Our Prosperity, Our People, Our Future
UPDATE: This version has been checked against delivery.
Rt Hon Jenny Shipley Leader of the Opposition
Our Prosperity, Our People, Our Future
North Harbour Stadium Oteha Valley Road Albany
12.00 noon, Friday 24 November 2000
A year ago we were all told by Labour that we were going to have a much brighter future. They are now demanding that voters give them two or perhaps three terms more to convince them.
I want to say to you today there's not a chance that that's going to happen.
As we look at the end of this year 2000, one year on since Labour was elected, I think if we are both honest and blunt, race relations are at an all-time low and one can only conclude that Labour has succeeded in dividing us, not bringing us together.
The other hard thing, but it's true, is that price increases this year as we go into Christmas are going to mean that everyone, particularly people on low incomes, will be hit very hard.
New Zealanders are paying a premium for having a leader of the Labour Party who has led a great leap backwards.
We are all poorer than we were twelve months ago. At a time when commodity prices are booming right around the world we shouldn't be languishing as we are, and being left behind. New Zealand should be flying as we were when National left office.
But we're not.
It's simply wrong to say that this state of affairs is something that New Zealanders should do nothing about and surrender to unavoidable consequences.
I want to put the blame squarely on the Labour Alliance Government.
We don't have one of the worst performing currencies in the world for no good reason. It is in large a reflection of some of the things we've seen happen in New Zealand this year. The decisions that you are now very familiar with in terms of changing the labour markets, changing ACC and so on have led to a devaluation of our currency of 20% since Labour took office.
At a time when governments all around the world see the benefits of smaller government and lower taxation regimes, our government is not only increasing spending but also increasing taxes - some of which you could only describe as envy taxes in terms of the justification for why they are there.
At a time when the world is recognising that more flexible labour markets are a key to the future - even some of those social democratic countries that our Prime Minister lauds so often - we are going in entirely the opposite direction: introducing new rigidity into the New Zealand labour market.
The benefits of competition, which New Zealanders knew so well in the 1990s, have now been reversed and we face a state monopoly in the case of ACC.
There are big spending areas in education and health where state monopolies are also back in vogue, reversing a lot of the progress that had been made during the 1990s.
Here on the North Shore there are many parents who, if they were here, would express angrily their frustration that they no longer have parental choice in terms of zones and schools to which they can send their children - and that those schools are now denied the right to be fully funded through the bulk funding system and are instead being dictated to by Wellington.
And in this week where education has been a key issue we've got a Labour Party which is saying that it is actually going to dumb down the system further in terms of the examination regime.
You may have been listening to Parliament this week. If you were, you would know that instead of telling our students how well they've achieved in any examination Labour will simply give them either a Credit, a Merit or an Excellence. If you get 30% you'll be told you got a Credit, if you get 76% you will be given an Excellence but you will not be told your percentage mark.
Young people in New Zealand are not stupid. We should not deny them vital information which allows them to be rewarded for their own attainment and also allows parents and teachers to know their children are succeeding in a way that will serve them well in the future.
I could talk all afternoon on health but I won't, other than to say that they are taking the system back to the old district health boards where politics is back at the heart of health spending allocation and decision making.
Sadly whether you look at either education or health issues, I don't believe education will be one scrap better for the new decisions. Indeed many would argue it will be significantly worse or our students will be significantly worse off. And I am quite sure there will be no improvement in health services even though there are very significant changes being imposed.
But the things that really irritate me about this year go much deeper than just the list of things I've given you.
When you look at it, and try and work out the difference between what National does in trying to achieve good government and what Labour is doing, I would hope that you see us as a Party that brings its values and its experience to the role, but then takes the pragmatic view of what is best for New Zealand today. Whereas what you see in this Government is their deep-seated socialist views which are very ideologically driven and a Government which has a view of 'This is what we think and we will impose it on you regardless of your opinion'.
Labour's 12 months in office, in my view, mark a significant step backwards. People argue whether it's 10, 20 or 30 years.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to put to you that it will be a National team that will have to pick up and regain the momentum that New Zealand will require if we are to do well as we begin this new millennium. I do not think that what we have seen this year is part of the future. Indeed I am certain it's part of the past.
