Brash; Address to 'The Independent' luncheon
Don Brash National Party Leader
25 February 2005
Address to 'The Independent' business luncheon
Later this year, the voters of New Zealand get to choose a government for the next three years.
Today I want to talk about what is at stake; about what the nature of the choice is; and about what that means for the future of our country.
It is now clear that the Labour Party believes that government is the solution to pretty much everything, and that individual responsibility and enterprise have little role in modern New Zealand.
Helen Clark continually confuses the efforts of New Zealand workers with the muddling efforts of a handful of Ministers.
It is easy enough to reel off a list of what is going right in this country given the buoyant economic conditions. Labour Ministers do that regularly in response to patsy questions in the House.
What they don't seem to realise is that all they are doing is providing a summary of what the private sector has done to create excellent economic conditions; a summary of what individuals have achieved through hard work, imagination, innovation and risk-taking - backing their judgement with their own money, or with the money provided by investors.
What this Government cannot do is demonstrate that it has contributed to any of this. What it has done is hold the country back through higher taxes, more regulation, more bureaucracy and very poor quality public services for the money invested in them.
Helen Clark claims her Government has carefully built a surplus, but it is taxpayers who built that surplus - that is why heavily taxed families are struggling financially; that is why average real disposable incomes have not lifted at all under this Government; that is why the income gap between New Zealand and Australia continues to widen.
Growth has been strong in the last few years, yes, as it was through the 1990s. But it has had nothing to do with this Government.
The unemployment rate has come down because of that growth, as it did in the 1990s, but the numbers on Sickness and Invalids' benefits have risen by 40% since this Government came to office.
Spending on health is up hugely, but to what effect? We have had a massive growth in bureaucracy, little impact on waiting lists and an actual decline in operations performed.
The overall crime rate is down - it has been falling ever since the early 1990s - but violent crime remains close to record highs. The biggest risk a violent criminal faces is getting a speeding ticket as he leaves the scene of the crime.
What the Labour Party does not understand is that confiscating taxpayers' money and advertising a spending increase is simply not good enough. You have to get value for the taxpayers' money used.
Labour's vision is one of big government, but small people, resulting in well-funded bureaucracies, but struggling families.
It is a vision of an ownership society where you earn it, but the government will take a huge slice of it.
This is a Government that thinks that government has money to spend, rather than understanding that every dollar that it spends has come from some hard-working taxpayer.
It is hard to know whether Helen Clark is really aware of what she is doing to working people in this country. She seems so enamoured with taking their money, and then offering some of it back to them in subsidies, grants and incentives, that she has lost sight of the fundamental unfairness of the transaction she is promoting.
She talks of the ownership society. But what most prevents many New Zealanders owning their own homes and other assets is the over-taxation of hard-working New Zealanders, which is the hall-mark of this Government. The National Party and I strongly support the concept of home ownership, but Labour's tinkering won't offset the impact of over-taxation.
Over the past year, my Caucus colleagues and I have outlined very clear policy positions on a number of the issues crucial to New Zealand's future. As we have done so, the Labour Government has become increasingly evasive about what they stand for.
What Helen Clark will not do is state clearly where she stands on the major issues of the day. On issue after issue, her Government is throwing up smokescreens to give the impression of action, where in fact no fundamental changes are being made: on the Treaty, on law and order, and now on welfare.
I have identified quite clearly what I see as the pressing issues for New Zealand. Over the past year, I have been progressively laying out National's plan to deal with each of these issues, and will continue doing so this year.
Just over a year ago at Orewa, I outlined the National Party position on Treaty issues. I argued that government funding for education and healthcare should be based on need not on race; that separate Maori electorates, set up in 1867 as a temporary measure for five years, should finally be abolished; that the Crown should own the foreshore and the seabed; that Maori New Zealanders should have the same rights - no more and no less - as other New Zealanders under the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act; that we should do away with vague and undefined references to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in legislation and government documents; that we should accelerate the resolution of claims under the Treaty of Waitangi, and ensure that all claims are resolved, fairly, fully, and finally.
With a will, and the right government in place, all of this can be achieved, with Treaty settlements completed by 2010. National is committed to that goal.
The Labour Party is paying lip-service to these issues. Under Labour there will be no end to the Treaty grievance industry, no end to the special treatment of Maori in the Resource Management Act or the Local Government Act, no abolition of separate Maori electorates, no end to political correctness in the education system, which sees our children brain-washed with a revisionist version of New Zealand history - or should that be herstory.
And lately we have been reminded of all this with the extraordinary saga of the Wananga o Aotearoa - an institution which has been allowed to call itself the University of New Zealand, which has increased its funding from government from just $5 million in 1999 to $239 million last year, and which appears to have been operated with a most extraordinary disregard for all the usual rules of efficient management.
And political correctness around the Treaty? The stuff that Trevor Mallard was committed to eliminating? We know that almost every advertisement for a job in a government department still includes words noting that the department has a "commitment to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi", though without the slightest explanation of what that might mean. A recent advertisement for six positions in the Ministry of Transport noted that that department was "committed to creating a positive linguistic environment where te reo Maori is valued and encouraged". Another advertisement, for the position of Deputy Controller and Auditor General, notes that the applicant should have "the ability to work effectively within the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi".
