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Welcome Home To New Zealand's Liberal Party


Welcome Home To New Zealand's Liberal Party

Catherine Judd Speech: ACT Auckland Regional Conference, Alexander Raceway, Greenlane, October 18 2003

Thank you for attending today. It's great to be here in ACT's urban liberal heartland.

I'd like to begin by thanking Sir Roger for being here and addressing us.

I was in the gallery in Parliament the night Roger delivered this Budget speech. I was one of many people present that night, full of hope that he would be able to get on and finish the task he so passionately sought to achieve. What he said in that speech, as he has said again today, remains true now, 17 years later, and I quote: "The systems that were meant to help people get back on their feet have in fact had the opposite effect. ...[they] have lost sight of their original purpose and the people they set out to serve. We need to shape policies that can deliver help to those who need it most, that respond to people's requirements and that enable them to help themselves."

Roger's message about empowering individuals is at the heart of ACT's philosophy; it also serves to remind us that, while Roger achieved economic reforms that were radical and enduring, we still have a long way to go on the march to freedom.

[DEL: Our :DEL] Our march is the advance of liberalism - that is the realisation, enlargement and defence of liberty and individual freedom, subject to the rule of law and moral standards. ACT wants the state to perform its important roles - above all, to protect individuals and their property - but we want to restrict the powers and functions of government so as to give full scope for individuals, families and enterprises to thrive and prosper. We want to change the way people think about government and its relationship to individuals.

That is our mission, and that means that ACT is a party of influence, not a party of government. We can pursue our mission from the cross benches or from within government, or from alongside it.

Today I address you as the President of a Party that is pursuing its mission with great vigour and a growing sense of urgency.

This is the third regional conference we have held in as many months - all with exceptional attendances.

A fortnight ago our Parliamentary team organised an outstanding Foreshore, Law & Politics conference. It was a great day, attended by over 190 people and included an impressive line up of overseas and local speakers.

We have delivered over half a million pieces of mail to our potential voters this year. In addition to the numerous campaigns we have already run we are now launching an education campaign. This kicked off last week with Deborah Coddington launching her excellent new book, Let Parents Choose.

There is growing interest in a centre right strategy both from other parties and the media - an approach which we pioneered. I will talk further about these ideas a little later.

We are stepping up our fundraising efforts and we are up in the polls.

We are driven by an increasing sense of urgency, and growing outrage over the agenda being rolled out by the current Labour/Green authoritarian government.

With the establishment of a Supreme Court against the will of the people, increasing taxes by stealth,a distancing of New Zealand from our traditional ANZUS allies, and PC bureaucracy gone mad, we have plenty of cause for alarm. I fear Richard is right when he says the Clark/Wilson government is seeking to establish the PC Socialist Republic of Aotearoa.

Could it be, when the new Commisioner for Children publishes her first report, it might read like this letter to The Times titled "Astonished at the assertion re Beatrix Potter film that Peter Rabbit is' morally and ethically clean': The writer explains: "We are told unequivocally that Peter was "very naughty". He deliberately disobeyed his mother as soon as her back was turned and he and his cousin Benjamin were evidently habitual petty thieves. Peter and Benjamin are not merely spanked but whipped by old Mr Bunny, who is guilty not only of child abuse, but of a naked and unprovoked aggression against a harmless cat. Incidentally Flopsy and Mopsy , who are married in the film, are first cousins: but perhaps this not matter with rabbits".[DEL: There are I believe three broad challenges we need to overcome in pursuing this mission and I would like to touch on each of these today and offer some suggestions as to how we might address them. :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

This might sound far fetched, but just remember, we live in a world (as I read in A New Deal) where you can get more comparative information about a toaster or a lawn mower than you can about your local school. It's a world where a survey of students revealed abysmal gaps in general knowledge; where those who'd heard of Salman Rushdie thought he'd written The Titanic Verses or was what you got if you didn't cook your meat properly. We face an uphill battle. In fact if you're interested one young respondent to the survey I'm quoting from hedged his bets on Salman Rushdie and said "he is a fish or a prime minister".

In the battle we're waging t[INS: here is :INS] to start with [INS: the great challenge of engaging people in discussion about ideas. Many people find it odd, or embarrassing or simply irrelevant. Most don't see how their getting involved in politics themselves could make any difference to the way our country is going or the quality of their lives or those of their children in future. Many treat those who have stepped into the political fray at worst with contempt or at best with bemusement. :INS]

[DEL: First, :DEL] [INS: Like our MPs I often get baled up at events like this, in airports or anywhere really by people who tell me, :INS] [INS: usually :INS] [INS: with the best :INS] [INS: intention :INS] [INS: in the world, what we should be doing, and what we're doing wrong. Of course I welcome all ideas and engagement, but :INS] [INS: trying to change the world is a large and exhausting business full of pitfalls, and what we most need is more help. :INS] [INS: Not too many people say how I can I help? :INS] [INS: But :INS] there[INS: :INS] [INS: are in fact :INS] [INS: many ways, great and small, in which individuals like you can help effect change. :INS]

