Campaign Opening Speech

21 August 2005

My fellow New Zealanders, we’re entering the last lap!

Over the next four weeks, we have the opportunity to rid this great country of ours of an incompetent and destructive Labour Government, and replace it with a National Government, committed to the values of mainstream New Zealanders.

And New Zealand is a great country.  

A country of wide open spaces, of soaring mountains, of giant kauri forests, of magnificent fiords.

A country which has produced Ed Hillary, Peter Blake, Sarah Ullmer, Katherine Mansfield, Kate Sheppard, Ernest Rutherfurd, James Fletcher, Apirana Ngata, Kiri Te Kanawa, Archibald MacIndoe, Freyberg, Peter Jackson, Jane Campion, Sam Neill, Roger Donaldson, Michael Campbell, ….

A country which was the first in the world to grant women the vote, and one of the first to grant all men the vote.

A country where we take it for granted that an election will be held roughly every three years, and that a government will be elected without bloodshed, with the army safely in its barracks.

But ladies and gentlemen, you know and I know the country we all love is at risk.

Part of the danger is that, over the last two or three decades, we have gradually slipped behind other developed countries we used to regard as our equals, like Australia.  We have gradually slipped behind countries we used to look down on as “under-developed” or “developing”, like Singapore.

And as a result we have seen a continuing trend for bright and energetic New Zealanders to leave for the higher standard of living which they can earn abroad.   Almost a quarter of all New Zealanders with a tertiary qualification now live outside New Zealand and that trend shows every sign of continuing if Labour is re-elected.

But the risk is not just related to relative economic decline.  We are also at risk from a growing acceptance, indeed encouragement, of mediocrity in far too many aspects of our national life.

Yes, our best sports people are in the top international league.  But too often our children are discouraged from trying hard to win.

Yes, our best educated people are among the best educated in the world.  But too many of our schools no longer celebrate those who do outstandingly well, no longer give marks, no longer give meaningful grades.

Yes, our top tax rate may not be the highest in the world, but it discourages enterprise and initiative by cutting in at less than one and a half times the average wage, while those on quite low incomes are discouraged from helping themselves by a tax and benefit system which means they can lose 90 cents in the dollar by working harder.

The Labour Government has utterly failed to deal with these problems.

Yes, the economy has been trucking along well in the last five years.  And quite dishonestly, they claim credit for this.  The reality is that recent good economic growth was scarcely better than growth in the previous five years, and that despite the fact that in the previous five years we suffered from two successive droughts and the Asian crisis.

No, recent good growth was the result of the reforms put in place in the eighties and early nineties, exceptionally good international prices for meat and dairy exports, good growing conditions down on the farm, a strong inflow of migrants following September 11, and low interest rates – none of which had anything to do with Labour Government policy.

And make no mistake, the economy has already slowed sharply.  In the six months to March this year, the economy grew by less than 1%, and almost every forecaster expects the economy to grow at between 2 and 3% for as far ahead as anybody can predict.  The golden weather which has enabled the Labour Government to spend money on hip-hop tours, twilight golf courses, and theme parties for the staff of public agencies has ended.  And the opportunity which they could have taken to set New Zealand on a path which would have benefited all New Zealanders has been squandered.

But, you may ask, aren’t we better off than we were five or six years ago?  Well, it is certainly true that unemployment has fallen in the last five years – as indeed it has in almost every year (Asian crisis excepted) since 1992.  That’s great.

But what about average household incomes?  After income tax and inflation, they didn’t rise at all between 2000 and 2004!  No wonder people are asking “what’s in it for me?”  Between 2000 and 2004, the income tax paid by the average household went up by 24%, almost twice as fast as pre-tax household incomes, with the result that after inflation is taken into account, there was no increase in average household incomes at all over that period!

In our schools, we have seen continued serious problems with kids being unable to read and write, or do simple arithmetic, and the absolute shambles of the way NCEA has been implemented. 

In the tertiary sector, we have seen scandalous amounts of money wasted on courses with minimal value either to those enrolled or to the wider New Zealand society – with university funding up just 8% over the last five years but spending on low-quality community education courses up more than 500%.

Despite every employer in the country crying out for staff, Labour has tolerated more than 300,000 working age adults on a benefit, with the number who have been on a benefit for more than four years now approaching 110,000.  Some of those people deserve ongoing and indefinite taxpayer support of course – they are sick or injured, and may never work again.  But most of the 300,000 could do some kind of community work in return for taxpayer support – that would be good for the community and good for their self-esteem.  Labour says “no”, and every man and woman in the workforce pays $50 a week to support those 300,000 and their children at a cost of $14 million each and every day!

Labour talks tough about law and order, but this is the party which allows serious criminals out on the streets after serving only one-third of their court-imposed sentence, which pays compensation for the hurt feelings of some of the worst criminals in our prisons, which diverts police from responding to 111 emergency calls to issue tickets for minor speeding infringements.