That is why I want to briefly speak to you this afternoon about concepts of prosperity and also issues relating to our future as a nation.
It doesn't matter whether you live in Auckland or Ashburton or indeed anywhere in New Zealand. You don't have to look far to understand that the prosperity we experience in this country is relative to our position alongside the rest of the world.
And whichever family you belong to, New Zealand's prosperity determines your standard of living.
We in the Opposition must be critical if we believe Government is getting it wrong. But it's a privilege to be able to be critical, and we have to see that we are describing things as they are.
I would be the first to concede that in the short-term the economic decline we saw in the earlier part of this year is probably flattening out and if we look ahead to the next twelve months you could argue that international commodity prices look stronger than they have in a good while and the low dollar will give a short-term advantage for those who are trading.
But equally in the next twelve months I think you're going to see some pressures build up. There are some cost increases pushing through - particularly on imported goods which are input for business. Those costs are going to take the cream off any profits that might exist.
There are some who argue that there are interest rate rises in the wind and while that is speculative at this stage it is certainly a risk during the next year.
Whether we like it or not increased costs will mean that people's disposable income will have pressure on it.
In the medium-term I think our prospects are nothing to write home about. Recent Treasury analysis is predicting 1.5% growth in the outyears if you model it well forward, and they are also predicting no immediate unemployment drop towards 2005.
Sadly if anything like those performance figures are correct, New Zealand will be lagging behind countries with which we would like to compare ourselves.
If you go overseas as I did three weeks ago and talk about 1.5% growth, people simply look at you - perplexed - and ask what's gone wrong with New Zealand. My answer is quite clear: a left wing government has been elected and there will be no change until that is changed.
Today, and over the next few weeks, you will see a lot of the National team out around New Zealand telling our story and talking to people about the sort of things we are planning for the future.
We want a programme which not only talks about the facts as they are but gives people genuine hope for the future. That hope in my opinion is only with a Party like National and the approach we can provide.
It's got to be a programme which will pick New Zealand up and propel us forward. It's got to be built around enterprise and excellence and also education and all the things that mean we can create an environment where people say 'Yes this is the Party, this is the place I want to be and work and invest and save'.
We are about wealth creation in the National team: because if you create wealth you've got something to share.
Labour on the other hand is about redistributing wealth rather than creating it. It also has a real problem with the notion of people being different. They want to make everyone the same.
In the end, you cannot lift the people at the bottom by bringing the top down. You only lift the people at the bottom by giving those who are the entrepreneurs and the innovators the steps so that they can get going - and in doing so lift others.
It's worthwhile at this time in New Zealand's history to reflect on that enormously significant historical quote:
"You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
One cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatreds. You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man's initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves."
These are the concepts which drive the National Party's values.
We believe that people who are enabled are then very able to lead and create, in order for us to have things to share.
In saying that, I want to also make clear that National is very committed to the welfare system in New Zealand. A system that cares for those who need support, but also brings with it a sense of mutual obligation if that support is received.
Labour by contrast is very confused and soft on these issues.
Indeed right now in Parliament Labour is in the process of removing the censures on people who don't want to work and indeed Labour is saying to those who are unemployed 'You don't have to work in order to receive your payment'.
Having done that, Labour is also refusing to deliver on its promises of raising welfare payments or indeed paying students the holiday payments they thought they were entitled to receive.
National wants a fair welfare system that gives people a sense that 'While I might be out of luck at the moment people will support me and I will be encouraged to get going again'.
Which brings me to the employment rules.
What a frustrating year this has been. For us employment rules are about opportunity and creating a chance so that growth will be delivered. For Labour it appears to be about conflict resolution, often when conflict doesn't even exist, and about control and payback.
New Zealand can't afford the labour market changes Labour has imposed on us. National will be immediately ready to replace the Employment Relations Act with a new piece of legislation that will be flexible and will allow both employers and employees to know the rules, while reducing compliance costs and giving people confidence to move forward. We will have this ready to move in our first weeks in office.
Employment law is one of the keys that contribute to an environment where economic growth and confidence are possible.
Labour has succeeded, particularly in the early part of this year, in destroying the strong growth environment they inherited and I don't have to tell you the statistics, but the confidence levels have gone as low as we have seen since 1987.