This i[INS: s :INS] - and it has to be - [INS: a very hard-working, hands-on party. :INS] To engage people requires a [INS: massive effort. :INS]

[INS: Another important reality :INS] we must grasp[INS: :INS] is what David Henderson describes in his excellent book The Changing Fortunes of Economic Liberalism as liberalism's `chronic weakness'. That is that the conscious adherents of liberalism are so limited in numbers. Liberalism, he says, has no solid basis of general support, and there are few if any countries in which there is a well-supported political party or movement which openly and consistently makes classical liberalism its central body of doctrine, its raison d'etre.

He notes in fact that ACT New Zealand is the only such party in parliament in the world. That is an accomplishment of which we should be extremely proud.

Since David's book was published some other true liberal parties have sprung into life, but only in the former Eastern bloc, in countries such as Estonia which having suffered under the Soviet regime, now prizes freedom and truly understands its meaning and value as the only alternative to big authoritarian government.

David Henderson's point is that we are mistaken if we think the battle of ideas has been won for the liberal cause. The battle of ideas is in fact far from over, nor is there an end in sight. [DEL: :DEL] My point to you and all supporters of ACT is that we are small and we have few allies. [DEL: It is :DEL] [INS: It's :INS] good to spend time as we are today debating and testing ideas

But[INS: , and this is another lesson to be learned, :INS] the real battle is happening out there, preparing for the next general election. We need to muster more support, we need to work continuously to raise money, recruit members, build electorates, identify outstanding candidates, organise meetings, get more direct mail out, build our databases - all the basic, unglamorous, [INS: unpaid, :INS] practical `stuff' that makes up an effective grassroots campaign machine. We are engaged in a battle, and these are the only weapons with which we can slowly but surely make incremental gains.

[DEL: My second point is about how we can show that ACT cares. Getting across the human, compassionate face of ACT and its policies and our vision of a civil society and what it would be like, remains one of our greatest challenges. :DEL] [INS: Perhaps the best and most important thing I've gained from my involvement in ACT is a real appreciation of its humanity and compassion, both as the driving force behind its policies and as a powerful common quality among its MPs and supporters. :INS]

While we can and must continue to find effective ways of presenting our ideas simply and imaginatively, I suspect there is no better way of overcoming the image of the heartless `New Right' than through our people, our members and candidates but in particular our MPs. It's in the way they relate to ordinary people, the way they talk, the lives they lead and have led, their integrity, their commitment, their humour, their passion, their warmth, the human stories they can tell to illustrate our ideas - this, our human talent, is the most powerful tool of all.

Having the most able, most `real', most hard-working team in Parliament is a great asset of which we should all be immensely proud. They are a critical part of our liberal brand and our message and we must be mindful of this as we look for more candidates to represent ACT in the next general election campaign.

[DEL: The third :DEL] [INS: I'd like to turn now to a :INS] pressing challenge we face in pursuing our mission[INS: , and that :INS] is how to work in an MMP environment with other opposition parties to present a credible, coherent, appealing alternative to the current authoritarian Labour coalition government. [DEL: :DEL]

[DEL: :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

[DEL: Like it or not, MMP is going to be our electoral system for the foreseeable future and parties of the centre right need to embrace this reality. That means not just paying it lip service but substantially changing the way we all operate. Let's face it: National isn't going to get 50% of the vote in the near future and NZ First isn't going to disappear. All three parties have legitimate constituencies and a rightful place on the political spectrum. :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

[DEL: :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

[DEL: ACT has proud history, foundered by Sir Roger Douglas and Hon Derek Quigley, how foundations are spring from a range of sources - the fourth Labour government, members of the National Party, the New Zealand Party and many others. :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

[DEL: :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

[INS: :INS] [INS: ACT was established as an MMP party and I believe has been one of the most successful parties at understanding and campaigning in this environment. :INS] [DEL: :DEL]

[DEL: :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

[DEL: History also supports the need for the parties of the centre right to work together if we are to defeat the current government. :DEL] [INS: :INS]

[DEL: Barry Gustafson, a National Party historian, speaking about the formation of National recently noted: :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

[INS: That's important because, :INS] [DEL: ACT was established as an MMP party and I believe has been one of the most successful parties at understanding and campaigning in this environment. :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

