Catherine Judd Speech In Praise Of Individuals
Catherine Judd Speech In Praise Of Individuals
Catherine Judd Speech to the 2004 annual conference
Welcome, everyone, to our 10^th anniversary conference. I'm pleased to advise that, once again, reports of ACT's death have been grossly exaggerated.
But I put it to you: "Is there a more visceral, exhilarating, cruel, humbling and downright enthralling business than politics?"
Washington journalist Rupert Cornwell mused on this question in a commentary on the Iowa Democratic caucuses a few weeks ago. In one night Americans were served up the complete range of human emotions, all in the full glare of television: triumph, disaster, tragedy and resurrection, including the humbling of the media, a brutal wake-up call for Howard Dean and the sad spectacle of a tearful Richard Gephardt watching his 30 year dream evaporate.
Who did it? Ordinary, thoughtful Iowan Democrats, huddled in their school halls and church basements, voting with their heads. All the money, the endorsements, the organisation, the red-meat rhetoric mattered not. The Iowans turned conventional wisdom on its head.
A few days later our own little Iowa played out in Orewa. With a lot less drama but all the same basic ingredients, Labour's dream run came to an abrupt end and the New Zealand political landscape was turned on its head.
Exactly as in Iowa, our media were caught completely out of touch with public opinion.
And for drama, the events of the days and weeks that have followed here have rivalled even the Oscars. The Waitangi Day mud-slinging, the Valentine's Day poll massacre, the crash of Lianne Dalziel, the rise and rise of Don Brash, the floods, the policy U-turns, the looming battle with business over the Employment Relations Act and the battering of the government by an increasingly vociferous public, have rattled Labour like an earthquake.
What happened? Was it Don Brash, the man of conviction and values? Was it the timing, after a summer of anxiety over who owns the foreshore and seabed? Was it an arrogant government caught napping? Did the electorate just wake up after a long soothing sleep in the comfort of a buoyant economy and the numbing ministrations of the Clark regime? Or could it be that the time for these ideas - our ideas - has finally come?
Whatever the cause, for ACT it is cause for celebration. For the first time in many years there is a real possibility that the policies that we have promoted for so long and so hard may actually be implemented. There is now a real prospect of low tax, smaller limited government, choice in education and health. Classical liberal ideas are flowing into mainstream New Zealand.
And it's cause for alarm for this most poll-driven government New Zealand has ever seen. Unlike the Labour governments of the `80s this Labour Government has turned `straw-in-the-windiness' into an art form. Its response to Don Brash has been textbook. Its policy flip-flops a striking illustration of a government without vision or principles, its only agenda to stay in power.
And as for Don Brash - he seems to have been taken as much by surprise over the avalanche he's unleashed as anyone. As John Jacob Astor said on board the Titanic: "I rang for ice, but this is ridiculous".
But it is important to understand what happened. In my opinion the best analysis has come from Chris Trotter, who is always worth reading despite his left wing sympathies. By his analysis, there has long been considerable public anxiety over the direction of race relations in New Zealand but the chattering classes have conspired to keep this topic out of public debate. That group from whom we in ACT are wresting the label "Liberals" thought this matter far too delicate for ordinary voters. Now they have found that Don Brash has put the ball firmly in play.
How do we deal with this?
Some of you may have read yesterday's National Business Review column entitled "Catherine's email". This fictitious email had a run down of our supposed conference programme. One particular entry read:
"11.15hrs Problem-solving exercises led by Mr Rodney Hide. Teams will imagine that a plane crash has left them marooned without food and warmth on the top of a mountain. They must decide between eating their fellow remaining passengers or building a fire with the last remaining copies of Dr Don Brash's "Orewa" speech."
Of course we liberals know the answer to this immediately - we won't eat each other unless someone decides to martyr themselves, for the group cannot take someone's life. But in reality we know in that situation what would actually happen to the ACT party.
Anyone who knows Rodney will know that he can't operate without a working cell phone, so he'd walk hundreds of kilometres through the snow to get back into a coverage area - thus saving the group. Richard would somehow get away a direct mail letter appealing for money to airlift the survivors off the mountain; and Stephen Franks would immediately abolish all legislation relating to the mountain opening the possibility that a five star hotel could be opened without delay.
