Winston Peters - 150th Year Anniversary Speech
24 May 2004
150th Year Anniversary Speech
I want to commence my comments today by offering my sincere thanks and gratitude to the voters of my electorate in Tauranga, for the privilege of having been selected by them to represent their views in this Parliament.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank all voters throughout New Zealand for having given my party, New Zealand First, the opportunity and the ability to reflect their views and aspirations within this institution.
This is an auspicious occasion. New Zealand has a proud tradition of 150 years of continuous and stable parliamentary sovereignty.
This has been achieved through our ability to change and adapt to the demands of our evolving nation and our sometimes troubled commitment to the institutions of parliament and what they represent.
Since parliament’s inception in 1854, it has transformed and modified, often leading the world, in our understanding of both the nature of its role and more importantly those who should and could participate.
From the creation of the Maori seats, to the introduction of universal suffrage, through to the advent of MMP, it is worth noting that it was New Zealand ahead of most liberal democracies which evolved into an inclusive participatory democracy.
New Zealand clearly marked its pathway of self-determination when it resisted the temptation to join the Australian colonies as they federated in 1901.
As we moved from Colonial to Dominion status in 1907 and finally shed the apron strings from Britain with the adoption of the Statute of Westminster in 1947, we have displayed a cautious but deliberate path toward independence.
Like an adolescent approaching adulthood, New Zealand forged its own identity and character – and Parliament was central to this process.
Parliament in New Zealand was a forum where great and pressing issues were debated.
It was the forum through which the peoples’ representatives would gather to engage in decision-making for future generations.
It is sad that when one reflects on the significant role Parliament has played historically in shaping New Zealand’s future, that a poignant vacuum and void has developed in our once great institution.
When one peruses the role of parliaments in other jurisdictions, where we once led the world, we now unfortunately often watch with envy.
Where other Parliaments and Congresses hold great debates – debates in which elected representatives utilise all of the skills of political rhetoric and intellect, garnered through years of crafting – we in New Zealand too often revert to pre-determined party political positions.
It is regrettable that on the two great issues which confront New Zealand – our economic future and race relations – that rather than use parliament as our forum, Members of this chamber seem intent on conducting their business outside or through the media.
Ask oneself this question – when was the last great debate in this house on the economy or race relations – words which inspired and uplifted, which galvanised and stimulated a nation to action.
New Zealand is a nation built on sound values and tolerance. It is no coincidence that when the hïkoi on the seabed and foreshore arrived at parliament earlier this month, whatever ones views on the issue, one of the defining features of the march was the lack of violence, confrontation and unrest.
There was no need for the water cannons and riot police which often feature in the protests of other parliaments.
We must not be afraid in this House to shed our ideological blinkers. Ideology is the outworn language of the 20th century.
As we enter the 21st century we must reach for a new language – a language which in the tradition of our forbears would allow us to grapple effectively with the issues we confront.
We must face facts – we risk becoming the first nation in fifty years of falling from first world status to third world status, or so said the respected English publication The Economist just three years ago.
We won’t have Australia talking to us about economic union – no they will be negotiating how much aid they will need to send our way each year.
These issues will not be solved through blind ideology – this prescription has failed, rigid ideologies are discredited and only operate in theoretical settings – not real life.
Sadly today, despite the evidence of our economic failure, New Zealand is witnessing an escalating commitment to defend this failed course of economic action.
Meanwhile we are watching as our GDP per capita in comparison with other developed nations continues to slide.
We must be confident in our ability to find solutions for these problems.
We are a nation of small and medium sized businesses that must export to expand. Our export growth is not an option – it is expedient – and yet the debates in this House are far to often constrained by the parameters and rules which bind ideological thinking.
One of the things which buttressed New Zealand in the past against the tides of a rapidly globalising world was our ability historically to set aside partisan views on issues of national importance and reach a consensus across this chamber of what was best for New Zealand.
The fruits of the great debates of the past were to be found in agreed positions which we presented to the world. While there were always differences of opinion on the fringes of social issues – there was almost always consensus on the important issues facing our economy and the defence of our borders and traditions.
Today this fundamental aspect of national development is sadly missing from this House. Other Nations understand the value of this simple maxim – the need for cross party support when addressing major economic and security issues.
Other nations debate the details while we continue to debate the fundamentals.
Any consensus on these issues was shattered in the 1980s and has never been rebuilt.
With our nation crying out for a consensus on a national savings scheme, on a national export strategy and on a national health strategy to list but three, we in this house instinctively revert back to our partisan ways.
These fundamentals of economic strength and their most prominent social dividend will only take root when we return to the tradition of those who have proceeded us in this House and work toward a national consensus.
We see a semblance of this in the work of our select committees – but sadly, little of this translates into this chamber.
We exhibit strength to the rest of the world and our citizens when we put aside partisan views and do what is best for New Zealand.
Let’s leave the ideological shackles which have bound us in the 20th century to the 20th Century.
In this century, let us engage in real debate about the genuine issues confronting our nation.
Let us not feel constrained and limited by the ideas of the past.
Let us be creative, let us show ingenuity, lateral thinking and a dedication to the best outcome for all New Zealanders.
Our forbears blazed a trail for us in creating a forum for the free exchange of ideas.
Let us embrace this noble tradition.
Let parliament again become a forum for great debates which shape a Nation’s great future as it did in a once great past.