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Murray McCully's ACT Conference Speech

ACT Releases Address By Hon Murray McCully MP

ACT Party Wellington Regional Conference, Saturday August 2, 2003

Friends, colleagues and future coalition partners of the ACT Party.

I truly appreciate your invitation to address you today, because I believe we have some business to get on with together.

I welcome the opportunity to share with you my views about that business, and about how we might get on with it.

I need to emphasise to you that these are my views, and not views which have been sanctioned by my party or caucus leadership.

I believe the relationship between our two parties is good.

But that we need to build on that base to make it much better, broader and deeper, to give the public a clear view of what a National ACT Government would look like.

My own association with the ACT Party goes back a long way - in fact to 1975, when I was beaten by 289 votes in the seat of Auckland Central by a young man by the name of Richard Prebble.

It would be fair to observe that I have formed a somewhat more generous and collegial view of your Leader in the ensuing 28 years.

And I very much hope in my time in politics to complete the circuit, and serve in a National ACT government with my opponent of 28 years ago.

Richard Prebble is, in my judgement, the most skilled Parliamentarian in the opposition, who would play a critical role anchoring a centre-right administration.

It is no great secret that I have enjoyed a good working relationship in opposition with Rodney Hide - a man I rate as the most effective opponent of the current government - and it is a fact that many of my colleagues have a high respect for and good working relationships with your MP's.

We have a base on which to build.

New Zealand needs a National/ACT Government.

Today, we live in a country which, despite the best trading conditions in half a lifetime, is merely treading water, readying itself to continue the slide down and off the bottom of the ranks of the OECD as normal trading conditions resume.

A country in which our Prime Minister refuses to use the words "top half of the OECD" and "in the next ten years" in the same sentence.

Today, we live in a country which is obsessed with the re-distribution of wealth, and which has lost both its pride in earning it, and its ability to salute those who do so.

A country which signals to its children that this is the Land of the Lowest Common Denominator, and tells them that if they are to seek better, then they should go elsewhere.

Today, we live in a country in which the relative rights of our various peoples are increasingly defined by a document which was signed in a very different time and for a very different purpose.

A country which now needs to break free from being hostage to its ethnically-focused past, and find a way forward based upon a contemporary sense of shared purpose and aspiration.

Ladies and Gentlemen, these concerns about our country's future are not those of some fringe group of wackos.

These are concerns on the minds of mainstream New Zealanders.

People you and I meet every day.

People who really want to vote for a National/ACT government.

Mainstream New Zealanders who are looking for a solid, clear, coherent alternative to the current Government to emerge from the MMP swamp.

These people did not re-elect a Clark Government last year because the majority of New Zealanders are secretly a bunch of high taxing, welfare promoting, anti-business, Treaty-obsessed Maori separatists.

Mainstream New Zealanders parked their political support with the centre-left in the past two elections in spite of, rather than because of the strong apprehensions they have about this country's direction, as they challenge the parties of the centre-right to present them with a solid, clear, coherent, predictable alternative.

The message of the past two elections is compelling: voters are just not interested in some speculative electoral adventure to see what emerges from the ooze and mists of the MMP swamp.

They want definition and predictability.

And when it's not on offer, they will fashion it for themselves, as we saw from the last minute manufacture of the United Future Party as a customised coalition partner for the obvious election winner.

After many years of slagging each other up hill and down dale, Labour and the Alliance, Helen Clark and Jim Anderton made their new co-operative relationship a centrepiece of their 1999 election campaign.

We, too, National and ACT, must present a strong co-operative face to the electorate as we build towards the 2005 election.

For National and ACT, that task is so much easier than it was for Labour and the Alliance.

We start from a basis, I believe, of not only liking and respecting each other, we hold many core beliefs in common, even though we might debate over matters of degree in terms of specific policy.

So, what am I really proposing?

First and foremost I believe we need to clearly and unambiguously state that we are each other's coalition partner of choice, that we intend to work together for the election of a National/ACT government, and that we intend to demonstrate from our co-operative relationship in opposition, our ability to provide a purposeful and stable government.

That does not exclude entering arrangements with another political party if the arithmetic requires, and at the moment it does.

The current Labour-led Government has had to do that.

But let us be clear about our real preferences in this matter.

If we do not tell the public that we are in business to secure the election of a National/ ACT coalition government and consistently reinforce how important that goal is, then assuredly they will not deliver it for us.

And let us not fool ourselves about how difficult it will be if we, ACT and National, cannot secure sufficient support to govern together.

The policies which will lift this country's economic performance are not simple or unchallenging to implement.

Both public and business confidence must be won and retained.

We will need a clear sense of purpose and skilful management.

I believe we are up to that task.

But add another player, or even two to the mix and the management task gets just that much harder.

Having made a clear public commitment to a National/ACT coalition, there are some obvious areas for co-operation:

First, we need to win more constituency seats.

I know this is an MMP system, and I know that constituency seats don't make a difference to overall representation.

But an incumbent Member of Parliament, two electorate staff, a budget of $61,000 a year and a continuous platform to deliver messages through local media as the local MP do make a difference - a difference to the party vote as well as the constituency vote.

