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Peter Dunne Speech to Tawa Lions and Rotary Clubs

Peter Dunne: Speech to joint dinner of the Tawa Lions and Rotary Clubs

Parliament and responsibility

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your invitation to talk to you tonight, I welcome the opportunity.

As you will appreciate, my life and those of my colleagues have been through a massive upheaval over recent months and we are anticipating even more exciting times ahead over the next three years.

Tonight, I’d like to give you some idea of how we will be approaching our Parliamentary work in the years ahead, because I’m not sure that New Zealanders truly appreciate what they created with their votes last July.

What we have now is the first truly MMP Government ever seen in this country. We have a Parliament in which no one party holds an absolute majority; a Parliament in which the Opposition parties are fractured fatally by rigid ideologies; and a Parliament in which one centrist party has promised the country stable Government by entering into a unique supply and confidence agreement with the dominant party, while at the same time, promising – horror of horrors! – to subject all pieces of legislation to rational analysis and debate.

These are radical times, indeed!

That configuration of Parliament, in which the stability of the Government is guaranteed by United Future New Zealand, has certain far-reaching consequences which are important to the democratic processes of New Zealand.

Perhaps the greatest consequence is intensive consultation. As has been pointed out, my seven Parliamentary colleagues are all experienced people of the world, but they are novices when it comes to the sometimes arcane processes of Parliament.

Their learning curve has been, and continues to be, huge. They attend select committee meetings, sessions in the debating chamber, their own party caucus; and they are constantly involved in lengthy briefings from Ministers and departmental officials about upcoming legislation for which the Government wants our support.

That support, incidentally, is not automatic. United Future is not in coalition with Labour and the Progressive Coalition Party. We reserve the right to scrutinise each piece of legislation before deciding our position on it.

I am happy to report that United Future’s MP’s are standing up to the deluge of information and pressure that has been placed upon them. One of our early tests in that area came with the recent social security legislation before the House concerning the removal of work testing for people on the DPB.

The Opposition parties foamed at the mouth about United Future’s supposed betrayal of its principles and voting record in supporting the legislation.

Let me quickly set the record straight. In the last Parliament, I was United Future’s sole MP, in Opposition, and without access to all the information now available. With no credible information from the Government about the legislation, it would have been foolish of me to vote for it.

Now the Government needs my vote and those of my colleagues, it has gone out of its way to make sure we are informed. As a result, our caucus has decided the Bill is worth supporting. We think this is applying rational analysis to legislation and making our minds up accordingly.

But the ACT party, which is rigidly blinkered by ideology, thinks we should vote in some knee-jerk fashion against it, while National thunders on about political credibility.

There’s something amusing about National talking political credibility, given its abysmal performance last election.

There’s something even funnier about National’s chief attack weapon, Roger Sowry, bleating on about political credibility.

In the 1996 election, Roger lost by 988 votes to Labour’s Judy Keall, a Parliamentarian noted more for the volume of her opinions, rather than their quality.

Despite that, Roger tried again in 1999, and lost by a massive 7250 votes.

Then Judy retired and her secretary, Darren Hughes, ran against Roger this year. This time, Roger’s margin of defeat was an even more massive 7736 votes. Now Darren’s a very nice young man, but in political terms, he’s still trying to work out how to unbolt the training wheels from his bicycle, and still Roger couldn’t beat him.

The only election Roger’s won recently has been for deputy leader of the National Party – and that has more to do with Bill English’s need to surround himself with unthreatening assistants, rather than Roger’s alleged political acumen, or indeed, credibility.

There’s another tale from inside Parliament that nicely illustrates my theme of acting responsibly in Parliament, rather than following blind party lines.

Marc Alexander is United Future’s law and order spokesman.

He tells me that as a new MP, he expected he would need a few weeks in the House to adjust to the way things work there. He also expected that he and his new colleagues would cop a little abuse from the Opposition parties just to test their mettle and to try to unsettle the Government.

His rapid education came during a debate in the House on two pieces of legislation; the Criminal Investigations (Blood Samples-Burglary Suspects) Amendment Bill, sponsored by National MP, Tony Ryall, and the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Amendment Bill, a Government Bill in the name of Justice Minister, Phil Goff.

There’s no doubt that we need a bill to extend the use of DNA as a weapon against crime. The real question is which of the two Bills before Parliament would do the best job.

The Ryall Bill certainly widens the scope of DNA use by including both burglary and entering with intent. That’s a good start.

But the Ryall Bill does not take advantage of the advances of science to include provisions for the use of Buccal (mouth) swabs when obtaining DNA.

The Government’s Bill does. It is a non-invasive procedure, it is faster, cheaper and, with a nod to our multi-culturalism, less likely to offend ethnic and religious sensibilities.

While such offence may be a small matter to some, it is important to note that under our system we are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. These swabs have the power to exonerate as effectively as they can incriminate.

The Ryall Bill has no provision to change any stipulation with respect to the testing of inmates.

The Government’s Bill will mean that those in prison and some 400 odd of our most serious offenders will be profiled. The Government Bill will repeal the 6-month limitation for obtaining a sample of those convicted of a scheduled offence, and serving a sentence with respect to that offence.

Furthermore, the Government’s Bill will be more effective by being simpler and more straightforward to carry out. The power to arrest has been widened to affect a DNA compulsion where an offender is likely to abscond. The Ryall Bill has no provision in this regard, nor does it have provisions to ensure that biological material that can be reasonably traceable to an offender, including foetal matter, be obtained.

In short, although Marc applauded the Ryall Bill in its intent, he was unable to support it because the Government’s own Bill, the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Amendment Bill was broader, simpler and, in the long run gave greater confidence in the ability to do what it sets out to do.

Yet when he pointed out to the House this entirely commonsense approach, he was subjected to a storm of abuse from the Opposition, who, incredibly, claimed that he should support the Ryall Bill and simply amend it later to look more like the Government Bill.

That is just plain dumb. It’s like saying you should buy a clapped-out old Morris Minor, give it a paint job and a hood ornament and call it a Rolls Royce.

National claimed that United Future was being a Government lapdog by supporting a Government Bill. I prefer to see it as evidence that we have brains and use them.

If National was really interested in fighting crime effectively, they would take credit for pushing the Government into bringing forward a Bill that is expanded and well-crafted, rather than trying to score cheap political points by promoting inferior legislation.

This episode has shown me why New Zealand needs United Future New Zealand MP’s in Parliament; because we think for ourselves and then apply that thinking. It’s called commonsense.

It’s also the essential role of a small centrist party in an MMP Parliament. The voters told us they wanted Labour to lead the government, but they didn’t want Labour to have absolute power. United Future’s job is to modify the excesses of Labour, where we can.

It’s been suggested in recent days that the United Future vote is guided only by the perceived need to differentiate ourselves from the major parties, rather than the need to develop good policy and good law.

That is absolutely wrong. My colleagues and I are not in Parliament for the so-called baubles of office. We are not in office, there are no baubles. We are in Parliament for the future good of New Zealand, although I’m sure you will forgive me if I look forward to a united future for our country.

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