It didn't need to happen, given that we began the year at 4.6% growth and with a very significant amount of confidence in both the domestic and international investor communities.
But putting all of that aside, whichever way you look at it, the economic position over all this year has not improved. It has deteriorated.
I am personally worried, for example, about the level of government expenditure that this Government has us heading back towards.
Let me remind you what our competitors are doing. Ireland today spends 27.5% of GDP in meeting their people's expectations of social services. Across the Tasman, the Australian government spends 32% of all the wealth they generate.
This year the New Zealand government will spend 40%.
While that may sound impressive to some people, if the Government overshoots on how much of the overall cake they spend they crowd out the private sector - and in doing so crowd out the opportunity for jobs and wealth and growth to occur.
This Labour Government has front-loaded a lot of their spending and that will make for a very tight fiscal position towards the end of this three-year term.
We heard Dr Cullen last week talking about fiscal prudence but at the same conference we heard:
* Helen Clark promise another possibly $100 million on paid parental leave, which you as taxpayers are going to pay
* Steve Maharey continue to promise significant amounts of new spending on welfare, although none of that has materialised to date
* Jim Anderton is scratching around trying to find $80 million for 'Jim's Bank'
* Annette King has said the health reforms would only take $12 million, yet we are sure that the costs are going to be much much larger - and they certainly haven't been allocated in the budget to date
* Ruth Dyson, before she removed herself, continued to talk about income and asset testing, that carries with it a price ticket in excess of $200 million
* And this week some Maori Members of Parliament have expressed a desire for $50 million, not the original $17 million, to be spent on Maori television
There are other things I could mention. The list goes on.
The point I want to make is that Dr Cullen has delivered deficits before. The Labour Government of the 1980s never delivered a surplus. Yet this is the same man who asks you and me to believe that he can deliver a superannuation fund solution which will rely on surpluses not only paying for all the things which might happen but also contributing $2 billion a year to a prefunded superannuation scheme. A fund that Bill English disclosed this week will only pay 14% of anyone's superannuation payment in any one week at its optimum performance.
Whether or not they can deliver surpluses in the first place is one credibility issue which Cullen must address.
The second is whether the prefunded solution they've come up with is believable or not.
One way or another Kiwis are going to have to pay and you should be very doubtful about what they are putting to us.
Some of those most affected by poor economic performance are those people who currently feel excluded. Sometimes Maori, sometimes others.
Labour's gaps policy has been much discussed but before I make my comments on this issue, I want to say that in my fifteen years in politics I have never seen such simmering resentment in the wider community as I am observing at present on this issue.
When people discuss their concerns it is expressed in the following ways:
- People are confused about the concept of 'race', not 'need' being the test
- They are perplexed by the comparison of 'Holocaust' in relation to Maori
- They are angry when they are told we are guests in our own land if we are not iwi
- They are very confused by the fact that we are now proposing special representation for Maori on the new health boards
- They are also very frustrated by more favourable treatment for Maori when we are discussing things like asset sales in the case of the radio spectrum
- And they are completely and utterly frustrated when they get told that almost every ill that faces New Zealand today is a consequence of 'post-colonial stress disorder'.
For all the talk Labour has not negotiated one new Treaty settlement in 12 months in office.
In my view, either wittingly or unwittingly they have created a great deal of concern amongst our community at large. I am constantly being confronted by people at meetings who are saying to me 'Enough is enough'.
As a Party we're going to have to try and think about what that means.
National believes we can bring New Zealanders together without racial division. Labour's policy is, in our view, opening up gaps in New Zealand. We believe that our goals for Maori can help close those again.
We remain absolutely committed to settling the grievances that exist, to investing in our people and raising our sights so that we can find a place to stand together and face a shared future.
It's worth looking at some of the demographics that actually exist today. Listen to these facts: Two-thirds of our young Maori who are married or in de facto relationships have partners who are non-Maori. Those Maori who marry other Maori are often actually marrying someone who has a multi-ethnic identity. The majority of Maori children today are growing up in families where one parent is non-Maori.
There are some who speculate that in time our Pacific people will express the same type of demographic figures.
