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Brash: Notes for debate on PM's statement

Don Brash MP
National Party Leader

14 February 2006

Speaking notes for debate on Prime Minister's statement

I move that this House has no confidence in the Government led by Helen Clark because she leads a political party that has shamelessly ransacked the public purse to fund its election campaigns and has absolutely no coherent programme to lift the living standards of all New Zealanders.

Madam Speaker, this is a Government that has hauled down the flag of integrity and instead run-up a jolly roger of political piracy.

They have done so without any sense of shame; without pausing to consider the damage this does to our democracy; and without any restraining sense of decency moderating their quest for power.

We have just heard a speech bereft of new ideas, bereft of vision, bereft of any substantive policy which might give some optimism for the future.

Here we are at the start of a new Parliamentary year, wondering whether, against all the odds, and in contrast to what we have seen over the past six years, the Prime Minister might manage to express a workable vision for this country, underpinned by policies which meet the challenges we face.

Did we hear a programme to lift the country nearer to Australia’s living standards, so that our kids don’t have to build a future in Australia to get ahead in life?

Did we hear about policies to meet her forgotten commitment to lift New Zealand back into the top half of the OECD, so that we can afford a first world health and education system?

No we did not.
Instead we got platitude heaped upon platitude, stirred through with the clichés so beloved of the political left.
Her speech did make a lunge at relevance, by talking about some of the things that matter, such as productivity -- but without any policies to give substance to that issue.

She is talking some of the talk, but walking none of the walk.
Sure, she talks of economic transformation. She talks of the need to improve productivity. My, how she talks about economic transformation and productivity!

I haven’t had a chance yet to count the number of times she talks about economic transformation and productivity, but in the Speech from the Throne late last year the word “productivity” was used no less than six times in little more than one page!

And if she really meant it, that would be good news indeed.
But the words are empty, the rhetoric hollow, because Labour’s policies hold back productivity growth at every turn.
There was nothing in the speech which told this Parliament or this country how her Labour/New Zealand First Government will deliver economic transformation or improved productivity.

Her Minister of Finance, the one with the History degree, the one who was the lucky beneficiary of some of the best export prices in a generation, has no answers for her, and has already dismissed as an “ideological burp” the best professional advice her Treasury officials could offer.

And perhaps it is not surprising that the speech was so bereft of vision and so bereft of ideas. In its seventh year in office, this Government is very, very tired.

Of the 61 people on whom Helen Clark depends for her political survival, only four are new faces in this House, and only one of those shows any promise at all.

The Government is made up of the same tired people as the last Government - Helen Clark, and Michael Cullen, and Steve Maharey, and Trevor Mallard.

We in the National Party understand that New Zealand succeeds or fails, not through edict of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, but on the efforts of individuals and businesses.

We understand that for New Zealand to succeed, New Zealand individuals and businesses must have the incentive to succeed through their hard work, their innovation, their investment of capital.

Helen Clark, on the other hand, thinks it's all about her.
She thinks that by making a speech today instructing New Zealanders to succeed that they will loyally obey the Prime Ministerial command.

And when survey after survey of business and employer sentiment spells out the dawning truth - that those who hold New Zealand's future prosperity in their hands do not have confidence in current policies - Helen Clark’s only message to those people today is simply: "You're wrong".

When we consider this Government’s history over the last six years, why on Earth should we believe that what Helen Clark outlines as her programme today will do anything useful to help New Zealanders get the healthcare they deserve, get the education they want for their children, get the standard of living they want and deserve?

Indeed, why should we believe anything she says? On this side of the House, and increasingly throughout New Zealand, we know that there is a fundamental lack of integrity at the core of this Labour-led Government.

If that needed any confirmation, the announcement by the Electoral Commission just last week of Labour’s massive over-spending and cynical willingness to use the public purse as an extension of its party campaign fund surely does the job.

So desperate was their desire to hang onto office, Labour took almost half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money and used it for party political purposes.

This money belonged to taxpayers up and down New Zealand.
I say to the Prime Minister - pay it back.
Don’t hide behind the coat tails of your Party President.
Remember Helen Clark’s words to the Labour Party Congress in May 1999 about the pledge card for that election - “My signature is on it. I am accountable for it”.

Well, nothing has changed - her signature is still on it, and she is still accountable for it.
It was her pledge card.
It was her face on the card.
It was her name on the card; her commitments on the card; and her parliamentary budget that paid for the card in clear breach of the Electoral Act.

So, Prime Minister - do the right thing by the people of this country. Pay the money back and apologise.
Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. Mike Williams, the Labour Party President, is quoted in yesterday’s “Herald” as confirming that taxpayers’ funds have been used to pay for pledge cards in each of the last three elections, despite the fact that those cards bore the authorisation of the Labour Party secretary, suggesting he knew they were election campaign material.

It is very clear that Helen Clark regards taxpayers’ funds as available to fund Labour Party propaganda - for pledge cards, for calendars bragging about Labour Party accomplishments, and for grossly extravagant propaganda for Working for Families.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. We all know about Paintergate, and Corngate, and Doonegate, and Helen Clark’s remarkable ability to speed through small country towns at 160 kilometres an hour and somehow not notice.

We all know that she publicly deplores the sale of government assets, but was the Deputy Prime Minister when the biggest sale of a government asset in New Zealand history took place.

We all know that she defended the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that ratification would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the New Zealand economy - only to have to admit that ratification will actually cost us hundreds of millions of dollars.

