Brash Address to the 2005 Campaign Opening
A new government and a new direction
21 August 2005
Dr Don Brash
Address to the Official 2005 Campaign Opening, Sky City Convention Centre, Auckland.
My fellow New Zealanders.
147 years ago, my great-great-grandfather William Brash came to these shores.
Along with thousands of others, he came because he saw this as a land of opportunity, a place where he and his family could get ahead.
Some, especially those with Maori heritage, will have roots even further in our past, but for all of us, the notion of New Zealand as a land of opportunity features in our reasons for being here.
We owe a huge debt to those who, over many decades, came to this land as pioneers, and laid the foundations of the wonderful country we enjoy today.
I cannot help but ask myself how my great-great- grandfather, and the many thousands of other pioneers who worked so hard, endured such adversity, and took such risks, would feel, were they able to see the direction the country in which they had invested so much hope has taken in recent years.
A country which tolerates nearly 300,000 working-age people being paid a benefit to stay at home, while businesses are crying out for staff.
A country which releases violent criminals to be recycled through the police files and the courts after serving only a third of their sentences, with some of the worst offenders being paid compensation for their hurt feelings.
A country in which meaningful grades and reports have been disappearing from our schools, with large numbers of young people leaving school unable to read or write or count.
A country in which an unhealthy alliance between the extremists and the politically correct has seen the emergence of two different standards of citizenship, depending upon your ethnicity.
A country in which middle income folk are told by their government that they are the new rich, destined to pay 39 cents in tax on the top dollars of their income, plus a further 12½% tax on the money they spend.
A country in which New Zealanders are increasingly trapped by a tax and benefit system which can see those who want to get ahead lose 90 cents in the dollar in tax and benefit abatement as the penalty for trying harder or working smarter.
I ask myself, just what would those rugged, courageous, adventurous folk who founded this land have made of that?
My guess is that they would say we had lost our way.
That it was time for a change of direction.
Time for a change of government.
New Zealand is a great country. A country of wide open spaces, of spectacular mountain ranges, of giant kauri forests, of stunning beaches, harbours and fiords.
We share a heritage and a culture we can be proud of, and which makes us distinctively New Zealanders. You can hear it in our speech and in our music, read it in our novels and our poems, see it in our landscape, our art, and our films, taste it in our food and wine.
This is the country which produced Ed Hillary, Peter Blake, Katherine Mansfield, Ernest Rutherford, Apirana Ngata, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Peter Jackson: talented, strong minded, resourceful people, produced by a rich and beautiful land.
This is a country where we absolutely take it for granted that an election will be held roughly every three years, and that a government will be elected without bloodshed, with the army safely in its barracks.
We have a great country.
So how can it be that in terms of per capita incomes we have now slipped far behind other developed nations we used to regard as our equal, like Australia?
And now even behind countries we used to look down on as under-developed or developing nations, like Singapore.
How can it be that we have a growing stream of bright and energetic New Zealanders leaving for the higher standard of living they can earn abroad?
How can it be that almost a quarter of all New Zealanders with a tertiary qualification now live outside this country – with the frightening certainty that that trend will continue if Labour is re-elected to office?
And how can it be that while the world is so clearly passing New Zealand by, our government has no solutions, no answers?
The Clark Labour Government used to talk of New Zealand gradually climbing its way back into the top half of the ranks of the developed nations.
But now, they do so no more.
The Clark Labour Government used to talk of stopping the brain drain to Australia.
But now, they do so no more.
The Clark Labour Government used to pretend they shared an ambition to see New Zealand surf the Knowledge Wave.
But now they do so no more.
You see, the Clark Labour Government has run out of ideas.
Run out of aspiration, ambition, vision or even hope.
And now they have run out of time.
It has been said that this Clark Labour Government may well go down in history as the luckiest government of all time – given the benefits of the most favourable trading conditions for our key exports for many decades.
Today I bring you good news and bad news on that front.
