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Leader's Address to ACT 2002 Conference -- Prebble

Leader's Address to ACT 2002 Conference

Monday 18 Mar 2002
Richard Prebble

Speech by Hon Richard Prebble, CBE Leader, ACT New Zealand Address to ACT 2002 Annual Conference at Crowne Plaza Hotel 128 Albert Street, Auckland 10.50am, Sunday, 17 March 2002

We are gathered here today for an election year conference. We are contesting an election that the commentators have declared a foregone conclusion.

I say to you delegates that at our annual conference next year ACT will be the third party in the New Zealand Parliament. ACT is on track to elect 20 MPs. Why am I optimistic? ACT is a new political party, the first genuinely new party to break into parliament since Social Credit. All the other parties are just old MPs flying new colours. Peter Dunne has just founded his fourth party. He is the only man to have gone to the future and come back!

Any day now Jim Anderton will launch the Jim Anderton First Party. Can a soufflé rise three times? Maybe. Winston Peters, who has done nothing for two years, has been astonished to see his support increasing. It's the Alliance's disillusioned elderly voters looking for a new home. Neither politician has anything to offer for our country's future.

The Green Party has been in free fall all year. I was at Waitangi and went over to check that the protests were organised by the Green Party. "Yes, I recognise them. They are the Green Party, they all use the same barber Nandor uses." Not a Maori among them. They were holding placards - old real estate signs saying on one side "Pakehas honouring the Treaties," and on the other it said "Land for Sale". "What do you mean, Treaties plural?" I asked. "The Treaty of Waitangi and Governor James Busby's treaty with United Tribes in 1835." "Oh, what does that say?" I asked. "The 1835 Treaty ceded sovereignty to Maori." Is that Green policy?" "Yes." "Wow - when did you tell that to the voters?"

When I got back to Wellington I asked our research to check the Green Party website - it says that the Maori policy site is being rebuilt.

Fortunately, being a party that practices conservation we have a copy of the Green's Maori sovereignty policy and its so interesting it's on our site.

The thought of old communists like Sue Bradford and Keith "Workers of New Zealand Support Pol Pot" Locke holding the balance of power scares even Green voters.

National told me last week that their polling shows that Jeanette Fitzsimons will lose Coromandel. I replied that I knew. "Are you polling in Coromandel," they asked.

"Better than that," I replied. "ACT campaigns the old fashioned way, by door knocking. David Olsen, the ACT Candidate has already door knocked homes and farms across the electorate. He has reported to me that Jeanette is gone." Then National admitted their polls also say ACT is going to do well in Coromandel.

The commentators look at the meltdown of the third parties and they say - "Does this mean that all third parties are doomed?" ACT has gone up in every poll this year, the last NBR Poll puts us as the leading third party. We are at a higher level of support at this stage in an electoral cycle, than at any other election. In every election ACT's vote has increased as voters get to hear ACT's fresh ideas.

Politics is the contest of ideas. It is the triumph of ACT's ideas that has contributed to the demise of the other third parties. On issue after issue, from foreign policy, to free trade, to Auckland traffic, to the Kyoto Treaty - it's ACT's policies that have been influential. The other third parties have disintegrated because they are based on expediency. Social Credit and New Labour's coalition is one of opportunism, not principle.

ACT'S Values

Our slogan I like best says `Values not Politics'. That's what ACT has done. For five years ACT has achieved a 100% voting record for principle. ACT is the most attacked party in Parliament but never for being inconsistent with our principles. ACT MPs have always voted for freedom. ACT MPs have always voted for choice. ACT MPs always vote for personal responsibility. ACT MPs have never voted for a tax increase or to increase compliance costs - a 100% record.

We in ACT are the outsiders in Parliament. All the other parties actually support the notion that Wellington knows best. That the collective best represented, of course by themselves, knows how to spend your money better than you do.

ACT is the party of personal responsibility. I do not accept that it is somehow risky to allow taxpayers to keep more of their own money. What is risky is giving politicians more money. It is ACT's belief in personal responsibility that is our brand, it's our core belief that ACT owns.

Law and Order

Let me take an issue that is shortly to be debated in Parliament - the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill.

Why do the other parties think politicians should let offenders out early? It is because they do not believe in personal responsibility. They see everyone as victims, including the criminals.

