Peter Dunne Speech to Parnell Rotary Club
Peter Dunne Speech to Parnell Rotary Club
7.15am Wednesday, September 3, 2003
English PM Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics, but a year seems to have flown by.
It's hard to believe that just over a year ago, we were all voting in a general election.
It was just over a year ago that we made an agreement to support Labour as a minority government, but reserved the right to disagree on any area of legislation.
Since that time, we have shown that it is possible for the MMP electoral system to produce stable government.
There's a common misconception that we chose Labour over National. There was no choice.
Even if you add up the seats of National, Act and New Zealand First, adding United Future 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 that time.
The election result meant 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.
Given the stated goal of the Greens to bring down the government, we owed it to New Zealanders to support the formation of a government by the highest polling party.
So one of our first goals was to provide what the Greens could not: stable government.
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.
But that does not mean that we support everything that the government puts forward.
Common sense is the yardstick by which we decide whether to support the government's policy, and where it has fallen short we have opposed it.
For United Future, common sense is not compatible with the kind of ideological policy-making that puts the interests of one group of New Zealanders over those of another.
>From our point of view, elements in the current government have attempted to apply this kind of narrow sectional politics to both the social and economic spheres.
In terms of social policy, some within Labour have chosen to override the party's traditional goal of equality of opportunity in favour of a self-anointed role as our moral guardian.
This kind of ideology is reflected in the smoke-free legislation, which is the penultimate step in Labour's agenda to ban smoking altogether, rather than giving adults the facts and letting them decide.
This kind of ideology is reflected in the proposed Civil Union Bill, which aims to make homosexual relationships as close as possible to marriage in the eyes of the law, but ignores the views of the thousands of married couples in this country who haven't been asked whether they think that the special nature of their union should be changed.
And this kind of ideology is reflected in the Care of Children Bill, which has clearly been hijacked by the thought-police within Labour.
Thanks to pressure from United Future, the clause that defines a father in such a way as to include a lesbian partner will now been removed.
Furthermore, we are putting forward an amendment that reasserts our belief that in most cases, it's best for both parents to be involved in a child's upbringing.
However, we are still mindful of the drive within the government to sacrifice this principle in favour of creating new and artificial legal relationships with children.
Elements of this government want to change the way in which we think about social norms.
They forget that 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 those same people might ask themselves where is the demand for these kinds of radical social reform...
While kids are still able to leave school without learning to read or write...
While the sick still have to wait for hours, months or even years to get the treatment they need...
And while burglary victims consider themselves fortunate if they get a visit from an overstretched police force on the same day they were violated?
Perhaps the most telling aspect of this agenda is the message it sends to the country about priorities.
Political correctness is being put before measures that could actually have a real impact on people's lives.
In its first term, Labour was able to assure everyone that it was neither a scary socialist nor a rabid Rogernomics government,
But now that it has won more time in office, Labour is under pressure to deliver to its activists.
And that pressure is beginning to take form in the kind of trendy lefty 'pink think' that I've outlined above.
But it would be a mistake to think that pink think is confined to social policy.
It's also been driving a whole raft of policy decisions that relate to the economy.
There is a mounting perception that the government seems to think businesses take more than they give.
There seems to be a real mistrust of business, fuelled by the unionists.
Take employment law as an example.
The Health and Safety legislation that United Future opposed last year introduced stress as a workplace hazard, meaning that bosses are now liable if it all gets a bit too much for their employees.
Stress is not defined, yet employers are supposed to be able to recognise it when it occurs and deal with it, lest they are driven out of business by grossly inflated fines.
But when it comes to training workplace representatives about the new rules, guess who got the contract?
The Combined Trade Unions of course.
Now there's the Holidays Bill, currently before Parliament.
The law relating to leave is long in need of an overhaul, but instead of simply updating and simplifying it, the government have taken the opportunity to add a whole bunch of new entitlements for workers, such as time-and-a-half on public holidays.
The Bill also extends sick and bereavement leave provisions, so that an employee can take a whole week of sick leave without providing any evidence.
All of this will cost businesses, but the rationale is purely ideological.
Redistribution, rather than growth, is the real agenda, and employers will be footing the bill.
Put simply, the government wants to improve the lot of workers by taking money from their bosses.
The taxpayer is also in for a shock because we shouldn't forget that indirectly we are also employers.
For example, the Auckland District Health Board alone has calculated that the Holidays Bill will cost it at least $1.25 million a year in extra pay for doctors on salaries and staff on casual contracts, because these agreements do not include allowances for working on public holidays.
And if Matt Robson's Four Weeks' Leave Bill gets through then we can expect these costs to climb even higher.
Sure, it would be great if everyone could have four weeks' leave, but we believe that it's a matter for employees to negotiate, whether individually or collectively with employers.
