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A Strong Economy - A Secure Community - English

ADDRESS BY HON BILL ENGLISH
Wellington Chamber of Commerce
Wellington Tuesday, 16 October 2001

A strong Economy - A secure community

A week is a long time in politics, but a short time in the life of a nation. It's with some humility, but plenty of determination that I take on the job of Leader of the National Party.

They say a week is a long time in politics - and last Tuesday certainly seems longer than a week ago. Much of the time up until now has been spent organising last Friday's caucus reshuffle. Let me tell you now that I will never again criticise a Leader of a Party for procrastinating over a reshuffle. It is a time consuming exercise, but one that needs a lot of time spent on it to make sure you get it right.

And I'm confident that I have. I want to get the best out of the National Caucus, by playing to the strengths of the MPs' and building a team. Before we can achieve that for our country, we need to achieve it for ourselves. A reshuffle is just one more step on the path to winning the election.

The only feature of the line-up I want to comment on today is the finance role, because that is of interest to you all. We are at a critical stage of our policy development process. For this reason, I have decided to retain an overview of policy by retaining the finance spokesmanship.

I will be ably assisted by two Associate Spokespersons, Dr Lockwood Smith and David Carter. Lockwood Smith will focus on fiscal policy. He will be responsible for costing policies and tracking the Government's performance on spending. Lockwood knows the territory well and has a tremendous capacity for the detailed work and discipline required

David Carter will cover the rest of economic policy. David has a strong business background and will quickly get a grip on economic policy. We will arrange a transition for him into full responsibility next year.

I will be using the business depth in our caucus. Both David Carter and John Luxton are successful in business in their own right. Others, including myself, have worked in or owned businesses. This base of experience matters more as the Government shows its own incompetence doing business. Its instinctive distrust of people in business is showing up again as the effects of the cocktail campaign wear off.

I was brought up on the National Party, in a time when it spoke to, and stood for, a broad swathe of New Zealanders, in every walk of life, I want to take the National Party back to its roots as a broad-spectrum party, acting and working in the national interest. Principles of freedom, choice, enterprise and a contribution to the community are timeless principles. My job, along with my Party is to reinterpret them again for New Zealand in the 21st century.

It's no small task in light of the events of September 11 abroad, and the bailout of Air New Zealand at home. These events have punctured our complacency. New Zealand was set for a few quiet years, to sleep off the 90's under Helen Clark's anaesthetic mixture of nostalgia and careful polling.

The optimism of just a few months ago has gone. The mighty engine of the world economy, the US, is choking. When did you last see in print the term "New Economy"? We are seeing the inverse dynamics of the knowledge economy. You have heard it - the potent idea, easily scaleable, creating wealth quickly and globally. That potent idea isn't software; it is terror, the intellectual property of a few very dangerous people.

New Zealand, at least for now, stays riding on a cushion of high prices for meat and milk. Ahead of us lie our own twin towers - dropping commodity prices and the unmasked reality of our own economic decline.

We are used to worrying about these problems and dealing with them with sporadic success. Next time, though the world in which we are trying to get ahead will be different in a hundred ways. One obvious way is that the world will be in an unpredictable state of conflict. Everyone is telling us the war on terror will be long and complicated, as it must be when our target is so small and their target is so big.

We are a nation of traders and travellers. It may be that the US opens it borders to exporters like us in order to maintain the new broad coalition it has put together in recent weeks. Or it may be that the US becomes so preoccupied with its own security that it has no interest in trade agreements. Strife in the airline industry might push politicians to more open skies policies, or it could mean more airlines owned by governments, and a much more politicised, subsidised industry.

Times have changed, and changed rapidly. The Government owns Air New Zealand. The Alliance finds itself supporting a US led war which could lead to casualties in Afghanistan.

We aren't isolated from these challenges - they have and will affect our daily lives. The economy might defy gravity for a while yet - I certainly hope so - but we cannot remain forever immune from a world heading into recession. Yesterday's consensus forecasts for the world economy showed what Deutschebank called "a huge downward revision of forecasts of GDP growth for New Zealand's largest trading partners. "

Can I note here that economists have been consistently forecasting a rebound in world growth, and it has been consistently about 18 months away.

It's in this context that we will fight the next election. There couldn't be a more challenging time to take over the leadership of the National Party, and there couldn't be a greater need to rethink the path ahead for our country.

