Kirk Address to National Party Conference
Kirk Address to National Party Conference
National Party President
Speech to NZ National Party Conference 2003
Grand Chancellor Hotel Christchurch
Embargoed until 1010, Saturday July 12 2003
Check against delivery
The Honourable Bill English, Leader of the Opposition, Members of Parliament, Delegates, distinguished guests.
This is the first National Party Conference held under our revised constitution following the dramatic constitutional conference held in Wellington in April this year.
That conference completely rewrote our rule book, ushering in new changes designed to make our party an effective fighting machine, and one capable of delivering the goods in the MMP environment.
Things happened so quickly at the constitutional conference that I think its possible for delegates to underestimate just what exactly was achieved that day. I congratulate delegates once again for their work in April; we are often described as a conservative party (and in many respects we are) but we are also a forward looking party prepared to take courageous decisions.
Thirty years ago, the National Party was in a similar position to the one it ' s in today. It had just been routed by Norman Kirk ' s Labour Party in November 1972, leaving it with 32 seats to Labour ' s 55. Everyone said that Norman Kirk ' s government would enjoy two terms and that National was condemned to be in the wilderness for years. The National Party, however, thought otherwise. It modernised its structures, elected a dynamic President in Sir George Chapman and hired a very smart Secretary General.
One of the many pleasures I have had since becoming President last year has been getting to know Sir George. He has provided invaluable advice and continues to care about the fortunes of the National Party. For me the highlight of our constitutional conference in April was the measured address of Sir George Chapman.
In his own quiet way, he exhorted delegates to be courageous and break with the past and embrace the new structures. I was very grateful for his support at that conference and I am very grateful for the tremendous help he has given me over the last few months.
Delegates will be interested to know that it is exactly 30 years since Sir George was elected the 8th President in Christchurch and I ask you all to welcome Sir George and join with me in thanking him for all he has done for the Party over the years.
I mentioned that in 1973 the National Party hired a master tactician as its Secretary General and over the next 14 years Barrie Leay proved what a good decision it was to take him on.
Thirty years on, I believe the party has made an equally important decision to employ Steven Joyce as its General Manager. As you know, Steven, Denise Henare and Jeff Grant conducted the review into the party and the campaign following last year ' s result.
Many of their recommendations were incorporated in a review, commenced by Alan Johnston, but finalised by Steven Joyce. I know that Steven impressed all of you with his very friendly and polished presentations around the country, explaining the rationale behind many of the proposed changes.
He was a major reason why the constitutional conference was so successful. After discussions with him, I hired him to become the General Manager of the Party during the transitional phase and he is proving himself to be very effective in that role.
Of major importance is that he is not only basing himself in Wellington but is also working two days a week in Auckland. The Auckland area is obviously pivotal to the success of the National Party at the next election and Steven will be working very hard there, in conjunction with Scott Simpson, Alan Croot and other members of the Auckland team. Thank you Steven for what you have done for the Party over the last 12 months and for what I am sure you are going to continue to do.
I want to pay tribute to our fine young Leader Bill English. Bill took over the leadership in October 2001 and since that time has worked mightily on behalf of every one of us. Bill is intelligent, focused and determined. He is the first leader for the next generation.
Since becoming President, I have spoken with Bill every other day and met him at least once a week, and on most weeks more than that. I regard my working relationship with Bill as excellent and I know that he is determined to see the parliamentary and organisational wings of the Party work much more closely together. This is already happening.
After the last election, ours was a battered and a bruised brand. The great National Party had been humiliated at the General Election for reasons which we all know and I won ' t go into again now.
But the fact remains that the National Party is a good brand. New Zealand is a natural centre-right country and the National Party is the natural largest party of the centre-right. It was formed in 1936 as the heir to the Reform and United parties which represented the liberal and the conservative non-socialist traditions. Its core principles, put into the modern era but still essentially the same as they always were, are the values and principles which most New Zealander ' s relate to:
* Limited Government - the idea that the State should only do that which is necessary and that individuals and groups of individuals should do the rest;
* Security - more relevant today than it has ever been. National has always stood for strong security and good relationships with old friends and allies. The Prime Minister ' s words that we live in a benign strategic environment were wrong when she uttered them; indeed the environment in which we live is very dangerous. Professor Helen Hughes, Denis Dutton and Wayne Mapp have reinforced that again this morning.
* A strong economy where individuals can enjoy low taxes, a good infrastructure to enable the economy to prosper, and as little red tape as possible. Don Brash and the economic team have been working very hard on these topics and, as you know, published an extremely good paper on economic growth.
* A caring society but not an indulgent one. Katherine Rich has published a very good discussion paper entitled " Saving the Next Generation from Welfare Dependency " . We are not an anti-welfare party, and never have been. We help those who need help. But we also know that poorly targeted welfare can prevent people from achieving their potential.
* We believe in an objectively excellent education system unlike the one that is failing our students today. Nick Smith, Simon Power and their team will shortly publish a discussion paper outlining National ' s position on this all important topic.
* We stand for progressive social change, not revolution. Above all we believe in one standard of citizenship for all.
