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Dunne Speech Auckland Regional party conference

Peter Dunne Speech Leader United Future

Auckland Regional party conference

Fickling Convention Centre

546 Mt Albert Rd


Most New Zealanders know that United Future is the “family” party.

They agree with our contention that the family is the building block of society, and that when families are strong and vibrant, society will flourish.

They probably know of the initiatives we have taken in support of families – things like the establishment of the Families Commission, and the work we have been doing to promote fairer forms of family support for middle New Zealand families, as well as our general advocacy for family related issues.

And they probably approve of what we are doing, even if they may not support us politically.

Indeed, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then we can claim success in the fact that other parties are now falling over themselves to parade their alleged family friendly credentials and are even appointing some of their more junior and unknown MPs as their families spokespeople as a mark of their commitment.

Two years ago they were simply downright sneering at us for promoting the interests of the family.

They used to describe our preoccupation with families as “prissy”, “excessively wholesome”, and “conjuring up an idealistic view” that was at best extremely narrowly focused and at worst simply out of touch with reality.

Now most of them are trying to leap on the same bandwagon.

While we cannot be complacent about this development, we should not be frightened of it either.

Most New Zealanders see the rekindling of awareness of family issues in parties that have spent years ignoring them for the hypocrisy that it is, and will discount it accordingly.

And most New Zealanders will appreciate that neither of the major parties is prepared to be the primary advocate for the family – one is simply too scared, and the other too politically correct!

The extreme parties like Act and the Greens are too bound up in the conceit of their own ideological dream world to worry about the rest of us.

So we will leave them there – out of touch, comfortable and irrelevant.

New Zealand First is just too Quixotic to be relied on for anything – the menacing, swaggering arrogance of the ‘tight five’ behind the sunglasses is a vision no one should ever forget.

Stable government and New Zealand First is an oxymoron.

Fighting in bars, and arguing over free restaurant meals is not what New Zealanders expect of their political leaders.

They want leaders they can trust, people who are reliable, and who are respected for their competence, tenacity and integrity.

And that is where we come in.

We are the only genuine centre party, capable of working constructively with either side of politics, disagreeing strongly as the occasion demands, but honouring our commitment to keep the big party honest and ensure stable government.

Indeed, I have already served as a Minister under both Labour and National Prime Ministers – without finding a phony issue to stage a walkout over, and bring the government to its knees.

So while others waffle about wanting to work across party lines in the best interests of the country, we have actually done it already, and are doing it now on a daily basis.

And we are succeeding – our confidence and supply agreement with the Labour led government has already outlasted the entire term of the National/New Zealand First coalition.

When it comes to upholding stable government we are the only party able to provide that guarantee to either of the major parties, while at the same time standing up fearlessly for our policies and principles.

That is even more relevant in the current political climate – for the first time since MMP came in, it is the support party that is holding together and the big party that is looking shaky!

The message for New Zealanders is therefore utterly clear: only United Future can ensure that our next government is stable, and kept honest.

I said earlier that we are widely recognised as the family party, but when we talk about the family, we need to be clear about what we mean, and why we mean it.

For my part, I do not see the family in the neat and prim way of, for example, the American television scriptwriters of the 1950s and 1960s – prosperous, conservative and hierarchical.

Dad off to work in the morning, and home at 5:30 pm for dinner with his wife and two perfect children, and a shaggy dog, and then a newspaper and pipe by the fire.

Nor do I share the romantic view of Eamon de Valera who outlined a vision of family life in Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s based around comely, gentle women; happy, dancing children; strong, rugged men living an idealised life without an apparent care in the world at only slightly more than subsistence level.

Families for me are more dynamic, and difficult to stereotype because of that.

You cannot have a Family Gestapo rigidly prescribing the shape and form of families because of the fundamental point that no two families are the same.

Nor should we make them so.

The basic form may be the same, but the individual structure varies considerably.

We all have, and all spring from a family, whatever our need, ethnicity or socio-economic status.

It is that common experience which puts the family at the core of our existence and leads to the relevance of the family as the starting point for all government actions.

Families are not just an end in themselves – a sort of smug, insular picture of self-contented introversion – and we must be careful that our advocacy of family issues does not become so narrow and one-dimensional to be no more than that.

Families are modern, vital, engaging and lively.

They are that unique refuge where the members should be able to feel safe, and confident to express their innermost feelings and anxieties without fear of ridicule or scorn.

Our children are most vulnerable in that regard.

