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English Speech: Passing The Parcel

Passing The Parcel

Bill English Speech: Address to the Local Government Association Conference, Queenstown

Thanks for this opportunity to pay my respects to you. Your positive work for the community often passes without praise - often involves significant personal sacrifice - sometimes even pain especially when the rate demands go out.

But New Zealand couldn't function without you.

Right now, you're coping with a whirlwind of change: new electoral processes, new rating processes, new planning requirements, new consultation requirements, a new transport regime, even new water, waste and sanitary works processes.

You've got a load of problems on your plate.

Central Government is adding to your responsibilities, creating new community expectations of local government. The new Local Government Act is adding to your costs, and those cost pressures are pushing up rates. And you are competing for extra cash with a Government that's reaching into the pockets of your hard-pressed ratepayers' pockets with 17 new taxes and more to come.

Many ratepayers in my electorate are on low fixed incomes, superannuation or benefits, or on seasonal incomes, or are low earning, self-employed. The rest are on salaries and wages. A small number have large assets and big incomes

Local Government rates can't keep increasing forever.

There is a crunch coming where property taxes become too big a burden on ratepayers who are on low and fixed incomes. National is developing policy and we are keen to work with you on it.

It's my view that a more logical system of roading funding is the key to the solution. I am particularly concerned that Auckland's needs should not skew the distribution of roading funding for the next decade.

We can't keep shuffling costs between central and local Government. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is no way to grow New Zealand.

We cannot avoid the new costs on local Government.

For example, new regulations for water quality put huge extra costs on small rural communities.

The long term benefits of the depreciation regime are significant, but the costs to ratepayers are high - someone has to pay for better managed infrastructure.

The best way to manage healthy local, regional, and national economies is to leave more dollars in the hands of the producers and consumers of the country. A National-led Government will support the growth of business - and wealth - in your communities with better infrastructure, less regulation and flexible employment law.

A National-led Government will change policies that breed welfare dependency, inhibit economic growth, and stimulate divisions within our communities and across our country.

This month, you took on a whole set of new responsibilities under the Local Government Act.

The Act is the outcome of a review process started three years ago. I'm sure it began with the best of intentions. But somewhere along the way, the Government lost sight of the goalposts

No one disagrees with the notion that the old raft of legislation relating to local government had turned into a prescriptive, much amended hotchpotch of "dos" and "don'ts".

No one disagrees with the idea that a new Local Government Act should enable local decision-making that promotes the well being of our communities in the present and for the future.

But it hasn't happened. Local decision-making is going to be more complicated than ever.

The Government has blurred the lines defining responsibilities to be met by local government - and laid down a demanding new set of requirements that you must meet in your decision-making.

The buzzword "consultation" is stamped over everything - to the point where consultation is going to paralyse local government.

Representative democracy has been replaced by participatory democracy. So why bother with elections?

The new Act assumes that people sit around following every twist and turn of local politics.

Some do, but the vast majority don't. They have jobs and families; they have their bills to pay and their health to attend to. And they like to vote every three years.

If you didn't listen, you'll get thrown out. If you did nothing but listen, you'll get thrown out. This is the sad but effective beauty of representative democracy.

We must get back to common sense. I want to see the Act amended to reflect the reality that councillors are elected to make decisions and be accountable for them.

Let the people decide if you consulted enough, not the bureaucrats.

National will reduce the costs, and increase the accountability and responsibility of elected councillors by cutting back excessive consultation.

I call the current Act a low trust model - it does not trust you to make decisions. I want to return to a high trust model - strong financial accountability, transparent governance and clear consequences for elected representatives who make the decisions.

But I have another greater concern about the Act, and these concerns go to the heart of the essence and meaning of our nationhood.

Last week I made public two pamphlets released by Labour to explain the new Local Government Act.

One was aimed at Maori. It accurately described the new provisions relating to the role of Maori and the Treaty in the new Local Government Act. The other pamphlet was aimed at everyone else. It barely mentioned the provisions relating to Maori and the Treaty.

Here is just one contrast

In the version for Maori it 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,

The other version says just this

"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."

Nothing else about Maori or the Treaty is mentioned.

This official publication of the neutral civil service deliberately sets out to mislead the public. Every New Zealander should be told about the new status of Maori under the Act. That status is a significant constitutional change that ought to be understood by everyone.

I said back in November that the Act creates a confusing range of roles for Maori that amount to rights over and above those of other citizens. I have been called a racist by the Prime Minister and otherwise criticised, but no one has disagreed with me.

