Maiden Speech - Brian Connell
Brian Connell MP for Rakaia
Tuesday, 3 September 2002
Some years are special. This one's been special for me. Last New Year's Eve, I said to my wife Simone: "This year we're going to really see some changes." I meant changes on the farm we'd bought in Chertsey, and some alterations to our farmhouse. Little did I know!
The National nomination for Rakaia came up for grabs after Jenny Shipley said she was stepping down, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring. Not without some trepidation. Jenny served the electorate and the country superbly and I knew that anyone representing Rakaia had a tremendously hard act to follow - and I salute her!
Rakaia is a complex and sophisticated electorate. It has 4 hospitals, 3 prisons, 1 military camp, a University and Crown Research Institute and a host of significant businesses, in farming, retail, manufacturing and services. These people are wealth creators and they expect their local Member of Parliament to inherently understand this so that their interests can be represented at the highest level.
Tonight I want to explain why I'm here and what I want to do in the future. I'm here because I got a shock coming back after nearly 20 years away. The New Zealand that I remembered appeared to be on the endangered species list.
I remembered tolerance, a willingness to hear other people's points of view. While there were racial problems, race relations weren't the festering sore they've now become. Schools weren't boiling over. Teachers weren't fleeing the country. And the newspapers weren't filled with articles about vicious, mindless crimes.
I remembered optimism. Nothing was impossible. After more than a century of living thousands of miles away from the source of most of our equipment, we found ways of fixing it on the spot with a bit of number eight wire.
I remember security. The good kind. Not the flourishing growth industry that we call welfare, but job security.
But that's not what I came back to. I came back to a New Zealand where many people are angry and bitter. They feel cheated. Too many of them have nothing to look forward to but a life of crime or some form of long term welfare benefit. In the best of times the number of working people in New Zealand receiving a benefit wouldn't fit into the city of Christchurch. What I found was: * A health system that's on life support. * Red Tape that's strangling our economy. * Education bureaucrats who won't learn to let our teachers just teach. * Welfare dependency that's a growth industry. * Criminals being treated like victims. * Victims being treated like criminals.
And we're so busy putting band aids on wounds, and hiding behind political correctness we're not bothering to treat the underlying problem. Or ask the obvious question: Why was the New Zealand of the 1960's so different from the New Zealand of today?
Former US President Bill Clinton can answer the question: It's the economy - stupid!
When I was a kid in the 1960s, the average government trade balance was a surplus of one percent of gross domestic product. The unemployment rate averaged 2.1 percent. And the average inflation rate was 3.4 percent, a fraction of the double-digit levels of the late 1970s and 19-80s.
O-K, to be fair, I should add that those stats pre-date Britain's joining the European Economic Community as it was then known. And they pre-date the energy crisis. Both hit our economy for six in the 1970s.
But those stats also show that a good quality of life and a strong economy go hand in hand.
We live in a vastly different world from the 1960s. It's more competitive and open. Money flows in or out of economies at the flick of a switch.
Governments ignore international markets at their peril. Because investors are voters too. They vote with their money. But at a time of their choosing... not the government's. Keep your economy in the red, and investors will vote with their feet. And we can't afford that.
Emerging markets in Southeast Asia and Latin America have found that out the hard way. Ever since the Tequila crisis in 1995 and the Asian crisis two years later, governments have learnt a painful lesson: once the world loses confidence in your economy, the effect can be devastating.
We're a small economy and likely to stay that way. That means that it's easy for institutions or even rich investors to rock our small share market or currency market. But we have to live with that. The alternative to being an open economy is being like North Korea. Closing the door to the outside world.
You might think things are O-K at present. Well, they're average at best. Consider this.
Since 1999 growth has dropped from 4 per cent per cent to 3 per cent, inflation has risen from 0.5 per cent to 2.6 per cent -- Dr Cullen wants this higher -- and the food price index has rocketed from 0.5 per cent to 5.25 per cent. This isn't good enough.
We don't want to be average. We can't afford to be average. We need to outperform and we have to outperform. We're not a big country. We can't rely on sheer size or weight of numbers like the United States or the European Union.
Despite the best economic conditions that I can recall our economy's growing a meagre 3 per cent. And this is in the good times. What's going to happen now that things have started to turn down?
We used to be near the top of the league tables of most social indicators. New Zealand was Godzone. It was arguably the best place in the world to live. And we have to get back up there through our own hard work and ingenuity. * Not through smoke and mirrors. * Not through high taxes. * Not through choking small businesses with regulations. * Not through borrowing money we won't be able to pay back.
You can't share wealth if you don't make it. A rising tide lifts all ships.
So let's grow the economy, and use budget surpluses to make New Zealand a better place to live. How are we going to do that? For a start, we can cut taxes. And for those of you who think that means handouts for the rich, think about this: cutting the top personal tax rate to 34 per cent will help people earning $38,000. If that's rich, then God help New Zealand because nobody else is going to.