For a few minutes I have looked back to the position the National Party was in 30 years ago and have mentioned some of the great figures of our Party who helped rebuild it and lay the foundations for a spectacular win in 1975 and nine years of Government.
It is appropriate and right that we should never forget our history and those who contributed to this Party. But above all, delegates, I want you to use this conference to look to the future. For we must adapt to changing times while holding fast to unchanging principles.
These are core National Party beliefs; they underpinned the formation of the Party in the 1930 ' s, they were redefined and updated by Sir George and his team in the 1970 ' s, and were again refined and updated by you in 2003.
But at the heart of it, whether we call ourselves conservatives, rural or towns folk, we all subscribe to the notion that the state has its proper place in society, but individuals achieve more when they do things themselves, freed from too much bureaucracy and legislation. That above all distinguishes us from the left and our old adversary, the Labour Party.
At the end of the day, they like to control, to direct, to legislate; we prefer to leave individuals to do their own thing. Those values and core beliefs, as I have said, remain just as relevant today and it is our task to turn our Party into an effective election machine to ensure that it can implement policies based on those beliefs and values, starting September 2005 with the installation of the next centre-right government.
Delegates, 24 September 2005 is a critical date. It is the last date on which a General Election can be held. The clock is ticking. We have spent almost twelve months reviewing our Party, making changes, knocking ourselves into shape. But that only leaves us a little over two years to build an election winning machine. And that assumes that this Government will go full term and that there will not be a snap election. So what do we need to do:
* We need to work hard on policy formulation. The Policy Consultation Committee is up and running. At the instigation of the Leader Bill English, Don Brash and me, the chair of that committee (Chris Finlayson) meets with the Caucus Policy Committee. It is an arrangement which is working very well. For the first time for many years, the Party and the Caucus are working together on policy formulation. As I have already said, the Caucus has produced some very high quality discussion papers which have been talked about throughout the party at all levels and they are going to be followed up with detailed policy statements in the near future. We often hear, don ' t we, that people say they don ' t know what National stands for. All I can say is that they should read the discussion papers and the other materials starting to emerge from the Caucus. We are not opposing for the
* We need to identify and nurture high quality candidates who will be successful at the next election and form the basis of a government for years to come. Many of you have heard me talk about a candidates ' club. This will be established in the very near future. All those who are interested in putting their names forward for National will be asked to become members of the candidates ' club where they will learn about our policies and how to be effective candidates. I don ' t want people to be selected in a mad rush months before a general election. I want committed, quality members to indicate their interest now (and some are already doing so), to work with us to build up this Party, and to sell that message at the next election as our candidates.
* We all know that the party vote determines representation in the House of Representatives. Last year our campaign for the party vote was poor. While the constituency vote held up, our party vote dramatically declined. Our huge overhaul of the party and campaign machinery is designed to ensure that never again do we have a confused and muddled party campaign. Promoting the National Party is the first responsibility of candidates.
* Nor can we ignore the constituency vote. I think one of the reasons why we have lost touch with the community since 1996 is that we have had such poor representation in the electorates. We need to win more constituency seats. I believe that we need to run high quality, tough constituency campaigns in seats like: Invercargill, Otago, Wellington Central, Ohariu-Belmont, Wairarapa, Whanganui, the Hamilton seats, Northcote. These are must-win seats for National. It can be done. I will never forget the joy of Election night 2002 when we won Coromandel. You know as well as I do that if minor parties do not have a constituency seat and they don ' t win 5 per cent of the vote, then they are out of Parliament. But a constituency seat gives them representation. Conducting high quality campaigns in key seats is essential.
* Finally, we need to rebuild our coffers and build up our membership and local organisations. This work is well underway. The fact that we are to elect a board to govern our Party and have made other changes to the structure of the Party does not mean that local organisations need not exist. The regions still have a pivotal political role to play and the electorate organisations are the most important in the Party. Much more work needs to be done to build up electorates, to bring in new blood, to engage with the public with functions and seminars. I am committed to seeing that happen in the next twelve months.
When I became the 16th President of the Party in August 2002, I knew what I was letting myself in for. I am delighted that things have moved as positively and productively as they have.
In ten short months we have restructured our Party and started work on providing an attractive and positive alternative to the current Government. I have spent a lot of time cooling down passions, tending wounds, helping the Party and its membership through the very difficult post-election period.
Some say I have had a very civilising influence. I hope I have. But make no mistake, civility is not a sign of weakness. I hope I have shown you that I am a strong President, that I will do what is necessary to effect change. I have enjoyed being President and was prepared to assume the presidency in difficult times, because I love this Party and like you I want it to succeed.
Some say that we are condemned to another term in opposition. I do not believe that.
I think the seeds of defeat for Labour have already been sowed. Go back to the gloomy predictions in 1972. Yes I know the times are completely different now, we have a different electoral system and the comparisons with the past only go so far. But the point I want to make is that
Labour was tossed out after one term in 1975. So we can certainly toss them out after two terms in 2005, So let ' s get on with it.