Coddington Speech: Hold the Canapés...
Hold the Canapés, and Make Richard Prebble PM
Deborah Coddington Speech Delivered to ACT Waikato Regional Conference, Sunday 24 November, 2002
It's the end of a long day so I'll try and be brief. I just want to bring you up to date on what your buddy MP is doing as a campaigner at the moment.
We hear a lot about Jim Anderton - usually from Jim Anderton, about his Jobs Machine. How he's creating jobs. But we know the government doesn't create jobs. It masks unemployment by taking money from successful businesses and giving it to businesses that aren't successful.
At the moment that's not totally the case with Jims Jobs Machine - Industry NZ. Helen Clark's using some $100 million dollars to silence those who should be criticising government policies and speaking out against the barmy legislation being passed that leads to greater regulation, more compliance costs and more government powers:
· OSH Amendment Bill
· Local Government bill
· Climate Change Response Bill
· Margaret Wilson's Slavery Bill
· Social Welfare Amendment Bill
· Immigration changes passed overnight
· And more.
Think back to the early days of this government's first Parliamentary term when businesses were criticising the Labour programme of big spending. Finance Minister Dr Cullen came out with his "we won, you lost, get used to it."
Clark rounded on Roger Kerr for daring to criticise Government policies and said he should go - should be dumped as head of the NZ Business Roundtable. Whatever happened to a free society, and "I disagree with what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it"?
But quickly Clark saw that it wasn't wise to have the business community offside so she agreed to `work with them'. First we had the Knowledge Wave Conference. It seemed a great idea. Business eagerly participated, it was a pretty open forum, many were invited and the media were free to report. Out of that came the Knowledge Wave Trust.
Then we got Clark's `Growing an Innovative Economy' speech and out of that the Government set up the Growth and innovation Advisory Board which would tell government how to grow the economy.
Meanwhile the government carried on merrily passing barmy legislation.
Industry NZ was set up to spend some $100 million on three `clusters' - IT, creative industries and biotechnology. And Santa Claus arrived with his sack to silence the criticisms.
At the same time the Government spent $800 million of taxpayers money on Air New Zealand and $81 on the Auckland Rail Corridor. Imagine if hard-working families had been free to keep that money - their own money - to spend on their own holidays?
Yesterday Gerald Trass at the Auckland conference mentioned Victor Hugo's "there's nothing like an idea whose time has come" and it made me think about ideas whose time has passed. And I'm thinking of three ideas whose time is definitely running out:
· Knowledge economy
· Growing an innovative economy
· Leadership forums
They're slogans really. Meaningless talkfests. They have done absolutely nothing to improve the lives of consumers and taxpayers.
This government has increased taxes by stealth. Last week while Judith Tizard sat in the House knitting she was sneaking in law to impose a compulsory levy on car dealers. I was prepared to sit there until midnight fighting that law. I wasn't going to do a deal like the National Party, and sell out car dealers so we could get home on Friday night. In the end the law will pass because only ACT opposes it but at least we can hold our heads up high and know we fought this new tax tooth and nail.
In my Liberty Belle this week (it goes out every Friday and if you want to subscribe, email me at email@example.com (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) ) I quoted a number of Australian commentators who over the past two years have not been taken in by Clark's spin and see through her cynical courting of the business community. They editorialised that she is taking New Zealand backwards, that poverty is still poverty in a picturesque environment, and that New Zealand will become irrelevant under her leadership.
And this country is going backwards. Labour is choking people's spirit and their dreams.
This country is being taken back to the days of privilege that Sir Roger Douglas fought so hard to dismantle, all in the name of fairness.
This government is getting away with picking winners by setting up Industry NZ to hand out taxpayers' money. I don't blame the recipients of these grants, nor the business people who sit on these boards advising Clark and Anderton. They probably think they're doing well for the country. Governments set the rules and people play by them. But these people are not doing the country any good. They are a hindrance, not a help.
All that is happening is lots of talking, and more passing of regulations. This doesn't grow the economy. Lower, flatter taxes grow the economy. Small government that gets out of the way of business leaders grows the economy.
Picking winners is just wealth redistribution. The State Knows Best.
Actually governments are very poor at picking winners. What happens eventually is that losers pick governments - they seek help and governments are happy to oblige.
The best way to help small business owners in this country is to keep big business leaders out of cabinet ministers' offices.
I remember the business leaders of the late 80s and early 90s who risked being unpopular - and became very unpopular - by speaking out against bad policy. Sir Ron Trotter with his "Piece of Mind" on Radio Pacific every week. Douglas Myers, Alan Gibbs - who railed against the monopoly producer boards and the health system, John Fernyhough, Rod Deane. Where are their voices now?
This government is forming what it calls a `social compact' with Business NZ and the CTU. Two weeks back Clark said, after a hui with unions, that yes, unions should have input into policy but they didn't have much money so government would have to give them some. Let me tell you that the NZEI - the primary teachers' union - as an example of just one union has an annual budget of $11.8 million. More than the combined budgets of the Business Roundtable, Business NZ and Federated Farmers. They don't need taxpayer money. Helen needs her cronyism.