Whatever we decided on, you can be sure the group would survive.
By the way we wouldn't have a problem burning Don's speech since we already have all of that material on our files.
This does have a serious point, though: we embrace and welcome the fact that individuals have different ideas and solutions to problems. Clearly today a large proportion of those voters are registering their support for Don Brash. Don's clarion call for `One Law For All' has captured the imagination of the electorate and represents a clear alternative to Labour's. The message articulated by the alternative prime minister has shifted support away from the smaller parties who have been promoting similar messages for at least six years. There is a collective sigh of relief from voters after National's lack of direction over the last five years, that now at least it stands for something. These voters want to give National instant reward and register their strong disapproval against the Clark government.
And so our task, between now and the election, is to ensure our voters give us their party votes. How will we do that?
First we need to continue to provide `leadership in Ideas' - the theme of our conference - that is what makes us different from but complementary to the National Party under MMP.
Mark Twain said "The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them." And that is our role - we are radical liberals, trail-blazers.
Underlying ACT's radical vision is the notion of society organised from the bottom up with individuals, enterprises and organisations as its driving force, not the state. It is the fantastic energy of people and their differences that is the fruit of a free society. My favourite description of this melting pot of humanity is from Denis Dutton in his paper Darwin and Political Theory:
"... we evolved to accommodate ourselves to each other, both as individuals in a group and as groups in relations of cooperation or aggression toward each another. It is all of these forces acting in concert that eventually produced the intensely social, robust, love-making, murderous, convivial, organizing, squabbling, friendly, upright walking, omnivorous, knowledge-seeking, arguing, clubby, raiding-party, language using, versatile species of primate we became: along the way to developing all of this, politics was born."
Looking at the past few decades of New Zealand political history, you can see a clear pattern: a radical ideas movement rises up from within a political party - in New Zealand's case usually a Labour Party - and in government brings about rapid, radical change. Such governments burn out and are followed by an often lengthy period of conservative governments who bed the reforms in. The reforming Lange/Douglas Labour government of the mid 1980s is the obvious example, with the current conservative socialist Labour government now effectively presiding over and reaping the benefits of Sir Roger's economic reforms.
There is a real irony here from another perspective. Under MMP and since the 1984 revolution 20 years ago, it is now the Labour Party that advocates little economic change and promotes privilege for certain sections of society. National under Don Brash is now the Party that advocates more change while Labour is the party of the status quo, wholly devoted to staying in power - steady as she goes - but do I hear the distant echo of the ultimate incremental change politician, the late Sir Keith Holyoake?
The same driving force for change and leadership in ideas gave rise to the formation of ACT ten years ago. The delegates who gathered for ACT's first conference then were described by the New Zealand Herald as `the self made and spiritually hungry, who were there for a higher purpose." That is I believe what still brings us here together today. Of course we would like to have made more progress and of course we would like to be in a more comfortable position in the polls.
But being radical liberals means we will always be on `the edge'. It's tough, exhilarating, it requires courage, but that's our role.
Our role is out certainly not to be more conservative than the National Party. We hold some conservative values but our destiny is in the vanguard of change - it's our job to push the change agenda up another notch. And, as Dante said, "A great flame follows a small spark."
As a political party representing change we need to continually refresh and reinvent ourselves. Some have criticised me within the Party for this process of renewal and direction as a classical liberal party. Some may want to turn the ACT Party into a reflection of the National Party. I say to you turn if you want to, but this Party is not for turning.
Our co-founder Sir Roger Douglas has told me he gets bolder as he gets older. That's the way of ACT - that's why we are a party at the frontier of ideas. I am not inclined to be a conservative because a conservative sits and thinks, mostly sits. Remember that conservatism is not about any particular viewpoint or philosophy. It is more about a temperament and basically a desire to preserve the status quo.
ACT is brandishing the liberal torch of freedom in a country that is very much wedded to the notion of government as a paternalistic parent. We in ACT believe in the philosophy of a fair go for everyone; it should not be at the expense of initiative and personal responsibility.
The proverb warns that `You should not bite the hand that feeds you.' But in the words of Thomas Szasz "maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself."