United Future’s bold plans to abolish CYFS and start again with a new structure that will ensure that both the urgent and non-urgent cases are dealt with effectively, using the resources of all the community, demonstrates our commitment clearly.

No other party has put forward such positive plans to deal with the brutal scourge of child abuse and neglect – because no other party really cares beyond the next sensationalist headline.

And it is why our Families Commission is not about prescribing an absolute model, but is much more about developing the circumstances in which all families, and within them individual family members, can flourish and make their best contribution to the future development of our country.

And we should not be backward in saying so.

Because, sadly, not all families provide that haven.

The political critics who bemoan the fact that the Families Commission has been developed the way it has are the same people who laughed the very idea out of court when I first promoted it, saying that the state cannot make families good by law, and who did nothing positive for families in all the years they had the opportunity.

Memories may be short, but that does not mean we should overlook the facts.

New Zealand today is undergoing perhaps the most profound social change in its history.

That is why in a world beset by uncertainty the family is more important than ever.

The face of our nation is being changed by immigration and we are becoming more vibrant and multicultural as a result.

The advent of the global marketplace means we are exposed to the impacts of technological and material change as quickly as any nation on earth.

No longer do we have the luxury of isolation – we witnessed the horror of September 11th at the same instant as those in the aircraft experienced it.

The world is our oyster in a way earlier generations could have only dreamed of.

But we also know that our world, our families and our children lie exposed to callous, indiscriminate terrorism of a form no people in history have ever had to confront before, and that our personal security has never been subject to such threats.

And that the post “me” generation is starting to tire of the unrelenting consequences of rampant materialism, in favour of new certainties in life like stable relationships, a loving home environment where children are seen as the key to the future, and not an inconvenience to the pleasures of today.

Our challenge as the family party is to develop policies, which are part of this environment and deal with its concerns, rather than be merely a Canute like force trying to turn the clock back to a bygone age where all families looked the same and where diversity was a dirty word.

One of the core issues facing all of us is that of our national identity – who we are as a people, and what it means to be growing up as a New Zealander today.

It is an issue for our parents rearing their children; our teenagers wondering about their opportunities and futures; our families contemplating a world where communications have rendered the tyrannies of separation and distance irrelevant and our politicians faced with arbitrating the various demands and pressures.

However, we are currently very unclear about our national identity.

The demographics make it clear we are no longer transplanted Europeans living at the end of the world.

While we understand that, we are not quite sure what it means.

We hear that our Pacific and Asian populations are growing significantly, and while we like the influx of cultural diversity and flavour that brings, we worry about where it leaves us as a people.

We are hesitant and uncertain, given to bouts of revisionism and almost endless national self-analysis, which, unfortunately, is going on in a vacuum.

We have developed a national industry in re-interpreting our past, with very little consideration on its impacts for the future.

That is what makes the current debate about the constitution and the Treaty of Waitangi so important and why it is so entirely appropriate that United Future take a leading role in it.

While I do confess to a certain proprietorial interest, having pursued what has been at times a lonely crusade for a decade now, I believe that the time for such a debate has never been more appropriate, or our ability and confidence as a nation never greater to handle it.

My reasons are simply these.

The coming together of various strands is promoting a unique set of circumstances.

I have already referred to the changing face of New Zealand.

That will continue apace over the next 50 years, and anti-immigration or other restrictive policies are not going to stop it.

At the same time, our population will be more mobile, more pluralistic, and more global in outlook.

The Maori renaissance will continue with two consequences.

One we know and see already – Maori confronting their past and reflecting upon their aspirations for the future.

The other – which is only just beginning – is that the rest of us will also be doing likewise.

The upshot will be an entirely different New Zealand to the one we know today.

The New Zealander of the future will be a mixture of our European, Maori, Pacific and Asian backgrounds in a way that no other people on earth are.

He and she will be as at home in the countries of Europe and Asia, as in the Pacific or in Queen Street.

While their outlooks will be global, their values will be traditional, and their commitment to their families strong.

More and more thirty-something New Zealanders will be coming home after years overseas, earning the money to pay off their student loans, to have their families.

New Zealand’s clean, green image will be a part of that attraction, not in the sense that Kiwis believe our environment should be locked up and shut away from public the way the tree huggers want, but more because our national affinity with the great outdoors means we want to enjoy our magnificent surroundings as much as possible, and promote them as widely and proudly as we can.

And the challenge for political parties like ours is to be on the wavelength of those changes, which brings me back to the constitution.

To date, the best way to put people to sleep at a meeting has been to mention our constitutional arrangements.