Since Helen Clark saw the public response to my speech to the Orewa Rotary Club last year, she has pretended to take seriously the concerns of New Zealanders about the state-sponsored separatism we have seen in far too many areas of New Zealand life in recent years – the policies which imply that Maori New Zealanders are somehow not as able to meet academic standards as other New Zealanders, which imply that Maori New Zealanders require consultation rights which are different to those enjoyed by other New Zealanders, which give Maori New Zealanders veto powers over the use of foreshore, seabed and lakes not enjoyed by other New Zealanders, which suggest that Maori New Zealanders should continue to have separate electorates at a national level and should get newly separate wards at local government level.  And of course, Labour has done nothing to deal with this patronising, politically correct, nonsense and has in fact made it much worse.  It tells all New Zealanders, Maori and non-Maori alike, that 165 years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed Maori New Zealanders are not quite equal to the rest of us.

The National Party utterly rejects that.

The National Party has a plan so that all New Zealanders can reach their full potential.

The National Party wants to give the maximum possible freedom to everybody, consistent with that freedom not interfering with the rights of others.

We want to leave as much of your hard-earned income with you as possible, and leave you with an incentive to work hard, acquire new skills, and take on more responsibility.  That’s why a few days ago I announced our commitment to reduce the taxes paid by all hard-working New Zealanders, starting on 1 April next year. 

We want to create an environment which will enable you to have a living standard in every respect equal to that of your Australian cousins, and we have already announced what we will do with the Resource Management Act, the accident insurance market, employment law, infrastructure, and compliance costs to help bring that about.

We want to end the preferences given to some New Zealanders because of their race.  I have already announced that we will abolish separate Maori electorates, accelerate and then bring to an end (by 2010) historical Treaty claims, provide support irrespective of race, and do away with separate recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi in legislation, not least because nobody can agree what the “principles of the Treaty” actually are.

We want to provide a safety net for all those who cannot care for themselves, whether because they have lost their job, because they are ill or incapacitated, or because they have been left to care for young children.  But we understand only too well the huge cost – in human terms as well as in financial terms – of indefinite dependence on a benefit, so we will require those who can look after themselves to do so, and certainly require able-bodied people to undertake community work or approved training as a condition of ongoing taxpayer support.

We want to ensure that every child gets the very best education of which they are capable, to give parents more choice about where and how they educate their children, and to give schools more freedom to operate in the best interests of their communities.  Accordingly, I have made it clear that we will work to improve the quality of teacher training, abolish rigid zoning restrictions, remove the cap on the rolls of integrated schools, restore to the 1999 level the per pupil subsidy for independent schools, fix the NCEA, and encourage schools to offer an alternative, internationally recognized, qualification to those who want it.

We want to protect our families and communities from those who would endanger them and their property.   We will review the adequacy of police resources and hire more police if necessary.  We will ensure that police resources are deployed in fighting crime, not filling in forms or raising revenue by filling speeding-ticket quotas.  We will abolish parole for all repeat and violent offenders.  We will store the DNA of all people convicted of a criminal offence, and change the Proceeds of Crime Act to assist police to smash organized crime.

We want a health system which provides the operations which our people need and pays health professionals what they deserve – not one which sprays money around indiscriminately to those who do not need it, and hires more bureaucrats when more doctors are needed.

We want an immigration policy which invites to New Zealand those who can make a contribution to the New Zealanders who are already here, and those who want to become New Zealanders, not those who simply want to take advantage of our free education system or our welfare system, or those who have no regard for New Zealand values.

We want to give New Zealanders another chance to express their views on MMP, through a referendum, now that we have all seen its good points and its bad.
 
Not everybody wants a society where people are free to make their own decisions, free from state interference.   Not everybody wants equality of treatment regardless of race.  Some don’t care where their children go to school, and are content to rely on taxpayer support indefinitely.  Some able-bodied people prefer to be spoon-fed.

To those people I say, “please don’t vote for Don Brash or the National Party”.  We want the votes of those who share our vision, and able-bodied people who want to be spoon-fed clearly don’t.   People who want a continuation of state-sponsored separatism clearly don’t.  People who want a continuation of politically correct mediocrity clearly don’t.

In recent weeks, polls suggesting that this election is a genuine contest have panicked the Labour Party.  They have adopted four tactics.

First, they have kicked all the difficult issues which face governments from time to time into touch – or at least, well beyond the election.  So no decision on Transpower pylons through the Waikato till next year.  No decision on public access over farmers’ land until after the election.  No  report from the special committee looking at the place of the Treaty in New Zealand life until after the election.

Second, they have embarked on the most extraordinary series of electoral bribes.  Not two months after Michael Cullen told us that the best he could do for most workers was a tax cut of 67 cents a week, starting in 2008, he suddenly “found” an unexpected $500 million and threw it at the roading network.  Nothing wrong with more investment in roading – on the contrary, we applaud that – but how is it Michael Cullen can suddenly find that much additional money, and what makes us think that the extra $500 million will have the slightest effect on the roading network, given that the extra $1.6 billion promised for Auckland roads in December 2003 has had no effect on accelerating road construction in this city?

