Judy Kirk – Address To Northern Region Conference
National Party President
15 May 2004
Address to National Party Northern Region Conference
Mr Chairman, Dr Don Brash, Members of Parliament, Board of Directors, General Manager Steven Joyce, Electorate Chairs, members of the National Party.
It's great to be in National's northern heartland. In what was a disastrous election for National in 2002, we at least held our electorate seats. North of the Harbour Bridge, we still hold seven of nine seats and there are great swathes of blue territory in the rest of Auckland. But we must not kid ourselves. Winning electorate seats is fine in a first past the post system but of secondary importance with MMP. The sad reality is that at the last election in Auckland, as in other parts of the country, our Party vote plummeted. It must, and is being rebuilt. In preparing for this conference, I researched a few statistics. We all know in general terms how big and multi-cultural Auckland is, and it's importance to the country. But these statistics are very revealing indeed. Did you know?
* That Auckland grows by 108 people a day?
* That the Auckland region grows by the size of Dunedin every four years?
* That 181 ethnic groups can be identified in Auckland? - Auckland is a veritable melting pot of every race on earth.
* That Auckland has a larger proportion of Pacific Island people and a larger proportion of Asian people than the rest of the country?
* That in 2016, nearly half of Auckland will be non-European?
Those last statistics highlight the challenge to the National Party. We must build beachheads in other parts of Auckland, particularly in West and South Auckland where we are poorly represented. In order to do that, we must broaden our Party's base to appeal to the different communities resident in Auckland. We must reach out to all New Zealanders regardless of race, age, religion, or gender. National's values have appeal. Our challenge is to make sure our message is heard. Given the way things are going, I think these are realistic challenges for the National Party in Auckland:
* We should be able to regain Northcote at the next election and I think it is time to give the Labour MP for Auckland Central a real run for her money. The demographics of that seat are changing and will be won by us in the near future. Let's make the capture of Auckland Central a real aim.
* We must rebuild our Party vote and aim to win at least 40% of the party vote in Auckland. Given our polling, that is a realistic challenge.
* We must choose candidates who can effectively represent Auckland region and who can relate to the many diverse communities of this great city.
So the first message I want to leave with you today is about the importance of the Party vote. The Party vote will determine the make up of the next Parliament. We need our MPs to be in Government, not in Opposition, and that only happens if we win the Party vote.
It is the Party vote we must win.
It is the Party vote that is important
It is the Party vote that we must vigorously campaign for.
The second message I want to leave with you is that your Party organisation is doing very well. When I became President, I had a number of aims:
* Help bring about change to the constitutional structure of the Party to make it a more effective political machine.
* Change the culture within the Party.
* Establish a Candidates' College so that potential candidates are better prepared for the rigours of politics.
* To bring the organisational and Parliamentary wings closer together and involve the organisation in policy formulation.
* To recognise the value of the regional and electorate chairs and to strengthen the organisation.
Party Structure The first of the objectives was achieved with the Constitutional Conference on 12th April 2003 which greatly improved the structure of the Party. The governance and management of the organisation is now clearly defined. This last year has involved bedding down the many changes. Importantly, the new Board is up and running. It is working far more effectively than the former National Management Board. Rather than being bogged down with management detail, the new Board is able to adapt a more strategic approach to the operations of the Party. I acknowledge the members of the Board who have had to make some tough decisions. They are an effective team, and it is a privilege to chair a group of such dedicated and talented people. Another idea I had as President was the establishment of an audit committee, ably chaired by Roger Bridge and assisted by Alan Towers and CNI's David Bennett. They keep a keen eye on the Party finances and indeed at this year's Annual Conference for the first time, the Board will report to delegates on such matters. We are in good shape. There is a new role of the regions, which are performing very well. For example, in this region your membership this year has already passed the total of last year. Some electorates that have struggled for years have met all their obligations. This is outstanding! It has not been an easy transition. Revolutionary changes take time to be accepted and there are still issues to work through. By and large, however, the new structure is working very well. The regional chairs play an important role. I pay tribute to your regional chair, Scott Simpson and thank him for the work he has put into this region - a huge workload. Scott has an enormous responsibility. The party vote in this region will dictate the outcome of the next election. He will need all of us to assist. This year they will be chairing candidate selections and preparing electorates for the campaign. Their role has evolved into one of providing support and advocacy for their electorates.
