As I lead off for the Opposition parties in this first general debate following my election as leader of the National Party, I am conscious of the comments made in recent days, in a number of media outlets, about my relative lack of Parliamentary experience and about the bleak prospects of my forging a career as a stand-up comedian.
May I briefly say to those critics that, while I’ll always try to achieve professionalism and competence in this Chamber, I did not embark upon this career with any aspiration of becoming some sort of antipodean Billy Connelly.
I should also say that there is little about New Zealand’s longer term economic and social prospects if this Government were to continue in office which I regard as in the least bit amusing.
I am heartened that many New Zealanders share the sense of urgency that we should address these important issues before it is too late. There is a mood for change and this spin-doctoring Labour minority Government is failing miserably to recognise this.
And I acknowledge with a mixture of pride and humility that my Party has chosen me to provide leadership at this important time.
I am not in the slightest troubled that Mike King and Marc Ellis have nothing to fear from my appearance on the public stage.
But I shall be very troubled indeed if, by election day 2005, the need to face up to some key issues facing this country has not sufficiently motivated New Zealanders to see this arrogant Clark Government thrown out of office.
Mr Speaker, my commitment to New Zealanders as Leader of the National Party is to deliver on five key goals:
First, we have to start narrowing the gap between our living standards and those of our cousins in Australia, a gap which sees every Australian getting nearly $200 per week more than the average New Zealander. If we don’t narrow that gap, we won’t have the healthcare that Australians can afford; we won’t have the roads that Australians take for granted; our teachers won’t get the salaries that those in Australia earn; Mums and Dads will increasingly see their kids and grandchildren grow up in Australia – we end up as a distant Tasmania to the Australian mainland. That isn’t what I want, and it isn’t what most New Zealanders want.
Second, we have to ensure that every child, whatever his or her race, whatever the affluence of his or her parents, whether he or she lives in Auckland or in rural Southland, has access to quality education, so that every child comes out of the school system able to read, able to write, able to take his place in a modern society. At the moment, they don’t, and that is a disgrace to all of us. Unless we do very much better, we are never going to have a healthy society, we are never going to have a society where everybody can get a well-paid job.
Third, we have to end the creeping paralysis of welfare dependency. It is surely a scandal that at a time when the economy is buoyant, 350,000 working age adults and tens of thousands of their children are dependent on hard-working New Zealanders for a hand-out. As a country, we currently spend $20 million per day on social welfare, nearly a million dollars an hour, 365 days every year. For the sake of those receiving that money as well as for the sake of the hard-working New Zealanders who are paying it, we have to fix that system, and give all able-bodied New Zealanders the dignity of contributing to our society.
Fourth, we need to head off the dangerous drift to racial separatism in New Zealand, a drift which this Government seems intent on encouraging. We must deal, fairly and finally, with historical grievances, but then ensure that all New Zealanders, of whatever race or creed, are treated equally before the law.
And finally, we need to ensure that all New Zealanders feel secure. And that means not just dealing firmly with crime, and drugs, and gangs, and vandalism, but also ensuring that our relationships with new friends in Asia and old friends in Australia, the UK, and the US are put on a firm footing.
Mr Speaker, I am not interested in trading personal insults with the Prime Minister or members of her Government.
I’m not interested in sarcasm.
I am interested in, indeed desperately worried about, New Zealand’s future.
I am absolutely committed to doing everything in my power to ensuring that that future holds prosperity, racial harmony, security and hope for every New Zealander.
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