ACT alone believes in personal accountability. We say we need to hold these offenders accountable for their actions. If you do the crime, you should do the time. Prisoners should do 100% of the court sentence - that is accountability, that's Truth-in-Sentencing.

Our justice system is a social experiment gone wrong. Violent crime has gone up 8.5% under Labour. Nothing unusual about that. Violent crime has gone up under both National and Labour.

The long term answers to crime are in ACT's policies for real welfare reform, for mentoring programmes for dysfunctional families, for better education. Tackling the causes of crime.

But that does not mean we must accept ever-rising levels of crime.

In the United States of America violent crime has fallen 30%. It is a shocking fact that you are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime, of a robbery, a rape, or a grievous assault in New Zealand than in America.

As a woman, you are not safe walking the streets of this city at night - as Kylie Jones discovered - even in your own street. ACT is campaigning to take back our streets, to make New Zealand both rural and city, safe again.

I grew up in this city, only a few blocks from here in Symonds Street. As a boy, my parents did not lock our front door at night. My father never locked the car and we were never burgled. Partly, because then citizens respected the vicarage, but there really was very little crime.

Now my parents live in Mount Eden, only a block from Helen Clark, in a house with safety locks on all the doors and windows. They have been burgled four times in three years. My 87 year old father has woken up to realise everyone's nightmare - that there was an intruder in the house.

ACT has on the eve of this conference launched a commercial billboard campaign - Zero Tolerance for Crime - ACT - Somebody has to.

ACT is going to make the need to make our country safe again an election issue.

ACT's practical workable solution is to adopt the New York approach of Zero Tolerance for Crime - the approach that says instead of tolerating petty street crime, graffiti, vandalism - the "broken window" policy, to make first level entry criminals take responsibility for their actions. Zero Tolerance for Crime is a policy that ACT owns. It reflects our brand of personal responsibility. It is a value New Zealanders want to see in the justice system. Labour will regret ignoring last election's referendum!

ACT's Quality Team

ACT is going to increase our vote because of the quality of our MPs. I thank you for giving me the quality team.

In Ken Shirley we have a dedicated, loyal deputy, who is already campaigning well in Tamaki. No one has seen Clem Simich since he promised to go to Wellington and deliver a message. Ken Shirley is one of Parliament's few MPs with a degree in science. Ken warned National, then Labour, that unless China and the USA sign, the Kyoto Treaty will not stop climate change, only cost kiwi jobs.

Rodney Hide is a one man opposition. The media has given Rodney a hard time for speaking at a seminar last century.

I was rung at home this week - "Richard, I heard that speech of Rodney's. The Consumer magazine should make Rodney's speech available to all their readers." Let me say to the commentators - I agree. It was an excellent speech, so good, I have arranged for copies to be available at this conference.

Donna Awatere Huata is the Maori MP who every party wishes they had. It took courage to speak out for Maori women's rights on the marae. We have a government where our Prime Minister claims to be a feminist. When did she, or any Labour MP, speak out on the disgrace of Maori women being refused speaking rights at marae?

The government refused to say grace at the recent State dinner, despite having the Head of the Church of England as the guest of honour, because Helen Clark says we are a secular State.

Then why in the Resource Management Act does every local body resource consent have to follow Maori spiritual values?

ACT's polling shows strong support in rural New Zealand - I believe that's because ACT's rural team of Owen Jennings, Gerry Eckhoff and Penny Webster have led on the tough rural issues with plain speaking.

Penny Webster is ACT transport spokesperson. She was the first to say the plain truth - the traffic won't move until the motorways are completed.

ACT is the party that leads and others follow. National and Labour have only discovered in election year that Auckland has a traffic problem. Labour has used the issue to increase petrol tax, so breaking their credit card promise - no more taxes. It's a serious case of credit card fraud.

Our rural team are often joined by Stephen Franks. Stephen Franks personifies why the ACT party is different. Stephen is not a career politician; he is a citizen's representative. He took, as one of New Zealand's leading commercial lawyers, a massive pay cut to come to Parliament.

44% of Labour MPs are former trade union officials and being an MP is the best job they will ever have. They are so scared of ever having to go back and get a real job that they will propose anything to remain in power. The Labour Party used to be a party of principles. Now, Labour MPs have to poll to find out what they believe.

