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I’d like to welcome you all here for the launch of our eighth discussion document, this one on health.

A friend of mine has just had a significant surgery. While they have been waiting for it and even now as they recuperate, nothing else in their life matters as much. The pain took over everything and right now they are 100 per cent focused on getting back to normal.

That’s how important health is. Without it, we have nothing, and so government has a responsibility to ensure all New Zealanders have access to the best care possible.

Some think National bangs on about the economy too much – heck, Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern seem to think we do. But that’s because National knows how much depends on a strong economy. The health sector depends on it and in particular the ability for a country to do the sort of things we outline in the document whether it be better cancer drugs, more cochlear implants, income equity for midwives or more for our hospices, depends on it.

Simply put, when you have a stronger economy you can afford to do more.

National will revive the economy and, as I have said many times, we won’t waste money on the likes of Fees Free, Shane Jones’s slush fund or embassies in Stockholm but on investment in health, education and infrastructure.

This is what I mean when I say, our bottom line is you. We’ll strengthen the economy and spend your taxes on you, not other people.

The reality is that as the economy has gone from the best part of four per cent to two per cent growth under Labour our economy has lost several billion dollars and about $800 million in tax each year for each percentage point dropped. That tax would buy a heck of a lot of healthcare.

Under this Labour-led Government, healthcare is getting worse. I’m conscious some won’t believe that because Jacinda Ardern often talks about how much she cares about such things. But when you strip back the soaring rhetoric, less funding has gone in than we forecast when we were in Government we’d invest, and targets, measures and accountabilities have disappeared. Deficits have ballooned and the sector is struggling. Meanwhile waiting times grow, and numbers of elective surgeries and immunisations shrink.

If you take just the elective surgeries, which was what my friend needed, the numbers barely increased under the last Labour Government before we took them from 118,000 to 174,000 a year. And now, for the first time in at least a decade, they’re going backwards. As with immunisations, that’s because if you don’t measure it, target it and hold yourself accountable by publishing it, results will worsen. That means ultimately your health will worsen.

The ‘nine years of neglect’ Labour talks about was in fact nine years of progress – and what’s so tragic is that they’ve reverted to type in health with less frontline healthcare but more backroom bureaucrats as shown in this discussion document.

National will re-establish health targets and hold ourselves accountable by bringing back the publishing of data. That will be in areas such as elective surgeries and immunisation.

We understand health requires a stronger economy that provides more funding but also leadership and targets, measures and accountabilities for us to deliver for you. Without either you get what we’ve seen before from Labour and we are starting to see again.

Of course we understand this is about much more than healthcare workers treating people in GP clinics and hospitals. It’s also about Social Investment and prevention through early intervention. That’s why you’ll see proposals such as ‘the daily mile’ programme to get kids running 15 minutes a day and a renewed emphasis on school dental services including the Childsmile programme around good oral hygiene and daily supervised teeth brushing in nurseries. At the other end of our lives it means such work as assisting older New Zealanders to continue living longer independently in their home.

There is so much more in this discussion document that merits mention but I will leave the specifics to our health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse.

Let me finish with just two wider points.

Our health team has more experience and expertise in healthcare than the rest of Parliament combined. From Michael, who for years ran Mercy Hospital in Dunedin to Dr Shane Reti, a decades-long provincial GP and DHB member, and Matt Doocey, a mental health practitioner with years of experience. All have postgraduate degrees in health and perhaps that’s why they haven’t been afraid to get out and talk to many hundreds of healthcare specialists in the past couple of years, asking what they think we should do. I want to acknowledge the role those health professionals have played and will continue to with feedback on this document.

Finally, this is our eighth discussion document and shows National has the ideas and momentum in New Zealand politics while Labour is stuck in a rut, failing to deliver on its promises for New Zealanders. In short, this document is part of the biggest policy development process by an Opposition ever.

We hope you like it – but more importantly that you enter into the contest of ideas with your feedback.

You can view the discussion document here

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