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Hide Speech: Why I Believe In Freedom

Rodney Hide Speech: Why I Believe In Freedom

Speech to ACT members, New Leader's lunch, Crowne Plaza, Albert St, Auckland, 12:15pm, Sunday June 20, 2004.

I was asked on radio this week for my role model. I didn't hesitate. A truck driver. My father.

My father loved working. He worked hard all his life. He valued the money he earned. He didn't waste it.

Today I am driven by my father's judgement. What would he make of what a government department is up to ... what this Minister is proposing? Not a lot, would be his typical reaction.

Why? Because my Dad judges every action, every decision, every utterance on whether it has a useful purpose and a valuable outcome.

That's what drives me. Just as it drove my father

My Dad started work at fifteen driving a team of eight draught horses. By eighteen he was behind the wheel of a truck. He drove trucks for the rest of his working life.

He loved it. And so did I. My best memories of growing up are the days spent with my Dad. Dad always had the biggest and most powerful truck. I would sit up there in the cab, oh so proud, as we criss-crossed North Canterbury. We carted shingle, grain, superphosphate, lime and coal. We went to the farms, the factories, the quarries, the ports and the railways. And we talked. It was a great life.

I wanted to drive trucks too. But Dad wanted me to have a trade first. I stayed on at school to get a year knocked off my apprenticeship. Thank goodness. For in my sixth form year I fell in love.

I had discovered the joys of science. I went off to the University of Canterbury to gain a Bachelors Degree.

I still drove trucks for Transport North Canterbury. And it didn't matter how many exams I passed I still didn't know as much about truck driving as the other drivers. I didn't have their level of skill or experience.

I have never forgotten that. The people out doing the work know more about it than the fellows with degrees in Wellington sitting around talking about it.

At the end of my third year at university I had a Bachelors Degree in Zoology which got me a holiday job for what was then the New Zealand Forest Service. I worked as part of a team measuring re-growth of native trees on the West Coast of the South Island.

I was very proud. I was on my way to being a scientist. It was a fun job too walking around regenerating forests counting trees, their size, and recording the native birds that we heard.

But there was something odd about it. No one appeared to be overly interested in the results. The decision on how to manage the forests bore no relation to the science or the facts. The decisions were all political. Everyone appeared to know this except me.

I was very naïve! The money we were being paid was coming from the taxpayer and so no one cared whether the work we were doing had any purpose or value.

They couldn't see the forest for the red tape.

It was a defining moment in my life. I walked away from the forest. I still loved science of course but the only work going for scientists in those days was with government and I knew I couldn't work where my efforts would be so poorly valued.

But I wasn't going to quit University. I went back and completed my Bachelors Degree in Botany. The ironic result is that I am now the only qualified ecologist in our parliament.

The Greens talk about ecology but I actually studied it.

I worked three jobs that year while studying and saved my money. For I now had a plan. I even worked to satisfy more bureaucratic madness. To protect the poorly-run government-owned railway, trucks were only allowed to drive 40 miles beside the railway line. So we built a shed the next summer halfway to the West Coast just so a load of lime could be transferred from one truck to another to make the journey. Now, at enormous expense, the lime made the journey in two trucks not one. But, it was legal. So that was all right.

Once the shed was built, I headed off on my OE. I saw real poverty, experienced human ingenuity at its best while working on North Sea oil rigs, and experienced the true horrors of state control by going behind the iron curtain when those terrible totalitarian regimes were at their worst.

On my return to New Zealand I re-launched myself back into academia and gained a Masters Degree in Natural Resource Management. I stayed on at the Centre for Resource Management at Lincoln University as a researcher and lecturer in environmental science.

But something was troubling me. We had all the theory about managing resources wisely. But we didn't have any evidence whatsoever to back it up. I began to worry about what the resource management experts we were producing might do to the country let alone the planet.

I then had a stroke of good fortune. I started to try and figure out how we know what we know.

I read book after book on the philosophy of science and then I hit the jackpot with Sir Karl Popper's "Logic of Scientific Discovery". He brought it all home to me.

Knowledge is always provisional.

We can't prove a theory to be true. But we can prove it to be false.

So our knowledge can grow and get better. We can always improve our understanding. And our understanding can be objective because it can be tested against the facts.

We should not try and determine the true and right answers once and for all. We should instead constantly challenge and improve our knowledge by rigorous testing against experience.

I then read Karl Popper's "Open Society and its Enemies".

This is the book that has had the most dramatic impact on my thinking.

We should always be suspicious of grand blueprints. Knowledge is ever-evolving. We are better to engage in incremental improvement rather than utopian social engineering.

This was the birth of my liberalism. My thinking was free and I discovered a new love.

I became more and more interested in economics. I taught economics at Lincoln and went on to complete a Masters of Science degree in economics at Montana State University.

I mention this because I have now spent years thinking and challenging how we manage our resources, look after our environment, and how we make truck drivers richer.

My father started out with horses. He retired driving a magnificent 40-tonne truck with hydraulics and power steering.

My father achieved success by working hard to ensure that the business he worked for prospered and could invest in better and better trucks.

The business prospered and he with it.

My father and North Canterbury owed their prosperity not to hand-outs but to hard work.

My father taught me this all that time ago, as I sat in the cab beside him as a young boy.

But it took me years of studying economics to truly understand the wisdom of his experience.

And that surely is the task ahead: to ensure that vision is not the wisdom of a lone truck driver but the basis of freedom and prosperity for all New Zealanders.

It's not mysterious. It's just a question of letting people make their own decisions and prosper according to their own efforts.

That's what I believe in.

We have entire political parties dedicated to denying New Zealanders like my father the opportunity and indeed the right to prosper by their own efforts.

If I was a young boy now, my father would be made poor because he would be taxed hard. He would be stripped of his dignity by having to apply for a top-up benefit because with three kids he would be considered needy.

I know what my father would make of that. He wouldn't want a hand-out. Especially when it was his own money being handed back to him. He would just want to keep what he had earned.

My father worked hours and hours overtime every week of his working life. He did that because there was work to be done and to provide for his family. That's how we and the country prospered. And today? Our high-tax and top-up system would see my father keep only 11 cents out of every extra dollar that he earned working over time.

That's a disgrace. Our government is denying hard-working people like my father the opportunity to improve their family's and our country's future by working harder. That's wrong.

I am in politics to put an end to that. We must ensure that each and every working New Zealander can share in the dream of benefiting themselves and their family by working hard.

A dream that will make us all richer.

Richer in the control we have over our own lives and our own destiny.

And in the process we will make this great country even greater.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am in politics for a simple reason: to help New Zealanders reclaim the freedom that should be theirs as of right so that every one of us can prosper just like my father and my family did.

Thank you.

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