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"Act’s New Agenda"

Sunday 5th Nov 2000
Richard Prebble Speech
Governance & Constitution

"ACT’S NEW AGENDA" Richard Prebble's Speech To ACT Party Auckland Divisional Conference Novotel Ellerslie Racecourse 04 November 2000

I always look forward to speaking to ACT party members. People who join political parties, no matter what party, to me are special people. You are the people who believe. You believe in democracy. You believe in your country. You believe in participatory democracy. You are the party.

ACT members are very generous. Not just in their money but in a more valuable commodity – their time.

That’s why we have created a party whose campaigning ability is respected even by our enemies.

Here we are facing what ACT has stood against - a Labour/Alliance government introducing policies like the ACC re-nationalisation, the trade union promoting Employment Relations Act, an 18% income tax increase, deeply racist legislation, laws to break contracts and big government.

How do we feel about that? I think many media commentators suggested ACT should join the brain drain and migrate, as many of our supporters have.

The mood is captured in an interview with Douglas Myers in this month’s North and South magazine. Let me quote: “With…a government reversing the reforms endorsed by the New Zealand Business Roundtable when Myers was its chairman and inspiration, what keeps him from hiring the movers? The reporter asks Doug Myers. “The dollar’s in free fall, the unions are back, the privatisation process is reversing, do you sit up here and look back in anger?”

Douglas Myers replies: “I’m not angry. Maybe we need a reminder, in the form of a crisis, of why we needed the reform of 1984. If we don’t learn our lesson this time, it may be New Zealand's last chance. Change does hurt people. Before 1984, we lived in a country that had seen very little change and suddenly the reforms occurred for reasons many didn’t understand. Now we’re seeing an implosion and an exodus of people. If you looked down on New Zealand from Mars and saw how small and isolated this country is, you’d think the pattern was perfectly understandable.”

Douglas Myers’ analysis is correct.

The economy is going to self-destruct because you cannot have central controls from the Beehive when most of the economy is in a global free market. People are free to invest anywhere. Why would you invest to pay 39 per cent tax, meet red tape costs and please the unions. If I can quote Douglas Myers again, ”I think the investment issue will be the government’s down fall because if you don’t have investment you don’t have a job and if you don’t have a jobs no one has money.”

I do not want to spend my time this afternoon discussing why collectivism doesn’t work because it is becoming more obvious every day.

In that way ACT’s agenda has changed.

When we last gathered in Auckland for a conference in March, Labour was enjoying the longest political honeymoon in history. Commentators said it was a three term government, unbeatable, and speculated about whether Labour could govern alone.

National was discredited and silent. Whenever a National MP questioned a policy, government ministers savaged them for Nationals’ poor record.

ACT was not part of the government. We agree National’s record was not good, so we could credibly question all coalition policy. This winter ACT found itself leading the opposition. The one voice in parliament questioning the direction, the logic, indeed the whole programme.

ACT’s been very successful.

No one, not even Labour’s most sycophantic media commentators now talk about automatic victory in the polls.

There have been polls that have shown the centre-right would win an election this year – less than a year from the last election – almost unheard of.

While some ACT supporters are anguished that National has been the principle beneficiary of ACTs work against ACC, tax increases and the Employment Relations Bill, I am not.

We need the centre right to win the election and I welcome National’s rise in the polls.

Which would you prefer – what we had for the first six months, ACT at 6 to 7%, Labour at 48% and National on 34%. – a clear win to the left. Or where we are now, with National up with Labour, and ACT the party poised to increase its vote as ACT has done in every election it have contested.

Delegates, while we fought hard to prevent a Labour-Alliance coalition, politically this is our opportunity.

This is possibly New Zealand’s last chance to move to a new agenda.

It is ACT’s opportunity because we are the only party that has a vision of where this country could be in ten years.

New Zealand could be a prosperous, secure nation. A country that is positive, optimistic and succeeding in the global economy. A nation where we have generous support for those in need and a hand up for those down on their luck.

A ‘can do’ nation.

A country where our schools strive for excellence.

A nation whose government sees its role to promote freedom, up hold the rule of law, protect property rights, to expand people’s choices and to ensure that people accept responsibility for their actions.

