Brash Report: An Update From The National Leader
No. 20, 12 November 2003
A change of role
As you will probably know from media reports, I became leader of the National Party on 28 October, and for this reason I was not able to write my regular newsletter on 29 October. I hope to continue writing a newsletter at fortnightly intervals, though this may change at some stage.
Before I go on, I want to pay a tribute to Bill English. Although a majority of the Caucus reached the view that I should take over the leadership, all of us recognise that Bill made a very large contribution to the National Party during his two years at the helm. In particular, he worked with the Party organisation to bring about a substantial change to the Party's rules and organisational structure, change which puts the Party in the best possible position to fight an MMP election. There was also considerable progress made in policy development, and that too will be very important as we move forward.
The new Caucus line-up
My first priority as the new leader was to appoint key spokespeople. Many of these remained unchanged, and I won't recount all the details here. But three points are worth highlighting:
* Bill English accepted my invitation to take the Education portfolio, and a senior role on the front bench;
* Agriculture assumed a more prominent role in the line-up than for some years, with David Carter moving to the front bench and the appointment of not one but two Associate Agriculture spokespeople, Shane Ardern and Katherine Rich;
* Wayne Mapp and Georgina Te Heuheu have assumed responsibility for a new portfolio, Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues - a role which I regard as very important if we are to steer New Zealand through the increasingly divisive issues surrounding race relations.
Key policy priorities
My second priority was to set out in summary form what I see as our key policy priorities. I did this in a speech in the General Debate in Parliament on 5 November, my first participation in that debate following the change of leadership. There has been only very brief coverage of this speech in the general media and, since it is a succinct statement of what I see as the priorities, I reproduce it here without the introductory comments:
Speech notes used in the General Debate in Parliament, 5 November 2003
Mr Speaker, my commitment to New Zealanders as Leader of the National Party is to deliver on five key goals:
First, we have to start narrowing the gap between our living standards and those of our cousins in Australia, a gap which sees every Australian getting nearly $200 per week more than the average New Zealander. If we don't narrow that gap, we won't have the healthcare that Australians can afford; we won't have the roads that Australians take for granted; our teachers won't get the salaries that those in Australia earn; Mums and Dads will increasingly see their kids and grandchildren grow up in Australia - we end up as a distant Tasmania to the Australian mainland. That isn't what I want, and it isn't what most New Zealanders want.
Second, we have to ensure that every child, whatever his or her race, whatever the affluence of his or her parents, whether he or she lives in Auckland or in rural Southland, has access to quality education, so that every child comes out of the school system able to read, able to write, able to take his place in a modern society. At the moment, they don't, and that is a disgrace to all of us. Unless we do very much better, we are never going to have a healthy society; we are never going to have a society where everybody can get a well-paid job.
Third, we have to end the creeping paralysis of welfare dependency. It is surely a scandal that at a time when the economy is buoyant, 350,000 working age adults and tens of thousands of their children are dependent on hard-working New Zealanders for a hand-out. As a country, we currently spend $20 million per day on social welfare, nearly a million dollars an hour, 365 days every year. For the sake of those receiving that money as well as for the sake of the hard-working New Zealanders who are paying it, we have to fix that system, and give all able-bodied New Zealanders the dignity of contributing to our society.
Fourth, we need to head off the dangerous drift to racial separatism in New Zealand, a drift which this Government seems intent on encouraging. We must deal, fairly and finally, with historical grievances, but then ensure that all New Zealanders, of whatever race or creed, are treated equally before the law.
And finally, we need to ensure that all New Zealanders feel secure. And that means not just dealing firmly with crime, and drugs, and gangs, and vandalism, but also ensuring that our relationships with new friends in Asia and old friends in Australia, the UK, and the US are put on a firm footing.
Mr Speaker, I am not interested in trading personal insults with the Prime Minister or members of her Government.
I'm not interested in sarcasm.
I am interested in, indeed desperately worried about, New Zealand's future.
I am absolutely committed to doing everything in my power to ensure that that future holds prosperity, racial harmony, security and hope for every New Zealander.
A word of thanks
Finally, thank you for the many messages of support I have received over the past fortnight and for your ongoing support of the National Party.
- Don Brash