It's a disgrace that Labour have tried to hide these changes from the public. And they know it - because within hours of the exposure of this dishonesty, Local Government Minister Chris Carter withdrew the pamphlets.

What would have happened if a conscientious New Zealander had not drawn these to our attention? - nothing.

In the matter of Maori and the Treaty, how can you trust a government that behaves in this way? What kind of partnership is it when Government won't explain to the public why it has dumped Treaty and Maori issues in your lap?

Just yesterday I was accused by Michael Cullen of inciting race hatred.

I was accused of inciting race hatred because the National Party is keeping the Government honest, not only on those pamphlets but also on the divisive beaches and seabed issue too.

All we have been doing is holding the Government to account for the promises it made to protect exclusive Crown ownership of our beaches and seabed.

While the secret negotiations continue, Helen Clark has left a leadership vacuum, which is being filled by the radical views of activists.

I say it's time for Helen Clark to show some leadership.

She has been more interested in the unity of Korea than the unity of her own country.

With thousands upon thousands of New Zealanders now more concerned than ever about where this country is headed on Treaty issues, she owes all of us an explanation.

We might be waiting a while, because this Government won't talk about the Treaty.

That's why your councils are now being asked to do what central Government finds too difficult

It's now your job to decide who is Maori. You now have to decide how they are represented - and the price for getting it wrong is high. You are firing at a moving target through the fog.

And some of the law is an open invitation to trouble. " Councils must now consider ways in which they can foster the development of Maori capacity to contribute to decision-making processes"

What does that mean?

I hope it doesn't mean hourly rates, or open ended grants. Busy mothers could contribute more if their childcare costs were paid by council. Teachers could contribute more if relief staff were paid by council.

And what about this?

"In every significant decision you make you are required to take into account the special relationship of Maori with the land and water, as well as Maori ancestral land, sites, wahi tapu, valued flora and fauna and other taonga."

There is a place just down the road from here which is my home. I have a special relationship with the land in Dipton. I defy anyone to say it's less special than any other. I have lived off it, worked on it, slaved sweated and worried about it, and then some days just looked at it and loved it.

Most of the significant events in the life of my extended family happen there. I'll be buried there alongside my ancestors.

But in my case, none of this has the force of law.

You are now obliged to put people into racial categories. These categories are meant to somehow predict how everyone in that category will think or behave.

Do all Maori think the same?

Are they so collective that if you talk to one, you have talked to all?

Does this mean Maori have group rights, not individual rights - and each individual Maori has to accept that?

These racial definitions carry the risk of reinforcing stereotypes because they make assumptions about what Maori think and do.

A few weeks age I met two remarkable people who were helping to revive a struggling community, of mainly Maori families. I asked them what support they had from the local iwi and they as good as said none.

Maori are as variable as any other group, with a whole mixed bag of motives and interests. Too often the Government assumes that Maori even more than the rest of us have nothing better to do than be involved in endless meetings and politics.

One effect of all this is that iwi are developing a crucial role with respect to local government. I would argue that well organised iwi are now almost a form of parallel local government. But iwi don't pretend to represent Maori - just themselves and people with a whakapapa to them.

Do New Zealanders really want to confer this status on a self-defined social organisation?

I am a strong supporter of voluntary associations.

I believe groups like families churches, service clubs, unions, sports clubs, whanau and iwi are at the heart of an effective community. They provide a vastly better moral and social framework than a government can.

All of them can and should be influential in any level of government, but none should have a constitutional status. That's why partnership is such a misleading term. To some it means sorting it out over a cup of tea, to others it means constitutional equality between your local council and the iwi.

There is a fundamental conflict between ethnic definitions and citizenship. Citizenship was such a powerful idea because it erased the privileges and prejudices of race, religions and wealth.

National stands for one standard of citizenship for all. It is the path for the future of our country.

Full citizenship for New Zealanders doesn't come in different shapes and sizes for different people or races. It is the common right of everyone entitled to live here.

We New Zealanders are a mixture of peoples - Polynesian, Asian, European, Maori. We will become more of a mixed-race nation over the next generation. None of us will be able to realise our dreams for a better life, if we go on making ourselves the prisoners of historic grievances created generations ago.

Maori have striven for more than 160 years to achieve equal protection under the law; certainty about property rights; respect for their different beliefs and customs, and a future that is uplifting.

