Prime Minister Bill English faced questions on child poverty and ever increasing rents during a visit to De La Salle College in Mangere East on May 4.
These topics were covered in a series of questions put to the Prime Minister by students in a packed college hall.
Mr English told the assembly that the Government is doing two things to address child poverty — firstly lifting incomes for the lowest income families and secondly a social investment approach targeting families facing difficulties like violence, drug addiction, offending and long term welfare dependency.
The Prime Minister also said the Government doesn’t set rents and provides a subsidy for tenants in six out of 10 houses that are rented. But the most important thing is to build more houses, because there are not enough houses for the people, he said.
“So we are working with the [Auckland] Council to build more houses. There are lots of other rinky-dink things we could do, but we need more houses, in fact we need thousands more houses, and we are going to build them.”
On a lighter note, Mr English was also asked if he enjoyed his job.
He replied: “Yeah, look, I enjoy this job much more than I expected, actually. I don’t know how the last guy made it look so hard.” This response earned the biggest cheer of the day.
“In fact a lot of the work we are doing now as part of my job of government is telling us that it is actually worth it for the country to focus on each individual young person.
“Because the difference between you having a miserable life and a good life is worth an awful lot to New Zealand. So, particularly for those kids who really struggle, we are going to be spending more and more time and effort with them, one way or another, one by one.”
The Prime Minister mentioned his Catholic faith as a reason he thinks the way he does.
“The great thing about the Catholic religion is that it doesn’t matter if you are [in] rural Southland where we were brought up, and went to a little wooden church out in the middle of nowhere, or in south Auckland where you can see the huge crowd out at Malaeloa each Sunday.
“The charism is the same and the basics of it are the same and they are the things you are taught at this school and I learned from my mother. And that boils down to that ethic of service and witnessing to the lives of others, and bringing along with us those who are most disadvantaged and have the hardest time in life.”
Mr English also told the students that, by and large, young people are better than they were when he was growing up.
“You are more confident, you are better able to talk about what you think and what you believe, and you are doing a lot better at school than used to be the case.”
“So, you are in a country that is going pretty well, can offer you the real opportunities you want; you have got the support of a community and your teachers and your parents and a Government who want the best opportunity that you can come up with, can help you with that. “And actually, you are very impressive young people yourselves, in your faith, and in your study, and in your brotherhood. And that’s what makes my job as a Prime Minister such a pleasure — because that’s what I get to see every day . . . .”
Mr English was welcomed and introduced at the assembly by his younger brother, Dermot English, who is deputy principal at De La Salle. Dermot English referred to his brother’s tenacity and resilience, being able to come back from a heavy election defeat in 2002 and from a humiliating beating during the Fight for Life boxing exhibition trying to help people working to prevent youth suicide. “What drives this man is the same thing that drives many of you,” Dermot English told the assembly. “A desire to make your parents proud, even if you don’t always get on with them; A desire to show that you can overcome obstacles; A desire to show that you are better than what people think you are; And more than all that, a huge desire to make better the lives of those around you.”
He preceded this by a comment that “if you come from a large, religiously devout family, with a strong father to treat you harshly, if you succeed just a little more than you fail, if you spend a long time wondering what you should be doing, then you are a lot more like the Prime Minister than you think”.
“The major difference is that he can’t really dance or sing, and he is only fluent in one language.”
De La Salle year 13 prefect Anthony Hurst also welcomed Mr English, and spoke of aspects of the Lasallian charism including service and brotherhood, as well as academic achievement.
“Having said all this Prime Minister, we are a decile one school with a decile 10 mentality.”