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National Press Club Breakfast - Bill English


Hon Bill English MP National Party Leader

24 July 2003

Address to the National Press Club Breakfast, Parliament Buildings

I am here today to explain to you why citizenship, one standard of citizenship for all, matters so much.

Last week, I held a public meeting in Whangarei at lunchtime. Over 300 people took time out of their busy day to attend. They were worried about where New Zealand is headed, and I share their concerns.

Some of them were pretty angry and frustrated - and I'm not talking about the activists who heckled from the rear of the hall. These were Northlanders for whom access to the beaches for recreation, fishing and tourism is so important.

The heat generated by the foreshore issue strikes at the heart of what it is to be a New Zealander - a deeply held belief that the beaches and coastline which define this great country of ours is the natural heritage of everyone.

The path through the frustration and argument over the Treaty is to focus on what we all have in common - shared rights and obligations. Not by accentuating the differences.

As far back as the thirteenth century, the first Statute of Westminster began with the words:

"The King willeth and commandeth...that common right be done to all, as well as poor as rich without respect of persons."

We need to be first and foremost citizens of New Zealand, whatever our descent. Citizenship erases the prejudices and privileges of birth, religion, race and wealth.

So, it is a deep concern to me that the current Labour Government is struggling to take New Zealand in another direction; determined to separate one group of citizens off from another.

Here's an example.

On 1 July this year the Local Government Act came into effect.

It creates a new set of rights and considerations for Maori, over and above their due rights as citizens, voters and ratepayers, including a right to separate representation. Local councils have to take into account in every decision, the special relationship of Maori with the land and water, as well as Maori ancestral land, sites, wähi tapu, valued flora and fauna and other taonga.

Central government has dumped on local government a set of responsibilities and requirements it doesn't have to deal with itself.

Local Councils now have to decide, according to statute - who is Maori. They have to work out who the represents Maori and then consult sufficiently with them. If the Minister doesn't think they have done it properly he can make them go back and do it again.

Now there hasn't been much public debate about this, but you can be sure that Labour's rhetoric about partnership with local government is one of many ways Labour has raised Maori expectation about constitutional partnership with central government.

This week I discovered just how Labour are representing the Local Government Act.

Now the Department of Internal Affairs has recently distributed thousands of pamphlets around the country to tell people about the new Local Government Act. There's a red pamphlet, in Maori, and another red pamphlet in English, an English translation of the Maori version.

There's also a blue version in English that's not targeted at Maori. Now, if you read the blue version it has a heading "Maori" which reads:

"Local authorities do not have Treaty of Waitangi obligations under the Local Government Act (those responsibilities lie with the Crown), but councils have to maintain and improve opportunities for Maori to contribute to local government decision-making processes."

Open the red version, and you could be forgiven for thinking this was about a totally different piece of legislation. The first heading is titled Treaty of Waitangi, and says:

"The old Local Government Act didn't include anything about Maori or the Treaty of Waitangi. The new Act has a number of references to Maori, and a Treaty section explaining why there are Maori provisions in the Act."

It then goes on to list all the special things councils must now do for Maori, including the requirement to prepare policies on whether to remit or postpone rates on Maori freehold land.

The red version also has a special section titled "Opportunities for Separate Maori Representation." None of this appears in the blue English version.

So there's one message for Maori and one message for everyone else. The Maori version is a more complete description of the new Local Government Act. The neutral civil service has succumbed to the culture of duplicity that comes from the Prime Minister's Office.

It's one piece of law - why can't Labour write one pamphlet? If Labour believe the changes regarding Maori are significant, why can't they tell everybody? Aren't they proud of it? Are they worried about what people will think? Do Maori know the Government doesn't want to tell everyone else about the substantial provisions for Maori in the Act?

I wonder which version will get dropped in to the mailboxes of Auckland ratepayers, or any of the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders facing big rates increases right now?

There are two different stories. It was the same with Helen Clark's flagship policy - Closing the Gaps. She abandoned the policy in the mainstream media, and told Maori she was protecting them from a pakeha backlash. It's this sort of dishonesty that creates the backlash.

The Treaty was signed between the Crown and Maori. It should have no role in local government. But it now features in every aspect of local government decision-making. Major constitutional change has sneaked in through the back door.

Other changes have been more transparent.

The Supreme Court Bill will make New Zealand's sovereignty subject to judicial interpretation. The judges, who will be appointed by Margaret Wilson, will interpret how the Treaty is to be applied in law and one of the judges will be required to be well versed in tikanga Maori.

This political correctness has been too much for some. Sir Tipene O'Regan has dubbed it the "ethnic politicisation of judges".

Last weekend, a major Government sponsored Hui proposed a parallel justice system for Maori, one where a Maori court would sit in justice over Maori criminals. Such a proposal only finds support because expectations have been raised that separate, constitutional development is acceptable.

It is time for the pendulum to swing back. Parliament must make it clear that there is no constitutional partnership between the Crown and Maori.

We should go further to clarify existing law and references to the Treaty, so the courts do not get ahead of the public and a clear signal is given to political parties that the time has come to stop the constitutional experiment.

We are all New Zealanders. All as good as each other sharing common rights and obligations.