The good news is that the Clark Labour Government's luck has just run out.
The bad news is that New Zealand's luck is also now running out.
Our economy has slowed quite sharply.
We are reaching the end of the golden weather.
In the six months to March of this year, the economy grew by less than 1%, and almost every forecaster expects the economy to grow at no more than about 3% for as far ahead as anyone can predict.
The golden weather which has enabled the Labour Government to spend on hip hop tours, twilight golf courses and radio sing-along courses has come to an end.
Sadly, the opportunity which could have been taken to set our country on a path to greater prosperity has been squandered.
Ladies and gentlemen: from here on, we New Zealanders are going to have to make our own luck.
From here on, New Zealand will need a government that is capable of making its own luck.
On 17 September, New Zealanders will confront some stark choices.
Two very different policy programmes, driven by two very different sets of values, and two very different styles of politics, will be on offer.
It will be an important choice – indeed, a momentous choice for our country.
Today, as we formally open our official campaign for the 2005 general election, I want to tell you about the sort of country we can be – indeed the sort of country we need to be if we are to send a message to our children and grandchildren that we can offer them a real future here.
First, we must make this a country which rewards and respects those who want to work hard, acquire skills, and get ahead.
That is the reason that the National Party’s tax and welfare policies are so important.
Tomorrow, I will announce the details of a comprehensive set of changes to the current tax rates.
As will have been clear from the announcements made by John Key on Friday, following release of the Treasury’s Pre-Election Fiscal Update, our package will reduce the tax burden by $2.2 billion in year one – the 2006/07 year – rising to $3.9 billion in year three, the 2008/09 year.
For most hard working New Zealanders, that will bring welcome relief.
Between 2000 and 2004, the income tax paid by the average household went up by 24%, almost twice as fast as pre-tax household incomes.
As a result, after tax and inflation, average household incomes didn’t rise at all between 2000 and 2004.
How on earth do we expect people to work harder, to work smarter, to acquire skills, to invest more in growing their businesses if, at the end of it all, they are going to be no better off, because the government has taken the lot?
And if New Zealanders have no incentive to work hard in order to get ahead, how on earth is our country supposed to get ahead?
The programme of tax changes I will announce tomorrow is critical – not just because a few New Zealanders who see the prospect of keeping more of their hard-earned cash might decide to vote for the National Party (although I certainly hope they will), but rather because lower taxes and better incentives are the key to re-igniting the spirit of enterprise required if New Zealand is once again to be a land of opportunity.
Over the past six years, we have seen the growth of a culture of high taxation, waste and bureaucracy. And that bureaucracy is suffocating not just our businesses but also our schools, our homes for the elderly, our hospitals, and our police. It has become all pervasive.
If we are to do better as a nation, we need a culture of enterprise, ambition and aspiration.
At the heart of that culture must be a tax system which offers incentive and reward.
Tomorrow, I promise, you will see a package of taxation policies that will do just that.
One of the simplest changes I will formally announce tomorrow is in the field of tax on secondary employment – right at the very heart of my concern about incentives and reward.
Those who take on a second job today often find their tax being collected at a very high rate, with the onus falling on them to collect a refund many months later.
That in itself is a major disincentive to getting ahead, and often the result is that they end up not getting their refund – indeed, faced with that high tax on secondary employment, they often decide against that extra job!
The New Zealand I hope to lead will be one where we reward, not punish, those who want to get ahead by taking on a second job.
So we will change the way in which tax is collected on secondary employment. We will collect that tax at a rate below 20 cents in the dollar, unless the taxpayer asks, in anticipation of a higher tax obligation, for collection to be at a nominated higher rate.
We will do this because we want to remove every obstacle we can standing in the way of those who want to get ahead, whose efforts will see New Zealand get ahead.
Hand in hand with our tax policy will be our welfare policy.
It should be a matter of great shame to this nation that, at the peak of the economic cycle, we have 300,000 working age New Zealanders on a full time benefit – 110,000 of whom have been on a benefit for at least four years.
