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Prebble: Labour is Undermining the Constitution

Richard Prebble's Speech: Labour is Undermining the Constitution

Speech to Wellington Regional Conference Museum Hotel Conference Room Wakefield Street, Wellington 9:30 am, Saturday 2 August 2003

This is ACT's first regional conference of 2003 and the first since the election.

ACT has had its strongest 12 months following an election. ACT's polling support has remained strong and our membership has increased. ACT leads in

e-politics and the subscriptions to our email newsletter has continued to rise to truly spectacular numbers.

Party membership, instead of falling off in the year following an election, has risen by a third.

All indications that ACT is going to play a crucial role in the next election.

Why is ACT prospering?

A number of reasons. Partly the quality of ACT's Members of Parliament. I lead the quality team and ACT is the effective opposition. ACT continues to provide fresh ideas and positive practical solutions.

There are three issues where ACT is providing a clear alternative.

The first is the issue of tax. Labour is financing its America's Cup sponsorship, Maori TV, separate race spending by increasing significantly the tax that those who are in work pay.

Labour has increased tax two ways. First a raft of stealth taxes. The latest being a tax on the flatulence on cows and sheep. The fart tax. No matter that farmers were promised that such a tax would never occur. No matter that urban city rubbish dumps are major methane producers. No matter that Labour has nationalised the carbon credits of forestry owners. ACT' s Gerry Eckhoff is leading the campaign in parliament against this stealth tax.

Labour's second tax increase is by simply allowing inflation to push more and more families into the top tax bracket. Labour's credit card promise was no more than 5 percent of earners in the 39 cent bracket. Now 18 percent of all workers are paying the 39 cent tax rate.

If you work for a living, if you have no Maori blood and will not imagine that you are Maori, this government has done nothing for you. Hospital waiting lists are longer, there is no school choice, you pay more tax to fill up your car and you are unlikely to watch Maori TV.

If you are a job creator and you run a small business not only are you paying the highest rate of company tax in the Asia/Pacific region you face a wall of red tape from OSH, to ACC, the Labour relations act to the IRD's many forms.

No wonder there is rising resentment from taxpayers.

ACT, with our policy of a simple, fair, flat tax and a bonfire of regulations, is seen by the electorate as having the best tax policies.

This is not a piece of puffery.

The exit poll after the last election conducted by Auckland University Professor, Jack Vowles of 5000 randomly selected voters, found more voters - over 37 percent - believe ACT has the best policies on tax.

More voters also prefer ACT's approach to the issues of law, crime, order and justice.

The issue of the rule of law and Labour's arrogant view that it can trample over constitutional conventions are becoming key concerns to the nation.

The rule of law is an issue where ACT is taking the lead.

We liberals believe in individual rights and freedoms. Choice and personal responsibility are only possible in a society with the rule of law. For property rights we need order.

Liberals believe that the rule of law applies to both the governed and government. The Labour government believes it is above the law and its 40 percent vote at the last election is a mandate to alter longstanding constitutional conventions.

In a country with no written constitution an unscrupulous government can turn the nation into a police state. That's not my claim. What I do claim is that Labour is creating two nations and different laws for different races. A South Pacific apartheid.

Labour is making a comprehensive attack on our constitutional rights. A bill to abolish our right of appeal to the Privy Council. A new Margaret Wilson Court of Appeal where at least one judge is selected on racial grounds. A bill next week in urgency to elect an MP.

Since our parliament was founded no MP can take an action of allegiance to a foreign power. Harry Duynhoven says that to apply that law to him is to insult New Zealand's 70 thousand citizens of Dutch origin.

Not so. The Dutch are among New Zealand's most admired and law abiding citizens.

It is an insult to the Dutch for Mr Duynhoven to claim that his act in taking out Dutch citizenship contrary to the Electoral Act was anything more than an act to benefit himself.

If an MP took out Cuban or North Korean citizenship we would be outraged.

Who believes a special retrospective law would be rushed through under urgency to benefit an ACT MP?

It may well be that Mr Duynhoven would win a by-election. That's the prerogative of the people of new Plymouth.

