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Honouring A Military Hero - Brigadier Reginald Miles

Posted on 13 Aug 2009

It can sometimes take a long while to work through issues constituents ask for help with but, as a Member of Parliament, it is great to be able to see a project successfully through to the end.

About three years ago, a relative of New Zealand war hero Brigadier Reginald Miles approached me to ask for help a longstanding problem his family was having replacing a number of his lost medals. As an Opposition MP, I followed process by writing to the Minister of Defence, who then passed me on to the New Zealand Defence Force to 'discuss' the issue – not much help given that discussion on the issue had already been ongoing for years.

When I became Associate Minister of Defence after the last election things changed, channels of communication became much easier and I was able to set the wheels in motion to replacing the medals. Today this issue was brought to a happy close and I was delighted to be invited to participate in a special ceremony at which Brig Miles family donated his full medal set - including the CBE, DSO and bar and Military Cross - to the National War Museum in Waiouru.

Brig Miles was a New Zealand artillery officer who served with distinction in both World Wars, being wounded several times and receiving 15 decorations – including the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Military Cross, as well as a nomination for the Victoria Cross. Appointed as the first Commander Royal Artillery during WWII, he is remembered as a great leader and soldier and gained his second DSO after making a daring escape – with two accomplices – from a high-security POW camp in Italy and crossing half of Europe to reach Spain.

Today's ceremony was the culmination of his family's quest to locate, replace and preserve his medals – a quest that has spanned two decades.

The New Zealand Defence Force and the Government are honoured at the generosity of Brig Miles' family in deciding to donate these medals to the National War Museum. Now Kiwis of all generations – as well as those to come – will be able to recognise, celebrate and honour the memory of one of New Zealand's most gallant and illustrious sons.

Recess Week Education Visits

Posted on 12 Aug 2009

Recess weeks give MPs the opportunity to pursue issues and make visits away from parliament. I've spent the past three days with my education hat on, visiting schools with Special Education facilities (Takapuna Grammar, Wilson School and Mt Roskill secondary, intermediate and primary schools). Macleans College and Glen Taylor hosted the ACT/National/Maori Party Inter-party Working Group on School Choice which I chair - we were looking at the impressive assessment programmes both schools have put in place to improve the quality of teaching and education overall.

Yesterday I was invited to open the independent Westmount School's new senior school building in Auckland. Westmount is a Brethren school - readers may recall the outrageous attack on this community by the Labour party over the 2005 election.

The NCEA results of Westmount School are amongst the most impressive I have seen. Education is clearly valued with most students completing Year 13. So as to offer the same education to students throughout New Zealand Westmount has 15 campuses and offers specialist subjects via video conferencing. The education sector could learn much from Westmount School's use of technology and it's delivery of self-directed learning.

Special Education In Christchurch Schools

Posted on 08 Aug 2009

As part of a busy day in Christchurch yesterday I visited three schools, all of which cater for students with special needs.

First stop was Addington Primary School where I received a very warm welcome from three students, Jyr, Tyren and Brittany. After a quick photo opportunity in the morning sun, my welcoming party took me to meet their Deputy Principal, Rebecca Meachem. I was given a tour of the school’s Conductive Education Unit run by Conductors who have trained at one of the world's two Peto Institute Training facilities (in Hungary or Birmingham, England). Conductive education utilises physical therapy techniques which are applied to all daily activities. I met with a group of parents who spoke very highly of the unit and the advances made by their children while participating in the conductive education programme. Attached to the school is an Early Childhood centre that is also a conductive education unit. Addington School is one of 22 that is facing less funding for therapists next year and the parents I met with were very keen to make their dissatisfaction known.

My second port of call was Cashmere High School where I met with Principal Mark Wilson, the school's SENCO and leader of the Conductive Education Unit. My tour guide this time was Marshall, a student from the unit who guided me expertly behind his wheelchair. He was very enthusiastic about the unit and keen to tell me about the house system, not forgetting to mention that his house is currently in the lead. The next big competition is lip-syncing and it sounds as though lots of practice is going into it!