That is why the foreshore and seabed is important for every citizen of this great country. Maori title to the beaches and seabed would mean access was by the grace of Maori, much as a tenant occupies a property by grace of their landlord. Access to the beach, to have a barbie or to cast a fishing-line in the water is important.

At least that's how it should be. But Helen Clark caved in.

One month ago she said the Government would confirm that the Crown owns the beaches and seabed. Labour has backtracked ever since.

National stands for one standard of citizenship for all. It is the path for the future of our country. So, National believes that the coastline and the beaches of New Zealand should remain in the hands of all New Zealanders.

So what is one standard of citizenship?

New Zealand's 21st century will be a century of coming together, convergence by birth and convergence by citizenship. People who look the same will have different cultures; people who look quite different will share much in common.

The one thing they all share is that they are citizens of this great country. Whatever ability, or race or status or belief they were born to, they all have the advantage of citizenship of New Zealand. I'm talking about citizenship because I want my children to be proud of the history and the unity of their country. I want them to know New Zealand can solve the problems of our history and move on. I do not want a country splintered by ethnic distinctions. The journey from 1840 to here has been a long and winding road through the gullies and hills of our history. A colony has become a nation. New Zealanders have earned citizenship, a set of rights and obligations, honoured in depression and war. Through times of national sorrow and national protest and times of massive change.

We have been at our best when we have worked to make sure citizenship is fulfilled and preserved. Citizenship erases the prejudices and privileges that go with birth, race or belief. One standard of citizenship is the foundation of national unity, national pride and national ambition for every New Zealander.

We have learned a lot about how to live together in the only place we all call home. Things Maori are knitted into our way of life, our sport, our politics, our work, our idea of how the world sees New Zealand. We use Maori words and ideas every day - more than we realise. And our children use them more than we do. Many Maori have the same vision of a shared future. More and more Maori enjoy the benefits of a good education and good jobs. Maori organisations now own a majority of the fishing industry - in time they'll own a large part of our forestry industry.

They are large successful players in farming and tourism. National stands with them - we have enormous respect for the pride and self-determination that can thrive in New Zealand.

Some Maori, like some other New Zealanders, are poor and dependent. A hand up to a job will be worth more to those New Zealanders than putting them on a committee. We have faith in the capacity of Maori to strive and succeed in work and politics on the same basis as everyone else. I believe in New Zealanders fair mindedness that a minority no longer needs this protection from the majority. That's why National-led Government will abolish the Maori seats.

We make common cause with Maori who share the philosophy of freedom, choice and self-reliance.

National offers choice in education and diversity in the provision of health services. National supports private and community organisations working with and for government.

National's philosophy offers more opportunity, more of a fair go for Maori than political correctness and promises of partnership.

Our opponents think Maori can't succeed without the Government, that the rights of New Zealand citizenship are not enough, that more must be done to make up for the past.

We should deal with the past - and get on with it!

It's almost 30 years since Parliament opened the floodgates on 160 years of grievances - that's most of my lifetime, living with the problems. I want my children to be brought up living with the solutions.

Because we believe endlessly relitigating events of the past. National will close the books on the lodging of historical treaty claims within one year of becoming the Government.

And we will move to clear all historical claims within five years of closing the books on new ones.

National will also move to end the culture of dependency which stifles the potential of every citizen. It has hit Maori particularly hard. Dependency destroys the most basic powers of self determination. The vision of Mickey Savage has been corrupted. It was meant to be a safety net for people facing hard times. Now some can choose welfare as a way of life.

There are over 350,000 adults of working age on benefits - more than the population of Wellington. And these dependents have 250,000 children. By next year the invalids' benefit will cost over $1 billion - and these are people who are classified as unable to ever work again.

I recently met an occupational therapist who told me the worst thing for clients was the abolition of work testing. She said, "now they believe they can't work, so they have a stronger sense of entitlement".

I am concerned the community is splintering between those who can and do work, and those who have never known it. I'm concerned that more of our children grow up with no experience of the stability and fulfilment of work. We are a nation built on a work ethic.

Welfare dependency cuts at those foundations and undermines our future. Fewer and fewer are paying for more and more. Fewer and fewer people in work, and raising families, are paying for more and more who are not working.

The rising burden of welfare comes on top of the bills our working people already pay. Student loans, higher rates, rising health and superannuation costs, more stealth taxes.

National believes everyone is capable of doing something.

We believe that with strong and smart support we can push back the tide.

* There will be support as well as sanctions.

* National will reintroduce work testing.

* We will bring in work for the dole.

We have faith in our fellow citizens, and we have the political will to lift people out of the grinding poverty of spirit that is long-term dependency.

And there is no shortage of jobs - just a shortage of people to do them. Ask anyone in business if they can get the tradesmen, the truck drivers, the doctors they need. Even our defence forces are suffering from a chronic lack of people.

Under Labour, New Zealand doesn't care enough to bother. Too many people are simply written off - too poor, too unfortunate, too disadvantaged. And Labour think the same about Maori - they're just not up to it - so give them benefits and get their vote.

Our nation can offer its citizens more.

We are the party of national unity in one standard of citizenship, and national ambition for a higher standard of living.

There can be a future where New Zealand will be united and successful. National intends to lead it.

Thank you

ENDS

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