We need to rethink our national security, we need to rethink our relationships with other countries, we need to rethink the path to economic progress and we need to rethink how we will live together as many cultures.

These are not new issues but the events of the last month put us on fast forward. Last month we were virtually non-aligned. This month the Government has scrambled to a pro US policy, pushed against all its instincts by politics and public opinion.

Last month we had a popular army-only defence policy. This month we have the Government endorsing army leadership shredding secret documents, and the public wondering why the airforce is getting sacked.

Last month we were looking at a slowing world economy - this month we are looking at co-ordinated recession in all our major markets.

Last month few people realised there are good New Zealanders who are Muslim, this month we are condemning acts of prejudice against New Zealand Muslims.

My job, and National's job with your help, is to plot the path forward through all this. Helen Clark's government will continue to be reactive - pushed around by events and by polling, driving with its eyes firmly fixed on the rear vision mirror.

As a new political leader I will bring to the job my own experience. It includes a few failures I'd rather not tell you about, but it's pretty broad - in farming, family, university and even the civil service. Each of these has been profoundly changing struggle in the space of my working life. I come from a part of the country that has struggled with economic changes for 15 years and I have seen the grinding dependency of communities going backwards - with some hard lessons for a country that is going backwards. As a politician I have spent most of my career on social issues, particularly health, but also welfare, superannuation and education.

At the core of this experience are the same events that shape people's lives, paying the bills and hoping for a better future for my children.

The job now is a better future for my country. I will bring to that job my own style of leadership. I don't pretend to know everything, and I don't believe a leader can control everything. I work best alongside others and I take a pragmatic view of solving problems. I think relationships of trust and confidences are as crucial to running a country as they are to running any organisation. A common sense of purpose is the difference between New Zealand backing itself, or settling back and going nowhere.

Much that is important to New Zealand will remain at the heart of National Party policy. We stand for a strong economy and a secure community. A strong economy is an engine of opportunity for our people and it provides the cash for the social services we want. We are, and will remain pro business, sceptical of big government, in favour of lower taxes and an enterprise culture.

We are rethinking our economic policy, focussing on the strengths and weaknesses of the New Zealand economy, rather than on the theories about how it should be. We are taking a long-term view about how to raise growth rates on a small biologically based economy. We have made a fundamentally different choice than the Government. They intend now to focus on savings as the key to economic success, and we will focus on productivity. Dr Cullen's new super scheme is a $9.5 billion plan to buy baby boomer votes over the next five years using the surplus taxes of families and small businesses. The first investment of the money set aside appears to be in Air New Zealand.

I will also be moving National to stronger social policy. Health and education are the business of government, and like its commercial business, the Government is making a hash of it. Left wing ideology prevents the Government from getting the best services with the least waste. 1970's thinking is no way to run services for a demanding and diverse public in the 21st century. We can make our communities more secure if their public services are run for them, and run well.

We will confront the problems of poverty and disadvantage in the same honest and practical way. The Government is throwing around taxpayers' money and fine words. Their social policy is a combination of pork barrelling and being patronising. They prefer low-income people to stay dependent on the welfare state, trapped by what has been called "the soft bigotry of low expectations"

All our policy has to take account of the changing population of New Zealand - its greying and its browning.

The events of the last month have also brought back the focus on our defence and foreign affairs arrangements. National believes we should align ourselves and our policies with our friends and allies, and our region, rather than the United Nations. We will not, and cannot relive, the arguments of the past. Our job is to refashion our defence doctrine, rebuild our relationship with Australia and build public support for the policy, so that New Zealand becomes again a reliable and predictable partner.

In 10 years time we will be a more confident, a more diverse country that backs itself instead of knocks itself. We will be more diverse and more unique, we will know our strengths and build on them, and we will, because there are so few of us, be willing and keen to take everyone along.

To those people who share my concern about New Zealand's present, and my hopes for its future, I ask your support. Winning elections and running a country are about winning hearts and minds - National is reinvigorated. Since the election we have been reshaping our party and our policy. We are each day recruiting people who share our direction and who want to play a part in shaping our country. I have great hope for New Zealand with its unique people and attitudes. You can sit back and see if I can do it. If you share my concerns and share my hopes, you come with us. New Zealand needs your confidence and talent as much as mine.

We have just 13 months until the election and over that time National will set out its direction. The policy will flow on education, health, support for families, roading, defence, agriculture, genetic engineering and the environment. It's a big job and I ask for your support.

ENDS

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