It is that time of the electoral cycle where policies for next year's general election start getting some sunlight. It is still a long way to go but some long-reaching policies on both sides are being unfurled.
The Minister of Health David Clark signalled last week an announcement before the end of the year that will address the ballooning District Health Board deficit, which sits in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
We can't tell at this stage if it is the merger of smaller DHBs or other structural changes, but with less than a year to the next election it can reasonably be viewed as an election policy announcement.
• District Health Board deficit $170m higher than Govt had previously admitted
• Government to unveil 'significant' changes to embattled DHBs next month
• Financial state of DHBs 'concerning' says Treasury
• Govt points finger at National over 'eye-watering' DHB deficit
As the Tertiary Education spokesperson I had involvement this week with the education discussion document that the Hon Simon Bridges and Nikki Kaye announced. This is a document that gives a clear direction of travel in education and where National will position next year, and it asks the people of New Zealand what they think and which policies matter to them.
Across the education spectrum, the document has some deep thinking from my colleague Nicola Willis in early childhood education, Nikki Kaye in the compulsory education sector and I have responsibility for the tertiary sector.
It has been interesting looking at which of the policies have interested the media. In early childhood education the drive towards high-quality teaching with unannounced spot checks has captured attention.
In the compulsory sector, Nikki Kaye has had good traction with smaller class sizes and infrastructure spending and in the tertiary area, replacing fees-free has been topical.
As the author of the tertiary component I would like to highlight a few things. We are replacing first-year fees free because it has failed to achieve its objective which was to increase participation.
There are fewer learners now than before fees free. A stable economy and a lower number of school leavers have had an impact on participation but fees free has not corrected this. It is a failed campaign promise.
Even worse, it has been reported that the cost of uncompleted courses under fees free is $50 million and only 6 per cent of students in one published paper said that fees free was critical to them taking up study.
The alternatives we are proposing include a life-long learning education saving account from childhood. This is modelled on programmes overseas where a mix of family and government contributions are placed in an education savings account that people can use across their whole learning life, including middle and late adulthood.
The evidence is that education accounts of this kind create positive attitudes towards education and saving from both parents and students, as well as paying for course fees and other education activities.
A rural focused third medical school has also captured attention. New Zealand needs an extra 200 GPs per year and there are real challenges for rural communities needing a GP. We will undertake a competitive tender for a third medical school with a focus on retaining GPs in rural communities.
We would welcome your thoughts on the education discussion document, which can be found at national.org.nz/education .
• Dr Shane Reti is the MP for Whangārei.