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Press Release – ACT New Zealand

After ACT’s first year as a support Party of the Government, and mine as a Minister of the Crown, it is worth reflecting on the year that was. If you would like to receive this weekly email publication please email me at heather.roy@parliament.govt.nz . … Heather Roy’s Diary – Christmas Edition

Hon Heather Roy, ACT Deputy Leader
Wednesday, December 23 2009

After ACT’s first year as a support Party of the Government, and mine as a Minister of the Crown, it is worth reflecting on the year that was. If you would like to receive this weekly email publication please email me at heather.roy@parliament.govt.nz. The Diary will be taking a break over the summer and will resume in February.

This has been a big year for ACT. It began with our Confidence & Supply Agreement with National in place and, looking back, we’ve made a great start to our contribution to making New Zealand a more free and prosperous country. We also celebrated our 15th Birthday in November and were delighted to be joined by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

ACT’s 2009 achievements – initiatives that wouldn’t have happened without us – include the Taskforce report into catching Australia by 2025 by increasing productivity, Aspire Scholarships in education as a first step to opening up choice to more students, opening ACC to choice and competition, ACTs ‘Three Strikes’ policy in sentencing and parole legislation is at Select Committee and improving regulatory processes to cut red tape in the form of progressing our Regulatory Responsibility Bill.

As Minister of Local Government Rodney Hide is reforming Local Government and rationalising the local governance of Auckland. Sir Roger Douglas, John Boscawen and David Garrett have taken the Government to task when needed and each made their own impact in the finance and law & order areas, as well as advocated strongly against the Emissions Trading Scheme. I’m also pleased with progress in my own Ministerial portfolio areas.

Consumer Affairs – ‘One Law, One Door’
At the beginning of this year I held a planning session with my Ministry of Consumer Affairs (MCA) officials to outline my priorities for 2009 and through to the next election. It was at this session that I introduced my ‘One Law, One Door’ plan.

‘One Law’ refers to the goal of principle-based consumer-supplier legislation. We currently have around 12 consumer laws – two principle-based laws in the Fair Trading Act and the Consumer Guarantees Act, and a raft of others that cover particular transaction types like lay-bys and auctions. Each is being reviewed to determine its overall relevance and effectiveness, and its enforceability – ie: the 1928 Auctioneers Act is truly outdated and doesn’t cover on-line auctions.

My goal is to simplify and consolidate existing consumer law. Progress so far suggests we’re working towards two principle-based laws: an enhanced Fair Trading Act, and the Consumer Guarantees Act.

‘One Door’ refers to a simplified complaints apparatus. At present, many consumers don’t know where to start when they have an issue or complaint and must negotiate the host of complaints and disputes tribunals, ombudsmen, etc – an undertaking that can confuse consumers and sometimes add cost to the taxpayer. ‘One Door’ will give consumers a single portal through which they can be directed to the appropriate scheme. I have had discussions with many disputes services, ombudsmen and organisations as to what shape this project could take. A proposal will be finalised in early 2010.

Education – Special Education, Aspire Scholarships and Gifted & Talented
ACT’s ambition has always been to have choice for students and parents when selecting the best educational opportunities – education isn’t ‘one size fits all’.

Independent Schools is one of my Education portfolio responsibilities. My proudest achievement this year is the establishment of the Aspire Scholarship programme which, as of the beginning of the 2010 school year, will give 150 students from low-income households the opportunity attend an independent school of their choice. This is a choice these students would not have been able to afford and I’m looking forward to hearing of their progress. A further 50 scholarships will be awarded for the 2011 and 2012 school years. Although just a start, the Aspire Scholarships are an important step in making real choice available to all New Zealand students.

The Confidence & Supply Agreement also established an inter-party working group to consider how to best achieve School Choice. Work has progressed during the year with the National and Maori Party members of the group. Our report is due out in the New Year and we are very pleased with the proposals of enhancing choice advocated.

Much has changed since Special Education policy was developed in the 1990s and, while we have made progress, there’s still work to do. The Government is working to ensure that special needs students receive the support they require but I first need to know what is working well and what needs improvement.

That’s why I am leading a review of Special Education that will examine where resources in the system are being well-spent and utilised, and where improvements can be made. It also provides a platform to explore the best options and make sound decisions based on national and international evidence of what really works. Early in 2010 I will release a discussion document for the Special Education Review while progressing the Review work programme. As an interim measure of the additional funding allocated to Special Education in the Budget I announced that an extra 400 students would receive ORRS funding for 2010.

Gifted and talented students also have special needs, which is often forgotten – a 2008 Education Review Office report indicated that very few schools provide well for their gifted students. I have established an independent advisory group with wide representation and expertise to help with advice on how we can better educate our gifted and talented students. The group is excited about opportunities and believes more can be done with the funding and talent we have. I’m looking forward to putting a more comprehensive plan together next year.

Defence – Companion Studies and Reservist of the Year
Much of my work in Defence has centred on Defence Review 2009 (DR09). In parallel with the Review I launched three Companion Studies which will assist the NZDF in the increasing role it plays in supporting the Government’s objectives of economic growth, whole-of-Government strategies and increased focus on youth development. The Companion Studies are:
New Zealand Defence Industry – an examination of the sector and options for economic improvement.

Youth Programmes – an examination of the role of NZDF in youth programmes generally, and specifically in regard to the New Zealand Cadet Forces.

Voluntary National Service – an examination of the concept and viability of Voluntary National Service as a whole-of-Government strategy.
All Companion Studies are well underway and will be completed early in 2010. The Studies will provide advice, options and background material in support of their recommendation and the outcomes will inform the Defence Review.
Another achievement this year was the launch of the inaugural NZDF Reservist of the Year award. Reserves are part-time military personnel who make important contributions at home and abroad. Many have deployed to Timor Leste, Solomon Islands, South Korea, the Middle East, Bosnia, Sinai, Cambodia, Sudan, Bougainville, Iraq and Afghanistan. This new award is recognition of the contribution made by Reserves to the NZDF.
Eleven reservists took part on December 12. After a series of assessments – including driving, weapons-handling, first aid and physical fitness, and public speaking – secondary school teacher Lance Corporal Deborah Kendon was named the first ever NZDF Reservist of the Year. LCpl Kendon was the only female competitor this year – although I’m sure she won’t be the last. All the competitors should be commended for their dedication and skill, and can be proud of their contribution to the NZDF.

I am also responsible for the sale of the Skyhawks and Aermaachis. Although the process is further ahead than it has ever been before my best Christmas present would be news of a signed Sales and Purchase agreement.

Lest We Forget – Christmas Truces of 1914
The Christmas Truces were a number of unofficial ceasefires that occurred during WWI – particularly along the Western Front on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1914.

In Ypres, Belgium, the truce began on Christmas Eve when German troops decorated the area around their trenches and sang Christmas Carols. From their trenches the British sang English carols and soon both sides were calling greetings to each other. This was followed by calls for visits across No Man’s Land where gifts (whisky, jam, cigars, chocolate, etc) were exchanged. Soldiers exchanged addresses, drank, but perhaps the most poignant sign of good will was troops worked together to bury the dead from both sides.

Although military commanders – especially the British – were opposed to fraternisation between troops, the Christmas Truce spread to other areas where enemies were within close proximity, including football matches between the enemy forces.

The Diary wishes all readers Season’s Greetings, and safe and happy holidays.

ENDS

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