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Bill English Speech to NZ Institute of Directors

Hon Bill English
Leader of the Opposition

To The New Zealand Institute of Directors
at The Wellington Club, 88 The Terrace,
Wellington, 8.00 am

“One Standard of Citizenship - One Rule for All”

On election night, an occasion I have good reason to remember, I spoke about the heritage of the National Party, how my party has represented the best of our national character. The question I have heard most often since then is this. “What does National stand for?”

I can assure you the collective memory of the principles of the National Party is deep.

The fact that at times other parties decide to take up those principles is another victory in the war of ideas. But they are our principles, and National is the only party able to make them the heart of government.

We stand for enterprise.
We stand for personal responsibility.
We stand for strong families and communities.
We stand for freedom and choice.
We stand for limited Government.
We stand for one standard of citizenship - one rule for all.
We stand for national and personal security.

The best way a government can achieve rising incomes and a cohesive community is to apply these principles to its policies.

As a conservative party, we know the value of the virtues of honesty and fairness, respect and integrity.

These underpin free markets, freedom of expression and individual choice.

That’s why I believe National is not a libertarian party. We believe in freedom bounded by moral agency and responsibility to others.

I believe that communities, families and businesses work best where there is trust and honesty - respect and responsibility.

I have a deep and fundamental respect for every person. Their aspirations, their fears and their potential.

I believe in the value of work.

I believe people’s desire for unity, for hope, and for security is as important as their desire for material wealth and social standing.

I strongly believe a great country consists of citizens who are active, informed and opinionated - rather than an all-powerful government.

I believe in my home, New Zealand - unique in its people, its potential and its promise.

In over a decade in politics, I am less cynical now about New Zealanders than when I started.

I have seen people from all walks of life become a powerful force for good. It’s a great country that can offer this opportunity to everyone.

I have seen, too, the people who have not had this chance, or who have had it taken for them. It’s a great country that can offer hope to each and every one of them.

New Zealand doesn’t face a crisis.

We face something much more difficult:

A gradual erosion of ethics in government - the Prime Minister’s best friend on a private spending spree with public money.

A creeping incompetence in our public services - debt-ridden, strike-ridden hospitals and school students who can’t trust the exam system.

A slow stifling of political dissent and debate - people scared to say what they think because the Government will punish them.

National does not accept that. We will work to hold the Government to account - to prevent the worst happening and to push alternatives.

Who has made Labour face its responsibilities to homeowners? National.

We proposed solutions for rotting homes because home ownership is about stability. It’s about security. It’s about family and the values we hand on to our children.

Our homes represent aspiration, our sense of achievement, and our roots in a community.

Who blew the whistle on Labour’s attack on voluntary and sports organisations? National.

The law said if you show up to a committee meeting you could do worse than become the chairman, you could be liable for a $250,000 fine if an employee gets injured.

We will keep the pressure on Labour, who has come back to Parliament without purpose or conviction.

But we will also apply our principles to the larger challenges New Zealand faces over the next 10 years.

We all know our population will age.

So there will be fewer younger people and more of them will come from backgrounds with social, economic and educational disadvantages.

They will be expected to support our ageing population and pay more of their own way. New Zealand has only just managed to arrest the decline in relative incomes.

Our biggest challenge will be the people challenge - how to get the best out of every citizen, how we cope with diverse cultures and interests, how we decide who can come here, and on what conditions they can stay.

Every young New Zealander deserves to be - and will need to be - a productive and active citizen. We need more than ever motivated and skilled young workers.

What can they expect of us? In the past 15 years, New Zealand bunkered down to do what had to be done. We all remember the motto - there is no alternative.

Now, with a flexible, open economy we have enjoyed a period of relative quiet, helped by high commodity prices at least for the present.

Most of today’s political leaders are using that opportunity, not to grapple with the future, but to make peace with their own political past. New Zealand is defined by what it’s not doing - no change, no challenge, no debate.

I represent a new generation. I want to make positive choices.

We must choose not to waste thousands of people in dependency. We will campaign for welfare with responsibility.

We must choose to do our very best for every child. We will put children first in education, raise standards and provide more choice for students and parents.

We can’t regard providing decent health care as too hard. We have to restore credibility to our defence forces.

And because good times won’t last we will continue to campaign for the conditions that encourage enterprise and reward for effort. These are the foundations of a strong economy.

National will also campaign for one standard of citizenship, for a country where every citizen is proud to be a New Zealander, knows our history and understands their rights and obligations, and where everyone is equal before the law.

It’s time to blow the whistle on Labour’s Local Government Bill because this Bill attacks the principle of one standard of citizenship.

Labour has lost its way on the Treaty of Waitangi. There is no discussion, no direction, no leadership - just corrosive political correctness.

They think talking about the Treaty is a replacement for jobs, education and functional families.

Their politically correct views are a mile away from most New Zealanders and headed in the opposite direction. The Government says one thing and the people say another.