Stephen Franks has been completely fearless. He is a citizen, not a politician. Parliament would be a real Parliament if we had more Stephen Franks.

The ACT MPs this year elected Muriel Newman to be our Whip, one of our leaders. Muriel has been Parliament's best backbencher, exposing the failures of our welfare system and the need for reform.

One of the phenomena of this year has been ACT's strong polling among women. 40% of all those who say they are thinking of voting ACT are women. If men and women voted ACT in the same numbers, ACT would have 16 MPs.

I have looked at this surge in our support. Has Rodney changed - can't be done. What is it? I think having Catherine Judd as our President - the President all the parties wished they had - has helped. I think our liberal project's helped - even Helen Clark now refers to us as classic neo-liberals - a term she thinks is an insult.

But the main reason for ACT's rise in support among women is the quality of our women MPs.

Our women MPs personify our women voters - educated, professional women, successful mothers, who are also successful businesswomen. They are role models for the 848,000 working women in New Zealand.

No more so than Muriel Newman. Muriel's first action as Whip was to send ACT MPs on a campus tour. There are more than 250,000 tertiary students voting this year. Already ACT is the party of choice of 14% of students.


To younger voters, raised in the internet generation, ACT's message of freedom, choice and personal responsibility is very attractive. As the young are still in or have just left education, they know that ACT is straight talking on education.

Trevor Mallard became Minister of Education to discover that 60% of the nation's school children cannot read a simple school book. What did he do? So we won't be reminded of the failures of the schooling system, he is abolishing external exams. This government has made such a mess of education that over 2,000 school children in Auckland arrived at school this year to find there was no classroom or teacher.

Labour's just turned on the immigration tap for an election year economic boost. It looks good on TV for Helen Clark to invite boat people to New Zealand. Those children are now turning up to schools which have no resources to cope. In an overcrowded school, every pupil's education is affected.

We in ACT are passionate about education. Too many children are being failed by low expectations, illiteracy and self doubt. It is an awful form of discrimination.

To succeed in the knowledge economy, we need world class education. Innovation policies are just PR without an educated workforce. ACT will campaign on education - it's the cornerstone of our platform. ACT's education initiatives are: * Raise standards * Hold schools accountable for student achievement * Restore local control * Grant every parent the choice, if the local state school for any reason does not meet their children's needs, to take that student's funding entitlement and enrol their child at the school of their choice, public or private.

ACT rejects Labour's rigid zoning or National's flexible zoning. That's like a choice between the Berlin Wall and a border crossing - they still want to see your residency permit before they will let you into your school of choice.

Real choice would revolutionise standards. Local control would see teachers paid more for performance.

We need to ensure that every able child can read by age nine, that every child is numerate. That no child is left behind.

It's the smart thing to do. It's the compassionate thing to do. And we will test every child to see that it is done.

The teacher's union complain that exams mean children are taught to pass. With respect, exams ensure children are taught.

If you think about it, at the core of ACT's education policy is personal responsibility. If parents can choose their child's school they are going to take responsibility.

I am determined that ACT will bring our skill at producing fresh ideas to the problem of student loans. It was never a loans problem - they have been all too easy for very young people to get. The problem is student debt that has doubled under Labour in just three years.

I think we need to look at the $417 million dollars we are spending a year on student allowances, the $64 million dollars a year on making loans interest free, which is an enticement to borrow, and put together a package to tackle the real problem helping graduates reduce their debt. Would it not be better to have a policy that encouraged the skilled graduates we need - the doctors, teachers, scientists, nurses, to stay and work in New Zealand?


Labour campaigned to reduce hospital waiting lists. Annette King has hit on a simple way to reduce hospital waiting lists. They now write to everyone who has been waiting too long and say, "you have been waiting too long, so we have removed your name from the waiting list and referred your case back to your local GP."

I asked National - "why didn't you think of this?" Mind you, I have not heard of anyone who has been cured by this policy.

How would personal responsibility help? We don't have a health system, we have a sickness system. There are no incentives in our state hospital system to keep fit, eat well and look after yourself.

Singapore that is on the top of the World Health Organisation's comparable health statistics, spends a lower proportion of GDP than New Zealand, has adopted an ACT-like policy of taking a proportion of everyone's tax and placing it in an insurance scheme of your choice. If you don't use it, like your insurance premium, you get a rebate. If you are ill you can go to the provider of choice, giving an incentive to choose carefully. They pay their nurses USA-comparable pay, so they have the very best.

