Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the one big idea she would have if money was not a factor would be to make early childhood education completely free.
Ardern was asked for one big blue-sky idea as part of the NZ Herald’s The New New Zealand: Rebuilding Better series – for what she would do if cost and the difficulty of putting it in place was not an issue.
Ardern said she had a long list, but if she had to pick one it would be in early childhood education.
“One of the things I know makes a difference to kids’ lives in the long term is their access to early childhood education.
“It is the most important part of our education system and yet in some ways for many, it is the most inaccessible.
“I’d make it completely free. Completely free. And when I say completely free, I’d also give choice to families about at what point and stage their child accesses it. Because for some we know it provides stability to kids that they might not have in their home life.”
Ardern said it was clear there was a price to be paid down the line if children did not get a good start in life.
“It also gives families choices. And it’s a massive cost of living issue. That’s what I’d do. It’s such a shame that it is just so expensive.”
On Friday the Herald launched the campaign, which aims to start a debate about how the country might rebuild back better from the pandemic.
National Party leader Christopher Luxon told the Herald that education was also on his list of what was needed.
“We must immediately focus on lifting school attendance and attainment, which otherwise will lead to acute social failure,” Luxon said.
“New Zealand is the best country on earth and we have endless potential – economically, socially and environmentally – and can be even better.
“I feel we have been playing a very small, inward and fearful game and need to rediscover our confidence, positivity, aspiration and ambition again.”
Luxon said that in the short term he wanted to see Government spending reduced to help bring inflation down.
“That is taking households backwards and compounding the impact of the pandemic.”
Ardern said the cost of living was the biggest short-term issue the country and her government faced – but the biggest long-term issue would be the consequences of financial insecurity for households.
The ability to address wider issues such as poverty, mental health and climate change all depend on financial security.
“Your financial stability you’ll find, to varying degrees, has an impact on each of those things. The ability to transition away from fossil fuels and build more resilience as an individual in climate change, so much of that is dependent on your financial and disposable income. We know poverty can impact mental health. It’s obvious the impact that financial instability has on kids and housing.”
On the legacy of Covid – and what elements from the Covid years she would like to see as part of the future - she said it was the “unity of purpose” of the earlier stages of the response.
“That got harder as the challenge went on, but I think if we could build some unity of purpose around some of those other big issues we have ...”
She said it had shown what was possible when a challenge was directly confronting people, and said the same would apply in areas such as climate change as extreme weather highlighted the reality of it.
“But sometimes the proximity of climate change doesn’t feel so immediate to us.”
Green Party co-leader James Shaw also pointed to the early unity in the pandemic.
“Aotearoa showed the power of collective action to keep each other safe.”
He said the country should “build on this to make our communities better places to live and tackle urgent long-term problems like the climate crisis”.