The latest stats on the economy indicate New Zealand’s fundamental settings remain strong. The Crown Accounts for the eight months to February show a larger-than-expected $1.4 billion surplus. This is helping us make good progress on our debt target, with net debt currently at 23.5 per cent of GDP. Our target is 20 per cent by 2020/21.
These numbers are rare internationally, and most importantly they give us choices. We can build our strength, better to deal with the next shock that will inevitably come; we can invest more in infrastructure and other public services; we have the opportunity to boost take-home incomes through tax relief.
In Parliament my focus has naturally been the Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment and Science & Innovation portfolios. There are many issues bubbling away. In Tertiary Education we are digesting the 500 page report from the Productivity Commission looking at new models of learning.
The report contains plenty of good ideas, some of which we’re already working on (such as improving the information available for students about the costs and employment outcomes of various courses), some of which we will give careful consideration to (such as options to make the rules more flexible so that it’s easier for providers to innovate).
One idea we have ruled out immediately is reintroducing interest on student loans. We don’t want to see young people starting out in their working lives, looking to save for their first home, while having to deal with unmanageable student debt.
Our focus on student loans is to ensure that as many students as possible pay off their loans in a timely manner. The average payoff period for domestic students is 6.5 years. It’s longer for graduates who head overseas.
Most of the nearly $1 billion in outstanding debt is carried by people who have disappeared offshore. In the past couple of years we have been determined to track the defaulters down and since 2014 we have seen a 66% increase in the number of overseas borrowers who are behind on their loans getting in touch with the IRD. The potential for arrest at the border and the sharing of tax information with Australia sent a powerful message.
The hundreds of thousands of Kiwis who have scrimped and saved to pay off their student loans expect that fellow students, wherever they are in the world, will do the same.
Epsom Girls’ Grammar Centenary
Congratulations to EGGS for their centenary. I was one of the handful of men amongst the 600 or so attending the gala dinner last Saturday night, which was very entertaining.
My wife and sister are old girls; and the eldest of our girls started at the school this year. It’s a great school. It seems to me that one of the most important determinants of success in any school is the expectations of parents and teachers.
When looking at a 100 years of teaching girls, the progress made there – in raising expectations – provides the greatest cause to celebrate. For many decades expectations were low in an academic sense; it took years for a science lab to be built. But that changed dramatically at EGGS.
Girls of my wife’s generation were told they could do anything, and they have. Today’s EGGS girls have the world at their feet.
Sir Douglas Myers
It was with a heavy heart that I wrote an obituary on Sir Douglas Myers for the Herald over the weekend. For many years, before he retired to London, he’d been one of Remuera’s most prominent citizens. Knighted in 2010, Sir Douglas Myers embodied the thrusting entrepreneurialism of the last decades of Twentieth Century New Zealand.
He combined his business pre-eminence with an inherited enthusiasm for political activism, philanthropy and internationalism to become one of the most influential and interesting figures of his era. I’d come to know him well when working on a family history for him in the early 2000s; he was one of the most thoughtful men I have ever met.
Time out bookshop
This year local Mt Eden Bookstore, Time Out, was one of three bookshops shortlisted for the prestigious 2017 London Book fair ‘Best Bookshop of the Year’. Although just missing out on the award to French bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, it is fantastic to see local businesses being recognised on the world stage and I would like to say a big congratulations to the Time Out team for their efforts.
Hon Paul Goldsmith
National List MP based in Epsom