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Prebble Speech: Where ACT Leads, Others Follow

Prebble Speech: Where ACT Leads, Others Follow

Hon Richard Prebble's Speech to ACT's Tenth Annual Conference Hotel Grand Chancellor, 161 Cashel Street, Christchurch 10:20 am, Sunday 7 March 2004

We are meeting, as the Chinese say, in interesting times. Times that give new meaning to the saying, a week is a long time in politics.

Public opinion polls have never shifted so far and so fast.

In January Labour looked unbeatable. Commentators wondered if National as a party would survive.

Today the Don Brash hurricane is sweeping all before it. Helen Clark, who last month described those who believe in equality before the law as "red necks", now says that we are "quite genuine people" and she is "listening".

Are the public opinion polls accurate? I have no doubt that they are.

If the election was yesterday, a centre-right government would have been elected. It is also true that in politics it ain't over until the fat lady sings and the fat lady is the voters on election day.

There is a maxim, disbelieve all good polls and believe all bad.

If the polls are right, the Don Brash phenomenon is our greatest threat and our greatest opportunity.

Today's polls are really a referendum on Brash's Orewa speech.

The voters are using the polls as a referendum to strongly indicate their support for Don Brash's stand.

We can not only ride out this hurricane, we can give leadership to ensure the great forces that have been unleashed are directed constructively to promote a better society, a better economy and a better country.

Our polling shows that this shift in opinion is not against ACT. Voters know these are ACT policies and respect for ACT has never been higher.

Our focus group polling shows that voters know that ACT has the quality team in parliament.

We are the only party that selects our MPs by a primary of you the members. Take a bow, you, the members of ACT, have selected parliament's best team.

Ken Shirley, our deputy leader, is parliament's scientist, the voice of reason. Ken has a private members' bill to allow nuclear propelled ships into our ports. Not just because it's time we healed the ANZUS rift, but because Ken knows as a scientist that Auckland hospital releases more radioactivity every day than the whole US nuclear fleet does in a year.

Muriel Newman, our whip, is the champion of real welfare reform. Her private member's bill to open the Family Court must pass. Justice must not only be done, but seen to be done.

Rodney Hide is a one-man scourge of all those who abuse power - parliament's watchdog. If he occasionally nips the postman, so what! He scares the hell out of those who would scam the taxpayer.

One of my former cabinet colleagues said to me, "You have no idea how influential you guys are. I have lost count of the number of hair brain schemes to spend the taxpayers money that have been defeated by the words, `and how are you going to explain it when some one leaks it to Rodney and the ACT MPs have a go in parliament?'"

Stephen Franks is parliament's best lawyer; a staunch defender of our liberty. It is Stephen who is exposing as legally bogus Margaret Wilson's claim that Maori have a customary title to the nation's foreshore. That's news even to the Court of Appeal.

Gerry Eckhoff is the genuine voice of rural New Zealand; the sage from Coal Creek.

Labour's first U-turn was on the F.A.R.T. tax. From the media reports it would seem a group of farmers spontaneously came to parliament in their tractors, all the MPs came out of their offices and gave fine speeches in favour of rural New Zealand, Shane Ardern lost his head and drove a tractor up the steps of parliament and Labour decided to do a U-turn and abandon the tax.

What the media did not report was that parliament's genuine farmer, Gerry Eckhoff, was outraged by this tax on the productive sector. ACT alone in parliament has opposed the Kyoto agreement that won't make any difference to global warming as China and the US are not bound but will do great damage to the New Zealand economy. So Gerry got in the ACT bus with the pantomime cows Gertrude and Sally and together they travelled to every rural community in the country.

He said lets fight this tax. Sign my petition and I will deliver your message. That's what those farmers were doing. Coming on their tractors to parliament to present their petition to the voice of rural New Zealand, Gerry Eckhoff.

Deborah Coddington went from being Qantas Journalist of the Year to being the new MP of the Year.

Two weeks ago Labour began it's great spinning U-turns by announcing a moratorium on small school closures. The media reported the government did so on the day that mums and dads from those small communities came to parliament. As with the farmers with their tractors, MPs came out of their offices and gave fine speeches. Apparently it's all a terrible misunderstanding. Every MP in every party is in favour of small schools. Why Helen Clark in a remarkable act of disloyalty to Trevor Mallard even for her, says she never supported closing small schools.

What the media did not report is that the parents came to parliament to present a petition to ACT MP Deborah Coddington. Why Deborah?

