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The Brash-Report - No. 30, 19 May 2004

An update from the National Party Leader

No. 30, 19 May 2004

It has been an eventful fortnight! The hikoi, the Government's foreshore and seabed legislation, the release of the Creech report on the relationship between New Zealand and the United States, and accusations by Helen Clark and Phil Goff that I told visiting US Senators in January that the next National Government would scrap the nuclear-free legislation - "by lunch-time". But first, some follow-up comments on the Holidays Act.

The Holidays Act again

In my last newsletter, I argued that the Holidays Act was a seriously damaging piece of legislation, and would destroy jobs as many companies would choose not to open on statutory holidays rather than pay the double-time-and-a-half required by the new law.

It is abundantly clear that that has been only one of the results. I have received plenty of anecdotes which suggest that that is just part of the problem.

The Hawkes Bay Fruitgrowers Association has pointed to the huge additional cost created by the new Act for those employing casual staff, noting that the cost of picking a bin of fruit on a statutory holiday had been $35.25 before the Holidays Act came into force, and was now $88.23. The result, of course, is that growers try hard not to employ anybody on public holidays and, if picking on public holidays is unavoidable, as it often is, the return to growers is very sharply reduced.

The front page of the National Business Review last week quoted the personnel manager of the Alliance Group saying that, by the time the fourth week of annual leave becomes mandatory, the new Holidays Act will have added 5% to their total wage and salary bill. He claimed that since the Act came into force at the beginning of April, the incidence of sick leave had quadrupled. Blue Sky Meats advised that this year they did not work on Good Friday, Easter Monday, or Anzac Day for the first time in 10 years.

And this as a result of a law passed by a Government which pretends to be concerned to create jobs and improve growth!

The hikoi

The hikoi has come and gone and has generated plenty of mixed emotions. It reflected how strongly many Maori felt about the Government's proposed foreshore and seabed legislation, and the extent to which the Government's 10 months of dithering over this issue since the Court of Appeal decision in the middle of last year has raised the expectations of many Maori to quite unrealistic heights.

Many non-Maori New Zealanders felt angry. Why were the protestors allowed to close two lanes of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, at great inconvenience to Aucklanders and at some risk to themselves and the Bridge itself? How were so many people able to take time off work - or off school in the case of the children - or were they all supported by the generosity of the taxpayer?

I shared some of that anger, but I also felt sadness that so many New Zealanders had been encouraged to believe - in contrast to the almost unanimously held view of New Zealanders since the 1860s - that a small minority of our number had rights akin to ownership over the foreshore and the seabed based on their ethnicity, and that acknowledging such rights would be conducive to economic prosperity and racial harmony.

The fact of the matter is that for well over a century it has been understood that the Crown owned the foreshore and the seabed, with the exception of very limited areas in fee simple title (partly owned by Maori and partly by other New Zealanders). The National Party supports legislation to make the Crown's ownership of the foreshore and seabed unambiguous, but strongly opposes the Government's Bill. Why? Because, as explained in Newsletter #28, in addition to establishing Crown ownership, the Bill would also create two new jurisdictions, "ancestral connection" and "customary rights", both of which would in practice give iwi very considerable powers to determine what happens over a significant part of the coastline. That would be a recipe for racial tension for decades to come.

Sadly, it would also do little to improve the economic lot of Maori New Zealanders. Originally, the Treaty settlement process was expected to involve the transfer to Maori of $1 billion over a period of years. This amounts to about $2,000 for each of the half a million New Zealanders who identify as Maori. Invested in the bank, that $2,000 would generate annual income in perpetuity of about $100.

Let's suppose that acceding to the demands of some Maori for a right to clip the ticket over the use of the seabed and foreshore created a benefit equivalent to the transfer of a further $1 billion to Maori. That would be worth, say, a further $100 annually for every Maori New Zealander.

Compare that with the difference between the average income of Maori in the private sector and the average income of other New Zealanders - currently about $6,500 annually. That is the gap which Maori leaders should be focused on, and that means not trying to clip the ticket on the use of the foreshore and seabed, but insisting on their children getting a decent education, not the pathetic excuse for an education which too many schools and polytechnics are now offering to Maori.

The Creech report

The National Party is indebted to former Deputy Prime Minister Wyatt Creech and a taskforce of six others who have over the last year or so produced an excellent report on the relationship between New Zealand and the United States, and on the feasibility of putting that relationship back on an even keel (a copy of that report is on the National Party's website, http://www.national.org.nz).

The report suggests that it might be feasible to achieve that, and in so doing improve our relationship with the country with which we should have the closest relationship in the world, namely Australia, by retaining the legislative ban on nuclear weapons, scrapping the legislative ban on nuclear-propelled ships (for which there appears to be not the slightest scientific justification), but not actually inviting nuclear-propelled ships to visit. (All visits by naval ships are subject to an invitation from the New Zealand Government of course, and most of the ships in the US navy are no longer nuclear-propelled.)

Eating our cake and having it too? Yes, on the face of it. But the Creech report suggests that this is similar to the policy followed by Denmark for a number of years, and if it succeeded in ending a long-standing source of friction that would seem worthy of careful consideration.

I have made it clear that New Zealand's interests are not well served by having policy on this issue going backwards and forwards depending on which political party is in government, so I would expect there to be no change in National's policy on this issue without a very clear electoral mandate. In the meantime, I look forward to serious discussion of the issue.

Dr Cullen's fifth Budget

Next week, the Minister of Finance will bring down his fifth Budget. It is abundantly clear from the size of the fiscal surplus that the Government has been over-taxing hard-working New Zealanders for some years. Indeed, the extent of that over-taxation has probably never been greater in New Zealand's history. Now we are about to see the Government use that over-taxation to buy political support by oiling every wheel which squeaks, or which might possibly squeak between now and the next election.

It is important that all New Zealanders understand that they are being bribed with money which belongs to them in the first place!

Don Brash


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