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Bill English's Speech To Debate - PM's Statement

Bill English's Speech To Debate - Prime Ministers Statement, 12th February

Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition): I move, That this House has no confidence in the Labour-Alliance minority Government because it has no ambitions for New Zealand, but expects New Zealanders to put up with poor public health services, low education standards, wasteful public spending, increased taxes and low economic growth, and because today's innovation package provides no practical measures to transform New Zealand's economy.

That had them jumping out of their seats!

That inspired passion and resolve in the heart of every New Zealander, did it not? People will be chattering about that speech tomorrow around the morning-tea table. All that proved is that a Helen Clark speech is a body bag for a good idea.

We were all invited--through the front pages of our papers--to a four-course meal, yet we received yesterday's leftover fish and chips warmed up again. That went nowhere near meeting the expectations the Government had created for the Prime Minister's statement of the business of the Government of New Zealand for a whole year. Furthermore, it went nowhere near the benchmark of transformation of the economy. What it does show is that Helen Clark was never serious about an economic strategy, and, as a political and public relations strategy--not an economic strategy--she does not understand how the economy works. It is a vacuous political exercise with remarkable similarity to Waitangi Day.

I must make a comment that is topical. I went to Waitangi and saw the substance squeezed out of the occasion. It had everything Helen Clark would want: lots of security; total control; good media access, no disagreement with her, and it all went off. It had no celebration, no passion, no honesty, no debate, and no unity, because everyone was so worried that if they upset the Prime Minister she would burst into tears. What I saw there was not leadership about our future but fear of our future.

That was summed up by a little scene outside the window of the national marae. Three or four young New Zealanders 14 or 15 years of age, with a clear interest in the proceedings, walked past the meeting house, four policemen trotted out to usher them away, and that summed it up. This Prime Minister fears Waitangi because it is not under control--her control. She has squeezed the substance out of it and that is what has happened today in this economic statement. I am worried about the direction in which the Prime Minister is taking this nation.

Do members know that when our head of State arrives in New Zealand the Prime Minister will not be here? Her Majesty the Queen will be greeted at the airport by a prominent New Zealand banker named Jim--Anderton, that is. I am worried that the Queen will think he is someone important. Where will the Prime Minister be? Instead of showing respect for a person who has been the head of State of New Zealand for the whole of my life, for 50 years--my life plus 10 years--she will be drinking trim milk decaf latte with the socialist international in Stockholm.

Instead of showing respect for our head of State--who, regardless of one's future views about where New Zealand ought to go, has played a key role in our constitutional history and as a link to the global empire of Britain through the whole formation of this nation--the Prime Minister will be at the photo opportunity to get her votes for her next job in the United Nations. That is where she will be.

Who knows what Helen Clark thinks about any bread and butter issue in this country? What does she think about education in schools? What does she think about the current shambles in health? We do not know. What does she think about race relations? She never says. What does she think about Government support for families? She never says. They have been obliterated from the political landscape.

Quite apart from the disrespect for our head of State, the Prime Minister could do something useful there. Here is a suggestion. Tony Blair is about to shut down the 2-year window for young New Zealanders to get a visa in England. The New Zealand window for English visitors is only 1 year. She should go to him and make this proposition: We'll increase ours to 2 years if you leave yours at 2 years. The Prime Minister should do something useful besides boosting the sale of New Zealand's trim milk products around the world.

We were looking for substance today about New Zealand's economic performance. We did not get it. Let us look at that performance. Helen Clark referred correctly in her statement to an intensive national debate about New Zealand's economic performance as my party left office. It was intensive. We left growth at 4 percent per annum. Since then it has been 2 to 2.5 percent per annum. She has transformed the performance of the New Zealand economy--from 4 percent to 2.5 percent! That is a fact!

The economy never reaches the performance that the Government predicts. This is in a time when we have had the best export conditions in a generation--that is, a trading nation enjoying the best ever export conditions--and our growth is below our average for the last 10 years. That is the reality, and not the' 'don't worry, be happy" approach that the Government is taking.

Here are some measures. What is happening to public debt in New Zealand? It is going up. Dr Cullen has to explain that. He has rising surpluses, his overdraft is in credit, and his mortgage is going up. How does he manage that? I hope he will explain it to us.

Here are some measures of performance that matter to New Zealanders. If things are going so well, why is it that we cannot pay our nurses properly without borrowing the money? The Canterbury nurses settlement was done entirely by piling borrowed money on tomorrow's sick people. Someone will have to pay it back, and it will be tomorrow's sick people when the cuts come after the election. If things are going so well, why is it we cannot afford the free compulsory education that that party promised?

Thousands of parents around the country are paying fees for their children to go to compulsory education. Imagine the fuss if that happened under National! If we are doing so well, why can we not treat our own cancer patients in our own country? What sort of country is it when it cannot treat women's cancer? If things are going so well why can we not help families more? If things are going so well why is food bank usage going up? I meet people in the social service sector whotell me that they are now just too scared to criticise the Government.

National is ambitious for New Zealand, and it falls to us to get on with the task of raising expectations. We have a whole list of things that we will be talking about this year, such as fixing the infrastructure and standards in education; addressing the wise use of public investment, making it easier for business to do business; meeting the duty of care and health in education, which this Government is simply not doing; and helping and supporting New Zealand's families, because they still matter, even if it is politically incorrect to say so. We also have some options for lowering taxes. National has far more choices than Labour this year. We will make those choices for New Zealand.