Our job is to help New Zealanders see that some radical change is needed if individuals want to reclaim ownership of their own lives, that people should be free to make their own way in life and that freedom promotes other good ends such as prosperity and morality.
As William Cowper said: "Freedom has a thousand charms to show, that slaves, howe'er contented, cannot know"
One of the wonderful outcomes of freedom is an effective system of private philanthropy. Not so long ago charity for the poor did not consist of a few Lady Bountifuls with food baskets but was formed by an extensive and sophisticated system of private charities, friendly societies, private insurance, and mutual aid associations that did an extraordinary job.
New Zealand could boast a stronger voluntary sector. A combination of government social services and high taxes coupled with an historical propensity of people to look to the government has been a barrier to the development of our vision of what we call a civil society.
A civil society looks first to looking after themselves, their family and reaching out to helping their community.
The challenge and threat to freedom is always a threat, whether it's government or the international terrorists who now plot and plan to bring down capitalism. Government is always the answer to all our problems from relationships to war.
That highlights a key feature of ACT's liberal philosophy. To quote William Hazlitt: "The love of liberty is the love of others, the love of power is the love of ourselves."
A liberal society genuinely cherishes individuals, with all their difficultness, their differences and their quirkiness. Our party itself is a living example of this diversity and the energy it creates. A liberal society tries to allow and encourage and nurture the ability of us all to live our own lives, to take responsibility for them, to take joy in them and embrace the adventure of them.
These ideas were explored in a Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute delivered by Andrew Sullivan. He referred to the view of the conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshotte who saw that "love of humanity in all its differences is one of the critical projects of a liberal political order. He looked around at people and saw them as things to be cherished, in contrast to those who would look at human beings and see them as something to be corrected or corralled or instructed or uplifted or informed."
Our job as the activist wing of the centre right is to educate and campaign. They are separate jobs that intersect at the same philosophical juncture. Being a party of influence doesn't mean we don't want to be in government. In the last few years we have been a protest party for National voters who are market liberals. Many of those voters are rightly excited about the prospect of a Brash led government. Our job is to get those voters to split their votes. A party vote for ACT is MMP insurance to get Brash style policies in a National led government.
ACT has the people and the intellectual ballast that will ensure that the next centre right government will increase its core voting base among the widest possible group.
Another feature of ACT that sets us apart from all other parties is the talent of our members of parliament. Man for man, woman for woman they are head and shoulders above the rest. Demonstrating that to the electorate and lifting the individual profiles of each of our MPs must be a key feature of our strategy going forward.
What other party can boast a new MP of the calibre of Heather Roy. formidable organiser and party worker, young, kind-hearted, hard-headed, rapidly developing a reputation as Parliament's best authority on health.
Or Ken Shirley, held in high regard as a `man of reason', straight-shooting, constructive, Parliament's only scientist.
Rodney Hide, the every ready man, most feared fighter against privilege, Parliament's true liberal, Parliament's best economist.
Gerry Eckhoff. The decent southern man with heartland values. Parliament's only genuine high country farmer and the champion of rural New Zealand.
Deborah Coddington,. Stylish, brave, a champion of parent choice. New Zealand's top journalist, Parliament's best new MP.
Stephen Franks. Fit and fiercely intelligent, principled and courageous. Feared opponent of PC racism. Parliament's best lawyer.
Muriel Newman. The tough love lady. Tenacious, committed. Tireless campaigner. Parliament's best battler for the down trodden.
Richard Prebble. Tough. Driven. Seasoned. Wise. Hugely respected. Impossibly productive. Parliament's statesman, its best debater. New Zealand's most able politician.
In ACT we have set a precedent for drawing talented people into our caucus from the private sector. They are skilled men and women who are prepared to step out of successful professional careers and serve in parliament.
Steve Forbes in an interview last week referred to the ultimate example of this culture - America's first President George Washington. It's a culture we as a party have encouraged and will continue to do so with ACT candidates.
We will also distinguish ourselves on the policy front. Choice in education will continue to be a key focus for ACT, building on the momentum Deborah Coddington has created with her excellent book `Let Parents Choose'.
We need to present ourselves as a viable coalition partner for National, and a logical ideological fit.