As Trevor Mallard vainly tries to say, both old parties in government closed small schools. It is teachers' union policy, because teachers in small schools are hard to organise.

Deborah Coddington believes in parents' right to choose. Her research has shown that small schools are not expensive; the education they give is every bit as good as large schools, and often better.

Last year Deborah published a book on parents' right to choose and then she visited most of the schools marked for closure. She shared her research and gave the communities hope. Sign my petition and come to parliament. I will be your voice. We can save your school. And that is why Labour U-turned. Its ACT what done it.

Heather Roy is the voice of common sense on health, and a future star. This year Heather is going to be the voice of the truly forgotten. The patients who Labour removed from hospital waiting lists because they had been waiting too long. Sent back to their GPs to suffer alone. Their names and their numbers unknown. Heather is surveying every doctor in the country. Soon we will know the true numbers waiting for hospital treatment. It is many thousands and we will know their stories. Heather Roy will be our nation's silent sufferers voice.

One thing our focus group polling shows is ACT's support among women continues to climb. I put this down to our outstanding women MPs who have something rare in our parliament - they are all mothers.

Another reason ACT's support will rise is we are the party of fresh ideas. It was the ACT party that first said that the Treaty settlement process has become a grievance industry.

ACT came up with a practical workable solution. Let's have a cut off date for claims and a timetable for settlement.

When our cofounder, the Hon Derek Quigley, proposed full, fair and final settlements, every party in parliament - Labour, National and NZ First, voted against.

I was stunned when Helen Clark last week said the answer to the Treaty issue was - fair, full and final settlements. I could not believe what I was seeing when I read Minister Maharey saying - quote "I've been thinking" - "It is perhaps time to set a date when all grievances must be settled so we can all move on,'

If you could copyright political ideas, ACT could sue.

Think of how much better race relations would be if eight years ago the two old parties had adopted our ideas. Time and money wasted that could have gone to improving our schools and hospitals. But we set out to be a new sort of party. Values not politics.

Office, and a ministerial car, has never been our objective.

A party of influence. A party that sets the agenda for the others to follow.

Never doubt.

If ACT had not made its lonely stand for no race-based policies, Labour and National would still have their Tweedle Dum, Tweedle Dee Treaty policies.

Do we mind our ideas being stolen? Not at all, we have plenty more where they came from.

But make no mistake both National and Labour are doing U-turns.

For a party that has been sent into opposition, it is respectable to say they have rethought their positions. Don Brash would do better to admit that National invented the term "Closing the Gaps" and much of the race-based policies.

U-turns by a government are a very different matter. Governments are elected on a manifesto. I have Helen Clark's election credit card. It's the one with the digitally enhanced photograph and straight teeth. It says "MY COMMITMENT TO YOU" WE WILL DELIVER.

Did Labour promise race-based policies? You bet they did. I have here Helen Clark's 1999 election opening address headed Leadership, Integrity, Vision.

Under a headline that is underlined for emphasis, Closing the Gaps, she said, "We have a duty to close the gaps. You have my personal commitment to achieve that".

Did she mean race-based funding? You bet. Quote "mainstream funding has been a complete failure. That is why we are seeking a new partnership with whanau, hapu, iwi and other Maori to bring about change".

Clark finished that speech with." That is my personal promise to you and I intend to see it through"

Those words are why she is through.

Is it just me? Have you noticed that just as Pinocchio's nose got longer as he told more lies, that as Helen Clark does more U-turns her voice is getting deeper and deeper and she is having those bad hair days again.

Good race relations in a multicultural society are vital. The debate we are having over race relations is one of the most important debates in this country's history. The outcome of the debate will determine the very future of our nation. The next election will be a turning point.

Our fellow citizens recognise the importance of their vote.

The tacit agreement between the two old parties meant the electorate has never been able to register its concern over where race relations have been going.

The electorate has a clear choice. Race relations will be a key issue in the next election, whenever it is called.

The issue is this. Are all citizens equal before the law regardless of race?

De we choose colour-blind government, or do we believe that governments have the right to discriminate on the basis of race.

Make no mistake, over a wide range of policy - education, health, housing, the list is growing - the New Zealand government discriminates on the basis of race.

There is no such thing as positive discrimination. The life choices of the son of white, drug-taking skinheads in this city are just as threatened as those of a young Maori girl growing up in poverty in the East Cape. For every person positively discriminated in favour, someone was negatively discriminated against.

