Saturday, March 19, 2005

(Media/National) It's coming unstuck for the 'Teflon' PM - Thomas

(Simon Edwards, Hutt News; 15 March 2005)

For a time in the mid-1990s, Rosemarie Thomas stood with the Christian Heritage and Democrat parties. But she says she's never given up her dream of being a Parliamentarian for the Hutt, “which has been home for such a long time”.

Her roots with National go right back to 1968, when she joined the Young Nats while still at school.

She took on Paul Swain in Eastern Hutt in 1990 and achieved the third highest swing in a Labour held seat in the country, missing out by fewer than 1000 votes.

“I've been committed to centre right politics for all my life.” Thomas says.

Isn't centre right essentially the thrust of the current Government too? “They would try to make themselves appear that way but they are a very left wing government they way they increase taxes and with their liberal moral agenda – though there are some people on the right who support these issues (civil unions, etc).

“Labour has a very extreme agenda for New Zealand”.

Extreme? “Helen Clark is quite dictatorial in what she has done.” The Privy Council was abolished with little or no consultation; people are concerned by the delay in naming the new Governor General, the PM is pushing us down the path of Republicanism , and a new flag without nearly enough consultation, Thomas says.

Just a year ago, Helen Clark was “the Teflon woman” - nothing stuck. “You can't say that now.”

People are angry that Labour said six years ago there would be no new taxes “but it's the biggest joke.” There's the new petrol tax and so many more people are being caught but the tax for earning more than $60,000 that was ever envisaged.

In her work as an immigration consultant since 1991, she has helped bring in so many skilled migrants to plug holes in our workforce. “But that's because we're losing so many of our young people.” With student loans and the prospect of better wages, lower taxes, they're going to Australia and Europe and staying there.

Thomas says her major drive in the election campaign will be to chase the party vote for National, “because it's the party vote that will change the government”. But she also contends that Mallard is vulnerable. She claims that there's still a lot of bitterness in Wainuiomata about the enforced school amalgamations, and the Stokes Valley/Kamahi Schools angst is far from being sorted.

So many of our schools that were closed are idle and mouldering – land backed for Treaty settlements, “I believe in one standard of citizenship for all New Zealanders – and I believe that will help Maori. The sooner all people are treated equally, the better for everyone.”

The NCEA is riddled with problems, the scholarship debacle alone serious enough to have required Mallard to resign, Thomas says. “Young people have been devastated ny what has happened... their year wasted.”

Local hospital waiting lists are up.

Thomas says on her door knocking campaign rounds she strikes so may people, especially the elderly, with three locks and bolts on their doors. “There are people who live in total fear.” Crimes of violence keep rising in Hutt City and nationally.

While flooding is predominantly a local government issue, Mallard and his government was notable for its absence with the two serious floods that hit this city in the last two years. Thames and the Horowhenua got some limited help; the Hutt was virtually ignored, Thomas claims/

“We were the poor cousins compared to some other parts of the country. (Flooding) is a council issue, but Government got involved up north.”

(Media/Labour) Groundwork for progress is done

(Simon Edwards, Hutt News; 15 March 2005)

Trevor Mallard's boxy and battered looking former campaign van has bit the dust. Its replacement is a rather more sophisticated and sleek VW, and with a massive majority it seems he'll roll back into Parliament pretty much in 'cruise control'.

“I've just turned 50 and I'm still enjoying the job,” the MP tells the Hutt News, just a couple of days before he completed the grueling 50km Karapoti Classic mountain bike race – a gutbuster for riders half his age.

He's the Minister for Education, Sport and Recreation, State Services, Energy, Finance (Associate) and Race Relations (Co-ordinating). It's an understatement to call that hectic, but would Hutt South folk be better off with a local MP with more time for local concerns? Mallard says that for the vast majority of Fridays he's in the electorate doing clinics and most Saturdays and Sundays he's also in Hutt South. He spends time at the sports clubs and visits a local school just about every week.

“People don't hesitate to use the phone to get me, or they email.

“I think having a national profile and appearing on tv now and again stimulates the home phone ringing – and that's a good thing. It's a wonderful part of our democracy... there's not many countries in the world where the PM and senior cabinet ministers have their home phone numbers listed in the phone book.”

Local people's gripes and ideas “feed into what I do as a minister”.

Of the last triennium, Mallard says he is proudest of the fact that groundwork and extra investment in education is paying off. “The research that was started off in my first term is affecting individual schools and teachers.” There are lifts in our students' maths performance compared with international results and he's confident that will be so when the next literacy surveys are done.

But there's a widening gap between pupils who achieve and those who don't, isn't there? “The gap hasn't widened... the bottom has not dropped,” he answers. “But there is a gap and it's too wide. That's what a lot of the research we're doing has been about. Our poorer kids, our Maori and Pacific Island kids don't do as well as in countries which are similar to ours.”

Mallard believes it comes down to the way we teach. The system has been geared to middle class, pakeha pupils. Emphasis is going in on teacher professional development and programmes that match learning delivery to the makeup of the class.

On NCEA, Mallard is disappointed that the scholarship “controversy and hiccups” has “tainted” the new examination system. “It's a very big change and generally it's gone very well. Some of our brightest kids are being stretched much harder to get excellence.”

Others who under School Certificate would have finished a year with nothing are recording credits in subject areas in which they're strong. That's making a difference with secondary school retention rates, which are lifting, he says.

From his perspective, most people whose kids have been involved with NCEA are generally supportive of it. Others who have had no connection with how it works, and have read the publicity, “are generally scared of it.”

Employers' reaction is similarly mixed. Those who have been to the seminars, checked the website and this know how to interpret the results “are generally very supportive of NCEA.”

Labour has room to feel proud that unemployment in NZ is the lowest of any OECD country. In Hutt City alone, the number of people on the unemployment benefit had dropped to 2,386 at the end of last year. That's 1,547 fewer than were registered in the city at the end of 1999. Mallard is delighted, too, that institutions like WelTec are helping more and more people into so-called “gold collar”, technology-based jobs “because it is my view it's pointless trying to compete with China and India on a low wage basis.”

Has Labour's dream run with the economy got more to do with the groundwork done in the 1990s and even earlier? “There's no doubt there has been a relatively good economic base. But what governments have been able to do in the past is scare the horses. We've been quite financially conservative and have been criticized for that.”

Mallard says this Government has been able to slightly reduce debt relative to the size of the economy, and still get more jobs and extra investment in health and education.

“If you go back, both Labour and National governments have had a habit, when it looks like we've got a sustainable surplus, of spending it, then when the economy goes bad, having to retrench.

“Even if the international economy went rotten, as it did a couple of years ago, we can sustain what we have by way of extra investment in education, health and so on because we've had the fiscal discipline to be able to do that.”

Sunday, March 13, 2005

(ACT) Public Meeting on Education

Act are holding a public meeting on Education - 'Your child's future is at stake', with Rodney Hide, Deborah Coddington, Ken Shirley and Lindsay Mitchell.

Date: 17th March 2005
Venue: Knox Hall, 574 High Street, Lower Hutt
Time: 7:30pm

Contact details for more information is availiable on the ACT page