The waste of taxpayers’ money – at a cost of $14 million every day – is bad enough.
But the waste of those lives is a human tragedy of enormous proportions.
A National Government is committed to strongly supporting those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to support themselves.
But for those who are unemployed and able to work, we will find work.
Those on the domestic purposes benefit will be expected to be available for part time work when their youngest child goes to school – something that tens of thousands of tax-paying mothers decide to do of their own volition.
And the sickness and invalids benefits will cease to be a place to hide for those who have no legitimate entitlement to taxpayers’ support.
So we are offering a package of sensible and fair taxation and welfare policies that encourage New Zealanders to get ahead, and see their country get ahead.
But the risk to this country lies not just in continuing to slip further behind economically.
New Zealand is also at risk from a growing acceptance, indeed encouragement, of mediocrity in far too many aspects of our national life.
Yes, our best sports people are in the top international league, but too often our children are discouraged from trying hard to win.
Yes, our best educated people are amongst the best educated in the world, but too many of our schools no longer celebrate those who do outstandingly well, no longer give marks, no longer give meaningful grades.
And in the tertiary sector, we have seen scandalous amounts of money wasted on courses of minimal value either to those enrolled or to the wider New Zealand society – with university funding up just 28% over the last five years but spending on low quality community education courses up more than 800%.
These are sure signs of a society that has lost its way, lost its focus, lost its sense of values.
In particular, we have lost our focus on the core public services which people should be entitled to expect from the government they fund with their taxes.
And so the second promise I make to you today is that the next National Government will focus on excellent delivery of the services that New Zealanders expect in return for their tax dollars, because those services are a critical building block in the better performing economy we must have.
And because they are essential to the civilised society which we generally expect.
In no area is that more important than in Education.
I am totally committed to a New Zealand in which every child gets the very best education of which they are capable, one in which their parents will have choices about where and how their children will be educated, and one in which schools have the freedom to operate in the interests of their communities.
That is why the next National Government will take the education sector out of the bureaucratic and union-dominated straightjacket in which it is now trapped.
We will abolish rigid school zoning.
We will improve the quality of teacher training and ensure that good teachers are paid more.
We will remove the cap on the rolls of the integrated schools and restore to the 1999 level the subsidies for independent schools in order to enhance parental choice.
We will fix the NCEA.
When a child falls behind in reading or arithmetic, we will give their parents a voucher to buy the extra tuition they need.
And we will let schools be run by their boards, communities and principals, not by teacher unions, bureaucrats, and heavy-handed Ministers.
There is no point in creating a wealthier, better educated, nation if New Zealanders cannot feel safe in their own homes.
Again, as the Clark Labour Government has been carried away with its hip hop tours and its twilight golf courses, it has lost sight of one of the most important roles of any government: the protection of its citizens.
As will be evident to any New Zealander who has read a newspaper in recent months, the quality of New Zealand policing has been put at risk on Helen Clark’s watch.
And public confidence in the police has also been put at risk.
Let me be very clear about this:
I, Don Brash, will place the protection of New Zealand’s citizens right at the very top of the list of solemn duties of the Prime Minister of this land.
Under a National Government, police resources will be devoted to fighting crime, not to filling in forms or raising revenue by filling speeding ticket quotas.
We will abolish parole for all repeat and violent offenders.
We will change the Proceeds of Crime legislation to enable the police to smash organised criminal gangs.
And we will maintain a DNA data base of all people convicted of a criminal offence to ensure speedier resolution of many offences.
A Don Brash-led Government will get serious about protecting New Zealand’s citizens, and get tough with the small minority of violent anti-social thugs who are currently re-cycled through our courts and through our police files again and again and again.
No single area better illustrates the “spend now, think later” approach of the Clark Labour Government than Health.
If six years ago you had asked me whether it was possible to increase health funding by 50%, and get virtually no more operations, no more services out of the health system, I would have said that would have been a challenge.