Why is this important?
It's important in so far as we should speak about New Zealand as it is, not allow a few to describe us as they would wish or imagine us to be.
National believes that New Zealanders, no matter what our ethnic origin, must feel part of one country with one justice system for all, which we have confidence in and can embrace. Where we have clear expectations of each other and also of how we treat our children and ourselves.
In my view, there is no excuse for us to continue to make excuses. I do not believe there is a place for those who wish to re-write history. There must be a place for us to stand where we can value and respect our differences, but also this country of ours must be a place where we are proud of, and can have confidence in, the things we share in common.
To do otherwise separates and divides people. By 2040, when we celebrate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Waitangi, we could if we are not careful be two peoples.
I am deeply worried about some of the things the Labour Party is promoting. They have in recent weeks talked at great length in their approach to the health legislation about effectively creating two classes of citizen.
I say to Helen Clark, listen carefully to what people are saying at present. You cannot divide this nation by edict, law or policy. Indeed you cannot change what the bedrooms of New Zealand have already brought together. It is wrong to do so. We should courageously look at who we are now and not pretend that we are something else.
I also say to those who have extremist views, don't impose your views on others and expect us to accept them in silence.
I believe that to some extent Labour has sent a shiver of unease through middle New Zealand. It insults Maori self-esteem with policies of preferment, and it clearly creates resentment among other New Zealanders. I think the Labour Government has been allowing this to happen.
I was recently told about a lawyer who works in a very prominent Wellington law firm who described the issue of the Treaty clause in relation to health as follows - think of a group of champagne glasses in a pyramid, we only need one clause and it will have the effect of cascading champagne through a pyramid of glasses. She was suggesting that only one clause would see social legislation being debated in the courts for many years to come.
Labour made this mistake in the 80s with the SOE legislation and opened up many things that, at the time, they argued would not be of consequence. I believe they are about to repeat that mistake in the year 2000.
Need, not race, can unite New Zealand's people. Race, not need, will divide us.
National has always fought to have a policy position of no racial preference. We are all New Zealanders who can value the differences of our culture and cherish those cultures, but understand we have equal rights as Kiwis.
Tricky issues - like the issue of the Maori seats - which continue to linger, need to be discussed courageously and honestly.
Labour, in my view, clearly benefits by the prejudice of the Maori seats. I have to ask why in fact half of Maori voters prefer to come on the general roll. I also think it's interesting to ask why Labour promotes the Maori roll so actively. Labour apparently advised its electorate secretaries last week to sign up as many Maori as possible on the Maori roll.
Does the allocation of these seats on the basis of race encourage the belief that Parliament should deliver services on that basis? And is it healthy for a major party to be so dependent upon seats allocated in this way?
I think that it is a concern that even though we have this historical position in the year 2000 we also have a Government that is seeking to legislate to ensure that two Maori will be elected to each of the new district health boards.
These are questions that are difficult. But we must grow in courage and we must be prepared to honestly explore these complex questions. To ignore them does not contribute to a strong New Zealand capable of securing our future.
If MMP is to be retained in its current form then this matter of Maori seats and Maori representation must be thought through and dealt with carefully. If proportionality is assumed, then there must be a discussion about the future.
I believe such a discussion would certainly put more balance in our democracy if we were able to come to a conclusion, because it is in all our best interests to have policies that provide genuine opportunities for all who wish to succeed.
So what is it that National wants to offer?
National will continue to be a mainstream political party for the mainstream of New Zealand. For the many, not the few.
National wants to be confident and ambitious for our people so we can drive them forward and they can drive themselves forward.
We want freedom, self-reliance and enterprise to be hallmarks and characteristics of our people.
It's my hope that excellence, achievement and success will be 'givens'.
We are committed to a united society based on tolerance, diversity and independence and we are determined to make our community and our environment a better place for all of us.
These are values that give all individuals self-esteem and help us shake off this sense of 'We're young and there are still elements of dependency' that exists. That's not how the world sees us today.
When I was overseas recently I was very disturbed to find leaders in other countries ask me what has happened to New Zealand. I am a very proud Kiwi and I want to be able to promote us as a people and our country as a whole strongly and with confidence. Yet I find myself to some extent not in that position at this moment.