I had a staff member whose mother was the partner of a motorbike gang member. His father and brother did jail time. Somehow he got to Waikato University, only to run into New Zealand's most dangerous politician, Margaret Wilson, and her politically correct agenda that included discriminating against him, just because he was a white male.

So I say Dr Brash is right in his call to end race-based policies. But he is wrong to call for policy to be based on need. We have all been looking at and analysing the first part of his proposal and not the second.

The left-winger Chris Trotter, in his column, mused that it was Karl Marx who said "From each according to their means, to each according to their needs". I do not believe that Don Brash is a socialist, but he is advocating socialism.

Policies based on need reward those who do nothing to assist themselves.

It is what is wrong with our health system.

If you eat too much, drink too much, do not exercise, you go straight to the top of the waiting list.

Those who take responsibility for their health and take out health insurance, find they are simply paying twice - once for themselves and again for those who can claim that they have greater needs.

As Roger Douglas observes, good policy is one where the incentives are for everyone to have good outcomes.

This is not a semantic debate, just an argument over words.

At the core of ACT's alternative vision, our fresh idea is that government policy should reward behaviour that results in a better society.

My mother used to say that if everyone was responsible, society would be transformed.

We humans will never be perfect but we are ingenious. When we reward people according to need, then people will just make them selves more needy.

It is what is wrong with the treaty settlement process; it has created an industry ingeniously inventing new grievances.

Today our government, the system Labour and National have created, does reward laziness, dishonesty and irresponsibility. There is simply not enough money in the country to pay for a hospital system that rewards irresponsibility. We cannot afford a welfare system that does not require people to be responsible.

ACT says "Let's reward responsible behaviour."

If parents elect to send their children to an independent school, why should they pay twice?

If you take out health insurance, take your name off the public waiting list, why pay twice?

If you save for your retirement, if you do the responsible thing, why do you pay twice?

Let me be clear, the best way to help working families is a middle income tax cut. The best tax cut is to introduce low flat tax.

Let me spell out some more policy I would like Dr Brash to take. New Zealand needs a middle income tax cut. Lowering the top rate to 30 cents won't do it. Most working families would miss out.

A surplus simply means we have been over taxed. Most tax is paid by middle income working families.

Labour's promise was, let me quote, "My pledge to New Zealanders is absolute. There will be no rise in income tax for the 95 per cent of taxpayers".

This year, 20 % of all workers will pay the 39-cent tax rate; money that has never been needed.

Labour intends using the taxpayer surplus to buy votes. To increase welfare and to increase dependency by family support payments rather than cutting income tax to give working families independence.

A six billion dollar surplus is enough to lower income tax to 24 cents. We could grant a middle income tax cut, giving every worker in fulltime employment a $100 a fortnight tax cut, an extra $2600 a year!

It is a question of fairness. Middle New Zealand has been socked by Labour. Extra income tax, extra fuel taxes, over 12 different stealth taxes, and we have received nothing for our money.

Our children are blocked from going to the school that best meets their needs. Hospital waiting lists are longer. Our streets are unsafe. The government has the police collecting speeding tickets instead of arresting burglars.

When our children earn the grades, get to university; they are excluded because they are white.

ACT champions those who do the work in this country and pay the taxes.

Steve Forbes who spoke to this conference is right. The tax we pay on income is the price we pay for working. As he put it, "The lower the price and burden on good things like productive work and risk taking, the more you get of them". It is the tax on the last dollar you pay that is important.

Lowering tax on the low rate of tax is like making earning between two and three o'clock on Wednesdays tax-free. That is no incentive. It is the last dollar we earn that matters. When we lower the burden of earning another dollar then people choose whether to take the overtime or go to the beach, whether to save or spend, invest or consume.

It is an important message. Prosperity matters. To have a first world health system, first world education and security in retirement we need a first world economy. No country has ever taxed its way to prosperity. We need a prosperity creating middle income tax cut.

Tax is a distinguishing issue.

National under Don Brash has become the party of corporate New Zealand, of the big end of town.

Labour seeks to represent welfare New Zealand.

As Labour betrays its Maori constituency, Winston Peters has seen New Zealand First's chance to win the Maori seats again. Peters claim that Brash wants to abolish the Maori All Blacks is absurd but it makes sense in the politics of racial division.

The Greens are now an extreme left-wing party. Watermelons - green on the outside and red on the inside.

The Greens represent those who want the socialist republic of Aotearoa.

As Labour is losing votes to the centre-right, Labour is also losing support from its left wing to the Greens. As one Labour supporter put it to me, "Norman Kirk would be turning in his grave at Helen Clark's unprincipled U-turns. I am" he said "going to have to vote green."