To keep in power.
So this is my focus. Expose Labour's economic policy for the fraud it is - crony capitalism, whiteboard nonsense speak, consultancy drivel.
It's all talks behind closed doors with wine and canapés. What Fran O'Sullivan of the Herald calls the smoked salmon offensive. And it leads to higher taxes and big government.
But to campaign on this I have to use concrete examples, not just talk in abstracts. That's what I learned to do as a journalist. I also learned to speak out against what I see as not being right, even if that made me unpopular. And when I see that the Industry NZ board awards thousands of dollars of taxpayers money to companies that they are associated with, well that's not right and I will say so.
I have already been attacked for this - by Jim Anderton in public and by a senior individual who is close to Helen Clark in private.
But I care more about this country's future than I care about certain powerful individuals.
Economic growth is not an end in itself. It means the hardworking family - Dad drives a truck and Mum stays home to bring up the children - can keep more of their money to educate their own children. Not be forced to spend $25 million on a business school at Auckland University.
They could keep more of their wages to buy their own little girl a party dress, not be forced to fund media training for fashion designers who go to the Sydney Fashion Week (and that is what happened with an Industry NZ grant).
Maybe they could go to the movies as a family instead of being forced to give more taxpayers money to the maker of Lord of the Rings, a movie that has returned millions of dollars - and rightly so - to its makers.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with Douglas Myers when I was thinking about standing for ACT but couldn't make up my mind. He asked me what I could do as an MP that would make him want to stay in this country.
"Actually Douglas," I said, "I don't care about you. It doesn't really matter to you whether you pay $20 million in tax or $40 million. What I care about are all the people in this country who, because of this socialist government, will never have the chance to get anywhere near where you are. They're the ones who don't have anyone fighting for them."
"I think you should stand," he said.
And boy am I glad I did. Look at our caucus. We are the smartest, snappiest, sharpest team in Parliament.
Ken Shirley, when Richard was sick after the election he was incredibly helpful and supportive to us new MPs. He's our Mr Nice guy and his scientific knowledge cuts down all the pseudo-science and garbage.
Rodney Hide - hardwired for freedom and the most entertaining MP in the House. His speech last week on why NZ First couldn't vote without finding Winston brought the whole House down.
Dr Muriel Newman - unswervingly focused on welfare reform, a tough area to campaign in, but she's like a dog with a bone and won't give up or be swayed, even under attack from Maharey who insists on calling her Mrs Newman.
Stephen Franks - the legal mind who constantly reminds us of the true role of the state in a liberal society - protecting our rights and coming down hard on those who breach our rights.
Donna Awatere Huata, our warrior woman who tirelessly tramps around the country talking education, education, education and always brings it back to knowledge.
Gerry Eckhoff - a decent man and a fantastic orator who has the power to move me with his speeches like no one else can.
Heather Roy, my new colleague and the Speaker still muddles us up. She doesn't look old enough to vote but as I've said to the media, underestimate her at your peril. She has the ability to cut through the problems in health and see the solutions.
We're all different and have different campaigns but they all rely on each other and intersect. It's no good campaigning on welfare reform without a campaign on the economy alongside it. People will just ask what you're going to do with all the beneficiaries if businesses aren't making more profits, expanding, hiring more staff. And we can't talk about economy growing, or reforming welfare, if we don't campaign for a revolution in education.
Finally, I'd just like to say that the greatest privilege I've had is being a new MP under leader Richard Prebble. I didn't really know Richard before I went into Parliament. I'd never interviewed him, which is unusual as I'd interviewed nearly every other ACT MP. But as an MP I've been amazed to discover this extraordinary New Zealander. He is an able, knowledgeable, good man. He has gravitas. Last week I walked along the corridor with him into the National Party's Christmas party and I felt so proud to be walking in with this fantastic politician.
It's been like having a stern but benign father who urges you, thrusts you out into the daring world of politics. Gives you the freedom to be bold and you know that if -and when - you fall over and crash he will pick you up, brush you off and set you on your way again. You know he will defend you to the end in public, and in private rip your head off to make darn sure you won't make that mistake again.
He has the very rare combination of a soft heart and a hard head. He is fiercely loyal to his MPs and the first time Anderton attacked me in the House, Richard was on his feet demanding an apology.
His knowledge of Parliamentary procedure is such that he has the respect of the whole House. His formidable talents can make opponents' knees turn to jelly. I'm certainly glad I'm in the same party as him. And his humour brings tears to my eyes. His intelligence crosses from knowing the works of Henry James to talking about physics.
I believe if we want this country to be great again, to be a beacon for individual liberty, small government, happy prosperous people, we need more than a centre-right government.
Richard Prebble is a National Treasure. We need him as Prime Minister.
Thank you for coming today. Be careful of the
taniwha out there.