We have come out of a decade where we have done well and into a decade where things are not as straightforward.
The challenge I have as Leader of the National Party is to set the pace so that we're not just creeping over the line in 2002 with a win. We must make plans during the next two years which will inspire New Zealanders in such a way that they will give us an overwhelming mandate to lead New Zealand for the balance of this first part of this century.
For the record, I do intend to lead this party into the next general election.
I am determined that we will realise the vision that we set out to achieve so that our goals can deliver the hopes and aspirations of the New Zealand people.
My vision for New Zealand is one where Kiwis are proud of being at home, feeling the strength of being Kiwi, and yet thinking and acting internationally.
The strategy we hope to have in place as we run up to 2002 will strongly endorse such a sentiment.
We will set the scene for what I hope will be a decade in office. It will be a scene that will allow you to rely on the things you should expect from the National Party.
That you will have a sense of wealth creation, and for those of you who are in business, that if you take a risk you will be rewarded.
We'll aim to make small government an issue of importance again and we certainly will try and base it on a low tax regime.
There will be clear support for those who seek through individual effort to do well.
We will be pushing again the concept of personal responsibility and reward for enterprise.
There is absolutely no reason in my view why business should not rank New Zealand higher than Australia for its tax and regulatory environment, the quality of its workforce and its entrepreneurial spirit.
Our plan is based on making New Zealand the most attractive home for talent, effort, skill and capital in the world.
But if we are to do that there is one other thing we'd like to do.
New Zealand's future success lies in what we're prepared to do in our education system.
Education will be a centrepiece of National's election strategy. We must be bold.
We must transfer power from the producers of education to students and parents. Expect to see some clear signals there. In our view, all parents must be able to choose where their children can study.
To make the right decisions for our children, parents must be well informed about school quality, teacher qualifications and, above all else, the performance and standards of their children.
We must be open to alternatives in the delivery of education as we are about the knowledge and skills being delivered. A one-model-fits-all approach will only deliver muddled mediocrity.
By deliberately reducing diversity, choice and competition Labour will ensure education standards will be the loser.
National will seek excellence and achievement. The prize of scholarship will be there for those who want to seize it and get ahead.
Many parents and people in the education sector and industry were saying right before the election 'You've got to go further than you're going at the moment in order for the education system to work properly'. That message continues to come through very strongly. I give you a guarantee that we will respond as we go into the General Election.
Employers are desperate to see that they've got young people not only keen to but well equipped to be part of their businesses. Parents certainly want an education system for their children that will equip them not only for New Zealand but the world.
The time is right for us to be much more ambitious and adventurous than we have been up until now in this area.
So what can you expect?
Well I must say that we're, to be blunt, furious that the issue of scholarships has been taken out of the new Level Four system in the new National Certificate. National believes it is essential that top students have a programme and exams that will allow them to stretch themselves and compare themselves against those whom they would want to work with in the international setting.
This is not a domain for the rich, or for eggheads in our community. This is actually what we must expect for every child; it should be normal. We want every child to aspire to be the best they can be. Whether it's a child from Otara or North Shore, both of them should have access to courses from Harvard University if that is what they want. There are ways we can think about doing that in collaboration with our existing universities.
National will not allow any sectional interest in the education sector to block whatever it is we want to do to make the progress that is required. I give fair warning to those who have up until now succeeded disproportionately in obstructing change. We can't afford to let that happen because New Zealanders collectively suffer the consequences if we do.
There are other areas in which we would want to be very clear.
We must be rigorous in the way we review teacher performance. If a child turns 10 for example and there are illiteracy features there, we've got to have the courage to go back and ask why that has happened. It might not only be about teachers, it might be about parents, but we must be prepared to talk about that openly and honestly.
No child can afford to be left behind. National will not allow that to occur.
Which brings me to the fourth issue. We have got to get the issue of political correctness out of the education system.
We will not be afraid to put competition back into education and we will embrace technologies that may radically change the way in which some of our children are taught.
We see teachers as one of many kinds of mentors or tutors who will educate our children. There are many other ways in which people receive information in this day and age and we must be open to those.
