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English - Speech to RSA National Conference

The Honourable Bill English, MP
Leader of the New Zealand National Party
Leader of the Opposition
to the 86th National Conference of the Royal Returned Services Association

Wellington, 12 June 2002

Like many MPs, I address Anzac Day ceremonies each year. When I do, I always try to count the names on the different monuments. In many small country districts there are roads and families that still carry the same names and sometimes I have been able to find diaries or letters from people named on the memorials.

Each year, I am surprised at how people need to be reminded that our war dead were once exactly like them - doing the same work, in the same place - just in a different time. As the numbers of returned servicemen diminish, it's even more important to connect with the memories and the war stories and the everyday life led by the people who responded to the call to defend our country.

I am the first political leader of a generation young enough to barely remember the Vietnam War. I was 12 years old when the last helicopter left the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon. I remember the protest and the lack of recognition of Vietnam veterans. I also remember a lack of enthusiasm for public singing of the National Anthem.

Since then, debate about defence has gone through two major phases in New Zealand. The first was when we disengaged from ANZUS in the 1980s. The second phase was when the defence budget was constrained in the early and mid-90s as New Zealand set out to balance the budget.

That was a time when there was strong public feeling that money should be spent on health and education rather than defence. More recently the debate has shifted again. Non-combat roles under the UN have come to dominate thinking about defence policy.

Over the next few weeks, there will be fresh debate on those issues that matter to you - health, the education of the next generation of new Zealanders, our ambitions for our country, the safety of our communities, the common citizenship we share and of course the defence of our nation.

These are issues that matter to people. I would be failing in my duty if I didn't share with you what the National Party's views are on these matters.

Let me start with defence.

I believe defence policy should be bi-partisan. No matter what political party is in power, the defence of our country and its citizens comes first.

But without consultation significant differences have emerged between the major political parties. And decisions have been made which have widened the gap between New Zealand and its closest ally, Australia, without consultation with the public.

That is a serious issue.

It is not acceptable for New Zealand to be dependent upon another country for our core combat defence capability. The loss of our air combat capability and the downgrading of our blue-water navy are backward steps.

Our security is not simply an issue for New Zealand alone. If ever there was a signal event to remind us of our obligations to our friends and allies, it came on September 11 last year.

So, New Zealand needs a defence policy of cooperation with our core friends and allies - Australia and the United States - and a defence force to meet the threats to our interests and responsibilities, primarily but not exclusively in the Asia-Pacific region.

We belong with them and share the threats to them because they are threats to ourselves.

Yet, today, we cannot hide the fact that New Zealand bludges on Australian goodwill to meet our full defence obligations.

Many of you hold dear the bonds of ANZACs. It is a fine and honourable tradition that has been a part of building both our countries.

That is why an incoming National Government will negotiate a New Anzac Defence Relationship with Australia based on full interoperability between the Australian and New Zealand Defence Forces.

And we would want to embody that relationship in a Treaty which recognises our common rights and obligations.

We would also seek to build on our improved relations with the United States with the active support and involvement of Australia.

And in the wider region, we would restore the close working relationship under the Five Power Defence Agreement with Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and the United Kingdom.

In pursuing these initiatives, we would actively seek public support. For that reason we will hold a full Defence Review within the first months of taking office which would be required to gain the widest public input.

If we are to return to sustainable, bipartisan support for defence policy, then genuine consultation with the public is required.

We would seek support for a balanced force. We are committed to air combat capability and working with Australia to achieve that.

We would explore the full range of financing options available to restore this capability, assess the technologies available to us and take into account the operational relationships with our allies.

The timing will fit in the context of the long-term capital expenditure programme needed to restore stability for our armed forces.

It would mean addressing the unsustainable position of having two frigates which are being used so extensively that they are now wearing out at a more rapid rate than was originally expected when Labour in the 1990s committed to a four-frigate navy.