The Party staffing structure has been revamped. Steven Joyce is to be congratulated on his outstanding achievements. Steven is now able to concentrate on the big picture and is supported by our new Operations Manager, Megan Campbell. The office is becoming far more responsive to the needs of electorates and the regions. The support, advice and friendship from Steven is invaluable and appreciated. The pace has been fast, we have shared some hard and difficult times but had fun along the way. Three full-time field officers have been appointed. In this region you have a very experienced person in Alan Croot. We have a small and dedicated team of nine across the country who are dedicated and coming together as a team to benefit the whole Party. The electorates are responding to their greater responsibilities, focussing on membership, fundraising and candidate selection, lifting the profile of the national brand at the grass roots. The importance of electorates was highlighted by the recent meeting at Taupo of the electorate chairs where there was a very good attendance. We talked about campaigning, fundraising, the candidates' selection process, and Kick Start (our new direct marketing membership initiative) which is having results beyond all expectations and policy development. The Kick Start programme has benefited the Party. You have six Electorates who picked up this initiative. Your membership has increased by 143% on last year. The membership in some electorates is still weak, and there is still more to do at the grassroots level. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the electorate chairs. You have a most important role and I thank you all for your work. All volunteers who are motivated by what National stands for and wanting a National-led government.
The Party's Culture and Leadership My second aim was to change the culture of the organisation. We all must work as one team, back ourselves and each other. Everyone must row, if the boat is to go. Unity and discipline are essential if we are to be successful. We are a united team led by Dr Don Brash. Our leader is a skilled communicator. He is able to articulate a clear and precise message. As one political commentator noted: "Don Brash has struck a cord with many, now everybody knows his name. He has brought an elegant, business savvy into New Zealand politics". Don Brash is decisive, a strong leader, honest and caring. He has a keen sense of humour. He has a vision for New Zealand's future.
The new Candidates' College The Candidates' College was launched in Parliament last November. I invited Sir George Chapman, to open the College at the function which some of you attended. It has met for training days in Auckland and Wellington, and another day is planned for 8 July before the annual conference. Sixty-four potential candidates have attended the College. I hope there will be a contest in every open electorate this year. Competition is the lifeblood of the Party. At the moment, I cannot think of one major selection which will not be contested by a number of people, any one of whom would be a good candidate. To see this new initiative in action is very exciting. Strong and well-prepared candidates are important in our plan. We could be looking at the biggest intake for many years. I am very grateful to Don, the Caucus, previous
leaders and MPs for their support and help with the college. It has been a real highlight for me, an idea I brought forward, now a reality.
This weekend you will elect your list ranking representatives to sit on this very important committee. I want to bring this committee together following the Annual Conference. The strategy of how we present our list for the forthcoming election is crucial.
Policy The policy processes are starting to work well. The Policy Consultation Committee meets monthly. The Chair, Chris Finlayson is now attending the Caucus Policy Committee. In addition there have been a number of excellent pieces of work - I refer in particular to Katherine Rich's paper on Welfare. In addition, Policy Advisory Groups are being established. The Board recently approved the Classic Liberal Advisory Group, and Asian Policy Advisory Group. Bernadine Pool in LNI is working to develop a group which addresses the needs and concerns of our citizens over sixty years of age. We are also working on a pacific island group. Just this week a Primary Sector group is being organised to replace the old Agpol groups.
So generally overall:
* We have made great strides in the last twelve months.
* There has been a sea change in the way we are viewed; we are now seen as a major political party with a credible claim to Government in 2005.
* Membership this year has already exceeded the entire figure we achieved last year.
* Campaign planning is under way.
We have achieved huge steps forward; we must be ready for any event. We are preparing relentlessly. I am pleased to see the positive change, not just for the Leader and the MPs, but also particularly for you the loyal delegates and observers who have stayed with the Party through the tough times and are now starting to see the promise of the good times. As I said at last year's Regional conferences, all the changes that needed to be made would not be achieved in the first month or in the first three months or even the first six months. But I said we had to make a start. All delegates, observers and Party members took that on board, knuckled down and the results are obvious for all to see. We have made greater progress in the last 12 months than one could have believed possible. There is still a lot to do. The polls look good, but we must not be complacent. It will be a tough competition. The foundations are in place, they are firm and strong, the building programme well planned. Don Brash and the team are ready for the battle ahead and a win in 2005.
The future The next election will substantially influence the sort of nation New Zealand becomes. National's policies will build a better future for all New Zealanders. In Napier last weekend our Leader spoke about the woman he met at Hawke's Bay Airport. She had just returned home after visiting her three children all of whom now reside in Australia. She asked him to bring her children home.
I look forward to being with Prime Minister Don Brash the day he meets that person again so that he can give her the many reasons why her children could be on the next flight home:
* We have a government which will govern in the interests of all New Zealanders, not just a few;
* We have a strong and growing economy;
* We have first class education and healthcare systems;
* We live in safe communities; and
* All New Zealanders have equal opportunity.
I ask these questions:-
* Will National be the driving force in the next Government?
* Answer : Yes
* Will Don Brash be Prime Minister next year?
* Answer : Yes
Delegates and Observers, thank you for all you do for our great Party. I am always mindful of your contribution. I am very proud to be the 16th President of the National Party. Ladies and gentlemen, this is going to be an enjoyable weekend in a great part of New Zealand. In the months ahead, as you work in your electorates and as you promote the National Party brand, everything you do and say must have one objective in mind. We must win the Party vote.