English’s first address as Leader

Claire Trevett reports:

He indicated infrastructure would be a priority, saying the Government would continue to invest in roading, public transport, schools and housing that were needed to support a strong economy and growing population.

It would also deliver “smarter” ways to help the most vulnerable, such as the investment approach to the delivery of social services. English has been a driving force of that and said he expected to retain some overview.

“This will be a Government supporting economic growth and ensuring the benefits of growth are widely shared.”

Traditionally National has focused on growing and Labour on sharing. Of course you need the growing to fund the sharing and a balanced Government focused on both.

However, English refused to commit to the Key’s 2008 promise not to change the pension age, saying it would be among a stocktake of National’s policies would take place before the 2017 election.

“I’m not making the same pledge as the previous Prime Minister did. That was a product of its time where there was a need to establish trust and I think it was a sound decision then. The election was followed by a recession which could have caused real insecurity for older people.

Good. This doesn’t mean National will raise the age of entitlement. It doesn’t even mean National won’t rule it out next term. It means English is not making the same commitment as Key to never ever raise it no matter what – which turned out to be with hindsight a real mistake (even if politically necessary at the time).

No doubt Labour are already booking ad space to run a scare campaign that will falsely claim National is going to increase the age. The fact this was their policy last election won’t stop them.

Setting out his leadership philosophy, English quoted a line from Selina Tusitala Marsh’s poetry which he heard at a Women’s Leadership Conference. “She said, ‘lead and dig up the diamonds around you.”

He expanded on that later, saying he was referring to the diamonds in New Zealand society.

“I’ve never been in a community where there isn’t someone with the vision and energy to change how it works, so I suppose someone else said something that I meant, and that’s why I quoted it.”

“The Government isn’t the answer to everything, most of our answers are in our own families and communities. Sometimes Government gets in the way of that. This is a Government that will be focussed on understanding, at a very individual level, what is going to work with people and then supporting them to achieve it.”

There are some things that only the Government can do such as pass laws, set policy, fund through taxation certain services. But Bill has always said that most of the answers do not lie with Government.

English said decisions on an election date would not be made until early next year. However, he ruled out going early to the polls simply because David Shearer’s departure would cause a by-election.

“I think one of the worse reasons for having an election in New Zealand is the fact Labour are losing their moderate members, and their competent members. So no, we won’t be driven by their internal problems. We are driven by what works for New Zealand, not what works for the Labour Party.”

How many moderates will be left in Labour after the election? Nash and O’Connor maybe?

Asked if he would give Key a knighthood, English grinned and joked “well, it’s not as if he’s never asked.”

Some of the left on Twitter have gone mad about this, not able to realise it was a joke.

Having said that it would be highly unusual for John Key not to be offered a knighthood in the future. Every Prime Minister who has served more than a few months has been offered a titular honour.

While he described himself as an ‘active Catholic’ who was opposed to abortion and euthanasia, he said he would probably vote differently on the gay marriage bill now.

Bill’s comments on this issue was very interesting. He said he had concluded that allowing same sex couples to marry hadn’t undermined marriage for others, but actually extended the institution. Very pleased to see him say this.

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