If New Zealand is to have a viable blue-water, combat capable navy, then we need a third frigate. In the long run the choice is three or none. This option would form part of the Defence Review.

We also favour up-grading our air surveillance capability so we can share the burden of maritime surveillance operations with Australia. And we commit to refurbishing the Army's equipment.

All this will take additional resources. So, a National Government will increase New Zealand's defence spending from the present inadequate level of barely 1 per cent of GDP.

A country with the same population as New Zealand, Singapore, spends about 4½% of its GDP on defence. New Zealand's defence spending is half Australia's, and barely a fifth of Singapore's.

New Zealand Defence Force personnel serve their country in many countries around the world where their conditions are usually going to be uncomfortable. Very often, they will also be dangerous. Our service men and women deserve the best in pay and benefits that we can afford. A new National Government will review the pay and benefits of all defence force personnel, and ensure they receive the recognition they truly do earn during their service.

A new National government will also recognise the special status of our veterans in practical ways. One is the introduction of a veteran's 'gold card' which will provide holders with a range of benefits - where there is need, veteran's benefits will include priority access to hospital services, and priority access to Housing New Zealand accommodation.

I know how important this issue is for veterans, and we will need to do a lot of work together to ensure a fair deal. I believe the public of New Zealand will welcome a better deal for veterans.

The basic intent of these and other changes will be to provide veterans, qualified civilians and their families with the benefits and services to which they are entitled, and to keep the memory of their deeds and sacrifices alive for all New Zealanders.

The business of government is also to meet the challenges of today. Late last year, I visited the Mount Wellington RSA.

An RSA is a place of hospitality and friendship, and three people who worked there were hunted down and killed. All the members of the Mt Wellington RSA felt like victims and that's without speaking of the families of the victims of these crimes themselves.

We hear so much about the New Zealand lifestyle. What can be more part of the kiwi lifestyle than the Lower Hutt woman who got up in the morning and went for a walk on a Saturday morning in broad daylight and ended up dead?

92% of New Zealanders voted in the last election for action on crime. Labour have just passed a new law which means a serious violent offender could be offered parole after one-third of their sentence. A rapist that gets a nine-year sentence could be let out after three years. I say why bother - why bother giving them a nine year sentence in the first place?

That's not what 92% of New Zealanders voted for and we will change it.

There is no point in having a strong economy or ambitions for your country if people cannot feel safe in their community.

National will lock up the bad criminals longer to protect the community. That's why we have a policy of Life means Life for the Worst.

We will increase the minimum non-parole period for all other murders from 10 to 15 years. The kidnapper of baby Kahu was recently sentenced to 11 years - you can get less for taking a life.

National will double the non-parole period for violent offenders. They will have to serve a minimum of two-thirds of their sentence before being considered for parole.

And we will ensure there is no automatic right to parole. In fact, there will be no parole unless the prisoner has demonstrated they have reformed and have a planned return to a law-abiding life in the community.

We will back up tougher sentences with more police because police presence prevents crime.

We see them all on the highway and it's worked - people have slowed down and the road toll is down. But you don't see them in your street. We want a police force you can see, to make our communities safer. Criminals need to know there is a high chance they will get caught.

So, an incoming National Government will increase the numbers of frontline police by 500.

Another part of security is superannuation.

For many people after they turn 65 it is either the only or the principal source of income for the rest of their lives. It must therefore be made absolutely secure.

Since the last election we have moved our position to agree with Labour and the Alliance on the formula for superannuation.

In fact, we voted for this in Parliament to help make it law. Both major parties agree. We can afford it. National will not change National Superannuation. After 25 years of uncertainty it needs to stay as it is.

The much bigger issue though is the capacity of New Zealand to improve its standard of living. That's why growth matters and the policies to achieve that growth.

Those are the issues that should matter most to you because your superannuation is directly tied to wage levels. As wages rise in real terms, so does your standard of living.

Over the past two years, New Zealand has enjoyed the best conditions in decades - high commodity prices, a low dollar and favourable weather conditions. Even so, the growth we achieved was not enough to see our standard of living relative to Australia continue to slide.