The latest polls show Labour's only hope of governing would be as a red/green government. As Helen Clark herself warned last election, such a government could not govern. The Greens are too extreme. Last election large numbers of centre voters shifted their votes to try to stop the Greens, hence the sudden rise of United.

Such a move will happen again. Next time it will be a shift of votes away from Labour.

The soufflé can't rise again.

United has been Labour's doormat in parliament, supporting the godless anti-family Labour party.

It is ACT that will be the beneficiary of voters looking for stability.

Our polling has shown that ACT has become the party of middle New Zealand.

Middle New Zealand - the family that takes out a mortgage on their home to start a business; the professional; the people who earn their money on their outputs; people who have to rely on their own efforts - the commission salesman, the freelancer, the owner driver, the self-employed tradesman. Over 30% of the workforce now earns their living by their outputs. No party has ever represented them.

ACT's message of personal responsibility, of government policy rewarding hard work, thrift and enterprise, are the values that middle New Zealand lives by.

They are the people who know that ACT has thought out workable solutions to the issues.

Among these self-employed, owner operated businesses and professionals are a growing number of Maori. Maori who are middle class and do not earn their living from the Treaty industry.

They are attracted to ACT.

ACT's message is more moderate than Don Brash's. At the core of ACT's vision is a belief in choice. The belief that citizens in a free society have the right to make their own choices.

ACT has no problem with citizens choosing to speak Maori, with parents choosing to have their children go to Maori schools. Why shouldn't Maori tribes have scholarships for children of the tribe? My friend, Sir Peter Tapsell, former speaker and distinguished surgeon, went to Otago University on an educational scholarship that his own iwi set up.

It is state discrimination ACT opposes.

While I strongly support the sentiments of what Brash is saying (I must - his latest pamphlet is copied verbatim from one I wrote) I am concerned about surprising errors in his statements. But why are we surprised? National has not changed, just its leader. The rest of the party are the same people who supported Sir Douglas Graham and the promotion of race-based policies. "Closing the Gaps" is a National party policy.

Don Brash has done a Winston on the National party. It is no longer the National party; it is the Don Brash party.

This year in parliament it has been ACT MPs, not National, that have defended Don Brash from the attacks of Labour, the Greens and, yes, Winston Peters.

It has been ACT MPs that have produced the evidence to show the Minister of Maori Affairs, Horomia Parekura, on an income of $195,000 a year, is eligible for a $10 visit to the doctor, whereas a labourer on $20,000 a year in this city pays $50 to see his doctor for the same treatment.

It gets worse.

If you have a heart attack in South Auckland, because funding is race-based, you are far more likely to get a heart operation.

In Christchurch the race based formula means you will wait longer than the patient in Auckland for a heart operation.

In Dunedin they are sending home patients who the doctors say need an immediate heart operation simply because the citizens of Dunedin, are overly white.

ACT MPs know this because from our founding we have been opposing race-based formulas and calling for an end to race based laws.

It comes from our belief in the rule of law. It is why ACT is toughest on crime.

It is our belief in personal responsibility. Labour is soft on crime because Labour believes that society not criminals are responsible for crime. If you think that, then of course you think the criminal is the victim. It is like the joke about the Good Samaritan.

The Good Samaritan was a social worker. He came along the road and found the man who had been beaten, robbed and left in the gutter.

"Oh," said the Good Samaritan, "Some poor socially deprived young man with poor toilet training must have done this. I must find him and help him." and he rushed by, leaving the victim in the gutter.

Criminals need to be held accountable for their actions. Prison does work. Zero tolerance for crime has worked in every city it has been tried in. Stephen Franks is developing a policy I think we should adopt, "Three Strikes and the Max!"

In the US it's "three strikes and you're out". Three felonies, that is. Tahree serious crimes and life imprisonment. Most of us think that's too tough. But three serious crimes and then the court must sentence the offender to the maximum sentence. At the moment the maximum sentence for robbery is ten years. No one gets it. Under this proposal, an offender commits two serious offences and does a robbery, he would get ten years.

It would end the problem of soft sentencing and revolving door jails.

Three Strikes And The Max.

Truth In Sentencing

Zero Tolerance For Crime.

ACT's policies would halve crime and dramatically improve the life of many New Zealanders - yes the numbers in prisons would increase, but it would free thousands more who are prisoners in their own homes. The women who are scared to walk on their own streets or enjoy their neighbourhood park.

