Wellington Central, Quite Frankly
Wellington Central, Quite Frankly
Standing for Wellington Central, Candidate Confirmation Speech, Museum Hotel
Last year, as we headed into an early election, some of you asked me why I was standing again. Good friends wanted to know whether I had come to my senses. Had the mid-life crisis that lifted me from my comfortable berth in legal practice run its course?
They wanted to know whether the frustrations of Parliament and minority opposition backbench life had started to outweigh the satisfaction. Is being the subject of letters to the editor better than drafting futile letters that are never sent, and fuming about the idiocy so plain in politicians?
Now, of course, I am committing to another three years after 2005. It is a time for reflection. I have been thinking about, and taking stock of, the causes that propelled me to Parliament. Was I realistic then? Has the help I've sought and been given - from my family and friends, and Cathy in particular - been made worthwhile?
I was full of idealism when I told Sir Roger Douglas that I would accept nomination. Cathy bought Pam Corkery's bitter little book about why she bailed out of Parliament early. Cathy thought it might shock some sense into me. The book was influential. But idealism feeds on adversity. The mortifications so described with Corkery's wicked pen seemed just part of the price, something to be endured.
In fact, Corkery's picture was accurate, but it was all shades of black and grey. Precisely the same incidents and experiences have been largely pleasurable for me. Turning up to a little hall, in some remote town, to find five loyal supporters and a drunk is not nearly so discouraging when those supporters are among the most exciting and enterprising citizens in their area. For Pam, the Alliance message would have drawn out the community's whingers - those who always believe they have been short-changed by a conspiracy of the more successful and by failure of the Government. ACT members, however, are interesting.
ACT members are generous and public-spirited. They generally do not ask what I can do for them. They want to know what we, together, can do for New Zealand.
I've worked with people who knew so much about the electorate from the exciting days of Richard Prebble's Wellington campaigns. I didn't know them then, but know them well now. People who email me with pertinent questions, or who send encouraging praise, or those who send cheques. They have all invested in ACT, its mission and in the part we have to play in lifting our country's sights.
Sometimes there is criticism born of frustration. Why don't' you just ...? Why isn't anyone pointing out ...? The whole country is just waiting for ...? I used to hear the criticism "populist". It isn't around now. Nor should it be.
It was such a bizarre charge in any event. I think we vote more often on things we know will lose us votes than we do on Bills we expect to be approved.
I do not think for one moment that voting to lift the GE Moratorium will gain us votes. We do it because it is principled. Voting against the Smoke Free legislation will be resented and remembered by those who are happy to see the Government's power used to enforce preferred lifestyles. Those who see it as an attack on freedom will have forgotten it within a month or two. It is far easier to favour abolition of the Privy Council, than to do as we have done for the past three years and consistently made the case for constitutional propriety.
One person's "populist bauble" is another's signature core issue - the stand that reveals the true heart and soul of the politician or the party.
Some ask for a focus on core policies. What is core differs from person to person. I am glad people are so passionate, and take policy seriously. But policies do not rate in comparison with character. The voters know from experience that policies change with exigency.
Character is the right thing for the people to be trying to discern and judge. I don't know exactly what Catharine Judd or Richard Prebble feel when they talk about the "Liberal Project". It is important to me. I know what it means to me - but abstraction means nothing to most.
Our core values are revealed in our concrete positions on countless illustrative issues. That is a much more true disclosure. Core policy is easy for ACT MPs. Because we are consistent and predictable - and, therefore, boring - we are largely irrelevant, especially to the media through whom we have to communicate.
Strategic analysis is easy. We are hosed with it all the time. We hose each other with it. You can imagine it: "Let's focus on the tax and economic issues - they are core, our policies are clear and understandable, and people vote for their hip pockets". Do they?
ACT members and supporters are the elect. They are special. What appeals to them is a poor guide to what appeals to most voters. Few realise just how poor. And we are a democracy. I respect that. I do not despise trying to find out what voters want their representatives to do. I may not be willing, for reasons of principles, or able, to do it. That can mean we satisfy none fully.
What is hard is consistency under uncertainty, getting and sticking to solutions that are researched, not intuitive. If those solutions don't appeal to, or coincide with, widespread intuition they will be ignored. But if they are wholly intuitive, they will likely be wrong.
Loyalty is hard, holding to a line in the face of constant doubt. We all wonder from time to time whether intelligent loyalty has become foolishly blind loyalty. But voters are intelligent enough to know that inconsistency and division are worse to live under in any organisation than the occasional mistake by management.
ACT makes a big difference in Parliament simply because it is so predictable. We are expected to act on principle, and we do. We often define the debate.
I have been in hot water as a lawyer over my warnings about threats to the rule of law. We stand for genuine property rights. We want judges who apply the law instead of making it. We work for unambiguous law from Parliament that treats all New Zealanders alike, without race privilege.
