Preaching to the converted at National's conference

Police Minister Paula Bennett had the crowd worked up. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

It was preaching to the faithful as some of National’s heavy artillery was rolled out to spruik the work of the Government. Shane Cowlishaw reports from the National Party Conference.

Saturday afternoon was a chance for the Nats to press on in an attempt to dim the Barclay spotlight, with targeted presentations on health, education, and safer communities.

First cab off the rank after lunch was the health team of Jonathan Coleman, Nicky Wagner, and Jacqui Dean.

Coleman told the audience that “distractions” thrown out by the Labour Party and protestors outside should be ignored.

“In terms of health we’ve got a great story to tell, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

He pointed to an extra $5 billion spent since National was elected and described Labour’s allegations about a real cut in spending as “complete fiction”.

An extra 50,000 operations had been funded since the change of Government and 6.2 percent of GDP was being invested into the area, also an increase.

Wagner took her chance to promote Smokefree 2025, pointing to the fact that 15 percent of New Zealanders are smokers, down from 25 percent in 1997.

She also had time for a small dig at the left when talking about plain packaging: “They’re a nasty greenish brown colour…a bit of a joke there”.

Next came the law and order team; Police Minister Paula Bennett, Justice Minister Amy Adams and Corrections Minister Louise Upston.

Bennett, who livened up the crowd with her trademark humour, was deadly serious when describing the work of police.

“Criticism of police is not justified because we have more people in jail than ever before.”

The words were gobbled up by the audience, received with a hearty “here here” and loud applause.

Upston also fingered the “fantastic job” of police as the main reason for the record prison population, now at more than 10,000, which she said would continue to rise in the next several years.

Bennett also touched on firearms regulation and the Government’s decision to ignore the majority of recommendations from the Law and Order Select Committee.

She said the voices of farmers, hunters, and shooters (which included her husband, she noted) wanted gun use by criminals cracked down on, but the rights of legal users respected.

Adams was a more measured voice, describing the importance of focusing on the areas of gangs, family and sexual violence, and the over-representation of Maori as both offenders and victims.

As an example, she said a young person who grew up in a household with domestic violence was five times more likely to commit suicide and 80 percent more likely to grow up and become a family violence offender or victim themselves.

New Education Minister Nikki Kaye also got her time to shine, alongside Tertiary Education Minister Paul Goldsmith.

She said it was a privilege to be Minister and delegates should be proud of what was being achieved in education.

About 85 percent of 18-year-olds were gaining NCEA level 2 and 97 percent of children starting school had been enrolled in early childhood education.

Kaye said one of her main goals was to put her colleague, Justice Minister Amy Adams, out of a job by improving education in New Zealand.

There was a huge amount of work underway, which included improving the funding system which was likely to include scrapping the decile system.

“From my perspective, it doesn’t seem right that we label schools with parent’s income rather than how they are achieving,” she said.

Kaye conceded there were still areas that needed reforming, such as maths where performance had been dropping.

Money would be poured in to address this, along with improving career advice structures to enable children to better make decisions about their future.

Kaye was asked a question via text message about how partnership schools were performing.

She said the schools, better known as charter schools, were “not perfect” but a recent assessment showed they had good achievement outcomes and engagement.

The Government believed in choice and said no charter schools would be closed unless there were serious performance issues.

In summary; plenty of shiny facts, but whether they were enough to distract members from the previous week’s woes remains to be seen.