Only ACT has that vision. ACT has it because we know that it is achievable.

We believe in New Zealand. We believe passionately in the enormous potential of this country and the ability of our fellow citizens to do the most extraordinary things.

In the land of the politically visionless, the party with a vision is an electoral winner.

Six months ago when Labour looked unbeatable, there was no market for an alternative agenda, now there is.

Now there is a contest of ideas, and as the party of fresh new ideas ACT must seize the opportunity.

ACT welcomes Dr Cullen’s superannuation plan. We accept that this is a real problem, how can we ensure that future retirees have a secure superannuation?

So while ACT has questioned the figures and the proposal, ACT has not questioned that the problem is real.

ACT feels like Brer Rabbit being thrown into the briar patch – superannuation is our issue. Sir Roger Douglas’ books, ‘Unfinished Business’ and ‘Completing the Circle’ are programmes of how to make secure super affordable for all New Zealanders.

ACT’s caucus had Michael Cullen come to address a special caucus meeting. We have consulted widely with experts, with the party, and I am taking to the Board tomorrow a way of approaching the superannuation issue.

We see superannuation as a way to emphasise ACTs vision of all New Zealanders being able to own a share of their nation. ACT has tried in two elections to get superannuation on the election agenda. So we welcome Helen Clark’s promise to make super the election issue.

The on-going debate over ACC is also an ACT issue.

ACT’s co-founder Derek Quigley published two booklets on the subject. Although a report in 1991 recommended that National introduce choice and competition, it took the election of ACT MPs to force National into action.

ACT was the author of last years ACC reforms, reforms that gave employers choice of insurers and worked even better than ACT predicted.

Labours re-nationalisation and plan for even more bureaucracy have put ACC on the agenda.

ACT has a vision of an accident insurance scheme that gives everyone choice, that promotes responsibility, rehabilitation and reduces accidents and costs.

At our three day caucus, ACT deputy leader Ken Shirley took us through the work he and our research team have been doing.

It’s an exciting vision. Its going to the Board tomorrow and will be, with the Board’s endorsement, released this month.

Releasing substantive policy two years before an election is new for New Zealand politics.The conventional wisdom is that the opposition should release policy only in election year, as close to the election day as possible, for fear the government might steal the policy if it is good or attack it if it’s bad.

That is First Past the Post politics where two major parties implicitly agree to disagree on a handful of policies.

We are now in MMP politics, where the two major parties cannot stage manage the issues.

ACT can place our vision on the agenda. We can do so by putting forward policies that only ACT can advance, issues that ACT already owns.

Your MPs are doing this. All the political parties talk about compliance costs, even Jim Anderton has a committee of bureaucrats writing reports about red tape. It’s ‘Yes Minister’ stuff.

ACT has got positive, powerful solutions.

One of the most outrageous examples of bureaucratic red tape is the treatment of foreign doctors. We have doctors with qualifications from some of the world's best medical schools, and have practised in London, who have been on social welfare for years because of the red tape preventing them from registering in New Zealand.

Ken Shirley has a private members bill - first drafted by Hon Derek Quigley - which aims to cut through this red tape. It has been drawn from the ballot and will be debated this Wednesday, and all the parties will have to vote on it.

But New Zealand's biggest bureaucratic monster is the Resource Management Act - introduced by Labour, passed by National. It is a well-intentioned attempt to protect the environment, but it does not mention property rights.

Successive governments brush off the delays, costs, vexatious appeals and intrusive district plans as teething problems - but the teeth are getting longer. On a trip to Northland I visited a company that spent four years and six million dollars getting a consent. One person delayed the project 18 months, cost over half a million dollars with an objection to the Environment Court which was without merit.

Farmers spend thousands of dollars to get non-notifiable consents.

A major development is being held back because after getting all the consents, including the local iwi. A near Maori war has broken out with a new iwi from a different district putting in a last minute appeal! The Environment Court should not be settling tribal wars at the land owner's cost.

