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Brash - What Sort of Nation Do We Want?

Speech: Don Brash - What Sort of Nation Do We Want?

What Sort of Nation Do we Want? An address by Don Brash, Leader of the National Party, to Central North Island Regional Conference, Thames This is the first Regional Conference that I have had the privilege of addressing in my capacity as Leader of the National Party.

May I begin by thanking all of those in this region who have done so much to help get my leadership up and running. In particular I want to thank the most senior party office holder from this region, President Judy Kirk, for her tremendous support.

And I also want to thank the many senior office-holders who have given me their support during a demanding period.

The good news is that we have had a great start to 2004. I want to thank all of those who have contributed to that start, and who have worked so hard to turn it into membership, money and, above all, support for the National Party.

The bad news is that we have only just begun. We have a long road ahead of us. But at least we can see very clearly now where that road leads.

A National or National-led Government some time in 2005 is now a very real possibility.

We should be under no illusion about the task ahead for the National Party. This next election will substantially influence the sort of nation New Zealand becomes. The title of my Orewa speech was "Nationhood", but the issue is much wider than the Treaty.

And it is much wider than the relatively narrow set of issues surrounding the performance of the economy, and our ability to deliver the rising incomes that we all expect.

We have to ask some hard questions about the sort of society we are building.

We have to ask why it is so hard for people to keep ahead of the financial and other pressures involved in raising a family. How much stress do families face in modern New Zealand? How does the level of support we give young mothers compare to what was given to previous generations, particularly through organisations such as the Plunket Society? And what does that tell us about how we value families?

Why is our economy unable to deliver the increases in wages that we see in comparable countries? How much hard-earned money is siphoned off into the coffers of the state, and wasted on programmes of marginal value rather than on the core functions of government?

And we have seen a torrent of examples of scandalous abuse of public funding this year, accompanied by stunning complacency from this Government in the face of these revelations.

What sort of communities do we offer in New Zealand? Are they safe? Is our policing effective? Can our children walk to school without a parent as guard? And on the other hand, are we insisting on so many trivial rules and safeguards that our children are not getting the lessons that life provides: how to look after yourself, how to explore, how to pick yourself up after a setback, how to cope with failure or defeat.

We need a vibrant market economy, spurred on by competition to succeed and excel. But we don't want competition in all or even most aspects of our lives. We organise ourselves in voluntary and cooperative ways to meet our various enthusiasms for sports and culture, through clubs and associations, and through charitable and church groups, to provide for those of our needs which are best met collectively. Are we regulating these essential community activities to death? Are we to prosecute the organiser of a cycle race because somebody may neglect to take due care? Will excessive safety requirements mean that school trips and camps are a thing of the past?

I mention these things because the regulations that government places on these activities can dramatically influence the way our communities evolve, very often for the worse. Sometimes we just need the government to get out of our lives, and get back to fulfilling its core function.

Five years of dithering and negotiation between Labour and the Greens have left Auckland roading in gridlock, and roads in many other parts of New Zealand, including the Bay of Plenty and Waikato, are seriously inadequate. Unwillingness to update and reform the Resource Management Act has meant that even when the funds are available the roads are not built. Nor is the electricity generating capacity that will soon be needed. A country with second-rate transport infrastructure and an uncertain supply of energy is a low productivity country. And, if you make it costly for businesses to reorganise in the face of the usual commercial threats to survival, then you virtually guarantee lower incomes for hard-working New Zealanders. The proposed amendments to employment law will do just that.

Do our communities have adequate infrastructure to cater for community needs? What about the crucial infrastructure embedded in our schools and hospitals? Helen Clark was content to ignore community needs while the school closures were under way, only moving to stop the closures when the polls turned sour earlier this year.

In healthcare, the potential productivity gains from new technology are immense, but our bureaucratically managed, centrally directed and cash-strapped hospitals are not in a position to take advantage of these opportunities.

Do we live in safe communities? Who does our legal system protect, the criminal or the victim? What happens when people step over that line which forms the boundary between honest and criminal activity, between civilised behaviour and that which preys on the community? At the moment, not much. Our courts are overloaded; people don't even bother to turn up for their community work sentences; we have a methamphetamine epidemic; and we badly need to revamp the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The next National Government will stand entirely in support of the victims of criminal acts, and decisively against the criminal. As a country, we have gone soft on crime, and we are reaping the consequences.

And let us remember that we are a free society, and we must value and treasure the freedom that open societies such as ours provide. Do we adequately recognise the bedrock of sacrifice on which our current freedoms are based? It took much prodding from National before the Government finally bowed to pressure and increased the numbers of veterans able to attend the 60th anniversary of the battle of Monte Cassino this year. We must remember and honour these veterans. They - and those we honoured recently on Anzac Day - risked their lives, and many gave their lives, for the freedoms we all enjoy today and all too often take for granted. It almost defies belief that at this last chance for us to honour them, the Government could be so mean-spirited as to resist providing for greater participation - but then perhaps those funds had already been spent on higher priorities for this Go

Our traditional Kiwi values are being destroyed by a growing government-funded culture of dependency. The government is too big, too bureaucratic, and too unresponsive.