The private sector can provide solutions to health issues. The Gibbs report on health found 15 years ago that the least efficient private hospital was more cost effective than the most efficient public hospital. That's still true today.

For the money we are spending on health, we could and should have a first world health system. Only ACT has fresh ideas and practical solutions to the very challenging health issues.

The answer has to be making it possible for every working family to have health insurance, to use the resources of the private sector and to have a system where the incentive is to take personal responsibility for your family's health.

The Economy and Tax

We can not have a first world education system and first world health without a first world economy. The economy and tax are the overarching issue in every election. ACT advocates the boost to jobs and growth of a well designed tax cut. Cutting taxes is not just about productivity - its about people. A tax plan must apply market principles to the public interest.

ACT has been working on a plan to reform tax and deliver a tax cut to every working person. How? By taking the finding of the McLeod Tax Report. McLeod pointed out for just two billion dollars, the sum the government spends each year on the Cullen Superannuation Scheme, the low income rebate of 15 per cent can be kept, the middle rate of tax lowered from 19.5 per cent to 18 per cent and the company and personal rate lowered to 28 per cent.

Every working person would be better off - in effect a pay rise for those who produce our nation's prosperity. No one would be worse off.

The government could do it tomorrow. A 28 cent top tax rate would put New Zealand's company tax rates below Australia. Think of the boost to jobs and growth. Our tax plan will make it easier for hard working families to join the ranks of the middle class.

Our goal must still be a flat rate of tax - an 18 per cent flat rate of tax would produce more than enough revenue. But a tax cut today to 28 and 18 per cent is a good start.

Today a waitress with two children who works is worse off than her sister on the DPB. Today in this city, if you are on wages, you are worse off than you were in November 1999. The Labour Party has ignored working people, just seeing them as taxpayers to be shorn.

If you work you earn too much for a community card. You do not qualify for a state house rental reduction. Now your children can't go to the school of your choice. You can't afford health insurance. You have to take your children to school by car because the streets are not safe. Your taxes go on handouts to Kiwibank, Air New Zealand, Maori TV, Closing the Gaps and to let Helen Clark conduct the Symphony Orchestra.

When your children succeed and get to university they can be excluded by the race quota. Why should my son, who is at university, be eligible for quota entry to courses just because his mother is a Pacific Islander? He has been to some of New Zealand's best state and private schools. He has not used the quota for entry, but many students from privileged backgrounds have. Race-based policies are wrong.

Labour is in danger of losing its voters, who work for a living, to ACT.

Just as National has lost to ACT people who are the backbone of our economy, those who mortgaged their house to start their own business. ACT is now the party that small business supports.

Jim Anderton wants to be every small business's unwanted partner, to feed off their success while sharing none of the risk. With a 33% company tax, GST of 12.5%, the government takes over half of all profits. Compliance costs have risen $26,000 a year for a small business.

Commentators say that the economy is why Labour will win the election. Not so - our polling shows it is Labour's biggest risk. There is no intelligent voter who believes that Labour is responsible for the rural boom, for the best commodity prices in my adult lifetime, for two good growing seasons or the low dollar.

Where is Labour's strategy? Have they a plan to ensure the weather stays good for farming? Labour's policy is to tax, spend and hope. With every economic wind favourable the economy has grown only 2.1%. In the 1990s - the period of classic neo-liberalism - the economy grew at twice today's rate. When the economic wind does change, and it will, we will discover that Labour has wasted an opportunity.

Have you noticed that Helen Clark never tackles the tough issues? How hard is it to be against Robert Mugabe? If you are an Opposition politician in Zimbabwe, it is very tough but if you are a Prime Minister sitting in the Beehive it is another easy headline. In the last two years Helen Clark has given only one speech on the economy - and that was the `closing the gaps' speech.

This year Helen Clark has discovered the economy and made two major economic speeches, to open Parliament and at the London School of Economics. Labour polling says the electorate does not think they have an economic strategy. So they announce "Innovate New Zealand" a partnership with business.

Labour will pick the winners, then the private sector will do the work. They are setting up committees to look into it. Government can not pick winners.