Radical reform of the Resource Management Act is an ACT issue. Owen Jennings has a private members bill to reform the Resource Management Act. It's a very moderate bill that just requires local councils to advise landowners before designating part of their land to be of 'significant interest'. Such a description can be financially crippling. In the worst case you can find your farm has in effect become a national park only you own it, must pay rates but you can't farm it - socialism by regulation.

Owen's bill would enable landowners and councils to discuss the issue rather than litigate. The bill is also due to be debated this week.

It's the first of a string of bills ACT is going to introduce on the RMA - it's our issue. It illustrates all of ACT's values: freedom; choice; personal responsibility; sanctity of contract; and protection of property rights.

But it’s our third private member's bill that has the other parties running scared - Stephen Franks' bill to reform parole.

Political parties know that the parole system is a scandal. It's part of New Zealand's 'Lies in Sentencing' regime. The public is told that offenders are sentenced to jail. The reality is that many evil offenders are out after just a third of their sentence. That’s right! Offenders sentenced to six years jail, out in just two years. It's been like that for over a decade.

The released offenders are on parole. Parole supervision for many offenders is non-existent. Every six weeks a New Zealander is murdered by a person on parole. Every month someone is raped. Every week there is an aggravated robbery. Every day there is a burglary.

Last year from the hundreds of offences, just 6 parolees were returned to jail for parole violations.

Under ACT’s bill, a parolee who re-offends will have to return to jail to complete their original sentence.

The public knows there is something terribly wrong with the justice system, that's why 92% of us voted for Norm Withers’ petition. In a TVNZ poll over 72% of New Zealanders said they strongly supported my Truth in Sentencing bill. The coalition said that theywere in favour but then voted it down.

Ministers say parole is a problem - well on Wednesday it's accountability time.

I have more news for them - ACT's got another nine bills going into the next ballot and top of the list is my 'Full, Fair and Final' Waitangi settlements bill, another issue where ACT is the voice of middle New Zealand. ACT is the only party with a practical plan to generously settle the genuine grievances and then close the grievance industry down for good.

We are the rule of law party.

Delegates, I believe that the coalition's 'Closing the Gaps' policies have frightened many people. All thinking people realise that in a multi-racial country we cannot leave members of one racial group behind.

Racial harmony depends on everyone, regardless of race, being able to succeed. We have had a propaganda blitz from the government claiming that the centre-right have widened the gap over the last 15 years!

Michael Cullen made the following claims in his Budget speech: "Unfortunately New Zealand has had faster growth in inequality than any other country in the developed world. That is shameful. In our country that inequality has had a unique and unfortunate dimension. There has been a growing disparity between the life chances of Maori and other New Zealanders."

I believe many liberal New Zealanders voted Labour because they believed this to be true. Indeed I think the Labour Ministers believed their own propaganda.

While not minimising the fact that there are gaps, there are many Maori in an unacceptably poor socio-economic situation, the fact is that the gaps have actually been closing. As the government's own researcher - Simon Chapple - has shown, the real situation was reason for great optimism. Over the last decade the gaps as measured by education, income and employment closed.

An open economy is good for minorities, it creates opportunities for achievement. As the latest employment figures show, the biggest losers from the coalition’s policies have been Maori and Pacific Islanders. It is a further irony that the motivation of Sir Roger Douglas, Hon Derek Quigley, myself and the delegates in this room is to create a New Zealand that is against privilege. The coalition's creation of a new privilege won't help the disadvantaged, it just creates new injustices.

The coalition is in the process of creating problems when New Zealand needs solutions. ACT is the party with the policies to benefit all New Zealanders. Maori and Pacific Islanders will gain the greatest benefits simply because the present government’s policies are hurting minorities the most.

ACT has the solutions. Let me quote again from the North and South article on Douglas Myers. "I believe you start by creating a free environment and giving opportunities and incentives, not in the form of subsidies and write-offs, but by bringing taxes down as low as possible and making people want to work for all the right reasons. You keep a safety net and create a culture that applauds success."

Delegates, that is ACT's vision - to create a new culture. A culture that prizes freedom, that gives choices, is compassionate to those in need, that values hard work, thrift and personal responsibility.

ACT's agenda is to make this vision New Zealand's agenda.


For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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