We have tended to work on the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” model, and have often failed to see the sleight of hand required to keep things appearing to work as they have done.

In recent years, however, one or two things have happened that have gone beyond the quiet tinkering.

First, knighthoods were abolished by press statement.

Now I have no particular hankering in that regard, but I do think such a change was more symbolically profound than that.

And then there was the Privy Council abolition, which reinforced for many that there was after all a government agenda in place to change New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements by stealth.

These events, fanned considerably by the reaction to a speech in Orewa earlier this year, put the constitutional issue centre stage as never before.

While various people pontificated, we got to work.

Over recent months, I have been discussing with the Prime Minister a mechanism for reviewing our constitutional arrangements, including examining the contemporary place of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Because the constitution, however it is described, belongs ultimately to the people of New Zealand, it is vital that the process we are now embarking upon is one that engages as many New Zealanders as possible, and seeks their input.

It is also vital for its credibility that it transcend contemporary party politics and that its timetable is not governed by the normal three year electoral cycle.

In this context, the attitude of the National Party has been extremely disappointing.

The Orewa speech was to many extents the ultimate unleashing of new Zealanders’ concerns.

Having initiated the process, albeit inadvertently, the National party cannot now credibly walk away from any part in its resolution, and claim that a broad review is simply a convenient way of kicking the issue to touch until after the next election.

That reeks of short term political advantage outweighing the national interest, and will make many people more cynical than ever about politics and politicians.

The Don Brash I have known as a friend for almost 20 years is a bigger man than that, and I invite him to take the opportunity to play a constructive role in this important aspect of New Zealand’s future, rather than follow the short-term political advice of his backroom people.

Once the public conversation phase of this exercise is completed, a Royal Commission needs to pick up on the key issues this has thrown up, examine them further and make recommendations as appropriate to the government.

At that point, the government ought to submit any recommendations for change to a binding public referendum for adoption or rejection.

Let me make this clear, however.

The process I am talking of must be about much more than where the Treaty fits today.

It will fail if it is limited to that issue.

Having said that, we cannot have a proper constitutional debate without looking at the Treaty and its status.

But nor can we have a proper debate if we are not prepared to confront the republic question.

We should not be afraid to have a full and frank debate on the issue, and, whatever our personal views, have the confidence in our national maturity to resolve it in the best long term interests of our country.

That is, after all, the essence of common sense.

If we try and limit the debate by keeping certain things off the agenda, we will fail because the people will inevitably raise them in some form or another.

Far better surely to be upfront and to acknowledge their critical relevance to our country’s future, bearing in mind that ultimate decisions will not be made by the politicians, but by the people themselves.

The strands I spoke of before give me confidence in our national ability to deal with these issues sensibly and openly.

If we fail, or if we let narrow self interest get in the way of sensible outcomes, we will have betrayed not only ourselves, but also those who come after us.

In the interests of our families and our children, and their future, it is therefore vital that we succeed.

Now, let me “fast forward” to 2010.

My vision is:

* New Zealanders will have a clear sense of their national identity as a mix of Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and will be equally at home in all those environments;

* The dynamism and confidence of our people will be well recognised, with strong families and communities seen to be the main contributing factor;

* The process of constitutional reform we initiated back in 2004 will have been completed, and the recommendations of the Royal Commission, including the future of the Treaty of Waitangi and whether we become a republic, will have been put to a binding public referendum for endorsement;

* All outstanding Treaty of Waitangi claims will have been resolved and we will have reached a national consensus on the future of separate Maori representation in Parliament, and, if necessary, agreed a timetable for any phase out.

* New Zealand will be seen worldwide as one the most dynamic, multicultural, and progressive societies, which once again lives up to its historical boast of being the best place on earth to work and raise a family.

United Future was formed just over 3 years ago to make a difference – and we have, already.

We have put families back on the political agenda, because we know that strong and functional families are the key to our country’s future, and the opportunities that lie ahead for our children.

Today, we are fronting the issue of constitutional review because we see that at the core of our national identity, and consequently at the heart of achieving the positive opportunities we want for the families of the future.

We are all passionate New Zealanders, sick and tired of seeing our country torn apart.

My parliamentary colleagues are equally sick and tired of watching shallow politicians jockey for short-term advantage while so many of the major issues facing our country are left to fester.

All of us know what needs to be done, and together we possess the confidence and the determination to achieve that.

You are a critical part of that process, and I value your input and support.

My best wishes to you all for a successful conference.

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