The centre-left parties hold 46 constituencies and the centre-right 21.

The simple fact is that we need better than parity with the centre-left parties in terms of the non-Maori constituency seats if we are to have the platform to hold a centre-right government in office, and we must substantially increase our hold on regional New Zealand.

I realise that the major beneficiaries of such a strategy will, in the nature of our different perspectives, be National candidates.

But I absolutely believe that this is an important component in a strategy for the centre-right to gain and hold office, and to demonstrate a sense of partnership to the electorate.

Co-operation between National and Act in this regard has, in the past, been too little, and almost irresponsibly late - for which, I hasten to add, I place the blame on our side of the relationship.

The sceptics will be quick to identify the odd seat where we will genuinely be in conflict.

We should not let such obstacles deter us.

The Liberals and Nationals in Australia adopt a "may the best person win" approach in seats with no incumbent.

There may be a number of seats where we need to leave matters to the electors to resolve - both parties do, after all, philosophically place confidence in markets to resolve matters of competition.

The base of incumbency across a much larger number of electorates will be an important component in holding a National/ACT government in office.

There are other areas, too, which, in my view, cry out for co-operation.

In Parliament, I believe we have amply demonstrated that the sum of a centre-right opposition holding the Government to account is larger and more menacing than its component parts.

But there is enormous scope for us to broaden and deepen our co-operation in that respect, and to give more structure and form to the operating relationship.

And while we might have differences of degree over policy that is no reason why we should not be able to create joint platforms, and share forums - leveraging off each other as we each market our ideas and profile our people.

It is also my view that, as the term proceeds, we should send some very clear signals as to how two or three key portfolios might be allocated across a National ACT front bench.

That would give the public a clearer picture of the alternative government team, and reinforce that we mean business.

Any inspection of the public opinion polls over time should teach us one critically important lesson.

The political fortunes of ACT and National are inextricably intertwined.

In an MMP environment the public no longer form a discreet view of the political appeal of a single political party.

They examine them in the context of their role as part of a prospective coalition.

And when the centre-right is unable to present a credible package to the public, as was the case in 2002, we all suffer.

It is a problem we share together.

It is a problem we must solve together.

It has become popular in some circles to see the 2005 election as a cakewalk for the Labour Party, with a level of academic interest only in whether the centre-right parties close the gap sufficiently to be in contention in 2008.

I absolutely, totally reject that type of analysis.

The polls at this moment do not look that flash.

But behind those polls is a country which is profoundly disturbed about the direction being taken by its Government.

A country literally waiting to see the centre-right get its act together and lay out the alternative.

As the economy slows down from the quite artificial highs we have seen, New Zealanders will have increasing cause the reflect on whether they can afford a smug complacent government which turns its back on any attempt to dramatically improve our economic performance.

It must be our task to carry this debate - to remind them time and time again that the services we can afford in health and education and elsewhere are of a lower standard than those available in many of the countries we like to compare ourselves to, because that is a genuine reflection of what we can respectively afford.

We must ensure the public understand that the key to paying international salaries to nurses and teachers lies in creating an economy which can afford to do so.

While, in the emerging climate, I believe we will increasingly win the economic debate, it is the cringing political correctness and pre-occupation with Treaty partnership that will leave the Government most out of step with mainstream New Zealand and therefore most vulnerable.

Most New Zealanders realise that we have reached something of a watershed in the way in which we deal with Treaty matters - in the way in which Maori and non-Maori move forward from here.

It is my very strong conviction that there is no acceptable path forward to be found for our country, endlessly interpreting, and even worse, allowing the Courts to interpret, a Treaty which was signed in a very different time, for a very different purpose.

Many of those Maori interests who so vociferously quote the Treaty, are, I suggest, shooting themselves in the foot.

Indeed, they are, in my view, provoking an argument that New Zealand does not really have to have.

Ask any decent fair-minded New Zealander whether we should insist that all young people in this country should get a decent education and good health care to ensure a good start in life and they will agree.

Tell them that they have a Treaty obligation to provide additional funding for one ethnic group to achieve that goal, and you will lose them.

Ask any decent fair-minded New Zealander whether they welcome Maori interests providing wealth and generating jobs in the aquaculture industry and they will agree.

Tell them that this can only happen through some Treaty-based claim to the seabed and foreshore, and you will send them through the roof.

Ask any decent fair-minded New Zealander whether the Maori language is special to this country, and whether we should take steps to maintain it, and they will say, of course.

Tell them that that will require a $55 million dollar a year Maori Television Service and a whole separate Maori programme funding agency and they will tell you it's nuts.

The people who are currently running our country have a very different view about its future from that of mainstream New Zealand.

They see Treaty partnerships being woven into every institution and every process of our public life, including, increasingly, at local government level.

A National ACT Government will be required to unravel that process and roll back those expectations.

The parties of the centre-left and centre-right have very very different views about the path forward for this country.

The mainstream of New Zealand is on our side.

All that stands between us and the ability to take our country down that path is a large amount of hard work, and a considerably higher level of co-operation between our two parties.

I, for one believe that co-operation is overdue.

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