In the foreshore and seabed debacle we see the courts indulging in romantic invention. They are setting the scene to equate long expired non-exclusive communal use access expectations with the assured exclusive transferable rights of English law. The Treaty promised the latter to Maori, along with all other New Zealanders. Now that same Treaty, and that romanticism about so-called aboriginal title, is being used to construct a New Zealand of divided sovereignty and race-defined privilege. That is the complete opposite of the intentions of the Treaty signatories. It is the opposite of the Treaty's straightforward and practical words.
The Government has just sacked our entire top court and given itself power to appoint a complete new court. Margaret Wilson described our inheritance as the "shackles of colonialism".
Today in the House I read out parts of the advertisement for new High Court judges, by the Attorney-General's judicial appointment unit. They must have "awareness and sensitivity to the diversity of New Zealand society, and knowledge of cultural and gender issues".
I've asked Margaret Wilson a series of written questions, trying to find out how successful applicants for judgeships will be judged. I wanted to know what might happen to an applicant honest enough, but unwise enough, to express the opinion that knowledge of gender issues and diversity should be of low importance if justice treats all as equal before the law. I am concerned that applicants who are so well suited to the judicial role that they say they will disregard race, religion, gender or status in applying the law will automatically disqualify themselves.
In reply, Ms Wilson sent me a booklet "High Court Judge Appointments". It doesn't even mention gender issues. A New Zealand defined and driven by status group politics is the dream of Ms Wilson and her like. It is worth being in the opposition to the Clark/Wilson Government just to stand against that alone.
ACT daily defines issues. Each may seem trivial to many, but each in its own way is woven into a fabric. That web determines whether we are free or slave, whether we live under the rule of law, or the discretionary rules of rulers.
My colleague Heather Roy is wrestling with the Government's drive to subject dietary supplements to the Australian Therapeutic Goods regime. If it wins, products that you and I may think quackery may be no longer sold in New Zealand. My vision of freedom says that people are only free if they are free to choose things that we think are misguided, wrong or even harmful to them, as long as they are not harmful to non-volunteers. Accordingly we are lining up with the Greens on that issue, but for entirely different reasons. They believe in the quackery. We believe in freedom.
Each week I get a chance in my Select Committee to make a difference. Though individually the issues may not be large, sometimes just a few words in a clause or a sentence add up to worthwhile impact. They are, at least, enough to justify the things foregone when I left my legal practice. If I can ensure each week just one case does not have to go to court, I've probably saved the parties between them the equivalent of my annual salary. I believe there are changes with at least that impact every week.
More fundamentally, I believe I share with my ACT colleagues and members a vision for New Zealand. Not a set of common enemies. Not a set of petty modern bigotries, or justifications for telling other New Zealanders how to live and how they must think.
The vision that inspires me might best be recognised by the older people here. It sees New Zealanders as modest, reliable, hard working, truthful, confident, inventive, bold and accepting of personal responsibility. The person with an almost naive trust in others and care that they get a fair go, but contempt for people who betray that trust, for liars, bludgers, boasters and bullies.
All of these virtues are at risk. The cynical student political class that has gained so much control believe they are the anointed. Those who haven't seen it should look at Chris Trotter's description in today's Independent, for an insider's expose of their arrogance.
Defending the rights of the hard working to enjoy the fruits of hard work is derided as defending inequalities. Attacking employment laws' oppression of employers who must dismiss the unreliable is called pandering to oppressive bosses. Opposing a wave of Government grants to capacity builders, lobbyists, and policy analysts and is attacked as being against "nation building".
I believe we are seeing a dawning consciousness by the opinion leaders who surround us here in Wellington, of the emptiness in Labour's double-speak.
Yet despite this, I now sense in this electorate - and wherever I go - a respect for our consistency. At the last election we got 4,435 thousand party votes, and 2,824 personal votes. Over the two days before the election I toured Wellington with a loud speaker. I was calling "vote Hekia Parata - constituency and ACT - party." I appreciated the double ticks, but was very keen to ensure that we did not get any more than we could help of the wasted "Franks - constituency and other party" party votes.
Our task for the next election may be more complicated. I very much hope that the National party is in better heart and will run a strong candidate with a vigorous team. But Marion Hobbs does not deserve to represent a seat like Wellington. If it is sensible, we will ensure the electorate has an easy choice. This electorate, above all others, will know the difference between a good decisive competent and straight talking minister, and the other kind.
We will be ready to fight whatever kind of campaign will best ensure the return of a government that values the virtues of productive New Zealanders.
I liked our first election slogan "Values not Politics". But being good at politics is essential to promoting those values. The values do not change. The politics is changing, and we are making the change and benefiting from it.
Stephen Franks MP