How could the two old parties have allowed our country to come to this?

One man can give a speech but he cannot change a party.

Parliament needs a lodestar - a party that puts values before politics. Even our critics agree that ACT is 100% consistent to our principles.

ACT has never voted to increase taxes. ACT has never voted to increase red tape. ACT always votes for freedom, choice and personal responsibility.

Who doubts that but for ACT's lonely stand for equality before the law the two old parties would still have the same race preference policies. The parties are now copying our zero tolerance for crime policy yet National's record in crime is every bit as bad as Labour's.

Our ideas of parent choice in education, of more personal responsibility in health, and the need for real welfare reform, are also being carefully studied.

Last weekend I gave a paper to an important liberal seminar in Mexico. A prophet is not without honour except in his own country.

I have to admit that I accepted because the Nobel Laureate in economics, Milton Friedman, who last year spoke to this conference, was attending.

In our caucus, the way to win an argument is to say, "Milton Friedman agrees with me." There is really no answer.

Now I can say "That's strange. When I met Milton, he did not mention that."

The Governor of the Chilean Central Bank also gave a paper.

Chile has implemented much more of ACT's agenda. Their savings based pension scheme means that in Chile, unlike New Zealand, not only is the sustainability of superannuation now secure, but it is no longer a political issue.

We asked him, "How has Chile managed to continue on the route to prosperity?"

He explained, it is partly because even the socialist government believes in sound economics.

Last year, the Chilean Socialist government privatised all prison services. This year, the private prison that even Nandor says is the best run in the country, at Mt Eden, is being re-nationalised because the Greens and Labour say they are ideologically opposed to the private sector - even when it works better.

So we asked, "How did the socialists in Chile come to see the advantage of sound economics?" He gave a reason I have never heard before.

"In the Chilean parliament there is a small party called the Sound Economics party. They do not claim to be left or right. They are just in favour of sound economics. The party keeps them all honest. If a government produces a policy that is silly economics, they just tear it to pieces."

Out founder, Sir Roger Douglas, likes to say that ACT is neither left or right, that's yesterday's politics.

The only reason I admit to the label centre-right is because otherwise our economically illiterate commentators call us extreme right.

But the reality is we are the party of sound economics. As the Australian Senator Don Chip famously observed - our job is to keep the bastards honest.

Good policy requires courage. A willingness to tell it like it is. To have vision and give leadership. We know that New Zealand could have growth rates like Chile, prosperity like Australia.

To do it requires courage.

It is just a lie when Helen Clark talks of the failed policies of the 80s and 90s. Saying it in church doesn't make it true it just makes it worse. What do you call a Prime Minister who won't allow grace to be said at State Banquets but then goes to the cathedral to give a party political speech? As the IMF, World Bank, and OECD all point out, it's these so-called failed policies of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson that gave New Zealand the fastest growth in the OECD last year.

Clark and Cullen know that the answer to the increasing dependency problem is real welfare reform, along the lines advanced by President Clinton - a democrat.

I have a lot of respect for Don Brash, but he joined a party that allowed New Zealand to think that we can have a first world health and education system with a second world economy.

A party that allowed New Zealand to have a higher tax rate than Australia, that did not heal the ANZUS break, and left us with the Treaty industry.

ACT's role is to be like Chile's Sound Economics party. To be straight shooters, tell it like it is, to put forward practical positive solutions, to be leaders.

Helen Clark needs to remember that when a spinning top stops, it topples over.

This party is not for turning.

We won't always be liked, I can promise you at times we will be hated. Media commentators will predict our demise as they have at every election.

But I also tell you that we will be respected and in the secrecy of the ballot box, thinking New Zealanders will give us their tick.

We will succeed because of you who are in this room.

ACT is the best campaigning party. When I became leader in May of election year, ACT was on just point 8 of a percent. Two percent in the polls "that's luxury".

People belong to ACT not for office but because they believe in ACT's principles.

So we have the best members of any party. Members who reach into their own pockets to support what they believe in. Members, who put out pamphlets, organise house meetings, attend conferences, and discuss policy - the one hundred and one tasks needed to run a party.

I often say that Catherine Judd is the President all other parties would love to have. The truth is that you are the members and supporters other parties would love to have.

It's an honour to lead you.

You are the reason we will not just prevail, but, as we have in every election we have campaigned in, our percentage of the vote will go up.

So go from here, from this wonderful conference and organise. I am counting on you. Our nation is counting on us. Together we will be victorious.

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