And yet, our hospitals are carrying debts. Services are being cut. Cancer patients have had to fly to Australia for treatment. Teachers are on strike. And retaining good nurses and teachers in their profession is a major problem.

So, if this is as good as it gets, then it's not good enough.

The biggest idea our opponents have for the economy is the Cullen Fund. You need to know about this because every year for the next 50 years $2 billion will be taken from the taxpayers of this country and invested outside of New Zealand.

The money will be given to brokers on Wall Street, and in London and in Sydney. Those are the economies that will benefit from the Cullen Fund.

And we say that's wrong. We say invest that money in New Zealand to make our country grow.

We say put New Zealand's future first. Let's invest the money in our businesses, our roads and our young people.

We are not going to give away the choices of a generation. 30 years of investment either here or somewhere else and I back us. I will be proud to be campaigning to back New Zealanders rather than the investors of Wall Street.

You know, the most valuable gift we can give the next generation, our young people, is education.

It's another issue that matters a lot to you. As our population ages, there will be fewer young people coming through to drive the economy and support the standard of living you deserve in your retirement.

Today's primary school children will be in the prime of their working life in 20 years when the bulge of the baby-boom years is retired.

What will it mean if less young people are coming into our community and into our workforce, and a greater proportion of those younger people come from backgrounds with social and educational disadvantage? What will it mean when these kids will have to be more productive than we were?

There's a big job to be done here and we're going to get on with it. We can't afford any child to get off the tracks. We cannot afford any child leaving school knowing nothing.

We want to raise standards across the board in education, and we want to deal with predictable failure. You can walk into a classroom of six-year-olds today and the teacher will tell you which ones in 10 years time will leave the public education system without having learnt a thing. And we tolerate that. The six year old can't do anything about it.

We have to make changes to our education system because I have this simple naive belief that children are more important than the system. And the fulfilment of the citizenship of those children lies in our hands and lies in our will to give them the opportunity that we know won't be there if we just sit and watch.

If this means getting rid of political correctness, so be it. Parents must have confidence that whatever school they choose for the children, they will learn.

And we will get the teachers back in the classrooms. So, our education policy will start by answering the questions - what's needed to get an inspired teacher into a classroom to teach.

I say we need to reward good teachers and treat them as the professionals they are. That means a lot less bureaucracy and box-ticking and more support so they can teach.

We want to encourage the best. We want to raise expectations. The New Zealand we want to create for our children is one that is united, not divided.

We can only achieve that if we believe in one standard of citizenship for all. But today, there is too much about the Treaty of Waitangi which divides us.

It is time to move on

Our policy on the Treaty is straightforward. So, we will close the book on filing historic claims within our first 12 months and settle all past claims by 2008.

We will do that because every citizen who has been wronged has the right to justice from the Government. And we will do it, so all New Zealanders can focus on building a united future.

The path ahead for Maori is independence, not dependency; it is hope, not grievance.

National's principles let any group in New Zealand do their own thing. We are the party who believe in independence, in self-reliance and I want to say to Maori that you don't need a Treaty argument with National to get the right to run your own school. We think everyone should have that right.

You don't need a Treaty argument to get the right to have health services that suit your people. We believe that should be the right of any New Zealander whether they're rural or inner city or Maori, or Pacific Island, and actually, that's what we did - we walked the talk in Government.

National will not stand for a division of the sovereignty or the citizenship of New Zealand. We believe we can meet those needs without it.

The path ahead for New Zealand is a country where every citizen is bound by a common set of rights and obligations.

A right to a fair go and an obligation to make a contribution to the common good.

You, of all New Zealanders, know what it means to give of yourselves for the common good.

I ask that you start to exercise that right, and give a lead to other New Zealanders. This time, however, you do not have to fight for New Zealand. You just have to stand up and to speak up and to vote for it.

Thank you


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