Bill English pushes more than just farming issues in the regions

Bill English talks to Rodney Wilson about how he turned his life around with the help of a pre-charge alternative ...
MURRAY WILSON/STUFF

Bill English talks to Rodney Wilson about how he turned his life around with the help of a pre-charge alternative resolution process.

National leader Bill English has strayed from the expected message of cows and crops in regional New Zealand.

English hit the campaign trail in Palmerston North and Levin on Monday but there was more than just fancy farming promises in his bag of tricks.

The leader once again turned his attention to pressing social issues, saying it's worth focusing on vulnerable people one-by-one.

English has been particularly engaged on social issues this election, despite this historically being Labour's turf.
MURRAY WILSON/STUFF

English has been particularly engaged on social issues this election, despite this historically being Labour's turf.

English started his day at Te Tihi in Palmerston North, where the staff brought him up to speed on Kainga Whānau Ora's clients: 95 Housing New Zealand households, 224 individuals – 43 per cent of which run out of food every week due to lack of money.

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They also told English about their alternative resolution model pilot, which offered a pre-charge alternative resolution to non-serious offenders.

"If they can change 39 families, they can change Palmerston North," English says.
LAURA WALTERS/STUFF

"If they can change 39 families, they can change Palmerston North," English says.

The programme, which launched in 2013, has included 39 local Māori. Between the 39 there was a total of 1039 offences, costing the community $14.25 million.

Of the 39, 22 continued to engage with Kainga Whānau Ora over the past few years and the total cost of their offending dropped from $663,000 in 2013 to $105,725 in 2016. Meanwhile, 16 of the 22 haven't come back into the justice system.

In the past, Palmerston North man Rodney Wilson received up to 80 police callouts relating to domestic violence in a year. Since becoming part of the programme, Wilson has had one callout relating to domestic violence.

Bill English poses for an ever-popular selfie while out on the campaign trail in Levin.
WARWICK SMITH/STUFF

Bill English poses for an ever-popular selfie while out on the campaign trail in Levin.

"If it hasn't been for Whānau Ora, I'd be locked up in jail," Wilson told English. "I live for my daughter and her children, and I can't be with them if I'm in jail."

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Wilson was picked up by police after trying to pawn a stolen laptop and he was given the choice of joining the programme.

With the help of his navigator – similar to a case worker – he set goals for himself and put a plan into motion in order to achieve his aspirations. He now works as a cleaner and has a closer relationship with his family.

The message was the same when English visited Horowhenua College in Levin.
LAURA WALTERS/STUFF

The message was the same when English visited Horowhenua College in Levin.

English asked Wilson what was different about this programme.

"When you're finished with the programme, it's not over. They're always here to help me."

Then the National leader turned his attention to the staff: What works well? How is this programme different? What do you need from central government to get the programme to scale?

English was engaged with the clients, directors, navigators, police, Housing New Zealand staff, and DHB staff in the room.

He truly wanted to know how to help break the cycle for more New Zealanders in the same situation.

During his day he also visited wholesale food distribution company Bidfood in Palmerston North, as well as Horowhenua College and a cafe in Levin.

At each place he talked about taxes, he talked about agriculture, and he talked about regional growth and employment issues.

But in each location he finished with social issues, sharing the story of what was happening in Palmerston North and a similar programme run by Life to the Max in Levin.

"If they can change 39 families, they can change Palmerston North," he said.

These were families with the most challenging set of social circumstances, and English said National wanted to help them, and other struggling Kiwis.

"It's worth focusing on them one by one."

National's Palmerston North candidate Adrienne Pierce echoed English's sentiment.

The city has had a lot of social issues in the past but was on the up, Pierce said.

She seemed frustrated by the idea that Labour was the party to fix those issues.

Historically, social issues have been Labour's turf. They have been the ones calling for the Government to set a target on child poverty reduction.

But during this election campaign, English has been pushing just as hard as Labour leader Jacinda Ardern on social issues.

He was the first of the two to set a child poverty reduction target – 50,000 kids out of poverty on April 1 and 50,000 more by 2020 – during a televised leaders debate earlier this month.

And he has continued to talk about social issues as a campaign priority.

"We've been in Government a long time but we still have a lot of things we want to do. We haven't run out of steam and we haven't run out of ideas," English said.

"These issues are worth it."

 - Stuff

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