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Michelle Boag Speech To Ak Chamber Of Commerce

Speech To Auckland Chamber Of Commerce

Michelle Boag - National Party President

Friday 17 August 2001

Aotea Centre, Auckland

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to address the issue of "Where to now for National?"

It's a good question, and as of just under four weeks ago I now have the responsibility for answering it.

In doing so, today I want to look at the task ahead and the path National must take if we are to reconnect with our voters and rebuild their confidence in us as more than just a credible alternative - as the only Party that can take New Zealand forward to a bright future.

So what is the task? Clearly, I have a significant mandate for change and an endorsement of my objective to rebuild and revitalize the National party.

How is that objective to be achieved?

Well it's like any organization that has become weak and is no longer capable of achieving its objective - it's about attracting quality people, it's about their ideas and the organizations ability to respond and adapt to new ways of doing things. It's also about a lot of hard work.

Right now, I'm heavily into that rebuilding phase, and there are a number of things that I and the team of volunteers that I lead are doing to generate new interest and attract new people.

The first is an emphasis on an open and dynamic process of policy development.

Policy - essentially ideas - is the agenda that drives any political party and a common feature of parties that have been in government for a long time is that they need to open up their minds to new input.

When I was elected just under four weeks ago I promised an intensive 90 days of policy as a means of involving new and existing party members in setting our agenda for the future.

That process is now well under way and is occurring on three levels:

1. Every electorate has been invited to submit an electorate policy platform to address issues that they believe are important for the party's future agenda. The aim of this process is to get the widest possible participation at a basic level of party involvement and to reinforce that ideas can come from the smallest organizational unit of the Party.

2. Regionally, policy consultation meetings are occurring on the major issues of superannuation, taxation and Resource Management Act reform. This is involving teams of Caucus members who are combining a public consultation process with internal consultation meetings to obtain the views of party members on various policy options.

3. Nationally, a number of weekend policy seminars have been organised involving outside experts as speakers which are open to all party members. These address subjects such as: "Our Land - growing New Zealand", dealing with agricultural, environmental and Resource Management Issues. "New Zealand and the World", addressing macro economic policy within the context of New Zealand's global and strategic interests. "Learning and Innovation", dealing with issues of parental education, literacy, education standards and measurement at a primary and secondary level and the needs of the tertiary and entrepreneurial sector. "Freedom, Diversity and Wellbeing", dealing with issues of health, welfare and cultural diversity. These seminars take place on consecutive weekends in September and involve Caucus members as participants and in some cases as speakers to ensure that they are fully committed to the creation of new ideas and options as we move towards finalizing our policy positions.

In addition, we have a BlueGreens conference in Auckland in October, and our Maori members are holding a policy hui in Taupo where they are addressing mainstream policy issues.

So the 90 days of policy activity that I felt was important to the process of rebuilding is well under way, and the level of enthusiasm for this activity is heartening. What is also heartening is the recognition that we can afford to be bold, and that in fact we must be bold, because "me too" policies simply will not work.

It is also important in this process that there is a philosophical base for the work that is being carried out. That means promoting aspirational values as part of our determination to create a credible vision for New Zealand that is forward looking and focuses on reversing our alarming slide down the OECD ladder, values such as:

* Freedom - especially from unnecessary constraints that hinder rather than help the development of an encouraging economic framework.
* Success - an attribute that is too often disparaged in our communities, and which deserves to be admired
* Reward for effort - promoting policies that value work and reward people for it, rather than incentivising a "don't work" culture
* Prosperity - a legitimate and in fact essential driver for economic development
* Reward for risk - acknowledging the value of those who are prepared to put their assets at risk to create a return

Finally of course the success of this policy development focus will depend on our ability to encapsulate all this work in a clear and simple vision that captures the imagination of the New Zealand voter.

I believe that will be the real battleground for the next election, because too many of our institutions are visibly failing and people are crying out for some certainty and comfort that there is a long term strategy to sustain us into the future.

Right now, there isn't, and the creation of Mr Cullen's Super Fund is proving to be a huge millstone around the neck of the Labour Party.

I am incredulous that this Labour government is willing to lock itself into a spending straitjacket for a Fund that will only provide 14% of New Zealand's superannuation funding at its peak.

What's more, in its first year, they are already borrowing to contribute to it.

If we think we're seeing pressure on spending in Health and Education now, just imagine how much worse it is going to get as the requirements of the Super Fund start to dominate our spending decisions in the future.

And while we're on the subject of Health and Education, I can't help wondering what happened to the six cents extra income tax that many voters said they were happy to pay to see that Health and Education were better funded.

That is certainly one promise that the Labour Government has not delivered on. $80 million for the Peoples Bank - yes - more money for Health and Education - no.

Please indulge me the occasional slippage into politics - I'm a political being after all, and while my focus is on organisational leadership, I find the occasional temptation to get stuck in too great.

And of course, the politics is where finally the battleground will be. That's why I have made clear my objective of improving the performance of everyone involved in the National Party at both an organisational and political level.

Getting the politics right demands identifying and promoting major points of difference.

Those differences are now starting to emerge.

Last week the Government demonstrated its disdain for prevailing public sentiment by rejecting a referendum on MMP, despite overwhelming public support for a review of the system that we have now had for two elections.

The National Party has made it very clear that if we become government there will be a binding referendum on MMP, which many people thought they were already getting when they voted for MMP in the first place.

There is another point of difference emerging that I believe will become increasingly important, and that is the Labour Party's agenda of control rather than empowerment.

I've observed the increasing trend towards a "we know best" policy approach with concern, because it is ultimately stifling and disabling, sapping initiative and drive.

When the Government decides what we should be watching on television, in the process ripping hundreds of millions of dollars of value out of our state broadcaster, and when the Minister of Labour says she will be the one who decides whether or not a shop opens on a Statutory holiday, Nanny State has truly taken over.

There are however still great challenges for National if we are to rebuild the confidence of New Zealanders and lead the creation of a new vision for New Zealand. Those tasks include: * Listening - something we are learning to do better in Opposition than we did in government * Broadening our representative base - ensuring that we truly represent the multi-cultural nature of New Zealand * Being inclusive and tolerant of all views across the political spectrum * Promoting debate on issues that can best be resolved through informed and thorough examination, and a good example of this is options for company tax rates * Communication - opening channels and expanding our networks to ensure a genuine understanding of the needs and aspirations of New Zealanders.

I have a huge personal commitment to see the National Party succeed. To do that, we must spell out the path that will take New Zealand to where we all know it deserves to be - out in front, leading the world in innovation, in creativity, beyond excellence to success for all our people and pride in our country. That's a big call, but I believe in big calls. The recent Knowledge Wave Conference here in Auckland was all about how we could get to that point. Helen Clark shut the door on most of those suggestions. Clark talks the talk, but when it comes to the crunch, she won't walk the walk. The pressure is now on National to grasp the opportunity that has been opened up by Clark's rebuff, and to deliver to New Zealand a policy mix that creates the right climate for investment, for growth and reward.

And while we're on the subject of policy, it's worth noting another major difference between National and Labour. In the National Party, we believe our members do have a role in policy formulation, which is why we are engaging in such an intensive programme throughout the country. I am not going to be personally intimidated by a Prime Minister who says I sound more like a Leader than a President. I am the leader of the National Party organisational wing and that organisation needs to be listened to by its Parliamentary wing if we are to jointly deliver a platform of compelling policies to the voters of New Zealand. This government is fond of talking about partnerships. In the National Party, we truly have one, and the two wings - organisational and Parliamentary - are working hard together on strategies, policies and performance to deliver a real choice to the voters of New Zealand next year.


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