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Peter Dunne Speech: New Zealand Now'

Peter Dunne Speech: New Zealand Now' - that is the title of this series of talks in which you have had the, perhaps, dubious pleasure of being addressed by one politician after another!

And as I am, I believe, the sixth of eleven, I can only commend you for your stamina and durability - two qualities often found in Kiwis, and of which I will speak later!

'New Zealand Now'.

It should bring us all up short.

It demands, not only as it quite literally suggests, recognition of where we are, but it also implicitly draws out other issues: Where have we been? Where are we going?

And most importantly, who are we and what are our core values?

I would like to focus for a while on those core values, because it is only by understanding them that we can put flesh on the bones of the central theme, 'New Zealand now'.

In seeking to go to the very heart of what it is to be a New Zealander, we are forced to the rather uncomfortable conclusion that we are in a state of turmoil about our national identity.

We seem betwixt and between.

We know we have a bicultural history, but we also know we are an increasingly multicultural society.

How do we balance the two?

We have historically been a prosperous nation, based principally on our agricultural strengths, but changing economic conditions and the onset of globalisation are transforming all that.

Our relative prosperity is slipping, and we seem unsure about how to redress it.

The welfare state, under which so many New Zealanders have been raised, has virtually imploded under its own weight, and we struggle to find an effective replacement.

The changing international order and the break-up of old alliances - never more clearly demonstrated than in the past two months over Iraq - have left us strangely isolated, and seemingly unsure what role, if any, we should to seek to play in the new defence and foreign relations environment.

All these dilemmas are symptoms of a much deeper national uncertainty.

Despite generations of national introspection, we have yet to resolve the quintessential question of what it really means to be a New Zealander today.

Precisely what are the special values and characteristics we possess by virtue of the fact that we live in these little islands at the bottom of the world?

That very uncertainty, that inner yearning, underpins our hesitant and uncertain approach to issues as diverse as family disadvantage and child abuse, through to our place in the world.

We simply do not know what we stand for these days.

And, frankly, in the face of the technological revolution and the irresistible tide of globalisation, we, with many other nation states, will find it increasingly difficult to carve our own niche in this world unless we come to an essential understanding in our own hearts and minds of just who we are.

As the Iraq crisis has shown, we are united by our opposition to military conflict, but we do not know whether we should be part of the "Coalition of the Willing", or whether we should be siding with "Old Europe."

We even seem uncertain whether we have any contribution to make at all.

Add to that the fact that the face of New Zealand will change sharply over the next 50 years, as we become far more multiculturally diverse than we are already, and one begins to see the enormity of the challenge that lies ahead.

It helps explain that the easy refuge for some is to simply call upon us to pull up all the ramparts to keep the immigrants and the footprints of change far away from our corner of paradise.

Yet while the overall scene is one of turmoil and ever more rapid change, there is a stirring in our nation's soul.

It is a quiet revolution, but a revolution nonetheless, and it is starting from the ground up.

After nearly two decades of radical social and economic change, New Zealanders now yearn for a time of consolidation based on solid truths and values.

We see it in part in the development of our culture and our increasing pride in our writers, musicians and performers, Maori and European.

But for the great majority of New Zealanders, no matter what their individual circumstances, the most basic concept in their lives is that of family.

It is their reason for being and their overriding preoccupation.

Making sure the kids get the best start in life, get a good education, and jobs, and that we can set aside something for our own futures.

But in a time of such diversity who and what are our families?

Well, perhaps the simplest answer is to cast your mind back just ten days to Easter.

Who did you spend your time with?

Who did you travel to join, or whom did you bring under your roof to share your hospitality?

It is very likely that you were with the people you consider 'family'.

Our families, in all their many and varied forms, are the people we want to be with at times of celebration like Christmas or Easter, or at times of desolation and crisis.

They are our strength and our foundation.

And it is from the family - be it mum, dad and the 2.5 kids, the whanau or whatever else we claim as our lifeblood - that we then move to the wider reality of the neighbourhood, the suburb, the town, the city and ultimately the nation.

And just as obviously as we individually treasure our family links, it has been all too apparent that successive governments have not joined us in doing so.

Indeed, over the years, the government approach to families has often been at best one of benign indifference, and at worst, almost culpable neglect.

Far from creating an environment in which families can grow and thrive, too much of this nation's administration in recent years has spawned a reality that has been little short of toxic for families.

