Dunne Speech to Canterbury Manufacturers Assoc.
Dunne Speech to Canterbury Manufacturers Association
Hon Peter Dunne Leader, United Future NZ Speech to Canterbury Manufacturers Association
5pm, Tuesday, 23 September, 2003
Ladies and gentlemen, I come here today convinced that we have a lot to offer each other.
I come to my home town, knowing that we don't want to disappoint each other; and knowing that you are hard-nosed pragmatists whose ability to survive, let alone flourish, is linked to those very traits.
Likewise, we politicians live under just such a sword - deliver the goods or perish. And in politics, as in business, that demise can be both sudden and spectacular!
So then you would think that we would both want to be sharp, wouldn't you?
You would think that we would both put at the top of our list of priorities the canny knack, the intuitive understanding that allows us to back winners - be they ideas, principles or people.
So on that note, I would like to deliver to you today a few constructive thoughts, a little history, a disarmingly simple question and - just between friends - a metaphorical clip around the ears!
Let me for a moment enter the murky world of misconceptions and preconceptions. We don't want to dwell there too long for they have been the undoing of many a business and not a few political parties.
But here are three that we can deal with and dispose of this afternoon:
1. Business is bad and business people are greedy.
2. United Future, with its 'family party' credentials, cannot be business-friendly
3. ACT will one day actually deliver something, somewhere to someone in business.
Points one and two, we can dismiss out of hand: you know you're good people, and let me tell you, so do I, and so does United Future.
You know you're hard-working Kiwis competing in a tough world, quite literally building and constructing a future, employing many New Zealanders and driving our economy - and United Future knows that too.
I have just returned from the WTO meeting in Cancun, reinforced in my view of the importance of global economic inter-dependence, and the consequent need for New Zealand to be as sharp and tightly focussed as any country in the pursuit of our international trade objectives.
And, yes, United Future is a family party and makes no apologies for that - but we are also clearly and definitively a party focussed on creating an environment for business to operate in - and 12 months into this parliamentary term we have the credentials to prove it.
After all, the key to promoting family friendly policies is having a sound and prosperous economic environment within which to achieve those objectives.
We have already achieved some considerable success, with just eight MPs, in influencing the current Government in positive directions, in knocking the rough edges off legislation, and at times, simply forcing woolly government thinking right out the door.
And that brings me to point three:
The perceived wisdom in some misguided quarters that ACT is the party of business, and will achieve something for you, the business drivers, the producers and the employers of our society.
Let us spend a minute or two analysing what ACT has done for you and for New Zealand - for a minute or two is all it will take.
Well, the first thing about any group that would claim to be the 'party of business' is, to put it bluntly, that it must do the business. And ACT clearly has not.
Elements of the commercial world might like what they hear from ACT, hence the huge financial backing it has had going into the last three elections, but its unelectable right-wing ideology means its influence over the last nine years has been zero - hardly a good return on that substantial financial investment.
Only about one in twenty people ever have or ever will subscribe to its far right agenda.
So that, my friends, brings me to a gentle clip around the ears: It is time that business faced up to that reality. It is time that business demanded a return on its investment. It is time that business backed a winner.
Being hard-headed is necessary in business and it is equally good in politics. It's time to tell Mr Prebble that it's 'three strikes and you're out'.
Business can no more afford to clutch to its chest an ideological 'security-blanket', than can a Labour government.
We challenge them, and now I challenge you.
Business needs champions to do their best for it, not mere political sloganeers who will do no more than make a lot of noise from the permanent comfort of the sideline.
When business looks for common sense, United Future will deliver it. When business looks for political stability, United Future will deliver it.
It's just a little over a year now since 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.
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.
With the Green's anti-trade, anti-progress attitudes that would have us travelling around on foot or bicycles owned by the transport collective, smoking dope as the wind ruffles our dreadlocks, New Zealand would have been - and runs the risk of being so in the future - brought to its knees if they were anywhere near the levers of government, let alone if Nandor Tanczos was sitting at the Cabinet table.
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 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.
We've applied it in areas of social policy where we have moved strongly to see that Government implements policy not prejudice. And this has been demonstrated in our staunch opposition to a number of its more politically correct social policies.
As New Zealanders, I am sure that we would find strong support among you in our fight against 'Pink think' social engineering of a second-term Labour Government.
And as New Zealanders in business, I am sure you are well aware that this 'pink think' is not 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 business takes more than it gives.
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 has 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 foot 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 was 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 flexibly.
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 trying to promote collective bargaining, the review 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, exist when exercising 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 a government 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.
And even if you are foolish enough to accept this ridiculous logic, these same farmers can't even get an exemption if they plant trees on their land, which would counteract the build-up of greenhouse emissions.
Add this to increasing taxes on petrol, climbing ACC levies, and new levies on industries such as 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 potential 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 prisons are managed but then rules out private prisons, despite the undeniable 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 it is best suited to deliver on them.
Recently, we had a situation in Wellington where the public hospital couldn't cope with the 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 ideology over common sense every time, and it's what United Future is fighting in Parliament day-in and day-out. And let me tell you, we are winning many of those battles.
It's time the Government stopped seeing the private sector as the problem, or dare I say it, the enemy, and instead opened up to the idea that it should be part of a solution.
It's time the Government stopped 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.
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 backed Labour when its policies to improve the core role of government made good sense, and has fought them when all that would result was the further burden of increased compliance costs to business.
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 economic agendas, 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 were no United Future?
If some of the ideologically driven policies that are being pursued by the Government leave you cold today, then picture if you dare, a Labour Government totally reliant on the Greens.
Look at the way the Greens have behaved throughout the GM debate and you get a timely and sobering clue as to what you might be facing today without United Future.
A government beholden to the prejudices of Jeanette Fitzsimons and Nandor Tanczos would not be a government in which any true New Zealander could place any confidence.
That would give every hand-wringing liberal within both parties the chance to put in place policies that would give 'political correctness' a whole new meaning. Now picture yourself doing business in that environment.
If the electoral mathematics had turned 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 Winston and his prejudice of the day.
A government without United Future would be a government beholden to the extremes. New Zealand doesn't need extremes, and business doesn't either.
What this country needs and what business needs are not two different things. A community thrives and a business thrives on the same basis - constructive, open, sensible government that provides stability.
The formula is a simple one. United Future is the party that delivers it.
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.
It needs a party championing 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.
But more importantly than espousing those values, it needs a party in a position to help deliver them.
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, and without running off and threatening to bring it down.
Now that's a first for MMP too.
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.
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.