Their path to citizenship has been long and difficult, but it has been achieved. I believe in the capacity of this nation to uplift its own, and I believe in the fair mindedness of our people to protect their own. That's why National will move to abolish the Maori seats - its an act of faith, it's time to move forward in the belief that the minority no longer needs that protection from the majority.

There have been historical wrongs that should be righted for Maori. That must happen quickly, conclusively, and in a manner that the majority are prepared to accept is fair and reasonable.

That's why we will close the books on new historical treaty claims within 1 year of becoming government. I have lived a generation with the problem, and I want my children to live with the solutions.

That's entirely consistent with the principles of one standard of citizenship for all New Zealanders.

The pursuit of special privilege and separatism will not improve the destiny of young Maori.

A generation of Maori leadership has been lost burrowing down that path in the concrete jungle of Wellington bureaucracy.

It has been lost in endless lobbying for special advantage; sorting out political opportunities; expansive and protracted legal actions, and building new brands of dependency.

It has had some expensive wins - but it simply hasn't delivered for the majority of Maori on the items that really matter: better housing, better health, better education, better opportunities for more rewarding jobs, and a better life in sickness or old age.

More and more Maori enjoy the benefits of the recipe that works for so many New Zealanders who want to improve their life - a good education, fulfilling work and an intact family.

One standard of citizenship is the real door to equity and opportunity in a democratic society.

We have to work together on the real tasks that will make New Zealand a better place for all of us and our children - instead of continuing the search for new ways to shift hardship and grievance from one section of our community to another - we are headed down a path where fewer and fewer will be paying for more and more and we must take action to stop it.

National remains the Party of private enterprise and self-reliance. We want to end the culture of dependency. Now we have 350,000 adults of working age on benefits - more than the population of Christchurch. And these dependents have 250,000 children.

Four years of economic growth have hardly dented the numbers - and the Treasury projects more people on welfare. 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 fulfillment of work.

Dependency means fewer and fewer people paying for more and more; fewer and fewer people working, raising families and creating wealth; supporting more and more people who are not working.

The rising burden of welfare comes on top of the bills our working people already pay.

Higher rates, student loans, rising health and superannuation costs, more stealth taxes.

Here is a comment which shows how we can change the culture My sister, aged 45, lived on the Gold Coast for some years. She was unemployed for three years and tried very hard to find a job. She applied for 300 jobs during that time. She was required to keep a diary of the applications on a file and produce it to collect her unemployment benefit, which she did. Eventually she got a job. She still holds it. I have a friend in Hamilton, now aged 56. She collects the dole. She is able-bodied. She has never been asked if she is applying for jobs. She has turned down the occasional offer from WINZ because she can't be bothered. No one checks up on her. Doesn't New Zealand care!!! "

Under Labour, New Zealand doesn't care enough to bother. She is too old, she's a woman, she can't possibly contribute. And Labour think the same about Maori - they're just not up to it - so give them benefits and get their vote.

National believes everyone is capable of doing something.

We will push back the tide of dependency, because it's a burden on the economy, and it wastes the talents of so many people. There will be support as well as sanctions. We will reintroduce work testing. We will bring back work for the dole.

Finally, I want to share my concern about a common interest we have - building communities.

You are community builders not community dividers. I am concerned about a spate of legislation that makes your job more difficult.

Families are the seedbed of trust and responsibility, the institution that hands on the principles and values that bind people together.

Most children are brought up in stable families with mothers and fathers - even if the parenting partners change as relationships breakdown and get re-established. The law of New Zealand, your country, should reflect that reality.

The relationship property Act, the Families Commission Bill and the Care of Children Bill share a common philosophy - that the standard family is past its used by date.

In fact, the family has been redefined as a group of people with a psychological attachment.

I believe most New Zealanders want their children to grow up in a country where the Government believes that it is important to have strong, supportive families. You have a statutory obligation to attend to the well being of your communities - and government is undermining that well being if it tries always to categorise everyone in the community to ensure they think and behave in a the politically correct manner

There are so many other issues we will work with you on over the next 12 months in detail - but for me what we share now is most important - the common sense of what it means to be a New Zealander, the unity and the pride and the work ethic that make this country great.

As Mayors, councilors and employees serving in local government, you play an important role for your communities and New Zealand. You need a supportive Government that will work with you, not against you.

We are the Party of national unity with one standard of citizenship, and we share a national ambition for strong communities and a strong economy.

I look forward to working with you on both.

Thank you.

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