And then late last month, another enormous bribe, which the Labour Party estimates will cost $300 million annually but which Westpac Bank estimates could cost over $1 billion annually – the full write-off of all interest on student loans.  And Labour’s excuse?  They say they want to encourage New Zealand graduates to stay in New Zealand or, if overseas, to return to New Zealand.  But 94% of all those who owe student loans are already in New Zealand!  No, this was an enormous bribe, devoid of any rational justification except that it was calculated to buy Labour votes – at the cost of providing tax relief to most hard-working New Zealanders.

Not content with dodging all the tough issues and bribing the public with its own money, Labour’s third desperate tactic has been to misrepresent National’s policies in the most shameless way.

They have suggested we want to “bring back the nukes”.  Crap.  I have made it clear not once but scores of times that there will be no change in New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation without an explicit electoral mandate.

They have suggested I would send New Zealand troops to Iraq.  More crap.  I have made it clear repeatedly that I can imagine no circumstances where a National Government led by me would send combat troops to Iraq.  Can I rule out sending troops to fight alongside Americans under absolutely all circumstances?  No, I can’t, any more than Helen Clark can: she sent New Zealand combat troops to fight alongside the Americans in Afghanistan after September 11, and we still have combat troops there.  I supported that deployment.

They have suggested I would raise the age of eligibility for New Zealand Super.  But I have made it very clear, repeatedly, that the age of eligibility will not change while I am in Parliament, and to help defray the future costs of New Zealand Super the National Party has formally signed up to making annual contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.

Finally, in desperation, Labour has turned to making personal attacks on me and my colleagues, suggesting that we are under the influence of the Americans and lack experience.

Well, I lived for five years in the United States, and have a number of good American friends.  But the United States has had no involvement whatsoever in writing or influencing the National Party’s policies, all of which have been developed in New Zealand, by New Zealanders, with the best interests of New Zealand firmly in mind.  Indeed, to judge from her frequently expressed admiration for Tony Blair (though not his own Government’s involvement in Iraq), I would be confident that the Labour Government in the United Kingdom has had a good deal more influence on Helen Clark than the American Government has had on me!  And the intimate dinner between Helen Clark and Alastair Campbell recently amply confirms that.

And my experience? 

As most of you know, I was brought up in a Presbyterian manse, with a strong commitment to caring for the under-dog, with a belief that to be Christian was to be Fabian socialist.  I registered as a conscientious objector at the age of 18, and was for many years a paid-up member of the New Zealand Peace Foundation.  I took part in many a march against nuclear weapons, and still wear a white poppy on Hiroshima Day, to remember what happened to that Japanese city on 6 August 1945.  I am a member of the Parliamentary Network on Nuclear Disarmament and I remain a patron of the Amnesty International Freedom Foundation.

And for 36 years before entering Parliament in 2002, I have worked in a range of jobs which have given me a rather unique blend of experience relevant to that to which I now aspire – international marketing of kiwifruit, carpet manufacturing (as a director), banking, the Reserve Bank, and providing advice on taxation and economic policy to every government since the Third Labour Government in 1974. 

And I have been fortunate to have three children, all of whom have played a role in keeping their father’s feet firmly on the ground.

And of course I have had just over three years in Parliament – a little more than Bob Hawke had when he became Prime Minister of Australia.  I’m more than happy to contrast my experience of three years in Parliament and more than 30 in the real world with Helen Clark’s 24 years in Parliament and umpteen years in academia.

And my team?  By the end of election day, the National Party will have 10 Caucus members with prior Cabinet experience, compared with only six members of the Labour Caucus with prior Cabinet experience when Labour came into office in 1999.

And I will have a Caucus with a wider experience of New Zealand life than any other Caucus in New Zealand history – experience in farming, business, law, banking, trade negotiations, real estate, medicine, local government, retailing and of course home-making.  (As an aside, of the 12 highest ranking members of my Caucus, all but two still have dependent children living at home.)  Together, we can offer New Zealand all the experience needed.

If you want the continuation of a politically correct, social engineering, arrogant government, which has done nothing to improve our growth rate or stem the exodus of Kiwis to greener pastures abroad and which believes it can spend your money better than you can, I suggest you don’t vote National.

But if you share our vision of what New Zealand could become – a country with living standards at least equal to those in Australia, where every child gets the very best education of which they are capable, where those who need help from government get it but those who don’t need it stand on their own two feet, where eliminating crime is taken seriously and where every person is equal before the law – then I ask you to give your Party Vote to National.

Your support is welcome no matter what your race, gender, or sexual orientation, no matter what your age, no matter whether you are New Zealand-born or new immigrant.

The National Party offers a fresh start, with new faces, without arrogance, a party which wants to leave as much money in the hands of those who earn it as is consistent with ensuring that the wider needs of society are also fully met.  I ask for your support.

2005-08-21 00:00:00.Long.
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