My final visit for the morning was to McKenzie Residential School which caters for boys who have serious behavioural issues. The boys come from the lower half of the North Island and South Island. Principal Greg Healey took me for a tour of the school including 7 acres fantastic grounds. There is also a games room the boys can use at the end of the school day and I was told by Greg the three snooker tables are particularly popular. He added that the boys proved to be tough competition! I got the chance to talk to two of the boys, both of whom reported that they felt their time at the school was wortwhile in helping them with their difficulties.

It was a great day in Christchurch and wonderful to see how students with a range of special needs are being both taught and supported in different settings using a variety of techniques and programmes.

One of the hardest things for disabled students is the transition from school to adult life. A Transition service, with Allenvale Special School as lead school, has been set up and I was asked to launch this new initiative. The stars of the evening were two students - Andrew and Caroline - who dazzled the audience with their presentations and have been actively involved with the research behind the programme. My speech, which explains how the programme was set up and how it will operate, can be found in the speeches section of this website.

Heroes

Posted on 07 Aug 2009

We are frequently reminded that Willie Apiata and Sir Peter Blake are the amongst the most respected kiwis and most would agree (I think) that they make worthy heroes. A quick glance at the magazine rack in supermarkets or reading our newspapers though tell a different story. The thing that sells is gossip about film stars and the NZ version - newsreaders and television reporters - every detail of whose lives seem to have caused some sort of fascination with the NZ public. It seems we're not alone. The piece below has done the rounds recently and makes the same point but in the US. Here is a real hero :

Ed Freeman
You're a 19 year old kid. You're critically wounded, and dying in the jungle in the Na Drang Valley, 11-14-1965, LZ X-ray, Vietnam. Your infantry unit is outnumbered 8 - 1, and the enemy fire is so intense, from 100 or 200 yards away, that your own Infantry Commander has ordered the MediVac helicopters to stop coming in.

You're lying there, listening to the enemy machine guns, and you know you're not getting out. Your family is 1/2 way around the world, 12,000 miles away, and you'll never see them again. As the world starts to fade in and out, you know this is the day.

Then, over the machine gun noise, you faintly hear that sound of a helicopter, and you look up to see an un-armed Huey, but it doesn't seem real, because no Medi-Vac markings are on it...

Ed Freeman is coming for you. He's not Medi-Vac, so it's not his job, but he's flying his Huey down into the machine gun fire, after the Medi-Vacs were ordered not to come.

He's coming anyway.

And he drops it in, and sits there in the machine gun fire, as they load 2 or 3 of you on board.

Then he flies you up and out through the gunfire, to the Doctors and Nurses.

And, he kept coming back.... 13 more times...... And took about 30 of you and your buddies out, who would never have gotten out.

Medal of Honor Recipient, Ed Freeman, died last year, at the age of 80, in Boise, Idaho.

May God rest his soul......

I bet you didn't hear about this hero's passing, but we sure heard a lot about Michael Jackson. Shame on you US media.

New Scholarships Increase Choice In Education

Posted on 05 Aug 2009

Today, in my capacity as Associate Minister of Education, I announced a new scholarship initiative that will enable students from low-income families to attend independent secondary schools that they and their families would previously not have been able to afford.

ACT and National pledged to increase families' education choices, with scholarships for every child being a key part of ACT's manifesto. This announcement is an important step toward honouring that pledge.

In Budget 2009, the Government increased private school funding by $10 million - the first increase since 2000 - to make independent schools more affordable to parents. Of this, $7.4 million will be allocated directly to independent schools and $2.6 million used to provide 250 scholarships to students from low socio-economic backgrounds from 2010.

The additional funding and new scholarships will increase choice by making independent schools more affordable for New Zealand families.

Next year 150 students from low-income families will be able to go to an independent secondary school, increasing to 200 students in 2011 and 250 in 2012. Students' fees will be covered, and they will receive an allowance for uniforms and other school-related costs, to ensure no student is disadvantaged.

Over four percent of school-age students - 30,000 children - currently attend independent schools, saving the State around $200 million annually and relieving some of the pressure on State schools. I am delighted to announce the introduction of this scholarship initiative - which will provide more choice and opportunity for young people from low-income families.

This Government knows it is parents who are best placed to make the decisions about the education that best suits their children's needs. This funding will support parents in their choices and improve access for many families to a greater range of educational opportunities for their children.

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