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Massey University Lecture Series - Simon Power MP

Simon Power, MP for Rangitikei

21 April 2004

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

I am particularly happy to address the question of New Zealand tomorrow,
for two reasons.

First, my wife Lisa and I have just welcomed our first child into the
world, which is the best reason to contemplate what sort of country my son
will grow up in.

Second, I have now been in Parliament for a term and a half, which has
proved ample time, especially during those long, late nights in the
debating chamber, for me to think about the nation's future - its
challenges and its potential.

I have gained a sense that the current leadership of the country hasn't
given enough thought to the future and the needs of my generation.

In my nearly five years in Parliament I have also observed two leadership
coups, endured a difficult election campaign for my party during 2002, and
now the polls reveal a renewed interest by voters in National. As I said
during my maiden speech to Parliament, I didn't want an easy life, I
wanted an interesting one. Politics has not disappointed!

I also said in 1999 in my maiden speech that in ten years' time the type
of country I wanted was one that was dynamic, innovative, determined,
forward-looking and forward-thinking. Because, just like many of my
generation, I feel that New Zealand's best is yet to come.

But before addressing the local, I would first like to go global, because
the 21st century context for my generation of Kiwis is quite different
from those of even my parent's generation.

What are some of the global challenges New Zealand leaders will face
tomorrow?

The nuclear risk, whether between states or set off by rogue states,
biological terror, global terrorism, global warming and rising sea levels
all serve to remind us that we have become a lethal element in our own
universe. This challenge affects New Zealand in significant ways.

Our geographical location can no longer be viewed as our ultimate
protection.

The world is too interconnected. Violence is creeping closer to our door.
Weaknesses are being exploited.

We must, therefore, in the first instance, discuss more openly our defence
relationship with Australia. With so many Kiwis living there we cannot do
otherwise. New Zealand's Defence and Foreign Policies must provide
security for our people. It is a core duty of responsible governments to
provide security and it is time for my generation - the most travelled
generation ever - to front up to what political partyies have to say about
the nature of our strategic environment and about our future security
needs.

One of the things that distinguishes tomorrow's generation is that we have
grown up in the marketing age. Slogans are ignored; sound-bites are
sneered at, and spin doesn't wash. The Knowledge Wave talkfest left us
cold. Self improvement seminars can't fool us.

People of my generation want to know their choices so they can make them -
not somebody else. 21st century leaders of New Zealand will have to find
new ways of connecting, new ways of offering people choice.

There is a feeling among my generation that we have been silenced for too
long by governments; ignored by leaders who have believed that policy is
too complex for us to understand.

That is their failure, not ours.

In a speech I gave at a National Party Conference back in 2001 I said we
must learn to speak a new language, a language of innovation and success,
and a language of inclusion and hope.

I still firmly believe that, but I have learned since that to speak is not
always to be heard, so it is even more important for leaders to talk
directly, openly, and honestly about the choices facing citizens.

The rise of global technologies affecting political communication is a
worldwide phenomenon, and a problem for political leaders of all stripes.
In 1968, when Bobby Kennedy began his tragic bid for his party's
presidential nomination, the average sound bite was 48 seconds. Today we
have but 7 seconds, which is not long enough to give any sort of
meaningful information to people. Nor is it long enough for people to
properly judge politicians.

Information is wonderfully diverse, it is often instantaneous, and it is
empowering, but I am concerned by the effects that the 24/7 news cycle has
had on the quality of political communication.

It is harder for people to see clear choice from the sheer noise that is
produced. This challenge will need to be overcome if my generation's
demand for a better dialogue with its leaders is to be achieved.

I'll address one more related global challenge - namely the growing gap
between the knowledge of the few compared to the alienation of the many.
Leadership in the 21st century will see greater specialisation and
technical expertise demanded of office-holders. The Log Cabin to White
House journey will give way, if it hasn't already, to the passage of new
generations of highly educated leaders. Prime Ministers and Presidents who
are specialists and skilled in decision-making will, in my judgment,
become the norm among first world countries.

This phenomenon will impose significant burden on leaders who attempt to
bridge the 'Knowledge gap.' They will need to bring their citizens along
and allow them their choices. To treat citizens as ignorant in the future
will result in further alienation from politics and politicians.

Adaptability will be crucial.

Turning now to our domestic concerns, the changing demographic profile
facing my son's millennium generation is dramatic.

A report by the Future Foundation, which was commissioned by British Bank
First Direct (a division of HSBC Bank), predicts that my son could start
school at age 3, will retire at 80 and live to be 120.

A longer life will also mean that he will learn, work and play more.

The report says this generation will have room for three or more careers
and several periods of formal learning.

Many of them could find themselves going back to University in their 60s
to retrain.

80% of the business tools my son will use at work have yet to be
invented.

Now, I am motivated to ensure that he enjoys a first-class education so he
can enjoy the fruits that freedom and choice deliver, and that he will
thrive here, living in a prosperous and confident first-world country.

Education will indeed be the key for unlocking the potential of all New
Zealanders.

Education liberates, it gives people more and better choices, and it gives
us the skills we will need to adapt to change.

But we must do better.

We must provide incentives to improve the quality of our education system.
No child or young adult can attain the "fullest reach of his or her
powers" without:

- Quality teachers being better paid.

- Better parental involvement in decisions affecting their
children.

- Curriculum content that reinforces basic skills while also
challenging our best and brightest, and

- The development of a school ethos that embraces success and
talent, not merely participation and mediocrity.

As someone who believes strongly in encouraging each and every individual
to reach their fullest potential, I view with a natural suspicion the
activity of any sector group which, by its sheer force of numbers, or by
its close links to the governing Party, imposes its own political agenda
without consideration for the common good.