In meeting after meeting, business has told government - we must have lower taxes to be able to compete in a global market. Business is being choked by compliance costs.

In just one sentence - the same sentence is in the speech in London and in her Wellington speech - Helen Clark ruled out lowering taxes and cutting regulations to reduce compliance costs. Let me quote: "While some in the business community still hanker after lower tax rates and further deregulation as the key economic prescription - and who can be surprised at that after 15 years of neo-liberalism - I believe many more are seeing the strategic focus the government has adopted and the policy interventions which accompany it as more likely to contribute to sustained growth."

According to Helen Clark, ACT is the party of business. Well Helen, I have yet to meet a business leader who says that he is seeing the strategic focus the Government has adopted or who believe that Labour's policy interventions are likely to contribute to growth. I have not met one business leader who says he told Helen Clark that business did not need less tax and less red tape regulations. Some, who have given hours to work on government/business committees, feel gutted by the coalition's rejection of all their advice. "We have just been used for PR spin."

It's time those business leaders say publicly what they have been saying privately. I was please to see Alan Gibbs, one of New Zealand's most successful businessmen, give a rare interview to the Dominion, rubbishing the idea that this or any other government can pick winners.

ACT's promise to business is a bonfire of regulations, starting with the Resource Management Act. ACT will lower compliance costs for business and in New Zealand, business means small business.

Delegates, we are the party that the others follow. At last year's conference, ACT said "just as with individuals, nations can't achieve until they have a goal; let's set for our country a bold but achievable goal of being 10^th in the OECD by 2010".

When the ACT conference 12 months ago set out the idea of a specific economic goal, no other political party had done that. The coalition government had no economic goal. Well, 11 months later the Labour/Alliance coalition set out to Parliament the goal for the nation of being in the top half of the OECD.

ACT said 10th place. Dr Cullen said 14^th. Let's not quibble. ACT has led, set the vision, the others have followed. Don't under-estimate how important our achievement is. ACT is the party of influence.

A goal set by the ACT conference 11 months ago has become the whole nation's goal, in less than a year. Dr Cullen has had to admit, that to achieve the goal New Zealand must grow at 4 percent per annum - twice the present rate.

Michael Cullen has no timetable to achieve this goal and says that in five years time New Zealand may reach 4 percent growth. That is, after three more elections, we may reach the growth New Zealand had in the 1990s. Labour has no credible growth strategy.

"Innovation" is not a strategy. It's like saying to your 15-year-old son - when we had School Certificate - "how are you going to achieve your goal of passing School Certificate?" and having the teenager reply, "By being clever". So you have to explain to the boy that to be clever, you have to work hard and have a strategy of how you will study, and the character to stick to your resolutions. The harder you study, the cleverer you get.

I have outlined to Dr Cullen a workable, practical strategy for how to get New Zealand to the goal of being a First World country again. * lower taxes, below Australia * lift education standards * tackle student debt, to keep the graduates we need in New Zealand * replace bottomless social spending with smart programmes that use the private sector * and reduce crime with a zero tolerance approach

ACT is the only party with the vision, and the policies to achieve the vision. To use the tools of the free market to promote the goals and the values we share as a nation - freedom for our citizens and a helping hand for those who can't help themselves.

I say to Labour and National, you are welcome to copy not only ACT's goals but also our solutions. As the party of innovation, ACT has many more fresh ideas.

Today as we gather lets make a vow to our nation. We will confront the hard issues, the threats to our health, education and security, before the challenges of our time become a crisis for our children.

ACT will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country - to every man and woman the chance to succeed, to every child the chance to learn.

Now is ACTs greatest opportunity. The Government had its moment and failed to lead. ACT is not just the party of innovation and fresh ideas. We are not just setting a new agenda. We are a party of simple and powerful hope.

This week a delegate to this conference, one of the many Asian New Zealanders supporting ACT, Simon Kan, put it to me this way: "ACT is the true future for New Zealand. ACT will give the country the chance to rejuvenate. We cannot rely on the old kiwi mentality of she'll be right."

Simon is right. ACT is the true future. New Zealanders respond to and get behind great goals, behind inspiring leadership. New Zealand could be again a nation that is an inspiration to the world. Our country is ready for a new beginning, for new leadership.

We know how challenging the task is before us and we are eager to begin.


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