At the tertiary level we are grappling with the whole question of student loans and the way in which they may work in the future. I don't want to raise your hopes but the whole team has put all issues to do with tertiary education on the table and we will look to see what we can do to make that more straightforward.
Education will allow us to be either successful pioneers, or pedestrians, depending on which path we chose.
We are determined to build on our strengths and must be prepared to embrace and explore new opportunities like the life sciences; most people call it biotechnology. I am very concerned that many other economies are bolting ahead in areas like this while New Zealand wrings its hands. We need to get over this issue. Of course deal with it safely, but we cannot afford to put aside new technologies that would potentially give us huge competitive advantages. We must look at how they can be captured and accommodated and new opportunities leveraged off them.
In the end what we're wanting is not only a successful economy and a good education system that works, but also we want to build healthy communities that are capable of building strong relationships and giving people a sense of 'Wow we are Kiwi, we are citizens here'.
These are not simple tasks and there are many other things National would like to include in our system.
But look for us to explore the full range of options - from changes to our tax system and strategies in our school system, to increasing the liability on parents for the actions of their children, to initiatives aimed at reducing attitudes of dependence in our country.
Achieving strong communities and building on the strengths of strong parents involves partnerships that perhaps haven't been fully explored up until now.
While we often talk about the government and the people we increasingly must learn to speak about government, the private sector and the third sector.
It is our view that many New Zealanders want to give by choice in addition to paying their tax. We can, if we work on getting good partnerships in this area, enhance the richness that makes New Zealand society what it is today.
So what again should you expect of us in the coming months?
I put on the record that while the team is very proud of the last nine years, the next National Government will be no carbon copy of the last. Times move on and so have we.
Expect us by 2002 to have developed many of the new ideas I have spoken to you about today. Ideas that will last at least 10 years into the future.
It is our intention to try and liberate the spirit which makes us New Zealanders.
It is also our plan to see that New Zealand is the most dynamic trading nation in the Pacific - a nation that is properly respected by its neighbours, sharing the burden of regional responsibilities with our allies in defence and similar areas, enjoying the fruits of our efforts, and not only feeling rewarded as risk-takers but allowing ourselves to have a sense of being uplifted as Kiwis.
There is marvellous expertise in this country. And our people are second to none.
We can serve them well as a party and National has kept to its task in this post-election year. We fought to rebuild, to reconnect with people that we perhaps had lost touch with, to reinvigorate the party and parliamentary team and to review the things we'd done well and take in the things that some people thought we'd done poorly.
If I was to evaluate our own performance I'd say, on balance, it was reasonably good. We've stuck carefully to the strategy we agreed to at the beginning of the year: in year one to solidly do the work on the ground and listen to the people in terms of what they wanted to say to us. At the end of the year we are pleased that the public of New Zealand have commended us through their poll support, so that we are at least within the margin of error against the current government.
We intend to continue to stick to our plan and will not be deviated from it simply because others might suggest that we should.
We are clear about our responsibility. We do intend to win the 2002 election. Not only for ourselves as a party but also for all the risk takers who carry the hopes and aspirations of others on their shoulders, and for all the people who have built New Zealand to be as strong and successful as it is today.
Perhaps most importantly we're going to win it for those young people who want to believe in New Zealand and have such high expectations of this party and what we can offer them in the future.
I believe that we can put the heart and soul back into our communities. If you want to know what tests we'll meet, look to us to see that we've created a people and a nation where all races feel well respected, standing together, sharing and facing a future.
I want a New Zealand where all families can feel that they will have the experience of improving income.
I want businesses to feel they are capable of producing jobs for our children and I most certainly want an education system that is capable of equipping children for the jobs that are available.
We have to be careful that our environment remains a matter of pride for us all and we can be absolutely confident that its quality can be sustained well into the future.
We need social services that meet our aspirations, supported not only by the taxpayer but by private giving and commitment as well.
These are the things that make up our vision. They are about excellence. They are about independence. They are about hope and reinvigorating and replacing a momentum that's been lost in recent months.
It is the New Zealand of tomorrow that we think we can offer.
Can we do it?
I'm absolutely sure that National is the party that is not only capable of doing it but is determined to do so.
Why should we, as Kiwis, settle for anything less!