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Speech: Brash - National - the way forward

Speech: Brash - National - the way forward

Don Brash MP National Party Leader

A speech by National Party Leader Don Brash to the 2004 National Party Annual Conference.

National - the way forward

President Judy Kirk, Fellow National Party Members.

Thank you for your very warm welcome.

It is a great privilege for me to address you today as Leader of the National Party.

One thing is very clear about the current political environment. National is setting the agenda. We are defining the debates, and we are winning them. The scene is now set for a head-to-head battle between National and Labour in the 2005 election.

Ladies and gentlemen, New Zealand needs a fresh start in 2005.

The Clark Government has now had nearly five years in office.

And despite the fact that they have worked hard to hide it, the agenda they have for this country, the direction they wish to pursue, has become increasingly clear to New Zealanders.

And they don't like it.

New Zealanders know they have a government which is becoming bigger and bigger, more and more powerful - all of it at their expense.

And they don't like it.

New Zealanders know that they have a government which has become arrogant, and whose ministers have been caught lying, and being economical with the truth.

And they don't like it.

New Zealanders know they have a government which this year had the real opportunity to deliver tax cuts for hard-working citizens, but instead opted for a massive conscription of upper middle income New Zealanders into the ranks of welfare beneficiaries.

And they don't like it.

New Zealanders know that they have a government which wastes the money taken from hard-working citizens on hip-hop tours, twilight golf courses, and propaganda designed to persuade New Zealanders that middle class welfare is good for them.

And they don't like it.

New Zealanders know they have a government which is presiding over the destruction of standards and the removal of choice in our education system, turning this country into the land of the lowest common denominator.

And they don't like it.

New Zealanders know they have a government which has finally abandoned any pretence of trying to lift this country back into the top half of the developed world, telling them, in effect, that this is as good as it gets.

And they don't like it.

New Zealanders know they have a government that is soft on crime, that is complacent in the face of appalling violence inflicted on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, a government which is content to see the costs of crime focused on those unlucky enough to be a victim, rather than have the unavoidable burden spread across all taxpayers.

And they really don't like that.

And New Zealanders know they have a government which divides them on the grounds of their ethnicity, a government which has no vision of a shared future built upon a sense of common purpose, regardless of race.

And, you know, they really, really don't like that.

Ladies and gentlemen, New Zealand can do so much better. In 2005, New Zealand will need a fresh start under a National Government.

Today, in my first address to a National Party Conference as leader, I want to thank all of you for the tremendous support which I have received.

Most of all I want to thank our President, Judy Kirk. Judy is the very epitome of the perfect Party president! She is hugely supportive and totally loyal. She doesn't hesitate to let me know when Party members are concerned about something I am doing or saying, or not doing or not saying. No Party leader could ask for more from a Party President.

Let me also thank the other members of the board, the regional chairs, and indeed all office holders. Thank you all for your commitment in boosting membership and Party funding, and in preparing our organisation for the demanding campaign ahead. Caucus members get paid for their work, but I am acutely conscious of the fact that Party office-holders do not. They toil away out of love of New Zealand and belief in the National Party. We in the Caucus won't let you down.

I want to thank all of those who attended the regional conferences for your kindness to my wife. Although she was able to attend each of the regional conferences, she is not able to attend this conference because she is visiting her sick mother in the United States. But I know she very much appreciated how welcome you made her feel, and would want me to thank you on her behalf.

I particularly want to thank my Caucus colleagues too, 26 of them in number, asked to shoulder the huge task of holding the Clark Government to account, and of preparing to be the next government of our country.

They are a superb team, as some of them have an opportunity of demonstrating at this conference, and it is a great privilege to lead them.

I want to pay a special tribute to my predecessor, Bill English. Bill had the unenviable task of leading the National Party into the last election at a time when the economy was very buoyant and when most people felt inclined to give Helen Clark the benefit of the doubt by giving her a second term. He kept the Caucus and the Party together, and re-invigorated the policy development process. He helped to bring about the most far-reaching re-organisation of the Party since it was founded some 70 years ago. We all owe a considerable debt of gratitude to Bill English.

And I want to thank my wife in absentia. Very few people understand the tremendous pressures which the wives of political leaders have to endure - perhaps most of all the loneliness with their husbands away so much of the time - and I am very grateful to Je Lan for her support.

But having thanked you all, I have a very sobering message: now I have to ask you to do even more - to sign up still more members, to raise still more money, to work even harder on the campaign preparations - because that is what it will take if we are to defeat a government which is desperate, which is utterly without scruple in using tax-payers' money to fund its PR machine, and is now totally bereft of principle. The PM cries "bring it on", and then goes into hiding.

