Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: PM Bill English and Deputy Paula Bennett team up for strong start to election year

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The Prime Minister's State of the Nation address was Bill English and Deputy PM and Police Minister Paula Bennett's first joint appearance after the leadership change in December. Photo / Dean Purcell
The Prime Minister's State of the Nation address was Bill English and Deputy PM and Police Minister Paula Bennett's first joint appearance after the leadership change in December. Photo / Dean Purcell

Beware the sound bite of other political parties, Prime Minister Bill English warned in his first major speech after naming the election date - and then proceeded to produce some fairly good ones himself.

His mother, Norah, raised 12 children "and had been a serial community activist".

He was not what his wife's Samoan and Italian parents had in mind as a son-in-law when he turned up, a scruffy unemployed far worker, "although I think it's come right in the last few months".

He talked about how he and Mary find time to run their own family of six children, trying to find enough time for enough sleep as well as answering the hardest question every day: "What's for dinner and who is cooking it?"

The speech also traversed the impact of the 1980s and how the sudden axing of farm subsidies and other reforms forced many Kiwis to realise that the world did not owe them a living, which led to the open economy of today.

Paula Bennett, the former beneficiary, was at English's side at the later press conference - in front of a freshly-styled National Party logo using a lighter, brighter blue.

She could have been there as the new Police Minister but she was also there as Deputy Prime Minister.

It was their first joint appearance after the leadership change in December.

The freshly-styled National Party logo using a lighter, brighter blue.
The freshly-styled National Party logo using a lighter, brighter blue.

And it was evident that the duo is greater than the sum of their parts.

They present as a complete package, his thinking, her life experience, his steadfast nature, her exuberance.

The core of the Prime Minister's speech itself was vintage English.

It explained not just the $503 million law and order package aimed at reducing crime in the here and now, but they why and how, through his homegrown socio-political philosophy called the social investment approach.

The old National logo.
The old National logo.

It amounts to identifying those at greatest risk of leading miserable lives who will become the biggest burden to the taxpayer - next generation of criminals, or failures in education or long-term beneficiaries - and intervening early to prevent it.

Its goal is to stop the misery for the individuals and stop the cost for the taxpayer. Equal importance is given to both.

"For too long, Governments have serviced misery rather than investing upfront to help people change their lives for the better."

The number of sole parents on a benefit is the lowest since 1988; the number of children living in a benefit-dependent household is 50,000 fewer than six years ago.

"Spending more public money is not, in itself, an achievement," he said, warning against spending promises of other parties.

"Real achievement is changing lives."

The speech sends a warning to English's opponents: he can match them on sound bites.

But can they match him on depth?

- NZ Herald

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Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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