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The Rise Of The Centre-Right

The Rise Of The Centre-Right

Ken Shirley Speech to the ACT Conference Hotel Grand Chancellor, Christchurch Sunday 7th March 2004

Good morning,

It's great to see you all here this weekend to celebrate ACT's 10th annual conference.

I sense a new dawning in New Zealand politics. The commonsense messages that the ACT Party alone has been promoting over the past 10 years are now finally gaining acceptance; certainly across the Centre-Right.

To help reflect, I have brought with me a copy of the 1995 ACT publication "Commonsense for a Change", (I'm told these are now collectors' items). This was a refreshingly radical document in its day, which promoted the following:

• lower taxes and a greater incentive for people to work;

• quality healthcare through better use of the private sector;

• parental choice in education that is tailored for student needs;

• the abolition of privilege derived from Government's protection of vested interest groups.

Here is a typical quote from that ACT publication of 1995:

"The more governments have spent the more they have intruded into our lives and the worse things have become."

Freedom, choice and more individual responsibility remain the guiding stars for ACT - the only classical liberal party on the landscape.

On January 27 this year, Dr Don Brash's speech to the Orewa Rotary ended the protracted honeymoon between the Labour Government and the people of New Zealand. Word on the street is that the New Zealand public will soon be filing for a quick divorce.

I have long predicted that Labour's extraordinary good fortune would come to an abrupt halt. It seems that, within representative democracies, the tide of public sympathy turns rapidly with little warning. It is usually triggered by a somewhat obscure event, which pricks the public conscience.

In politics, public thresholds and tolerances for what is perceived to be fair and reasonable are breached at your peril. The politically correct mumbo jumbo and socialist dogma emanating from the Helen Clark Government have breached those thresholds.

The foreshore and seabed fiasco was the straw that broke the camel's back. Dr Brash's endorsement of ACT's long-standing Treaty policy sent the message to the New Zealand electorate that the Centre-Right is now united on this issue. There is now a widespread belief that laws conferring race-based preferences will be reversed and we can move forward as a nation.

In essence, the Clark Government's divisive policies have become a referendum between Labour and the two Centre-Right parties, with Don Brash the champion of change.

Helen Clark and Labour's backward somersaults graphically illustrate their crude hunger for power and lack of principle. The abrupt U-turns won't fool the public, but will instil ferment amongst Labour constituencies who feel betrayed - one Labour Maori MP who was seething with anger told me they were nominating Helen Clark for the Athens gymnastics team.

For anyone of Centre-Right persuasion, the 51 long months that have elapsed since the election of this Labour Government - on November 27 1999 - has been frustrating and infuriating. It's endless spin and arrogant self-righteousness have become nauseating.

While publicly railing against the economic reforms of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson - both prominent ACT members - the Clark/Cullen Labour Government has been basking in the sunshine delivered by those very reforms.

The hard-won structural reforms of the mid `80s and early `90s ensured that the New Zealand economy was in good shape to benefit from an unprecedented period of low interest rates that coincided with favourable climate conditions, top global prices for our processed commodities together with an advantageous exchange rate.

In the short term, our economy has been ticking along quite nicely - not because of the Labour Government, but in spite of it. Throughout these times of favourable conditions, the Labour Government has been surreptitiously unpicking the fabric of the reforms that underpinned the recent success.

The Government has set an economic growth target of four percent, and the conditions it inherited made that target very achievable. Unfortunately, Treasury's longer-term projections now show growth in the New Zealand economy falling to 1.5 percent. This turnaround is a direct consequence of Labour's tax and spend policies.

Lets remind ourselves of some of the retrograde steps Labour has taken:

• ACC was renationalised;

• Internationally competitive employment law has been reversed and the second trunk of the Employment Relations Act - currently before Parliament - is nothing short of the CTU's wish list. These policies will return New Zealand to the 1970's with national awards and militant unions. The ghosts of Bill Anderson, Con Davitt, Blue Kennedy and Roger Middlemass are rising;

• Health is bogged down in government imposed bureaucratic restructuring while patients in need languish on waiting lists in the hope that they can be sent to Australia at great expense for the provision of routine services performed by the Australian private sector. Why can't we mobilise the capacity of our private sector to meet patient's needs?

• Compliance costs for businesses have sky rocketed;

• Taxes have increased;

• The energy sector is being progressively nationalised with SOE regional monopolies in both generation and retail. These SOE's are price gouging businesses to feed government coffers through dividend payments which supplement taxation revenue;

• The Government's foolish adherence to the fundamentally flawed Kyoto Protocol precludes the sensible use of our extensive coal reserves. The Government has a fixation with renewables, particularly wind generation which can never keep pace with our escalating demand. A serious energy crisis is looming for New Zealand. There has been no significant investment in generation or transmission over the past 10 years;

• Our Maui gas field is approaching the end of its commercial life; the electricity demand is escalating at a minimum of 150 mgw per year. The Governments only significant response has been to set up a bureaucratic politicised commission. What we need is more market and less Government;

• In Local Government, representative democracy has been abandoned in favour of participatory democracy which translates to endless cycles of meaningless and costly consultation at the expense of leadership, decision and direction.

• Labour has seriously compromised and damaged our security and defence relationships with our traditional allies adopting an isolationist policy stance. Helen Clark talks about multi-lateral commitments whereas her government pursues the dangerous policies of unilateralism - increasingly we are on our own.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs website states the position rather bluntly:

"Australia regrets New Zealand's decision not to maintain at least some competent air and naval combat capabilities. Such forces would allow a more significant contribution to be made to protecting our shared strategic interests especially in view of the essentially maritime nature of our strategic environment."

Nationalism is two edged. Without shared commitment, there may be no commitment at all. The Australia/US Free Trade Agreement poses a particular threat to New Zealand. Australia will, understandably, increasingly look to the bigger US market's greater opportunities - leaving CER to wither on the vine. Coupled with this, New Zealand companies and investment will look more to relocate to Australia to take advantage of the opportunities opened up by that FTA.

As a country, we can only blame ourselves. Our chest thumping bravado against nuclear-propelled ships is a vestige of Cold War mentality. There is no public safety or environmental risk justification for our stance, and it is certainly not in our strategic interest.

I hope the National Party will soon have the courage and confidence to climb off the fence on this important issue, and support my Private Members Bill seeking the removal of the clause in law, which precludes the visit of nuclear propelled ships to our ports and territorial waters. We can then begin rebuilding the relationship with the US that we once shared in common with Australia.

Instead, this week, we have seen Helen Clark desperately attempting to be the Leader of the first western nation to grant the People's Republic of China "market economy" status.

Freedom and choice are the principles that underpin market economies - the PRC falls well short of that mark. Having blown our prospects of joining Australia in a FTA with the US, Helen Clark is desperate to get some runs on the board.

I am of the firm view that the Centre-Right will win the next election. National is finally picking itself up off the floor. Don Brash knows he needs the experience, vigour and talent of the ACT Party and the ACT Caucus to put a stable and credible alternative government together. We know that National needs us to keep the next Government on the right track.

This is our mission and we willingly accept it.

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