The PPTA is a good case in point. Its campaign for higher wages last year
did nothing to benefit the quality of teaching of our young, nor has it
done anything to recruit more quality young people into the teaching
profession.

The PPTA's concern, it seems, was in maintaining its authority with the
all-knowing Ministry of Education. And this leads to a wider point about
my generation and its attitude towards unions.

As at December 2002, 17.6% of the workforce belonged to unions. I would
suggest to you that very few of those would be under 40 years old. In
fact, young people in the 18-24 age group were significantly less likely
to be union members

- Only 9%, compared to the 17.6% already mentioned.

This is the result of changes in employment. Gone are the days when a man
or woman went into a job at the age of 18 and retired at the age of 60
without ever changing their employer.

Today's workforce is flexible and mobile. Most of my peers who graduated
with law degrees don't practise law. Around this room there will probably
be a number of you who will not end up working in the profession you begin
in, or you will change your career more than once.

People want flexibility in their employment, many don't want to be
attached to a distant group of people, paying subs and getting little more
than outdated class warfare propaganda in return. A true sign of
yesterday's debate.

Unions' relevance to people of my generation is minimal. We believe in
doing things for ourselves rather than filling the coffers of those who
purport to represent us when, in fact, they are only furthering their own
narrow political agenda.

Education will also need to drive our economic performance.

This is because the 21st century will impose significant economic
challenges for this country and we will have to adapt and surpass our
competitors if we are to survive, let alone excel.

In New Zealand Tomorrow, we must provide the right environment for
biotechnology, filmmaking and computer software, for instance. We must
create incentives to accelerate the growth of more vital research &
development. New Zealand has the talent, we just need the will to unleash
it. But let's not forget what we do best. The Knowledge Wave Conference
may not be around in 20 years' time but our agricultural sector certainly
will.

My generation is also impatient at the mindless and endless raft of
bureaucratic red tape thrown in the path of our young innovators and
entrepreneurs.

Government regulation and onerous compliance costs crush risk-taking.

My generation does not have the patience to stand in line or fill out
endless forms.

We have better things to do and little time to spare.

We see no sense in the raft of barriers to doing business in this country.
The Resource Management Act is an absurdity for its reliance on cumbersome
rules and procedures over simple common sense and good judgment.

People can't make good judgments if the legislative framework denies them
reasonable discretion to balance competing interests and reach considered
decisions.

This government, by its actions, believes it can no longer trust people to
make sensible decisions without consulting its bureaucratic manuals and
its PC agents from Wellington.

It's about time 'Big Brother' went on a diet.

In my maiden speech I paid tribute to the role that the farming sector has
as the backbone of our country's economy. They provide real jobs. They
nourish our provincial towns. They are people who have an innate feel and
affection for the land they work.

I hold that view even more strongly after my five years in politics.

Farmers actually produce something tangible from which the whole nation
then shares, and have always competed in an increasingly competitive - and
often highly protected - international market.

The recent floods in the Rangitikei have further heightened my sense of
admiration and respect for the tens of thousands of people who work in the
agricultural and farming sectors.

These are hard-working men and women whose contribution is often taken for
granted until we see them under some sort of duress.

We must always support our rural sector, a community of Kiwis who deserve
their concerns being listened to and addressed as much as any who live in
our cities. Their problems might not be the same but there is nothing
intrinsically different about the hopes and aspirations of a person living
in Gore from someone living on the North Shore.

Finally, let me turn to the politics of New Zealand tomorrow.

What I sense is a growing impatience among my generation at the poor
quality of political discussion, at the political correctness-gone-bad, at
being told how to live and what to think by a government whose
socialisation experiences are so very different from those of most New
Zealanders.

I sense that people are growing weary of one narrow worldview.

So, let me also make this clear. I stand unequivocally for freedom.
Economic freedom, personal freedom, political freedom - the freedom, above
all, to choose between alternatives.

But freedom means more than one's view on globalisation, free trade deals,
or debates around more or less state intervention in the economy.

The freedom I am talking about is the liberation of our political
imaginations.

The freedom to dream and the freedom to pursue those dreams without
restraint or interference.

The freedom to think what we like and the freedom to express our
thoughts.

And in this sense the old arguments of the 1980s and 1990s no longer
resonate with people of my generation. Even the old left-right divide has
lost much of its force with us.

Continuing debates about the reform period have to me become largely
meaningless. New Zealand simply had to change. I'm pleased it did. But it
is time to move on, accepting and learning from the past.

Lessons have been learned.

The key one for me is that our leaders must prepare people for change.
Preparation and providing choices is crucial to fostering social
inclusion.

My generation, however, is far more focused on solutions and that, I
think, is the real challenge of New Zealand tomorrow.

To solve the hard problems, those policy areas that are caught between the
old divisions of left and right.

Policies like the future of our education system, National Superannuation,
foreign and defence policy, and relations between us all - these policy
areas must be discussed openly and informatively in front of the public.

I want to contribute to providing solutions.

Finally, I am located on the so-called centre-right because I hold, above
all, that the freedom of the individual is central to their existence.

But I care equally about helping those New Zealanders who need a hand up.
Compassion is, in fact, good policy as well as showing the common decency
we all feel towards those in need.

Freedom and compassion are not mutually exclusive. They form part of my
wider focus on encouraging New Zealanders from all walks of life to be the
best that they can be.

The Prime Minister, Cullen, Wilson, Mallard and Goff risk, I think, being
only a footnote in our political history because they are not proving bold
enough to lead. Their poll-driven politics is safe but it is not providing
leadership or laying down signposts for the future. There is no vision.
No chapter will be written about them.

My generation will not so much be passed the torch as to have to go and
find it. I am committed to convincing people that things can be better.

We are committed to charting the course for New Zealand tomorrow.

There's not a moment to lose.

Thank you.

ENDS


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