Let’s state plainly what the Treaty says.

It cedes sovereignty over New Zealand to the Crown. It protects the rights and property Maori then enjoyed and it confers the rights and obligations of citizenship on Maori.

It is a document that creates equality. It created in New Zealand one standard of citizenship. It is the basis not of division but democracy and egalitarian democracy is at the heart of this country. The Government is destroying that ideal.

Historical grievances must be addressed and the sooner the better. That is justice, but justice does not and should not give some citizens rights other citizens do not enjoy.

Measures that undermine our ideal of democracy must be challenged, they must be tested and if necessary, changed. If we don’t, then one man’s view about a Taniwha will mean that a dangerous stretch of national highway isn’t made wide enough to save lives.

I have spiritual beliefs. I believe in the "hereafter”, but I’d rather drive on a safe road than find out if I’m right before my due time.

Helen Clark is about to pass legislation that will give belief in the Taniwha the force of law.

But when it suits Helen Clark she will roll over the existing law. She has agreed with the Whanganui River claimants that she will override the due process of law to settle their claim.

New Zealanders are remarkably tolerant people. We will accept all sorts of diverse lifestyles and beliefs with goodwill.

But we reject extremism and silliness. We won’t accept law that overrides a fair go.

Why does it matter now? Because Labour is scared to face challenges on the Treaty. They are trying to off-load all these problems onto your local council.

Helen Clark’s plan is to push through the Local Government Bill in the last week before Christmas, so you will be too busy to notice, so you will forget what’s in it.

This is the biggest constitutional change since the introduction of MMP.

Local Government will have to act according to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. But the legislation doesn’t say what those principles are. Before the last election, leading Government thinker Margaret Wilson was asked in Parliament what specifically were the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. She could not give a straight answer.

Plenty of lawyers and endless Government time has been spent arguing what those principles are.

The Government won’t and can’t sort it out, so it’s passing the hot potato to your council.

Our Constitution is changing - against the will of the people and without their knowledge.

This pre-Christmas rush is an act of political cowardice.

People think they pay rates in return for services like street lighting, rubbish collection, libraries, sewerage, parks, roads and drains.

This Bill changes all that. Technically councils will have “the same rights and freedom of action…as individuals and corporations”. This means they can do anything. What will they use this power to do?

To quote from the legislation “The Purpose of the Act is to...enable local authorities to play a broad role in promoting the sustainable, social, economic, environmental and cultural well being of their communities.”

But whatever councils do, they will have to “recognise and respect the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.”

I’ve made it clear today that I believe the Treaty establishes common rights and obligations whatever our background. It should be the basis for democracy - not division.

But the Bill serves up a confusing and divisive mixture of roles for Maori.

Any significant decision a local authority wants to make - which will be most of them - will have to take into account the relationship Maori have with land, water, flora and fauna and other taonga.

It is not clear what ”other taonga” means.

Whenever local authorities carry out any consultation - they will have to have special processes for consulting Maori.

Councils will have to establish who are the right Maori representatives to deal with.

Under the new law, the Minister of Local Government can review all decisions in relation to Maori and order the process to be done again.

Councils will be required to have a specific policy on refunding and postponing rates on Maori freehold land.

Finally, there is the policy that is most concerning, the policy that will divide us, not unite us. The new legislation will allow local authorities to establish separate Maori seats on your local councils. The councillors will be elected from Maori-only wards.

A local authority can simply declare there will be separate Maori representation. People will have to get together a petition to stop it.

We have already seen strong feelings on this matter in a debate in the Bay of Plenty. It is certain to be divisive in the Waikato, Northland, Taranaki, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Wellington and other places. This law has the potential to tear these communities apart - for no good reason. No-one has asked for it.

I challenge journalists to go and ask Helen Clark these questions - Why does she support this divisive law and why does she want to push it through under urgency before Christmas? If she believes there should be Maori seats on Councils, why doesn’t she show the courage of her convictions and make them all do it.

We could be debating whether Maori seats in Parliament are still relevant, but this law takes us in the opposite direction.

And all of this will be subject to legal review under the expensive and complicated consultation provisions, more work for our already overworked lawyers.

And who will pay for all of this? The ratepayer. Every ratepayer and renter will be affected. It has been estimated that rates could go up 15%. Where will super annuitants and families who are already stretched to pay the bills find that money?

It cost central Government millions to administer the laws we already have. It will be at least as difficult and expensive for your local council.

This Local Government legislation entrenches two standards of citizenship in this country.

Tomorrow, I will launch a campaign on the Local Government Bill and we will fight it hard. The legislation is a fundamental change to Government in New Zealand. It’s sneaky, it’s a backward step and New Zealanders deserve to know what’s going on. We can restore one standard of citizenship.

Labour just can’t say no, can’t draw the line.

I’ll tell you where National stands - we have drawn the line - one standard of citizenship. Parliament and the people must take charge and stand up for our democracy.

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