While most of the community is gradually getting ahead in an economy that has been growing at a moderate rate, there is a significant section of our community that is locked into welfare dependency, whose children are largely failing in our education system, and who are over-represented in the rising levels of criminal activity in this country. We have created a ticking social time bomb.

The issues facing us are not just about the economy, they are not just about growth and jobs and incomes, not just about the Treaty, but also, and essentially, about the way we live - about our communities, our aspirations, about our security, the education of our children, the care of our elderly, the preservation of our environment.

New Zealand doesn't have the balance right. We know this because too many New Zealanders are abandoning this country - an average of 25,000 a year since Labour came to power.

We need to reinvigorate our society if we are to create the sort of place that will be attractive to our children and grandchildren, a society that will allow them to meet their aspirations here in New Zealand.

This the task we face.


I want to turn now to the Treaty issues and the foreshore and seabed proposals that have dominated politics since late last year. We might all have hoped that the issues could have been dealt with, and we could move on, but there is little chance of that.

The Government, in attempting to wriggle out of its difficulties on these issues, has recently struck a deal with NZ First, and has repackaged the foreshore and seabed proposals. It is an attempted con, and Labour and NZ First are the perpetrators.

Today I want to explain why.

But I also want to review the developments since the Orewa speech, and to give a little background to just what is at stake in respect of the foreshore proposals.

I was surprised at the depth of public response after Orewa. As most of us were aware, there was considerable disquiet about where the Treaty process was leading New Zealand, but I had not appreciated the intensity of that feeling, nor the degree to which manifestly absurd, politically-correct race-related judgments had penetrated the institutions of our society.

There is so much that is clearly wrong, so much that should not be happening, so much that in a more robust environment where people were not afraid to speak their mind, would simply never have been able to happen.

I am deeply concerned that Maori will feel that they are the target of our attacks on the Treaty process. They are not.

Rather, the target is this Government, which continues to put in place policies that demean and fail Maori. There can be little doubt that much of what we are hearing about is a systematic patronisation of Maori. Some of the scandalously second-rate courses offered by polytechnics to young Maori, the hip-hop tours and all the rest, are an abuse of public funding and a tragic selling short of young Maori who, like everybody else, should be offered an excellent education, not some 21st century version of blankets and beads for land.

Maori, and all New Zealanders, deserve better from the Government than this. The country has been dragged further down this path of rampant political-correctness on Helen Clark's watch - she can't go on ducking responsibility for it.

Now she has suggested a Royal Commission. Nothing could be more opportunistic. Another talkfest for the well connected in Wellington, designed to push the issue out past the next election.

The reality is that this commission will be composed of the constitutional and judicial experts who created this mess, all overseen by this most politically-correct of governments. In other words, the architects of what the public is clearly rejecting would be reviewing their own performance.

That performance evaluation should be done, and will be done, by the electorate. We can all see there is a problem to be fixed. Ultimately, the electorate will have to decide which political party they want to see in charge of leading us out of the mess.

I want to explain in some detail our opposition to the revised foreshore and seabed proposals, and to explain why nothing much has changed from what the Government proposed late last year. But first a little background.

Under this Government, we have seen an accelerating trend to embed throughout the institutions of central and local government a wide range of requirements to consult with traditional tribal organisations, usually with the effect of giving a veto to these organisations. Most Maori will get no benefit from this, and our society as a whole will be harmed by the approach.

Let me explain why.

Instead of one-off property or cash settlements as part of the Treaty settlement process, we are seeing an increasing tendency for Maori groups to be endowed with the right to interfere in the property rights of others. How then do Maori get value out of such a settlement? The answer of course is that they do so by holding up any commercial or development interests. The result is that they are paid-off not to obstruct.

It would be difficult to imagine how one could design a more destructive arrangement. As one analyst has put it, the solutions that have been put in place give Maori the "poisoned pill" of benefiting from restricting the property rights of others. To obtain value, Maori are, in a sense, forced to hold others to ransom.

This is not a matter of race: whether you were of Maori, European or Asian descent, if placed in this position you would do much the same thing - and you would in turn encounter a hostile response from everybody else.

The foreshore and seabed proposals announced at the end of last year were merely the latest manifestation of this divisive trend. Last year, Helen Clark attempted to submit the country to a new and untested experiment with something called "customary title" and "public domain".

In spite of National Party objections and widespread public alarm at the approach, the Government pressed ahead nonetheless, but eventually caved in when the depth of support for National's position became clear. Via opinion polls, the people spoke.

What Helen Clark did not do was courageously stick to the principles she had affirmed so vigorously last year and earlier this year. Her approach to politics was summed up by Will Rogers, who said: "Politics is a great character builder. You have to take a poll to see what your character is each day."

After attacking me and the National Party, and by implication most of the New Zealand public, the Government made a major U-turn, and has made wholesale changes to the foreshore and seabed proposals.

Or has it?

The answer is no. This is a Beehive con job.

Short of votes because of opposition from some members of the Labour caucus, whose expectations the Prime Minister and Margaret Wilson themselves had raised to impossible heights, Labour has found a willing partner in this deception - NZ First, now an enthusiastic or perhaps unwitting participant in creating the next round of the Treaty grievance industry.