At this conference we can be rightly proud of our achievements in the past year, and we should celebrate those achievements. Our Party membership is well up on the same time last year, and in some electorates up on the end of year total. A score of electorates have already paid their levies for this year in full, and are on their way to building a campaign fund for next year.

But, as we celebrate, I ask you to remember this: we did not embark on this journey in order to be able to look back on a scrap-book of temporary polling successes.

We embarked on this journey because this country cries out for new leadership, and we intend to provide it. We embarked on this journey because we love our country.

New Zealand is a fantastic country with a talented and resourceful people. We have done, and continue to do, outstanding things in sport, in science, in the arts, and in business. We have distinguished ourselves on some of the toughest battle-fields of the 20th century, and we are shouldering our responsibility today in Afghanistan and Iraq. We were one of the first countries in the world to give all men the vote, and we were the first country in the world to give women the vote. Though a young country, we have one of the oldest Parliamentary democracies in the world. We have an environment - beaches, mountains, rivers, open spaces - which the citizens of most other countries would give their right arm for.

But we are in danger. In danger first because, though our economy has been growing over the last three or four decades, our standard of living has been improving more slowly than that in other developed countries, and indeed more slowly than that in some developing countries.

We don't notice the imperceptible differences over the course of one or two years. But over a decade or more those small differences in growth rate open up a significant gap in income levels.

In 1970, New Zealanders and Australians enjoyed a broadly similar standard of living. Today, Australians enjoy a standard of living about 30% above that in New Zealand - which translates into a difference of some $175 per week between the income of the average New Zealander and the income of the average Australian.

In 1970, New Zealanders enjoyed a standard of living well above that of Singaporeans - indeed, nearly three times that of Singaporeans. Today, Singaporeans enjoy a standard of living well above that in New Zealand.

Who cares, you might say? Well, what this gap between our living standards and those in Australia and other developed countries means is that New Zealanders have a higher mortality rate from cancer than Australians do because Australians can afford better cancer treatment. The gap means that nurses, and teachers, and plumbers, and builders can afford a better lifestyle for themselves and their families in Australia than in New Zealand.

And that in turn means that we run the risk that our brightest, most energetic, most innovative, most enterprising people will leave our shores, many never to return.

Since the Labour Government came to power, we've lost some 25,000 New Zealanders every year on average. Increasingly, our families are being ripped asunder as some members go to greener pastures.

But we're also in danger from some social trends which pose grave risks to our future as an agreeable place to live.

Over the same period which saw our living standards slip relative to those in other developed countries, we've seen an explosion of those who depend on the state for financial support. In the early seventies, the total of all those receiving a benefit - unemployment benefit, sickness and invalid's benefits, and DPB - was less than 40,000. Today, that total has risen eight-fold to some 320,000 - add in their children and we are talking about the population of Christchurch and Dunedin combined - and this at a time when employers are screaming out for staff, both skilled and unskilled.

In the early seventies, the percentage of children born to unmarried parents was 13%. Today that figure is an extraordinary 44%. Of course, in some cases the children are born into families with two parents who, though not married, love and care for each other and for their children in the best possible way. But alas, too often the children grow up with only a single parent, with the father providing neither financial nor emotional support.

And of course that is sometimes true even when the children are born to married parents. I learnt of a three-year-old just this week whose mother - from an affluent middle class family - had left her husband and her highly-paid job to go on the DPB, to give her more time to enjoy her drug-taking friends. And we taxpayers make it possible for her to make that choice.

Most single mothers do an outstanding job of raising their children in extremely difficult circumstances.

But when we, through our policies, create situations where we have young, poorly educated single mothers entirely dependent on the state for support, themselves having grown up in a family dependent on the state, then we are creating a recipe for social disaster.

We are already reaping a whirlwind of crime which is at least in part a response to these social trends. In 1970, there were only 7,500 violent offences reported in the year. Last year, the recorded number was almost 46,000, and under this Government there seems little prospect of that number being reduced in any material way.

The reality is that in recent years we have been encouraged to take less and less responsibility for ourselves. If something goes wrong, the automatic assumption is that "government should do something", that "the system" is somehow to blame.

Government becomes not the backstop, to help those who can not help themselves, but the very first port of call for everything we need. It's no wonder that the size of government has steadily expanded over the decades.

And current policies positively encourage dependence on government, which of course means dependence on the long-suffering taxpayer.

Take the case of a young married couple with one baby, with the mother at home looking after the child and the father earning a relatively modest $12.50 an hour. After paying income tax, but receiving the benefit of the family support and child tax credits, their net income is a little over $23,000.

If instead of being married, the young woman went on the DPB and refused to name the father of the child - as many women now do - so that the father could live in the same house as a "boarder", the combined income of the family would be almost $35,000, or some 50% above that if the same family had been married. Is it any wonder that marriage has become unfashionable? Or that the size of the welfare bill has ballooned?