Too often, our governments have seemed more interested in looking after themselves than facing the real issues.

Too often, they have fallen into an all-pervasive political correctness, which at times has totally defied all that we know in our hearts and our heads to be true.

Tragically, because the shape of the New Zealand family has changed radically over the years, we as a society have become too timid to stand and defend the traditional family, despite the fact that the vast majority of us still belong to just such a reality.

And as a result, the family has been sidelined as a reference point in grasping our nation's core values.

For many policymakers, family has become a meaningless concept - too diverse to define, and too difficult to explain.

So talk of the pivotal role of the family as the cornerstone of our society has become just that - talk.

Yet all of us have known for years that our family is our reference point, and that, as parents, our children are our focus and our inspiration.

All we have to do is get that point across to governments, and get the policies they follow having some relevance to our interests.

United Future is committed to correcting that imbalance.

We are the only political party in New Zealand today that unashamedly wants to filter every piece of government policy on the basis of whether or not it is beneficial to the New Zealand family.

After all, do we not already measure policies by their impact on business, on the environment, on our international relations, on everything, it seems, but the one thing our society is built on - the family?

And that is the thinking behind the Families Commission, initiated by United Future.

>From July next year, all policy will be scrutinised in this light, benefiting families, and in turn, our country.

Most of the other core values that many New Zealanders feel have been lost today flow from that basic commitment to the family.

Our nation was built on the twin concepts of rugged individualism, tempered by commitment to the wider community.

By nurture and by nature, we are a progressive people, we are adaptable.

Just take a look at our history - we've simply had to have that clichéd but true 'number eight wire' mentality.

But we are more than that.

We are a compassionate people, with a strong commitment to those less fortunate than ourselves.

And it is this very compassion that tells us that through the difficult, but necessary, reforms of the past two decades, we have somehow lost something of our sense of commitment to each other, that glue that holds a society together.

That innate sense of Kiwi fairness has been remarked upon at many points in our history, and we find its modern incarnation in the just and proper demand for tolerance in a culturally diverse New Zealand.

New Zealand, then, does not need to build or find new core values.

It has them, and it has them in abundance.

But what we do need to do, both as a nation and as a people, is to rediscover and cherish them once again.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, we need look no further than our history to redefine our core values.

When we return to a society based upon the family in its many and varied forms, lived out with a conscious sense of our wider social responsibility, we will then be able to move on boldly and strongly as a country.

And that brings us to the next challenge: nothing of substance is ever achieved without two key elements: the second is hard work, sheer hard work; but the first - the inspiration for all great realities - is vision.

Now we hear the word nearly every day, and, yes, it is over-used, bandied around for the most banal and trite of causes, but bear with me as I go about reclaiming it for something that I'm sure you and I all share - a real love for our country, New Zealand.

Being Kiwis, it is often a quiet love.

We're not the most demonstrative people in the world; we don't do the flag-waving, ticker-tape thing that quickly or that easily.

Remember the classic '60s All Black, the Colin Meads-type, who would crash through for a try to be acknowledged by his team-mates with a nod, a manly slap on the back, but frankly, not a lot of song and dance ... well, we might be changing, but there's still a lot of that in us today.

But let no one ever doubt the passion and the heart of the average Kiwi for this country of ours, and today I want to talk to you from that heart and with that passion, simply as a fellow Kiwi:

"New Zealand - it's great to be home!"

We all know that feeling!

For those of you who have travelled, it is perhaps captured in your return from that venerable Kiwi tradition, the Big OE.

You touched down at Auckland, at Wellington, at Christchurch airports.

It doesn't really matter how or where or when, but the instant your foot landed on New Zealand soil, that's the moment!

It didn't matter where you'd been.

You were home and home was the best place in the world.

And we all knew on that day that we were Kiwis and we were proud of it.

Which one of us didn't tell family and friends that we just didn't know how lucky we were; that we had the best country in the world?

Well, that's the moment and that's the feeling that sums up United Future's vision for New Zealand: "It's great to be back!"

And my view of this nation is encapsulated in our name -United Future.

We want a New Zealand that is not only united in family, and in community, but also in our vision for the future.

Our vision for New Zealand is for a safe New Zealand - certainly in the physical sense, but also in the way that home is safe.

It's where we feel secure in our identity as Kiwis, in our opportunities to advance ourselves, in our opportunities to meet and greet our neighbours, and where everyone feels welcome.