[DEL: :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

[DEL: "National, from its foundation in 1936, was always a very broad based party containing a diversity of ideological and sectional interests. The old First Past the Post system forced factions of the Right, and also the Left, to work together. On the Right, the United Party led by George Forbes, the Reform Party under Gordon Coates, the free-market Democrats funded by William Goodfellow and other Auckland and Wellington businessmen, the Freedom League led by Ronald Algie, and various Rightwing Independents and Country Party candidates such as Fred Doidge and Clifton Webb eventually joined together in the National Party to avoid splitting the anti-Labour vote after 1935." :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

[INS: like it or not, MMP is going to be our electoral system for the foreseeable future and parties of the centre right need to embrace this reality. That means not just paying it lip service but substantially changing the way we all operate. Let's face it: National isn't going to get 50% of the vote in the near future and NZ First isn't going to disappear. All three parties have legitimate constituencies and a rightful place on the political spectrum. :INS] I'm sure that Barry Gustafson will touch on some of the political history later today that has led to this.

[DEL: The second National Party leader Syd Holland realising the political reality did a number of things to get the right together. Once such example was `arranging' for Ronald Algie, leader of the Freedom League, a group formed after concern about National's collective instincts, to become the candidate for Remuara. :DEL] [DEL: :DEL]

[INS: T :INS] [INS: he realit :INS] [INS: y :INS] [INS: of MMP :INS] [INS: is that g :INS] [INS: roups that may have co-habited under the umbrella of one party under First Past the Post :INS] [INS: can :INS] [INS: no longer do :INS] [INS: so. E :INS] [INS: ach represent :INS] [INS: s :INS] [INS: a legitimate and individual constituency :INS]

[DEL: ACT wants to be a party of influence, not only in opposition, but also by ensuring that the centre right doesn't languish in opposition forever. :DEL] [INS: Rather the lesson is this: unless we co-operate :INS] [INS: and present a credible alternative to the Labour/Green coalition :INS] [INS: :INS] [INS: they will be back again :INS] [INS: in 2005 :INS] [INS: and :INS] [DEL: National has always had a free market strand. Indeed at the formation of the National Party there was concern about National's collectivist instincts and Ron Algie, a full time organiser for the Freedom League, a lobby group dedicated to a smaller state. :DEL] [INS: the centre right will languish in opposition indefinitely. :INS] Anyone who thinks that can't happen should remember that's exactly what happened to the Labour Party here during the 1960s. Even worse, in Australia the Labour Party spent 23 years out in the cold in opposition.

We don't want to end up in the position of some European countries where there is one major reigning party, generally a Labour-lookalike, and a bunch of non-cooperative right-leaning parties competing for opposition status or at best minority coalition partner.

So let's get moving. We need to remind ourselves that, as the old saying goes, "politics is won in the centre", and around 70% of the New Zealand electorate resides in the centre. This means there is a large amount of the vote that can be moved.

National has an important part to play in providing leadership to the centre right and taking it forward, and our primary relationship will be with them.

[DEL: However :DEL] New Zealand First also shares some common ground with us. Winston Peters[INS: , whose own origin is in National, :INS] voted for Ruth Richardson's Employment Relations Act, and New Zealand First and ACT share some common ground on law and order. Quite significantly all three parties are running a joint campaign to secure a referendum on the abolition of the Privy Council.

Last week in Wellington the education spokesmen from ACT, National, New Zealand First and United Future shared a platform in the launch of A New Deal, an Education Forum report setting out a vision for making education work for all New Zealanders. While not all the spokesmen agreed with the Forum's blueprint for change, they at least demonstrated they were able to find some common ground and debate some of their differences in a cordial, constructive way.

I should add that A New Deal is one of four publications promoting choice and reform in education that's been released in recent weeks. The others are Deborah's book Let Parents Choose, the Maxim Insitute's Vying for Our Children and the National Party's Schools of Excellence, an education discussion paper. This groundswell of activity should give heart to all parties of the centre right interested in engaging voters on these issues.

Since August we have been putting forward some ideas on how the opposition parties might regain some ground so an alternative government might be formed. The board of ACT [DEL: have now :DEL] [INS: has since :INS] discussed these ideas [DEL: as a strategy :DEL] and are in principle in agreement [INS: on these as the framework of a strategy, :INS] however I would be interested in your thoughts and reactions.

The strategy is based around the premise that we on the non-authoritarian side of the political spectrum must present a viable, credible alternative to the authoritiarian Labour government. The strategy has three basic elements.

[DEL: One :DEL] [INS: First :INS] , cooperation in Parliament so voters can see the parties working together constructively in the House. This has been occurring and I'm [DEL: please :DEL] [INS: pleased :INS] to say it has added to the overall effectiveness of the opposition. You will all be aware of the joint press conference the leaders of ACT, National and New Zealand First held last week on the abolition of the Privy Council.[DEL: :DEL] [DEL: [MORE? - an example?] :DEL]

Two, a sensible, rational strategy for the centre right to win constituency seats.

