Reflecting on 2016
We look around the world and see so much uncertainty and gathering signs of stress in many places. As a small country we are subject to the consequences of these global forces, over which we have no control. The recent earthquakes, also, have reminded us of our geological vulnerabilities.
And yet, New Zealand continues to go from strength to strength. Our economy is strong, one of the fastest growing amongst developed countries. Unemployment has fallen below 5 per cent, and we continue to enjoy a job boom – with 144,000 jobs created in the past year alone. Since 2008 inflation-adjusted wage growth in New Zealand has been the fourth fastest amongst developed countries. And we’ve managed to do this while returning the Government’s books back to surplus.
You can understand why New Zealand has been ranked first in the world in the 2016 Legatum Institute Global Prosperity Index. That’s something to celebrate.
New Zealand’s success is a result of the hard work, ingenuity, pragmatism and goodwill of Kiwis. The Government helps by providing a strong, stable and financially sustainable political environment, combined with steady reform and investment to improve our competitiveness and productivity. Meantime, growth and good management of government spending gives us choices.
We can continue to deliver better quality health and education services to New Zealanders. We have extending free GP visits to under -13s and have spent a massive $5 billion on upgrading school buildings since 2008.
We can continue to care for the most vulnerable in society in order to maintain our social cohesion, as we did in last year’s budget when we delivered the first real increase in benefits for families with children since 1972, and an additional investment in emergency housing places in this year’s budget.
And we can continue making massive investment in transport infrastructure in Auckland. This helps keep the city moving and ultimately helps ease the pressures on housing affordability that are intimately bound with transport.
As we look forward to the summer and Christmas to spending time with friends and family, I wish you and your families all the best.
Reflecting on the end of 2016!
December proved to be more dramatic than any of us expected. After eight years of great service as our Prime Minister, John Key has stood down. Those of us who have watched him closely know he was right when he said he’d given it his all, and we understood when he said he had nothing left in the tank. During his time in office he has demonstrated what good government looks like.
The striking thing has been how quickly and professionally the National caucus has recovered its poise after the shock. Bill English and Paula Bennett have swiftly secured the support of their caucus peers, and we can have every confidence that National will continue to provide the strong, stable and financially sustainable government we have come to expect, alongside some shifts in emphasis such as we would expect from a refreshed leadership line-up.
It is a great thrill for me to be invited to join Bill English’s first Cabinet as Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, Minister of Science and Innovation and Minister for Regulatory Reform. I’m looking forward to long summer days reading all about international trends in universities, the economics of the student loan scheme and the details of the more than $1 billion we spend annually on science.
After two years as Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, I’m leaving to my successor many projects that will take years to complete. The most important, in the long term, is the effort to improve financial capability amongst New Zealanders. Within Cabinet I’ll take a keen interest in the Government’s progress on all of them.
Hearing your views and ensuring they are heard in Wellington
As a Member of Parliament based in the Epsom electorate, I continue to find new ways to engage with the community. Regular surveys provide important feedback on issues of concern. I also regularly invite a cross section of residents to join me for morning teas or to informal events, such as ‘Pizza and Politics’ at our Great South Road offices, to hear what’s on people’s mind.
We had around 35 people at a recent Pizza and Politics evening, where the hottest topic was the impact of immigration on housing. Half the audience were long-term residents, mainly concerned about the pace of change in their neighbourhoods, and the other half were recent migrants who expressed a diversity of views on the subject. We all shared a concern about housing affordability.
I outlined the Government initiatives to free up the supply of housing – the fundamental driver of high prices, alongside historically low interest rates. These include the Special Housing Areas to fast-track development, the work with the council to get through a Unitary Plan which substantially frees up supply, and the $1 billion government fund to help speed up the provision of infrastructure, such as water and sewage. And we are making progress. Building consents data published by Statistics NZ in November indicate that New Zealand is in the middle of the longest and strongest building boom on record.
I also outlined the measures to reduce the pressure from speculators and strong net migration. These include the bright line test to tax investment properties bought and sold within two years, the requirements for New Zealand bank accounts and IRD numbers, and the reduction in net migration numbers alongside a freeze on the parents category.
The sentiment of the meeting, and it’s widely shared in feedback to me generally, is an acceptance of the complexity of the issues but a desire for us to consider going further. In every discussion about these topics I have in Wellington, I make sure that the sentiment is clearly heard.
2016 in photos
Hon Paul Goldsmith
National List MP based in Epsom
P: (09) 524 4930