Of course those public servants working to resolve Treaty settlements need to have some understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi, but there is surely no need whatsoever for other public servants, or for school teachers, or for nurses, or for Auditors-General, to subscribe to a particular view of what the Treaty implies.
The next National Government will make it clear that a knowledge of the Treaty and its supposed principles will not be a condition of employment for people working in the public sector. Instead, we will adopt a less exotic approach in relation to the recruitment of public servants; one where we seek auditors who can actually audit, managers who can manage and accountants who can count.
We will also be doing away with other politically correct practices adopted in recent times, like the allocation of science and research funding on the basis of some spurious assessment of a project's Treaty of Waitangi value, and the requirement to consult with the local iwi prior to approving funding for leading edge science projects.
Six months ago, I addressed the issue of Law and Order.
I made it clear that we would abolish parole for all repeat and violent offenders so that rapists and murderers, among others, are kept behind bars for their full court-imposed sentence. I made it clear that we would increase police numbers, require DNA testing for all people convicted of a crime, and amend the Proceeds of Crime Act to target organised crime more effectively. I've also made it clear that we would block Labour's plans to pay compensation to some of our most vicious criminals for their "hurt feelings".
I regard the range of measures I announced as a clear statement of National's willingness to defend the values that guarantee social cohesion and mutual trust, and of our determination to insist on the rule of law.
Labour has made some polite noises about dealing firmly with criminals, but the reality is a joke. Just a few weeks ago, the media reported the case of the leader of a Middle Eastern gang in Auckland, convicted of 22 offences of theft and burglary - offences to which he pleaded guilty - being sentenced to 200 hours of community service! This is Labour's idea of getting tough on crime.
We have also seen the most extraordinary series of blunders involving the 111 emergency call service, with taxis sent when police cars are needed, with women told to walk to the police station after an allegation of rape, with people kept hanging on the line for an hour as their partners get severely beaten just metres away, with the Police Commissioner suggesting that it would help if callers to the 111 service screamed when they were really in danger. We know that the Police sought an extra 60 staff to run the 111 service, and got just 18. It isn't anywhere near good enough.
And they clearly had the resources to hand out a huge increase in speeding tickets - from 137,000 in 2000 to 396,000 in 2004, an increase of nearly 200% in just four years!
During this past year I have also outlined National Party policy designed to solve the transport gridlock in our major cities; I have spoken on energy supply issues, on the environment and biosecurity; I have attacked the culture of big government that this Government is fostering, a culture that is evident in a bureaucratic nightmare strangling our health and education sectors in red-tape.
Together with my Caucus colleagues, we have exposed the diversion of a stupendous amount of taxpayer money into programmes which have had no oversight by anyone with an ounce of common-sense, and where there has been absolutely no accountability for the disastrous results. I have also attacked an emerging culture which accepts mediocrity, and which kills aspiration by penalising success, and perhaps nowhere have we seen aspiration killed more decisively than with the extraordinary debacle over the NCEA scholarship exams in recent weeks. Scholarships seem to have been awarded almost at random - with 51% of those who sat accounting getting scholarships but less than 2% of those who sat biology. The most outrageous failure ever seen in scholarship examinations in decades, and Trevor Mallard and David Benson-Pope trying to pretend that all was well until exposed by my colleague Bill English.
And affecting even more children is the shambles that is NCEA Levels 1, 2, and 3. When asked by Bill English in the House last week to explain the extraordinary variation between the percentage of pupils who failed Level 2 standard 90380 between 2003 (when 28% of pupils failed that standard) and 2004 (when 57% of students failed the same standard), David Benson-Pope said that he hoped that my colleague would understand that in a standards-based assessment "such comparisons between years and cohorts are absolutely meaningless". Essentially, nobody any longer knows what NCEA results mean, nobody can explain the huge variation between one year and another, between different subjects, and between schools. This is a tragedy for the thousands of pupils affected, and the Labour Government seems monumentally indifferent to the problem.
If they had any sense of decency the Ministers responsible would have resigned; and if she had any the Prime Minister would have sacked them.
Just over two months ago I outlined the National Party stance on taxation issues.
My speech focused on incentives. We need a tax system that rewards enterprise, rewards skill and rewards hard work. Yet today we have a tax system that punishes all these things.
Our tax rates are too high at all levels; our taxation of families is punitive; our tax and benefit system is destroying incentives for work and penalising those who work hard; it punishes those who save, and blocks their ability to build an ownership stake in society; and because of this our tax system is fundamentally unfair.
We want the initiative, energy, ideas and drive that Kiwis have to be expressed and developed in this country, not exported across the Tasman.
And just one month ago, again at Orewa, I addressed the issue of entrenched welfare dependency.
Despite current economic buoyancy, we now have around 15% of the workforce on benefits; add in the children of those working-age adults and we have more than the equivalent of Christchurch and Dunedin combined.
