By the time this column is published National will have a new leader and we will be firmly focused on uniting behind the person who will take us into the 2020 General Election, and holding the current Government to account in the interim.
Many Hamiltonians have commented to me that they were sorry to hear that our previous Prime Minister Bill English decided to retire from Parliament, as was I. I hold Bill and his wife Mary in the highest regard.
He led National to a superb result in the 2017 General Election and was only removed from office thanks to the vagaries of an electoral system which transfers the decision over who should form the government from voters to the leader of a minor party.
Bill made an enormous contribution to our country in many positive ways during his 27 year political career.
His prowess as Finance Minister was instrumental in guiding New Zealand through the Global Financial Crisis and ensuring we were one of the first developed countries to get our books back in surplus, while maintaining support for essential public services and avoiding the austerity measures many other countries implemented.
In recent years, Bill’s innovative social investment approach helped revolutionise the way public services are delivered in our communities, making a major and positive difference to the lives of vulnerable New Zealanders who require continuing support.
The latest annual State of the Nation report released by the Salvation Army confirms that the social investment strategy, measured by the Better Public Service targets National set (but the current government intends to abolish) has been very successful in tackling some of our country’s most entrenched social challenges.
Particular improvements have been achieved in employment growth, higher incomes and fewer children being raised in benefit-dependent homes. Since 2010 we’ve reduced the number of children living in material hardship by 135,000.
National’s approach secured a 31% reduction in youth crime and a big increase in 18-year-olds achieving NCEA Level 2.
However, much remains to be done so we must continue to measure and report on the effectiveness of every programme that taxpayers are funding.
Bill English deserves much of the credit for the vision and determination that secured these significant improvements. I was proud to serve in his government, latterly as a Minister of the Crown, and I thank Bill and his family for the sacrifices they made on our behalf.
The new leadership team will have my full support. We will now get stuck into our work, focusing on issues that matter to New Zealanders and providing sensible alternatives to some of the current government’s policies that are light in substance and dependent on deep taxpayer pockets.