If it's Labour's view that elections should be cancelled because they are inconvenient and expensive, why bother with general elections in safe seats.

One thing Labour won't be doing is declaring Kelly Chal an MP; she was the United Future candidate who lost her seat despite being elected last election over a citizenship issue.

Will Labour act to assist Nick Smith who is facing expulsion from parliament? Nick Smith was not trying to get himself a personal privilege. He was speaking out about an injustice in the family court concerning a constituent.

Labour is applying one law for a Labour MP and a different law for other parties.

Incidentally, do not expect Labour's doormat, the United Party, to protest. A United MP explained to me that Kelly Chal has joined the Destiny Church so Peter Dunne has excommunicated her From United Future.

Which brings me to the issue of the moment, the foreshore and seabed.

Labour has promised to introduce legislation and Labour's Pete Hodgson has pledged that Labour, to quote him, "is good at these sorts of solutions," is going to reveal to us this week the result of their secret deliberations, their solution to the seabed claim.

Labour has got into this mess because the government has no clear set of principles or any attachment to the rule of law.

ACT alone has been in parliament on this issue the calm voice of reason.

The problem with being a government that's driven by focus groups and polling is that, as David Lange famously observed, one becomes a poll driven fruitcake.

Helen Clark saw the public opinion poll results and panicked. She promised legislation to prevent Maori going to court without any consideration of the consequences of such a stance.

Let me be clear. The poll results are devastating.

Focus group polling by ACT confirms New Zealander's deep passion for the beach and the sea. It's our core belief that one of the things we love about this country is that in New Zealand anyone is free to go down to the beach and enjoy a million dollar view.

Whether we are rich or poor, we can in this country wander along a beach and may be the only one on it. A great experience. I chose a beach near my home in West Auckland to symbolise ACT's love of freedom for ACT's television election statement. There were photos of myself, my wife Doreen, our niece Diana and my two dogs, Boston and Gus.

How it has all changed.

Having two large dogs makes me a second-class citizen. And it seems to choose a beach to symbolise what's wrong with Labour I was being prophetic.

This is a matter that, if Labour had applied principle and leadership, would be a non-issue.

The Court of Appeal did not rule that Maori own the nation's beaches or the seabed. Every judge expressed real doubt over the claim. All the judges ruled is that every New Zealander, including Maori, have the right to their day in court to ask for a legal ruling on their property.

ACT supports that right.

I thought it was wonderful to see a Maori radical saying on TV in response to some middle aged protestors in Nelson, "What's the country coming to? We need the rule of law".

Let me say also that I do not believe that customary usage rights mean Maori owns the foreshore. Customary usage is a very poor title. Such a title is lost unless it has been in continuous use. When I was walking along Bethals beach filming ACT's TV commercial we did not see signs saying "Private Property, to walk on this beach you need the approval of the local iwi."

It is correct that Parliament needs to undo a law passed in the 1990s - Sir Douglas Graham is a man who has done a lot of damage - giving the Maori Land Court the right to convert customary rights into a permanent exclusive title. That piece of folly needs to be undone.

What we should not support is National's knee-jerk reaction. Legislation declaring all beaches crown property does not stand up to a moment's analysis. What about wharves, jetties? If the sea erodes your property, does the crown also nationalise your title? Is National saying that marine farmers cannot get some sort of title to their farms? It is a shame that National no longer has respect for property.

Labour's solution is even worse. It's a repeat of the Maori fishing claim. Labour intends to legislate that no legal claims can be made to the foreshore and seabed and then decide to make Maori `guardian' of our beaches and to recognise customary claims by the expansive use of the taxpayers' chequebook.

Maori have ended up owning nearly half of all fishing quota because the Lange Labour government would not let the fishing issue go to the courts.

There is no way that Orange Roughy fishing quota are a customary Maori fishing right - yet Maori now own such quota.

The Waitangi fishing claim has been a goldmine for lawyers and ordinary Maori have yet to see a snapper. Labour's proposed foreshore settlement is just as faulty.