And [DEL: finally :DEL] [INS: third :INS] , centre right "coalition" messages, [DEL: particular :DEL] [INS: particularly :INS] in the general election campaign.

Returning to my second point, to regain the Treasury benches the centre right must win constituency seats - remember that Labour holds 45 seats compared to National's 21. Of course ACT will actively and vigorously compete with all other parties for the party vote and particularly in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Auckland is a major battleground for the next election. ACT was the third highest polling party in Auckland last election and we want to maintain or better that position. In 2002 we got 10.5% of the Party Vote across the city, the best result in any region in the country. It was also the best result in Auckland since ACT's formation and cemented this as our urban liberal heartland. There is plenty of scope for ACT, National and New Zealand First to do well here and pillage Labour votes - when the Auckland electorate turns against Labour it does so "big time" - just remember 1990, 1975 and 1960.

As a Party we will be putting a large amount of resources into Auckland - Deborah Coddington has been selected as our candidate in North Shore. Confirmation meetings are about to take place for other key electorates.

While the Party Vote is the most important vote for ACT for the greater good of the centre right we need to win constituency seats. Most of the seats can only be won by National and some of them will take a couple of elections to win back[INS: , :INS] but we must start now. A strategy must be put in place to reverse the current Labour strangle-hold on electorate seats.

For more than a generation National used to win the provinces - we would like to help them do that again

But it will take more than ACT. It would also take the votes of New Zealand First supporters, and, if they recognised reality, United Future would look after its supporters and join the non-authoritarian side of the spectrum.

Ian Paisley said, "The trouble with bridges is that they lead you to the other side". In this regard it is pleasing to see United Future getting on the bridge and voting against the Supreme Court and Smoke Free Bills.

One approach would be to run centre right `banner' candidates. Over the last three months I have given a number of examples but let me talk about how things might work in Auckland.

Northcote is a seat that National should win back from Labour- it is their best prospect in the region. At the 2002 general election the National candidate won over 9,800 constituency votes. If you add to this the more than 4200 personal votes gained by ACT, New Zealand First, United Future and the Christian Heritage candidates, Labour's Ann Hartley would have been defeated by over 1600 votes.

I also think that we must consider endorsing Murray McCully as the `banner' candidate for East Coast Bays, his contribution to the centre right strategy is critical and we want to ensure he retains his seat.

We believe that there are at least six seats that National can win back off Labour at the next election.

But this strategy is not a one-way street - over the past three months I've made it clear that ACT will be looking for some instances where it is our candidate who is the centre right `banner' candidate, allowing us the opportunity to gain constituency seats - one such seat for consideration is Epsom.

Given the exceptional vote we got in that electorate last election, the fact Rodney Hide works extremely hard for its voters and that as a maturing Party we would like some constituencies of our own - proper consideration must be given by the Board of ACT to standing Rodney there. It's a good example of where the `banner' candidate strategy might work with an ACT candidate.

On top of the constituency strategy we could add what could be called the "coalition campaign messages". This would be an agreed set of centre right positions that voters would get by voting centre right - policies that these parties agree on and will be delivered.

As an example of such a message, the ACT, National and New Zealand First positions on the Treaty of Waitangi are now very similar and all three parties could run on a No raced-based law type message. There is also scope in other areas, with messages such as Education choice and standards, A fair go for those who work, No parole, and Work for the dole.

These are messages that surely all the parties of the centre right can sign up to. Labour certainly can't, and we need to show that this group of parties is closer to the values of New Zealanders than the PC and tax and bribe nature of the current Labour government.

None of these proposed strategies would undermine ACT's established Party Vote election campaign position

ACT is no longer prepared to be a `tactical appendage' of the National Party. ACT has to some extent already become the powerhouse of ideas for the centre right, witnessed by the fact that National and New Zealand First have adopted many of our positions.

Our aim is to become the strategic apex of the centre right, providing the intellectual weight and rigour, generating new ideas, defending personal responsibility and freedom and dealing with the hard questions that need debate. This is a pivotal role in putting forward a credible alternative government that seeks both to represent commonsense New Zealand values and aspirations and provide a fresh sense of direction and inspiration for the country.

But let me be clear - ACT alone cannot promote, debate and run a centre right strategy. We are happy to put forward ideas and work with the other parties but unless everyone is committed to an alternative to Labour, prepared to discuss it and work through it the strategy will fail.

ACT has been in Parliament for seven years and will be again after the next election. We'd just prefer to there with a majority of MPs who can provide an alternative to the current authoritarian Labour coalition government.

I would like to close by emphasising that ACT is committed to its independence, identity and principles. We are happy to work with other parties who share our ideas on particular issues, but we will never surrender our principles for short-term populist votes, and we will not sell our souls for cabinet positions or for seats on the Treasury benches.

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