It’s sometimes forgotten that when John Key’s National-led Government took office in 2008, New Zealand’s economy was already in recession thanks to several factors including reckless spending during the latter years of Helen Clark’s government.
Soon afterwards the world was in the grip of the Global Financial Crisis and New Zealand faced major challenges which were compounded when the Canterbury earthquakes struck.
It took several years to work our way back into surplus but we succeeded through prudent economic management and targeted social investment in our health, education and other public services, especially those which supported the most vulnerable in our communities.
By the time Winston Peters changed the government in 2017, we were back in surplus, achieving solid economic growth, lower unemployment, and witnessing a pleasing drop in the number of people living in benefit-dependent households.
The number of teen pregnancies halved under our watch, elective surgery rates increased every year and patients were being seen sooner, and treated better, in new health facilities. I am particularly proud of the transformation of the Waikato Hospital campus under our administration.
That’s why our political opponents’ inane chant about “nine years of neglect” is patently false. They were challenging years for all of us, but we came through without resorting to the austerity measures of many larger countries and our recovery won international admiration.
Through it all we secured a 41% increase in education investment and $16.8 billion of new health spending over the nine years, proving that both were priority areas for National. We more than doubled spending on early childhood education to $1.8 billion and delivered record investment in schools, including over $1.7 billion building schools, redeveloping them or adding classrooms, often here in Hamilton to meet the demand caused by our growing population.
We also delivered record investment in transport across all modes including the Waikato Expressway and other highways, local roads, trains and cycleways. Improving road safety while reducing congestion and travel times were priorities for National.
National built more state houses over our nine years than the previous Labour government had done. Now Labour is trying to claim credit for houses National was already building. Our HomeStart grants were helping an extra 80,000 first home buyers – more support than ever before.
All governments would like to do more but a country with New Zealand’s small population must set priorities and make some tough choices. After all, governments do not have any money. Everything they spend must be earned, mostly by taxpayers. And they must ensure that every dollar they take from you is spent wisely and fairly.
I’m proud of our record and disturbed that the current government is taking more but achieving less. “Years of neglect”? I don’t think so – and they sure beat this Claytons “year of delivery”.