So much has happened already this year.
Remember Jacinda Ardern? She celebrated a record - breaking election victory two years ago but fled before the electorate could deliver its verdict later this year.
Then the start of year was disrupted by severe flooding across Auckland. Parts of the Epsom electorate were heavily hit, the cliffs around Parnell and Remuera, the low-lying areas of Epsom, especially around Gillies Ave and parts of Balmoral Road. While most of us emerged largely unscathed, some families and businesses face weeks and months of grind to restore things; some have lost their houses. We will be watching closely to ensure that people get the help they need and that lessons have been learned. My office remains available for any who need assistance.
Reshuffles followed as Chris Hipkins tried to give the impression of change, while also trying to defend his record and present stability. That would always prove tricky. If I hear another reference to Mr Fixit, I think I’ll scream. Hipkins has been Minister of Education for five years: over half of kids don’t attend school regularly and two thirds of year 10 students cannot pass basic numeracy and literacy benchmarks. As Covid minister he forgot to get around to ordering vaccines, plunging Auckland into an unnecessary second lockdown. As Public Services Minister he’s presided over an explosion in both Wellington civil servants and external consultants. And, finally, as Minister of Police he oversaw a 500% increase in ram-raiders, who were safe in the knowledge there will be few consequences. New Zealand needs less spin and more delivery. On the last point, as Chris Luxon announced late last year, under a National government serious repeat youth offenders will be off to military academies. The pat-them-on-the-head-and-we’ll-see-you-again-next-weekend approach to youth justice can’t continue.
Waitangi celebrations followed. I joined Chris Luxon, Nicola Willis, Shane Reti and many of our team in what was mostly a positive engagement. We heard the usual stuff from Hipkins, that any questioning of his government’s co-governance agenda is divisive, even racist. It’s disappointing the new Prime Minister is adopting the approach of the old one – failing to explain clearly his intentions around important constitutional matters while attempting to shut down any debate by lazily claiming that it’s divisive to ask basic questions.
Chris Luxon would have none of that nonsense. A National government will govern for all New Zealanders, equally.
My drive up to Waitangi was instructive. I’ve never encountered so many dangerous potholes, bumps and scree on the roads. Tens of millions have been spent on stringing wires up on the side of the road, in the name of safety, but the basic task of maintaining State Highway 1 has been neglected. It’s a classic example of the muddle-headedness of this government.
The extension of the motorway north, which Labour famously dismissed as the ‘holiday highway’, has been scandalously slow to open. It’s amazing, after five years the only new roads to open have been the ones started by National. Nothing else has happened. I drove through the Waterview Tunnel this morning and reflected that if Michael Wood and Labour had been in power that would never have been built. We’d still be crawling down Manukau Road home from the airport.
New Zealand needs a Government that has sensible transport priorities and can deliver on them.
Meanwhile, feedback on the street is consistent that the number one issue worrying Kiwis is the cost of living. Hipkins’ response has been to keep putting fuel on the fire by extending, yet again, the fuel subsidies. Grant Robertson still talks about targeted spending, while billionaires filling up their Porsche Cayennes get the same subsidy as anyone else. It’s band-aid economics.
What’s needed is National’s five-point inflation fighting plan – restoring discipline to government spending, ceasing to add unnecessary costs to businesses, reducing bottlenecks in the economy that are holding back productive growth, providing income relief to Kiwis by adjusting tax thresholds and focusing the Reserve Bank on its knitting.
Finally, Hipkins has promised to jettison a few unpopular policies. Goodness. Where would he start? The slow tram down Dominion Road, Three Waters, TVNZ-RNZ merger, Fair Pay Agreements, the monomaniacal speed limit reductions, the Jobs Tax?
In my area, Justice Minister Kiri Allan should be asking her leader to drop Labour’s hate speech legislation so she can prioritise more pressing issues. When violent crime has increased by nearly 40 per cent, when the ram raids carry on largely unchecked and when Kiwis continue to face unacceptably long delays in the courts, any sensible Justice Minister would focus on effective responses to those challenges.
Hate speech legislation by contrast is not needed. It will unnecessarily narrow free speech and expression in our country, while distracting Ministry of Justice officials and the sector from the far more pressing tasks they face.
Parliament is still a week away from resuming, but you can be sure we will be taking the fight to Labour this year. The country needs a genuine change in direction and a leader who can actually get things done.
For those interested, Simeon Brown and I will be holding a public meeting on Monday 20th March at 7 p.m. at the Remuera Bowling Club, 6 Market Road, Remuera. We will be discussing Speed Limits.
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