Dunne Address to the United Future NZ Party Board
Peter Dunne Address to the United Future NZ Party Board
On Friday (Eds: August 8), United Future will celebrate the first anniversary of the signing of its confidence and supply agreement with the government.
In that time we have shown that it is possible for the MMP electoral system to produce stable government.
Past governing agreements have either been too prescriptive and restrictive, in the case of National and NZ First following the first MMP election, or have not secured enough policy 'wins' for the minor party in the relationship, as in the case of Labour and the Alliance in the last parliamentary term.
As the foundations of these coalitions, the agreements played a contributing role in the inability of these governments to survive a full parliamentary term intact.
I believe that the confidence and support agreement we signed with the government on 8 August 2002 has struck a much better balance.
After the election we immediately recognised that a full coalition would have been an unwise choice. We needed to secure some breathing space, to give our new MPs time to establish themselves and more time to consolidate our success at the election.
At the same time, given the stated goal of the Greens to bring down the government, we also knew that we owed it to New Zealanders to support the formation of a government by the highest polling party.
Thus one of our first imperatives was to provide what the Greens could not: stable government.
The cards that the voters dealt out at the election mean that the only other viable government arrangement - apart from the current confidence and supply arrangement with United Future - would have been one in which Labour was totally reliant on the Greens.
There's a common misconception that we chose Labour over National. There was no choice.
Even if a coalition could have been built between the disparate forces of National, Act and New Zealand First, the addition of our support would have only given the centre-right 57 seats, and that's not enough.
In a 120 seat parliament you need at least 61 seats to govern, and Labour was the only party capable of commanding a majority at this time.
By rescuing Labour from the Greens, in the past year United Future has shown that it is the responsible party that people have been looking for under MMP.
In the year to 4 July, the government has enacted 57 pieces of legislation, of which United Future has supported 51, or 89%, at third reading.
To put this in perspective, the fact that National also supported 33 of these bills (58%) highlights the fact that the majority were not contentious.
The Greens have supported 44 bills (77%). More importantly, they have expressed no confidence in the government on no fewer than three occasions, including the final reading of the budget debate on Wednesday.
United Future takes its role as the underwriter of stability seriously, but this has not been the only outcome of the agreement signed a year ago.
Despite only having eight MPs out of a parliament of 120, United Future has also shown itself to be a party of influence.
In return for our support, the agreement required the government to work with United Future to:
* develop proposals by the end of the year for a Commission for the Family;
* pass strong victims' rights legislation by the end of the year;
* ensure that new transport legislation is introduced and passed that included provisions for alternative funding options to facilitate the accelerated development of new roading infrastructure.
The Government also undertook not to introduce legislation to change the legal status of cannabis, and to implement a comprehensive drug strategy aimed at protecting young people and educating them on the dangers of drug use.
After just one year, we have already achieved or made excellent progress on the major terms of that agreement.
After getting $28 million of funding over four years in the budget, the Families Commission will soon be established to ensure that all government legislation will be tested against its impact on families.
Family breakdown costs New Zealand literally millions of dollars a year, and this investment in the health of our families will prove to be one of the best investments any government has ever made.
United Future's support also meant that the long-delayed Victims' Rights Act, welcomed by victims' rights support groups throughout the country, could be passed.
We also lobbied for an increase in funding for Victim Support, which subsequently received an additional $2 million in the budget to establish a new district structure.
United Future also working closely with the government to ensure that the new land transport legislation does provide local communities with the option to bypass Transfund, and seek alternative funding for major projects that will help to unclog congestion.
Just this week, the Justice Minister has reiterated in Parliament the government's intention not to change the legal status of cannabis, in line with our agreement.
And rather than simply focus on drugs law, we are making good progress on a drugs strategy targeting youth. At a time when methamphetamines are the biggest threat to the minds of our young people, and the safety of others, we need this kind of multi-faceted approach now more than ever.
However, United Future's influence has extended beyond the scope of its formal agreement with the government, including:
* Initiating a select committee inquiry in the implementation of the NCEA examinations system.
* Lobbying successfully for more money for schools and NZQA to implement NCEA, to overcome the deficiencies identified by the select committee inquiry.
* Tidying up the clumsy and expensive board structure originally proposed for Television New Zealand and its subsidiary companies
* Enabling the government to pass much needed amendments to the Resource Management Act that had previously been stalled for over three years. Amongst other changes, this ensured that meaningless terms like "spiritual", "cultural landscapes", and "ancestral landscapes" were deleted from the proposed legislation so they couldn't result in further uncertainty and delay for resource consent applicants.
· Seeking a reduction of taxation on employer-funded superannuation schemes, which was then implemented by this year's budget.
· Arguing for more resources for the Treaty settlements process to reflect the desire by all New Zealanders to see these claims resolved expeditiously and fairly. As a result, the Office of Treaty Settlements and the Waitangi Tribunal received additional funding in the budget directed specifically at means by which the claims process can be accelerated.
Because of the successful and pragmatic relationship we have been able to maintain with the government, we have been able to achieve much more than all the Opposition parties put together.
Naturally, there are many more programmes we would like to have seen delivered, but as the party of commonsense, we recognise that the voters gave us 8 out of 120 votes in Parliament and we are realistic in our goals.
However, that commonsense is also the yardstick by which we decide whether to support the government's policy, and where it has fallen short the support agreement has given us the freedom to oppose it.