ACT's solution is superior because it is principled and practical. The government should say that it is in the national interest there be free access to the beaches and crown ownership of the seabed. In the unlikely event of any one winning a court declaration of any customary title in conflict with public ownership, then and only then, will the Crown purchase the title in just the same way as land is bought for a public road. As simple as that, end of story.

This issue is important because the first responsibility of government is providing the rule of law.

Our jails hold far too many young Maori males. Where is the state authority if Maori can say, the courts are open to us only as criminals to be charged, but not as citizens to exercise our rights?

Crime is a major issue. New Zealand is not the law-abiding nation we like to think. Crime, including street crime, sexual offences and violence, is rising. Over 13 percent since Labour took office.

The last UN survey that this country participated in, of 70 nations, revealed New Zealand had the highest level of reported crime. The second highest rate of criminal convictions, third for drug offences, fourth highest for car thefts and burglaries, and the fifth highest rate of assaults.

We have a crime-ridden society. Far higher crime than any state in Australia. Both the two old parties really believe that crime is just part of modern society. A fact of life. They are wrong.

ACT has a very positive message. Crime can be successfully tackled. Of course there will always be crime because we are imperfect. But the level of crime can be lowered by good public policy.

What is required is a change in attitude.

Labour's ideological belief is that criminals' behaviour is the fault of society. That the criminal is also a victim. It's their no fault approach that has led Labour to legislate to remove punishment from the law; to let out offenders early and Labour's belief that `prison does not work'.

ACT has a different view. ACT believes that adults have the freedom to make choices and must be responsible for those choices. People who choose to do bad things that harm others must be held accountable. That is at the heart of ACT's alternative policy.

ACT is proposing a five point plan.

Zero tolerance , or as it is sometimes known, broken windows, active New York type policing. This approach has reduced New York crime by 50 percent. In cities like Middlesbrough in Britain where it has been trialled the results are just as impressive.

End parole. 49 percent of violent offenders re-offend within a year.

Strict release conditions on released prisoners, like non-association orders for gang members.

DNA profiling for repeat offenders and

A sex offenders register so the community can safeguard itself.

ACT's approach is based on the knowledge that active policing works but so does prison. It's said and correctly that New Zealand has a high rate of imprisonment, second in the OECD to the USA and we have much higher crime levels than European countries like France so they say it follows prisons do not work.

I have heard Ministry of Justice officials say this to successive governments. It's a case of how statistics can mislead. It has led the New Zealand government to legislate to instruct the court to use any other penalty where possible rather than prison. The average number of convictions before the court sentences an offender to jail is now 20. Most citizens are never convicted of a criminal offence. 20 times an offender is convicted and gets a number of family group conferences, then diversion, then a number of fines which he doesn't pay, then community service which he does not perform, then periodic detention, and finally jail.

By then the offender has learnt that crime does pay. The prison sentence is less than two years and he is out in just a third of the sentence, having been well fed and never been fitter - ready for a life of crime.

Other countries with far lower crime levels are much more willing to send offenders to jail and for a very long time.

New Zealand in a UN survey was the least likely country to use imprisonment. Has our soft approach worked? No it has not! Our jails are full and we have rising crime.

The evidence is that the way to reduce our prison population is to send a message - do crime and you will do time. If criminals thought that if they commit crime they are likely to be sent to jail, that would influence behaviour. Prisons work for another reason. It is hard to offend when in jail.

Labour won't change its policies even though they are failing. We must campaign to reverse Labour's policies.

As an MP I am asked to attend meetings organised by Sensible Sentencing. There I meet the victims of crime. People who have lost their loved ones to crime had their lives shattered by appalling acts of violence. Their quality of life has been destroyed. Crime is a plague.

Thousands are prisoners in their own homes, fearful of venturing into their own neighbourhood.

Reducing crime significantly - like they have in New York - would immediately lift the quality of life of all New Zealanders but ironically have the most benefit for Labour's hardened supporters. It's a campaign we are conducting for the whole nation.

ACT members, over the next month will be delivering over 300,000 letters into the nation's letterboxes.

I thank you for your efforts. Be assured this is a campaign that ACT will win.

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