.

My first point is this: the solution doesn’t lie in just throwing more money at the problem. If it did, this Labour Government would have solved it a long time ago. And yet family dysfunction has flourished under Labour.

Look at the Kahui family. The Government recognised they were a needy bunch. So what did it do? It doled out around $1,000 a week in benefits to the Kahuis and the Kings, and do any of us believe it helped them?

My second point is that we need to make changes to a whole range of government services.

Addressing the problems of the growing underclass involves tackling serious and interconnected issues of long-term welfare dependency, crime, illiteracy, poor parenting skills, social exclusion, malnutrition, drugs, and lost hope.

In all areas of social policy, I am tasking National’s spokespeople to come up with policies to address the deep-seated problems in some of our families and communities.

We also need to ensure there is effective policing in all parts of our cities and in all areas of the country. We will not tolerate violence and antisocial behaviour. Under a National government, gangs will not be controlling neighbourhoods so posties can’t even deliver the daily mail.

Let me say that under National, the parole system will be focused on protecting innocent Kiwis from hardened, unrepentant and dangerous criminals. Under any government I lead there will be no parole for repeat violent offenders.

We also have a serious and growing problem with long-term welfare dependency.

I have said before that I believe in the welfare state and that I will never turn my back on it.

We should be proud to be a country that looks after its most vulnerable citizens. We should be proud to be a country that supports people when they can’t find work, are ill, or aren’t able to work.

But we should be ashamed that others remain on a benefit for years even though work is available to them. That is no way forward for them and it is no way forward for New Zealand.

Long-term dependency robs people of confidence, motivation and aspiration. Ultimately, it robs people of a stake in their own society.

We have to ensure that Kiwis, even those with relatively low skills, are always better off working than being on a benefit. We have to insist that healthy people receiving assistance from the State have obligations, whether that be looking for work, acquiring new skills for work, or working in their community.

National will use the welfare system, on behalf of all New Zealanders, to motivate long-term beneficiaries to change their lives for the better.

A National government will challenge the business community to work with us in backing a programme of providing food in low-decile schools for kids in need.

Too many kids in our poorest communities are being excluded from sport because their parents can’t afford it. These are the very kids who need it most.

A National government will work with schools, sports clubs, businesses and community groups to ensure that more kids from deprived backgrounds get to play sport.

We will invest in getting those kids playing sport because it reinforces The Kiwi Way.

Labour often views non-government providers as its competitors, not its partners. It sees them as unprofessional. It tries to squeeze them into boxes that just don’t fit. It smothers them with paperwork and makes them apply to multiple funding pools.

Well, I want to grow the competition. I want to get alongside the amazing groups that make a difference in our communities. I want to ask them what the government can do to support and extend their efforts.

My time in politics will only ever be a success if I can look back knowing I played my part in building on that pride.

I believe the best years for New Zealand are ahead of us. As a nation, we have everything to look forward to. We can be a country that is coming together; not a country that is coming apart.

I am determined to lead a New Zealand that delivers on our promise. I invite you all to join me in that mission.

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