Together, they have taken the original proposals, changed the terminology, dressed the old ideas in new clothes and put out a revised policy with pretty much all the problems of the original.

While they are telling all New Zealanders we own our beaches, they are telling Maori that they will have control. Once again, Maori are offered a poisoned pill that will massively undermine race relations in New Zealand.

At first glance, it looked like common sense had prevailed. The first page of the summary briefing note on the new Bill introduced earlier this month boldly asserted that "the full legal and beneficial ownership of the foreshore and seabed will be vested in the Crown, to preserve it for the people of New Zealand. The Bill provides that the foreshore and seabed is to be held in perpetuity, and is not able to be sold or disposed of, other than by or under an Act of Parliament.

"The vesting will apply across all foreshore and seabed areas except those covered by private titles that have been or are in the process of being registered under the Land Transfer Act 1952."

Had this been the main thrust of the Bill, it is very likely that the National Party would have voted for it because this was essentially what we have been advocating since the Court of Appeal created uncertainty around the ownership of the foreshore and seabed in the middle of 2003.

But alas, that was just the start. The Bill will provide for the creation of a new jurisdiction for the Maori Land Court to recognise the "ancestral connection of Maori groups with particular areas of the foreshore and seabed" and yet another jurisdiction for the Maori Land Court and the High Court to identify customary rights in the foreshore and seabed.

National has five major concerns regarding this Bill.

First, who will get customary rights? The Bill says that any group, Maori or non-Maori, can apply for customary rights orders, but given that the requirement is for substantially uninterrupted use since 1840, clearly this applies only to Maori. This is a relatively trivial point, but typical of the deception involved in this process.

Secondly, the proposals once again give significant veto powers to Maori. Customary-right holders will be able to veto an application for resource consent if the activity the consent is being applied for would have a significantly adverse effect on the exercise of a customary right. When customary-right holders threaten to veto a resource consent, an applicant will be able to choose either to pay them off or to undergo lengthy and potentially costly litigation to dispute the allegations.

Thirdly, requirements to prove ancestral connection and customary rights will be rooted in tikanga Maori, or "Maori customary values and practices." For example, to get an ancestral connection order, Maori will have to show that they have an ancestral connection with the foreshore and seabed in accordance with tikanga Maori. Claimants will present evidence as to the tikanga meaning of ancestral connection. This means that the people who are arguing that they should get an ancestral connection order also have a say in the criteria for proving an ancestral connection. That is an astounding conflict of interest.

Fourthly, if the Maori Land Court receives no objections to an application for an ancestral connection order, it can just tick the boxes and make the requested order without a public hearing. Where a hearing does take place, New Zealanders will not get a chance to be heard as of right. Rather, they will have to show that they have an interest in the proceeding that is different from an interest in common with the public generally.

Finally, the proposals involve co-management of the foreshore and seabed. It will be quite easy for Maori to prove ancestral connection over a part of the foreshore or seabed - the Government has acknowledged that ancestral connection will cover virtually the entire coastline. Where Maori are given an ancestral connection order, they will gain "strengthened ability to participate in decision-making." In practice, this means greater Maori control over what can and can't happen along the coast, resulting in vastly greater and more costly consultation requirements.

The proposals pave the way for dual management over our coast, with the words 'ancestral connection' merely substituted for the earlier contentious concept of 'customary title'.

In other words, these proposals embody all of the corrosive aspects of a poison pill whereby Maori can benefit only by encroaching on the property rights of others.

National has no problem in recognising limited customary rights, but those customary rights have to be proven, and this new concept of 'ancestral connection' certainly can't be allowed to cover the entire coast - especially when the burden of proof for an 'ancestral connection' is so low.

These policies will put the future development and protection of our foreshore and seabed in the hands of unrepresentative minorities within the Maori world, and will do nothing for the vast majority of Maori.

As I pointed out in my Orewa speech, because legislators did not properly define the expression 'the principles of the Treaty', it was left to unelected Court of Appeal judges to determine the meaning of that phrase. Thus it was left to judges to build an entire and inappropriate constitutional relationship between Maori and the Crown.

The Labour-NZ First proposals look like making the same mistake all over again. It will be a bonanza for Treaty lawyers and leave a vacuum that will be filled by radicals, with our courts left to figure out what it all means.


There is plenty at stake in the political battle we face over the coming eighteen months. I don't believe that New Zealanders are prepared to put up with mediocre aspirations for themselves or for their children; they are not indifferent to the levels of taxation they face or the way this Government wastes their taxes on second-rate spending programmes; they want to live in a dynamic economy which will deliver them and their families well-paying jobs, and first-class education and healthcare, not a society falling further behind the rest of the world, handicapped by an interfering government.

But we don't want competition in every aspect of our lives. We want to make our own choices within our communities, to engage in activities of our choosing, to be able to influence local decisions, to choose our own lifestyles, to live at a pace that suits us, not on the terms of some grand view handed down by government. We want an ability to influence the way our local environment and communities evolve.

This is the sort of New Zealand the National Party represents and will be fighting for at the next election.

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