What the Prime Minister said today about the economy is utterly irrelevant, compared to what the Government has actually done. It has made one big decision, which is the Cullen fund. I invite the Prime Minister to do what she has never done, which is to explain it to the public. For those who are listening, the Cullen fund will take $2 billion a year, which is one-third of the whole education budget, and put that in a savings fund to be invested almost wholly outside New Zealand. The economy that New Zealanders' hard-earned taxes will transform will be that of the US, the UK, and Australia--that is where the money is going.

The fiddling around with these funny little ideas contained in the statement today is absolutely irrelevant, compared to that one single decision. This is the political difference: we back New Zealand; we back this economy. This strategy could have been written by any consultant in any country in the Western world. As it happened, the Government paid $1.1 million for it.

I invite the Government to tell those people who appeared in the paper, talking about the cancer treatment they could not get, that it spent $1.1 million on five pages--or was it four? I will read out the highlight, because I thought we must look for detail, which is something I get asked about all the time. We must look for vision and leadership--and I have found it. Here it is, the one concrete proposal: "the Government will be moving to establish joint public-private sector task forces to identify the strategic opportunities in these areas and will be ensuring that Government departments and agencies prioritise the development of these areas in their policies and programmes."

To kill biotechnology, get a Government department to prioritise it. However, it will not be allowed to do that on its own, because the great thing about this strategy is that it embodies innovation in the way it will be carried out. An advisory board--largely drawn from the private sector, and including employee representation, as well as that from business, to cover all the bases--will be established to advise the Government on the progress being made and on new initiatives that should be taken, or on new areas for focus.

I have no idea what that means. That is why Helen Clark will not show up to debate it on television tonight. This is the Prime Minister who said: "We want open and robust debate.', She spent a week telling the Holmes programme: 'If you have Bill English there, I'm not going.' I am supposed to show up with a prominent New Zealander banker named Jim. Well, I am not going. I want open and honest debate with the Prime Minister, which I think is fair, because this is the most intelligent Government the world has ever seen. I would like to get on with the most intelligent Government the world has ever seen and debate whether we will transform the economy by setting up a committee.

Why did the Government not just say that it would set up a committee? Because that would have been honest. How can one talk about the transport strategy the Government will propose and not mention the fact that there will be a substantial petrol tax increase? If the economy is so good, why is it that we cannot fix our infrastructure without a tax increase? Why is that the case?

I do not expect that it will be explained, because I do not expect that the Government takes infrastructure that seriously at all. What we will see is a bunch of half-baked election-year ploys. Let us just take what the Government is actually doing. Let us take the example of Gisborne, where tourism numbers have certainly been boosted--by the Ministry of Economic Development and 'Chairman Jim' . The hotels have been booked out. I have tried to book a few times and I have been told: 'No, no, we've got one of Jim's meetings and they're great for employment. ' That is what the Government has done.

When we look at the Government's legislative programme, I ask which of the list of things it is doing will actually help Gisborne. Is it ratifying the Kyoto protocol without having any idea of its impact on Gisborne's single biggest industry-- the forestry industry. What is the forestry industry actually saying about that? It is saying: 'Don't do it, at least until you know what it is you are actually doing. ' It is asking too much of the Government to ask it to know what it is doing.

Let us have a look at this whole business of the Government's relationship with business. There was all the palaver in the first part of the Prime Minister's speech about what the Government will do that will grow the economy. Let us look at the legislation that it will pass this year. The Government is going to bring in paid parental leave legislation, outlaw stress in the workplace, ratify the Kyoto protocol, put a moratorium on genetic modification, bring in holidays legislation that business is opposed to, and increase the minimum wage, and put up the petrol tax.

That is a good standard left-wing agenda, so why does it not just say that that is what it is? Why does it not just say that it favours redistribution, it favours more security, and it is opposed to innovation and enterprise? Why do Government members not just say that, because that is what they are going to do?

I want to finish with one little piece of legislation, because it cuts to the heart of this issue. A Supplementary Order Paper has just gone to the Finance and Expenditure Committee that will ban world-beating research in New Zealand to cure diabetes. There are now people who are the first diabetics in the world to come off insulin, and it is because of the work done by Diatranz, a New Zealand company working with pig cells. If that legislation is passed, then under a Government that is going to push biotechnology, that firm has to leave New Zealand, with a world-beating cure for diabetes. The irony is that the group in New Zealand most affected by diabetes votes for that Government. If one goes to the kidney-machine room at south Auckland hospital, one will see that the people who are there are Maori and Polynesian, mainly male. That Government is going to ban the biotechnology that will fix those New Zealanders who really need it.

That cuts to the heart of the matter, because innovation is about risk. No one has less of a grasp of taking a risk than our Prime Minister, Helen Clark. She would not do it at Waitangi, and she certainly is not going to do with the economy. She will not even take the risk of going on the Holmes show with me.

Maybe it is because she has to put in a call to Titewhai to come and hold her hand?

Government members can sit there and do their little head-wobbling exercises that they are trained to do at media training, but the fact is that this is a country that needs some passion. This is a country that needs a call from the Government that reaches to the best of New Zealand and the best things in New Zealanders. This is the last Prime Minister's statement in the course of this term of this Government, and in that respect it utterly failed our citizens.


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