So our vision is also of a welcoming New Zealand, a creative New Zealand, where fresh ideas are encouraged, where we are a 'can-do' country where patriotism and a sense of nationhood are not emotions to be ashamed of or hidden.

Our New Zealand is positive, with an eye to what we can do, not defeated by what we can't.

It's a place where people say, 'yes, I am responsible for my actions, my future, my opportunities'.

Our New Zealand celebrates its successes with real pride, and just as importantly, it encourages, success wherever it occurs - in the arts, sport, business, in our schools and our universities. Promoting our successes is the best way I know to ensure we have more of them, and to ensure that our families and communities prosper and grow stronger as a result.

In our New Zealand, tolerance is a virtue and diversity is celebrated, not condemned.

It builds and strengthens us, it doesn't pull us down.

All of these are attributes we would want for our own family - not just for our country.

That is why it is our passionate belief that the family is the very cornerstone of New Zealand, and not because of some quaint attachment to family values - although there is nothing wrong with that.

No, this is about as real as it gets: strong, healthy families mean a strong and healthy New Zealand.

If anyone has a better theory for building a society worth living in, then I have yet to hear it!

And strong, healthy families live in vibrant communities, and neighbourhoods that are alive.

And these are so much more than the dry economic statistics or the daily parade of health and welfare horror stories that we are constantly fed.

They are the reasons we will have economic growth and prosperity, not just a consequence of it.

They are rich in their diversity, bold in their willingness to take on new things, confident in themselves, but also places where all their members are nurtured, respected and encouraged.

So how do we make vibrant communities?

What is the social recipe?

We make sure communities have the facilities that make them work, like schools, swimming pools, green parks and clean beaches, public transport and security.

It's basic, it's simple, and it's necessary.

These are quality-of-life issues that we don't ignore, and which bring us together.

We encourage the essential volunteer groups that are the glue of our communities, through grants and other assistance programmes.

We encourage the many events - large and small - that bring communities together - be it Carols by Candlelight, or street parties for Waitangi Day, local festivals and market days, and so on, the list is endless.

But first, strong and vibrant families are the key to strong communities.

They are the engine room of so much of our economic and social development.

And that is why United Future will continue to champion the family - because it is also the cause of New Zealand.

When you ask Kiwis why they come home, their reasons are invariably the same: it's where my family is; it's a neat place to live and raise the children; and it offers a great lifestyle.

Our country will succeed and prosper only when we make those objectives the end point of our policy direction, rather than continue to treat them as merely coincidental.

We have to turn so much thinking on its head and, frankly, we have much to do here.

Family breakdown is costing us billions of dollars a year.

We have the world's second highest rate of single parent families.

Divorces have doubled in the last 30 years, while marriages have fallen by 60%.

Some 321,000 children - a third of all our youngsters - are raised on a benefit, twice what it was 15 years ago.

Child assaults are up almost 200% in the last decade and 40% of our criminals are aged between 14 and 18.

That's where we are today.

It's hard, it's brutal, but it's what we have to address before we can move ahead and capture the vision that will make New Zealand great again.

It is why we offer something that no other political party in this country offers.

We offer the chance to put your money where your mouth is and work for this country.

We offer the chance, to say these statistics aren't the way we want to be any more, and what's more, we're not going to let that be our future.

We are going to put families first, not because it feels good, not because it's a cuddly, fuzzy thing to do; we're going to put families first because it is the only way to drive this country ahead.

For too long, when change has happened in this land, no one has even asked what is it doing to our families?

What are the pressures that are being put on them?

What do we expect them to cope with and yet still produce healthy, happy, balanced kids for the next generation?

For too long, Kiwi families have survived - although, tragically, too often they've not survived at all - in spite of government, and not because of it.

Government doesn't make families work, we can't fix everything, but we can and will give them the environment - through tax change, through real commitment to health, to education, to community - in which to grow and thrive.

All I'm saying is that it's time we got our priorities right as a nation and look to what made us strong in the past for what can make us strong in the future.

It's time to stop wallowing in the mire, and celebrate afresh what makes this country great and why Kiwis are proud to come home to it.

They say nothing promotes success like success.

Now is time for us to live that.

That is United Future's vision for New Zealand and I am determined to provide the leadership to achieve it.

© Scoop Media

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