Forget about Labour's and the Green's and United's solution for everything --- raising taxes. This just strangles economic growth. It drives industry and people overseas. We can't afford to lose either. At the moment some of our best and brightest can be found in Australia, Asia, Britain, Europe and North America. They've emigrated there because their skills are appreciated and rewarded.
I'll bet the Australian government was cock-a-hoop that Labour got back into power. It means the supply of trained, talented and motivated Kiwi's pouring into Australia's most vital industries will continue. Supplementing Australia's talent deficit.
We also need to reduce red tape. If mums and dads are willing to invest their life savings into a business that will create jobs and maybe export earnings, we should encourage them. Make sure they've got a safe working environment, yes. But don't pester them with pointless compliance orders imposed by out-of-touch bureaucrats.
Stand back and hold their coats. ENCOURAGE them. But we don't do we? We clobber them. A medium sized business in New Zealand has seen its compliance costs go up $26,000 in the last two years. What an obscene cost to impose on hard working kiwis.
These people are our future. They are the ones who will generate the money that will build hospitals and schools and bring us export income. We need them.
But we don't learn - Take the RMA for example. It is a total handbrake on growth. Yes, we need to protect our natural resources but this Act is implemented by people who never had to build anything - Or grow anything.... Or employ anybody. Consents can - and often do - take years. Singapore - A highly regulated country turns all environmental consents around in seven days. It's no wonder their economy is growing at around 7 per cent.
Let's also talk about how we can use our resources better. We have water in abundance. But we waste it. The Greens say we shouldn't touch it.
Well - I disagree.
Sustainable irrigation and conservation are not incompatible. Harvesting water in peak times and storing it should be a thirty second decision. We are creating recreational facilities; we can recharge rivers in dry periods which help fisheries and the environment. We can also generate electricity if it's used judiciously.
Let me use Central and Mid Canterbury as an example. If all the irrigation initiatives came to fruition they would create 20,000 new jobs and 2.5 billion dollars in extra revenue. Those extra jobs would lift Rakaia's hospitals off the critical list. Projects like these would stop school closures by giving critical mass to those marginal communities struggling to keep them open.
I challenge the Minister of Agriculture to put aside his Party political affiliations and work with me to bring these initiatives on stream. And at 20,000 new jobs the Minister for Regional Development might want to lend a hand too! This is a NZ issue, not just a local one.
A stronger economy means we have a dividend for the things that matter: health and education. Our health system is in crisis. Despite Labour raising taxes to close the 'gap', our health deficit has rocketed from $3 million in 1999 to $215 million. And we still can't all get basic healthcare on a timely basis.
I believe people should get free critical healthcare when they need it. But New Zealanders must understand that we can't spend the same dollar twice. You can't fritter money away on: -
* Kiwi Bank $80 Million * Superfund $600 Million * Air New Zealand $1 Billion * Maori TV $175 Million * Arts and Culture $86 Million And expect to have a strong health system!
And that's only one of the reasons why our education system is in serious trouble too. The recent dispute was not just about pay. It was also about conditions and red tape and compliance and teachers having to act as social workers/parents/psychologists for children scarred because they're from families that are imploding.
Let's foster academic excellence. But let's also help students to pursue more practical courses. Let's purpose-build our curriculum to get plumbers and painters and electricians etc.
Let's bring back apprenticeships where kids learn on the job. Let's use the military. Let's give our kids some dignity and ambition and we'll halve the crime rate to boot. Stakeholders don't wreck things.
Law and Order is high on my list too. The Norm Withers Referendum found that 92% of New Zealanders wanted tougher sentencing laws. Despite this, recent Labour legislation enables a violent criminal to seek parole after serving just a third of their sentence.
Criminals are thumbing their nose at the public, and Labour has been an accessory to the crime.
Our criminals are treated relatively well and their victims appallingly. As a society we must address this. But not just in the courts. Mums and Dads have to be supported, but they also have to be accountable for themselves and their children.
The gravy train around the Treaty of Waitangi has got to stop. We've paid out compensation. Divided up the fisheries and forests. That's the end of it. We've done our duty. And we've done far more than any other developed nation would have. Now we've got to concentrate on spreading resources among every single New Zealander. Not just those claiming Maori blood.
Let's see if we can get back to being one nation again. And treating everyone the same, regardless of their race.
Finally let me acknowledge my family and friends here tonight. Firstly my gorgeous wife Simone Kennedy, whose friendship, love and passion give me the strength to serve my country. My two wonderful children - Liam and Bridie - thank you for sharing your Dad.
And to all my strong supporters and friends from Rakaia. Your faith in me is humbling. Rakaia hasn't had many MP's over the years - Jenny Shipley served for 15 years and Rob Talbot for 21 - the people of Rakaia have come to expect a lot from their MP's.
I thank you all for your dedication and energy and your constant support. I am proud to be the Member for Rakaia, and I intend to make Rakaia proud of me.