But clearly the Clark Labour Government has been equal to that challenge.
Today, they preside over a health system which consumes more dollars and produces less value for money than most of us could ever have believed.
More money will help. But there are problems in our health system that money alone will not fix.
The next National Government is going to be driven not by ideology, not by blind prejudice, but by a simple and unambiguous requirement that we use taxpayers’ money to buy the very best health services for our people, regardless of whether they are delivered by the public or by the private sector.
And we will maintain the levels of funding required to deliver the quality and quantity of healthcare that New Zealanders expect.
There is one other core service funded by New Zealand taxpayers which I want to mention in this context.
The decisions as to who qualifies to become a citizen of our country must sit very high on the hierarchy of responsibilities of the government of our land.
Yet the exercise of that responsibility has been seriously deficient in recent years.
Scandal after scandal has occurred in the Immigration portfolio, to the point where we are almost de-sensitised to the headlines.
A National Government will give the Immigration Service a major, top to bottom, overhaul, and roll the Service into a new Ministry that draws together the functions of the Immigration Service and the Citizenship role of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
A National Government will ensure we treat the task of deciding who gets to be a New Zealander with the seriousness and professionalism it deserves.
The concerns I have alluded to today – about taxation, welfare, education, law and order, immigration, and health – are to the forefront of the National Party’s agenda. They are also to some extent on the agendas of the other parties of the centre-right, and that gives me real confidence in our ability to see these issues addressed by a National-led Government.
Finally today I want to promise New Zealanders a different style of political leadership after 17 September.
Over recent weeks, Helen Clark and her senior Ministers have attempted to make much of my relative lack of Parliamentary experience – even though it is about the same as that enjoyed by Bob Hawke before he became Prime Minister of Australia.
Well I have two things to say about that:
Last time I saw one of those polls measuring public respect for various occupational groups, politicians were giving used car salesmen and mad axe murderers a run for their money somewhere near the bottom of the list!
So I feel no particular anxiety about being excluded from that assessment.
But if my opponents are, by referring to my Parliamentary experience, suggesting that I might, as Prime Minister, do things differently from the incumbent, then my answer is: Absolutely, yes.
If the public of this country accord me the privilege of serving as Prime Minister after September 17, things will be different.
Very, very different.
For a start, if my ministerial limousine is travelling at 160 kilometres an hour, I promise I will notice.
And if I sign a painting, it will be because I painted it.
I promise to end the era of government by smoke and mirrors, and the rule of the Beehive spin merchants.
I promise an end to the creeping, some would say galloping, political correctness which has overrun our ship of state.
And I promise that when something goes wrong, it won’t always have been the officials’ or the driver’s fault.
I promise you a government of mainstream New Zealanders, for mainstream New Zealanders.
I may not have started the debate in this country over the place of the Treaty of Waitangi, but I think it would be fair to say that I did nudge it along a bit.
And if I am elected to the office of Prime Minister, I will use every ounce of energy in my body to see us create a country in which all New Zealanders, regardless of their ethnicity, are treated as equals before the law, and in which the historic Treaty claims are settled with speed, with fairness and with dignity.
My vision is of a country in which we all, regardless of background, regardless of race, can find our own land of opportunity, not through the endless re-interpretation of a document signed in a different time and for a different purpose, but through an understanding that we have a shared future, a common stake in this great land of ours.
If you want the continuation of a politically correct, social engineering, arrogant government, which has done nothing to improve our growth rate or stem the exodus of Kiwis to greener pastures abroad and which believes it can spend your money better than you can, I suggest you don’t vote National.
But if you share our vision of what New Zealand could become – a country with living standards at least equal to those in Australia, where every child gets the very best education of which they are capable, where those who need help from government get it but those who don’t need it stand on their own two feet, where eliminating crime is taken seriously and where every person is equal before the law – then know that the National Party stands ready to deliver the policies to make that future a reality.
On 17 September, I invite all New Zealanders to join us on that journey.