And when children and young people skip school, or get into trouble with the law, how often do we hold the parents responsible?

When a family with a lot of children have trouble making ends meet, do we blame a heartless government, or wonder why the family chose to have so many children?

Taking responsibility for ourselves and our families should be a fundamental value of our culture, should be a matter of pride, but this Government is encouraging us to take even less responsibility for ourselves.

Madam chair, I did not enter Parliament for the sake of a long political career. I did not enter Parliament to attack everything this Government does, let alone to attack all the members of the Government Caucus. I'm happy to give credit where credit is due, but I get precious little chance to do so these days.

This Government deserves to be swept away. The future of this country depends on it.

We urgently need policies which will not just redistribute income from one group of tax-payers to a group of non-tax-payers - which is what the Government's recent Budget did in spades - but policies which will grow the economy so that everybody is better off - low income New Zealanders, middle income New Zealanders, high income New Zealanders, rural New Zealanders, and urban New Zealanders.

I mentioned that over the last three or four decades the New Zealand economy grew more slowly than other developed economies did. Most of that shortfall in growth was in fact in the seventies and eighties. Over the decade from 1992 to 2002, our growth was markedly better than in prior decades, and indeed was somewhat above the average growth of other developed countries.

That was when we reaped the benefit of what Helen Clark disparagingly, and dishonestly, calls the "failed policies of the past".

To this Government's credit, it has not reversed most of those policies, despite their rhetoric. Thus we still have low inflation and an independent Reserve Bank. We still have the transparent fiscal framework which is one of National's legacy to the nation. We still have a largely deregulated transport sector, retail sector, and financial sector. There has been no re-imposition of import controls or tariffs. These so-called "failed policies" have given us much of the prosperity, and many of the freedoms, that we take for granted today.

But all progress in the economic policy area has stopped. The Government has totally failed to fix the problems which are now only too evident in the Resource Management Act.

Despite talking big, the Government has totally failed to fix road transport problems in Auckland, in the Bay of Plenty, in the Waikato, in Wellington, and in many parts of the South Island.

Despite narrowly avoiding power crises in two of the last four winters, and facing serious transmission deficiencies in the South Island this winter, the Government has totally failed to put in place policies which will encourage more investment in generation and transmission.

Despite being told by its own advisers and international experts that the more flexible labour market introduced by the Employment Contracts Act of 1991 has played a hugely beneficial role in reducing unemployment in New Zealand, and enhancing the ability of the economy to adjust to changing circumstances, the Labour Government has moved to reverse that flexibility and seems intent on hugely strengthening the power of its friends in the trade union movement. This will be enormously detrimental to employers and employees, and eventually even to unions. Labour's ideology is wrong, its policies are wrong, and it is hard-working New Zealanders who will suffer.

But we also need policies to deal with the social problems which I have mentioned - the entrenched culture of welfare dependency, the breakdown of the family, the educational under-achievement of a significant minority of our children, the dangerous trend to racial separatism, the burgeoning crime wave.

My colleagues are talking about some of these issues at other sessions of this conference, so let me just touch on two.

I discussed the dangerous trend to racial separatism in my speech to the Orewa Rotary Club in January. And for a time it looked as if the Government were really going to change direction on this issue. There were high profile U-turns announced, and a Minister was formally charged with responsibility for ensuring that government funds are disbursed on the basis of need not race.

It is of course all smoke and mirrors. The Government clearly has no intention of making substantive changes at all.

They have made a big song and dance about introducing a Bill to confirm Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed - but then made it clear that iwi will have substantial powers not open to other New Zealanders to determine what happens to both.

Even though the 1992 Fisheries Act was intended to be a full and final settlement of Maori claims to the fisheries, even though Maori already own more than 20% of the area so far reserved for aquaculture, and even though aquaculture was not a traditional Maori activity, the Government proposes to give 20% of aquaculture space allocated since 1992 to Maori, together with 20% of such space allocated in the future.

Even though there is no evidence that Maori ever engaged in systematic fishing more than 200 miles from the coastline, the Government proposes to allocate 20% of fish caught on the high seas beyond the 200 mile limit to Maori.

And meantime, government departments and government agencies such as CRIs continue to pay special deference to Maori cultural and spiritual values.

Only a National Government can set New Zealand on a path where all New Zealanders are equal under the law.

We all love this country, and its beaches and its foreshore. I do not accept that one group of New Zealanders loves this country more than the rest of us simply because of the nature of their racial make-up. We may be Maori, or Pacific Islander, or Asian, or of European descent, but we are all New Zealanders, and we should never, ever, forget that.

And what about law and order? I gave a major speech on this issue just last Sunday at a rally organised by the Sensible Sentencing Trust. There were 900 people at the rally, which says a lot about the prevalence of crime and the awful impact it has on the lives of those directly affected.