That kind of good faith bargaining is supposed to be the intent of the Employment Relations Act, the government's own law.
United Future believes that a return to the bad old days of state-imposed awards actually undermines the ability for workers and bosses to negotiate freely and with maximum flexibility.
That's why we should all be watching the outcome of the government's review of the ERA very carefully.
There's a real danger that in its attempt to promote collective bargaining, the review of the ERA will actually tip the scales so far in favour of the unions that people will be forced to join.
That has always been my fear about Labour's long-term industrial relations agenda, ever since the ERA was first mooted in the early 1990s as a replacement for the Employment Contracts Act.
We've already seen PSA members in government departments getting extra payments for their union's 'constructive approach' to contract negotiations.
How can freedom of association, a fundamental human right, be truthfully maintained when exerting the right not to belong hits you in the pocket?
These are direct examples of the government's moves to impose costs on enterprise to reward their union supporters.
But more generally, it's pretty clear that successive governments have treated businesses as if they were the government's money machine.
In the absence of large industrial wastelands belching pollutants into the atmosphere, New Zealand farmers are being punished by default for successfully managing livestock through the flatulence tax, just so the government can look like it's doing its bit by the Kyoto Protocol.
These same farmers can't even get an exemption if they plant trees on their land, which would counter-act the build-up of greenhouse emissions.
Add this to increasing in taxes on petrol, climbing levies on ACC, and new levies on industries like export education, wool and wine growers, and you get the feeling that sometimes business is none of the government's business.
Businesses are also being shut out of potentially opportunities due to an ideological belief that there are some things that only the state should do.
The Corrections Bill makes some reasonable changes to the ways in which prisons are managed but also rules out private prisons, despite the success of the privately-run Auckland Remand Prison.
Why? The Minister believes that running prisons is something that only the state should do, regardless of whether they do it effectively or efficiently.
The education sector is another example.
Last year we opposed the Tertiary Education Reform Bill, which promoted a statist tertiary education system that centralised too much power in the hands of the Minister, and punished private education providers for their success.
Once again, ideology blinds the government through losing sight of the idea that although the state should set the standards of public service, it does not necessarily mean that they are best suited to deliver on them.
Just last month, we had a situation in Wellington where the public hospital couldn't cope with demand for surgical services. Wakefield Hospital, a private institution, offered to take some of their patients at a special rate which I gather was lower than the cost to the public hospital, but the DHB refused.
Now while that may uphold some high-minded ideal about how services should be delivered, it almost certainly meant that those patients had to wait unnecessarily to be treated.
And perhaps they're still waiting.
It's time for the government to stop seeing the private sector as the problem, or dare I say it, the enemy, and instead be open to the idea that it should be part of a solution.
It's time for the government to stop unfairly burdening businesses and other wealth creators with additional costs and compliance headaches, in some misguided attempt to raise the minima by lowering the maxima.
But it's also time for Labour to realise that it won't be able to secure another term if it lets the ideological ambitions of some of its members hold sway.
United Future is happy to help the government become better acquainted with the concept of good old-fashioned common sense.
Since the election last year, United Future has supported Labour when its plans to improve the core role of government have made good sense.
Unfortunately the cards that the voters dealt out at the election also mean that the left within the government can always turn to the Greens to advance both their narrow social and their economic agenda, when United Future does not back it.
But I want to leave you with something else to consider.
What sort of government would we have if there was no United Future?
If some of the ideologically driven policies that are being pursued by the government leave you cold, imagine what would happen if Labour was totally reliant on the Greens.
The way in which the Greens have behaved throughout the GM debate gives a timely and sobering clue.
A government beholden to the prejudices of Jeanette Fitzsimons and Nandor Tanczos, possibly even having them at the Cabinet table, would not be a government in which any true New Zealander could place any confidence or credibility.
That would give every hand-wringing sickly white liberal within both parties the opportunity to put in place the kinds of policies that would give new meaning to the term political correctness.
If the electoral mathematics turn out a bit differently, imagine a flinty National/ACT government without the social conscience that United Future could bring to the party, and reliant instead on the "scratch the prejudice of the day" approach of New Zealand First.
A government without United Future would be a government beholden to the extremes.
MMP needs a credible party in the middle, working constructively with the government to moderate its legislation by ensuring that common sense solutions prevail, and achieving so much more than all the Opposition parties put together.
There would also be no party rising above the noise of the others to actually put forward some positive proposals to government, 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.
United Future's role is to be that party - to make the system work.
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.
The record of other parties in similar positions in the past has been to play fast and loose with the country's interests if they do not get their way by holding the government to ransom.
Despite our points of difference with the government, United Future is dedicated to providing political stability when it has been in such short supply to date under MMP.
That is why, just over a year ago, 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.
Without United Future, this country will have no united future.