For United Future, commonsense is not compatible with overtly-ideological policy-making that puts the interests of one group of New Zealanders over those of another.
Returning to the data I referred to earlier on the number of government bills that we have supported, the legislation that we opposed clearly fails the commonsense test.
In the case of the Climate Change Response Bill, the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill, the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Amendment Bill, and the Minimum Wage Amendment Bill, the government was looking to unfairly burden businesses and other wealth creators with additional costs and compliance headaches.
The Tertiary Education Reform Bill showed that Labour was prepared to revert to type by promoting a statist tertiary education system that centralised too much power in the hands of the Minister and punished private education providers for their success.
The Maori Television Bill was a prime example of the government's tendency to indulge minority interests for what we predict will prove to be a huge waste of taxpayers' money.
Those were some of the battles of the past year, and no doubt the government will continue to produce legislation that imposes costs on enterprise in their effort to reward their supporters.
And United Future will continue to oppose the ideological elements of the government's programme that attempts to raise the minima by lowering the maxima.
But more recently, we have been concerned about another ideological tendency, and it is a tendency for Labour to move away from its traditional role as protector of the underdog and promoter of equality of opportunity, towards a self-anointed role as our moral guardian.
Trouble is, people voted Labour for its policies, not for its prejudices.
People vote for a government that will reflect what the electorate thinks, not to tell it what to think.
And while political correctness within Labour has increasingly become the norm, it's not what I hear when I talk with people outside Wellington.
For example, the smoke free legislation currently before parliament appears to be the penultimate step in Labour's agenda to ban smoking altogether.
But does the government need to force people to stop when education campaigns have already led to such a drastic reduction in the number of smokers, by simply giving people the facts and letting them decide?
Then there's the recent move by Labour to adopt the Civil Union Bill as government policy, which aims to make homosexual relationships as close as possible to marriage in the eyes of the law.
Marriage is a cultural institution that also exists outside narrow legal definition, but the government intends to force a change through legislative fiat.
Who asked the married people of this country that the special nature of their union should be changed?
Where is the demand for these kinds of radical social reform?
Perhaps the most telling aspect of this agenda is the message it sends to the country about the government's priorities.
People could quite rightly ask why this Bill is being promoted ahead of measures that could actually have a demonstrable impact on their lives, such as the need to put more police on our streets.
The need to make sure that kids do not leave school until they can read and write.
Or the need to ensure that the sick get the treatment they need without waiting for hours, months or even years.
The Care of Children Bill is yet another example. There is no doubt that our guardianship laws are in need of a radical overhaul.
But United Future cannot support a bill that's clearly been hijacked by the thought-police within Labour.
A 'father' is defined in such a sloppy way as to include the lesbian partner of a mother.
After just a month in a relationship with a custodial parent, a person could apply for guardianship of a child.
How is it that it takes three years in a relationship before you can claim your partner's sofa under the Property Relationships Act, but only a month to take on a pivotal role to a child's life?
United Future is acutely aware that children do best when both mum and dad are involved in their upbringing, and we strongly believe that the Care of Children Bill needs to focus on ensuring that this happens, rather than creating new and artificial legal relationships with children.
All of these attempts by elements within Labour to tell us how to live adds up to 'pink think' of the worst kind.
What's also clear is that they appear to be willing to use legislation to force New Zealanders to see things their way, and in doing so they have willing accomplices in the Greens.
Those who would accuse United Future of doing little to stop this ignore the cold hard fact of electoral mathematics, and that is the nature of democracy.
But United Future can make a difference by alerting New Zealanders to the kinds of changes that Labour is trying to foist upon them, and the fact that they are putting these ahead of the core responsibilities that people expect of the government.
It's traditional that paper is the gift on a first anniversary.
Our paper gift to the government will not be a one-off present.
United Future intends to celebrate this anniversary throughout the coming year by showering the government with gifts.
Some of the pieces of paper that we give to Labour will let them know that we support their measures, but only where they improve the core role of government and when they make common sense.
But it's very likely that they will be accompanied by many other pieces of paper, which propose changes that we think would improve the government's plans.
Just as we have over the previous twelve months, moderating legislation through hard work, negotiation and commonsense.
Then there are the pieces of paper that the government will receive from us outlining what else we think the government should be doing, such as tax relief for hard-working families and business people, and freeing up more of the petrol excise to fund the changes to the transport infrastructure that the country so desperately needs.
Finally, there are other pieces of paper that we will be delivering to the government, giving them the message that we will not be supporting their more extreme measures.
Think of it as a 'things not to do' list, and you can be sure that it will include the kinds of ideologically-driven pink think that I referred to just before.
But I want to leave you with this thought. In raising our objections to government proposals, some of which have been echoed in the media over the last week, not one commentator has seen this as a sign that the agreement with the government will collapse.
More than any other party under MMP, we have shown that it is possible to make a stand against the government on a number of issues without the sky falling on its head.
United Future has shown that we won't play fast and loose with the country's interests if we don't get our way by holding the government to ransom.
Unlike other parties, we do not try to argue that we can work constructively with the government on matters of common cause, and then move a vote of no confidence in it.
We are honest brokers.
MMP Government is all about negotiation, consultation, and sometimes agreeing to disagree where basic principles collide.
That is why, twelve months ago on Friday, United Future agreed to guarantee New Zealand three years of stable government, while retaining the ability to pursue policies that will change the country for the better for much much longer.