In this regard I'd like to remind National that in 1996 when ACT first stood we stated that we would support a National-led government. We did and we kept supporting them when the National/NZ First Coalition collapsed in 1998. ACT kept its word. If ACT hadn't been there Labour would have come to power 15 months earlier. ACT turned out to be more reliable than NZ First.
Everyone knows that past behaviour is the best predictor of future conduct so National should have no problem in indicating publicly its preferred coalition partner.
It's also important to remember that ACT added votes to the centre right overall in 1996. At least one third of the votes that ACT got were not natural National supporters. National got the same percentage of votes in 1993 and 1996, but ACT was elected in 1996 for the first time with 6% of the party vote.
In the last election to some extent ACT was irrelevant because there was no prospect that National was going to form a government, but all this has changed with the `Brash hurricane'.
Last year ACT clearly spelt out a strategy for the centre right. We acknowledged that MMP is the electoral system we'll be operating under at the next election and we put forward a plan for ensuring a centre right victory. Specifically, cooperation in Parliament, a sensible, rational approach for the centre right to win back constituency seats, and agreed coalition messages.
The recent change in the political environment has this made strategy even more important and relevant.
ACT and National have continued to work constructively in The House. It's unfortunate that New Zealand First, spooked by recent polls, has taken their eye off the ball.
A re-invigorated National Party, adopting our constituency seat strategy of `banner candidates' could win at least six seats. Just think who Parliament could be rid of? From Whanganui Jill Pettis - gone. From Invercargill Mark Peck - gone. From Hamilton East Diane Yates - gone. From North Cote Anne Hartley - gone. From Waimakariri Clayton Cosgrove - gone. And joy of joys, from Banks Peninsula Ruth Dyson - gone. In the seats of these Labour members of parliament ACT will stand list only candidates prepared to help National, and perhaps New Zealand First.
We won't be looking for deals or accommodations - we declared this strategy and our hand last year.
We will also be looking for our own constituency seats as a maturing party and as I indicated last October, Epsom is one such seat. The voters of this electorate have been well served by the hard work of Rodney Hide, he is a very effective MP - watch this space. We will also look hard at other potential constituency seats. Tamaki and Wellington Central are among those we need to consider seriously.
But the next election, as in 2002, 1999 and 1996 ACT will be focusing primarily on the party list vote. In 2002 our campaign manager informally called our party vote strategy `back us or sack us' - it was not our policy to pursue an electorate seat as a safety net.
We want to extend our urban liberal vote in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, plus strength the support we receive from rural New Zealand. We are confident that we can pass the 5% threshold again next year.
Our experience over the last three elections is that the voters have demonstrated they want ACT in Parliament as a viable list party - 7.1% of the vote at the last election.
There is only one way to do this - hard work. As Baroness Thatcher said "Every day is a battle - socialists and the big government crowd get up early every morning to achieve their goals - we must get up even earlier!" For anyone who knows my work patterns this is an extremely big ask.
Once again, as I do every year, I'm going to ask you to donate your money and time to the Party to get done all the day-to-day things that make a political party operate. I know our members are already generous and I'd like to tell you a story to illustrate my point.
This week a long standing ACT member and former National MP for Palmerston North from 1975-78, John Lithgow died. John had been sick for sometime battling cancer. Just over a week ago John made a call to the ACT office, telling one of our staff "I've sent a cheque as a donation, I suggest you bank it quickly, I've only got a couple of days left." Not only was John prepared to give his money up until the end, he also campaigned for us in one of our hardest areas, Whanganui. He was a true believer and we'll miss you, John.
All of your hard work will help return ACT to Parliament and allow us to take a role in a centre right government. I have always said that ACT is a party of influence which can operate from the cross benches, along side or within government. But whatever the case, New Zealand needs ACT in Parliament.
To achieve this, we will need to add to our armoury of political tools. We will continue to embrace new technologies and tried and true tools like direct mail and telephoning. But there is room for new style and approaches. Cartoon imagery and humour, as Jim Hopkins demonstrated so well last night, are powerful tools.
We should be celebrating the fact that our ideas and policies have a really possibility of being implemented and that our liberal philosophy is timeless.
I believe we can succeed if we more forward into this challenging new phase of ACT's life armed with energy, unity, resolve, conviction, patience, passion and humour.
We have all of these qualities in this party.
Catherine Judd, President