New Zealand now has one of the highest overall crime rates in the developed world, and too many criminals regard the present justice system with contempt - with only 40% turning up to do a sentence of community service, with 86% re-offending within five years of being released from jail, with many criminals being in and out of jail 10 and 20 times.

The next National Government will give police the powers they need to crack down on criminals - including DNA testing for all people arrested, more resources to beat the methamphetamine epidemic, a change in the Proceeds of Crime Act to strike at the economic base of organised crime, and more police.

The next National Government will require non-violent first offenders to do at least 75% of their sentences, will abolish parole for all repeat and violent offenders, will greatly strengthen post-release monitoring, and will make more proactive use of preventive detention to keep "career criminals" off the streets.

The Government and some media have argued that New Zealand's crime problem is not notably worse than in other developed countries, policies of this kind have not worked in the United States, the cost of such policies is enormous, and in any event it would be very hard to find places where the public would be willing to see additional prisons built.

The critics are totally wrong on all four counts, as wrong as they were after my Orewa speech.

To be sure, New Zealand's murder rate is lower than that in some other developed countries, and about the same as in the European Union. Some journalists have quoted statistics for rape which suggest that the New Zealand offending rate is much lower than in Australia, Canada and the US, although about double the average for major European Union countries. Such cross-country comparisons are hazardous because the definitions of sexual assaults vary widely across different countries. Whatever the true comparison is, we know our situation is not remotely satisfactory.

For assaults, New Zealand is up in the same range as the US, Australia and Canada, and well above major European Union countries. For the grand total of all recorded crimes in a recent OECD survey, New Zealand was clearly amongst the worst, although definitional problems make precise comparisons impossible. There are absolutely no grounds for complacency about crime in New Zealand, and plenty of grounds for alarm.

What we do know for sure is that in New Zealand offences generally fell during the 1990s, when in fact National was last in Government, but were still too high when we last left office. But that decline in offending has stopped under Labour, and violent offending has actually been rising again.

In the United States, harsher sentencing has been resoundingly successful, with a very dramatic fall in recorded crime in that country over the last decade. I am not suggesting they have got it absolutely right, and they appear currently to be revisiting some of these issues. But the evidence from the decline in crime in the US is simply overwhelming. Tougher sentencing and more effective law enforcement will reduce crime.

I suggested last Sunday that the cost of imprisoning more criminals would, over five years, build up to about $300 million annually. Well, Helen Clark suggested that the cost of running the additional prisons would amount to about $3 billion over a decade. Interesting isn't it, that she chooses to use a decade's worth of cost rather than a year - an attempt to scare people into thinking that doing something about crime is just too expensive.

She is telling us New Zealanders we will just have to put up with it.

Well we don't.

I said it would cost about $300 million a year - or well under 1% of total government spending - and of course that is $3 billion over a decade. The cost of not adopting policies of the kind I advocate is that far too many criminals will continue to roam our communities, preying on the most vulnerable - women, children, the elderly, single parents, beneficiaries.

The fact is, the costs exist. We cannot wish them away. It is just a question of whether that cost is spread over all tax-payers or borne by those unlucky enough to become victims.

Nine years ago, the Ministry of Justice commissioned a study by the Institute of Economic Research to assess the cost of crime. It was estimated that crime was costing New Zealand about 5% of GDP at that time. If the same is true now, and there is no reason to suspect that the figure will have declined, it suggests that the cost of crime today is about $7 billion per annum. Incurring a cost of only $300 million to significantly reduce crime seems like a very good investment to me.

And I suspect we won't need to find any new prison sites at all. There should be ample space at existing prison sites, and those currently under construction, to accommodate additional prisoners. The four prisons which are currently under construction, for example, involve a total land area of some 640 hectares - an enormous area - and only 13% of that area will be covered by buildings.

If New Zealand was being attacked by an external enemy, we would, I have no doubt, build barracks to house troops within months, if not weeks. Now we are being attacked by an internal enemy, let's be equally determined.

Ladies and gentlemen, my vision for New Zealand is of a people who care for their own children and for those who are unable to take care of themselves, who take responsibility for their own lives, who care for the environment they live in, who are committed to freedom, who believe that work is honourable, who are tolerant of differences of culture, race and sexual orientation, who value those who risk their capital in creating businesses, who respect the rights of others, and who play their part in the wider community of nations.

That is why I sought election under the National Party banner, because I believe my vision is absolutely consistent with the values and principles of this great Party.

The Labour Party's very name reflects its sectional focus. By contrast, our name, the National Party, reflects the fact that we seek what is best for New Zealand as a whole.

The Labour Government seems content to rest on the oars and let New Zealand drift ever closer to the rapids. The next National Government will be rowing, and rowing hard, for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

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