The issue is quite simple: there must be work tests on our welfare benefits so that the idle do not exploit the welfare system that taxpayers fund; so that we give some dignity to those who have stumbled upon hard times or who because of limited skills have real difficulty in finding regular employment; and most importantly so that we break the cycle of inter-generational dependency by ensuring that children grow up in households where their parents are contributing to the community in some way.
Our forbears would be aghast if they could see what has happened to the attitudes of personal responsibility, self-reliance, and independence which have been the essence of the Kiwi character.
We need to remind ourselves that welfare benefits are funded from the taxes levied on those who go out to work each day, including the tens of thousands of New Zealanders who work overtime or take second jobs on very modest incomes, and who find themselves little or no better off than their beneficiary neighbour or relative as a consequence.
These are New Zealanders who are trying to do the right thing, by themselves, by their families, and by other taxpayers. For them, this transfer of income to fund welfare - on average $50 per week for every worker - takes place at a huge cost to their ability to save, to educate their children, to buy their own home. These are the New Zealanders Helen Clark has forgotten.
And these are the New Zealanders whose attitudes of self-reliance and personal responsibility will be massively undermined by the Working For Families package; because that package will mean the self-reliant will end up in much the same financial position as those who don't make the effort, who don't take on responsibility, who don't do the overtime or take on an extra job, and who don't invest in building marketable skills.
And Labour's response? The creation of a Universal Benefit.
Helen Clark's only response to New Zealand's entrenched welfare dependency is to re-label everybody on a benefit. It is the same approach she used for hospital waiting lists - create new terminology, but do nothing about the numbers waiting for surgery. It is an illusion of change, when the real issues are being side-stepped.
In both welfare and education policy, we are sending precisely the wrong signals to the next generation about how to get ahead in life.
The Labour vision has pulled the plug on aspiration, and drained away the confidence people have in building a future in this country. As a result, we are bleeding talent overseas.
The massive inflow of new migrants required to replace these losses threatens to change the nature of our society more abruptly than is healthy, and more decisively than most of us want.
This is no way to build a nation with a common set of values and sense of purpose.
>From talking to New Zealanders, it is clear there are many aspects of the way New Zealand is developing that concern them.
Part of it is economic - we don't seem to be able to generate jobs that pay enough, and we grossly overtax hard-working people.
Part of it reflects inadequacies in our social policies: our health system seems always to be lurching from crisis to crisis; our education system is failing about a quarter of our children, and is achieving mediocre results for many of the rest.
Part of the problem reflects the fact that our communities, especially the poorer ones, are becoming fractured: we have gone soft on crime, and are reaping the consequences; and our families are struggling to cope while this Government overtaxes them and wastes much of their money.
Part also is cultural and attitudinal - our policies punish enterprise and achievement, encourage acceptance of mediocrity and thus undercut aspiration.
Part of it is that we have allowed the goodwill symbolised by the Treaty settlement process to be swamped in a riot of race-based political correctness.
It is this interrelated set of concerns - part economic, part social policy, partly cultural and attitudinal - which lie behind the departure of so many New Zealanders from this country.
Turning this around will be the priority for the next National Government.
Labour has no coherent plan to do this. National does.
The Labour Party is woefully ill-equipped to deal with these issues because their policies foster most of these problems, rather than solve them; in many cases Labour does not even recognise them as problems.
Labour has immense faith in a centralised bureaucracy, with all the social engineering that goes with it, but little faith in the common sense of ordinary people who would rather make their own decisions with their own resources.
The Labour vision has no role for competition to encourage innovation and service quality, but instead actively encourages state monopoly.
Labour policies are sending a terrible signal to the next generation of New Zealanders about how to get ahead in life.
There is a dismal lack of imagination from this Labour Government, an unwillingness to debate issues, a fear of new ideas, a fundamental gutlessness in standing up to the challenges we face. Helen Clark leads a Government enamoured with ideas that are 30 years out of date. Theirs is a classic tax-and-spend government.
They are just lucky that they have had plenty of your taxes to spend.
And as it has become apparent that Labour's core values are wildly out of line with those of ordinary New Zealanders, this Government has even stopped standing up for principles they were proud to proclaim just a year or two ago. Rather than nailing their flag to the mast, so unprincipled has this Government become that Labour will go down with no flags flying.
What New Zealanders will be deciding at the next election is much more fundamental: what is fair and what is unfair, what is right and what is wrong.
It is right that we have one law for all; it is wrong that different races are treated differently.
It is right that violent and recidivist criminals should serve the sentence given them; wrong that they should be free after serving only one third of their sentence.
It is right that enterprise, initiative and sheer hard work be rewarded with lower taxes, and wrong that punitive taxation should stop people getting ahead in life.
It is right that the unemployed should be given financial support conditional on contributing to the community; wrong that we should pay them to be idle indefinitely.
I don't believe in a culture of envy; I believe in a culture of aspiration and achievement.
And a culture like that, when harnessed to shared values of compassion for those in need, and a determination to take care of the weak, the ill, and those who have simply stumbled upon bad luck, will produce a society we can all be proud of.
This is the sort of New Zealand the National Party represents and will be fighting for at the next election.