We all know that in August last year she flatly denied that she had asked Treasury for an estimate of the cost of the student loan bribe because, she said, it was a Labour Party policy and not a Government one - but finally her Government had to admit, under pressure from the Ombudsman, that Treasury had done a costing, and that that costing showed a fiscal cost substantially greater than the one she had originally claimed.

And of course there is David Benson-Pope, he who opposes violence towards children, unable to recall, he claims, an incident of flagrant abuse of a pupil in his care.

And Taito Philip Field’s use of his ministerial position to get work visas for a substantial number of immigrants who might not otherwise have gained entry to New Zealand.

The whole Labour Government looks more rotten with every month that passes.
Labour’s deal with New Zealand First surely takes the cake - offering to the man who has regularly insulted the citizens of most of our neighbours, to the man who swore he would never accept the baubles of office, to the man who, when asked to name Asian statesmen that he knew, could name only Lee Kwan Yew, offering to him the important position of Minister of Foreign Affairs - and then to allow him to remain outside the Cabinet and insist that, actually, he is not part of the Government.

No wonder that Doug Woollerton resigned as President of New Zealand First in protest, and most of Mr. Peters’ colleagues were utterly embarrassed.

Not content with this absurdity, Helen Clark promised funding to the Greens to enable them to hire more staff - funding from the Ministerial Services budget, despite the fact that the Greens are clearly not part of the Government at all and no authorisation for such use of taxpayers’ funds was received from the State Services Commission.

This is a Government which is totally devoid of principle, driven only by the unbridled desire to hang onto power no matter what the cost.

And how seriously can we take Helen Clark’s new plans to deliver better education, better healthcare, and better roads?

We know that, in the past, the Government presided over hugely wasteful government spending programmes.
We know that Te Wananga o Aotearoa, to take just one example, received vast bucket-loads of taxpayers’ money over the last few years - more than half a billion dollars over the last four years. Some of it was used to good effect, but much of that enormous sum was squandered because of practices which in any other environment would have been called what they were - nepotistic and corrupt. The Labour Government totally failed to deal with the problem until colleagues on this side of the House forced them to do so.

And of course there have been plenty of other examples - hip-hop tours, twilight golf courses, sing-along courses, and all the rest.

Why should we expect Helen Clark’s new plans for the education sector to be any more effective?
We know that the Labour Government has tipped a vast amount of additional money into the healthcare sector. But to little effect - we still have hugely long waiting lists, with people dying while waiting for an operation; we still have sick people unable to get the medicines they need on a subsidised basis, even though those medicines are readily available on a subsidised basis in Australia; we still have those who care for the sick and disabled having to pay their own travel costs; we still have aged care facilities and hospices under desperate financial pressure.

Why should we expect Helen Clark’s new plans for the healthcare sector to be any more effective?
And what about infrastructure? Helen Clark makes some bold commitments about building better roads. But her Government has made plenty of bold commitments to build better roads in the past, and we are still waiting.

Take the SH20 Mt Roskill extension for example. In 2000, Transit issued a statement saying that construction would start in 2001. In October 2001, Transit released a document saying that “Transit proposes to begin construction in September 2002. Construction will take around three years, with completion expected by May 2005.” In August 2004, Transit put out a large glossy brochure to every household in Auckland saying that construction would start later that year. And of course, as we all know, construction actually started last year, just three weeks before the election.

In December 2003, the Labour Government announced with great fanfare a commitment to speed up road-building in the Auckland region. Eighteen months later, the head of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce wrote to the Minister of Finance to advise that no acceleration in Auckland road-building was yet perceptible.

We know that, under Labour, Transit New Zealand has become a bureaucratic and oppressive monster, telling those who would develop their properties - even government departments wanting to build new schools - that they can’t connect their developments to the highway.

Why should we expect Helen Clark’s new plans to improve New Zealand’s infrastructure to be any more effective?
Helen Clark promises to strengthen the police and she mentions her commitment to hire another 1,000 police. But the Labour Government’s record in law and order is appalling.

We know, for example, that three new prisons are under construction, providing accommodation for an additional 1,270 criminals. And we know that the cost of these prisons has gone up, and up, and up, to the point where the latest estimate is $757 million, so that each prison bed will cost the taxpayer some $600,000!

And what has driven this extraordinary extravagance, to house criminals in such super-expensive accommodation? In part it is a result of pure ideology - an ideology which sees Labour refuse to even contemplate the possibility that a privately managed prison might be less expensive and more effective than the state-run prisons - despite the fact that New Zealand’s own experience with a privately managed prison was exceptionally good by every measure, and despite the fact that the Australian Government and the British Labour Government now routinely contract out prison management to private companies.

Why should we expect Helen Clark’s new plans to improve the safety of our communities to be any more effective?
All the evidence of the election campaign is that this Labour Government has a total contempt for taxpayers, and has no hesitation in using the resources which have fallen into their lap as a result of strong export prices to buy their way to re-election.

And no, Trevor Mallard, leaving money in the hands of the taxpayers who earn it is fundamentally different from taking money off taxpayers and dishing it out to best political advantage without regard to the long-term effects on the community.

The student loan bribe was the most egregious example. It involves the cynical transfer of $1.5 billion to those with existing loans, most of them on their way to earning well above the average wage; and the active encouragement of young people to take on as much debt as possible. And why? It had nothing to do with encouraging graduates to stay in New Zealand, as Helen Clark claimed at the time, since 94% of those with student loans already live in New Zealand.

It was utterly cynical vote-buying and grossly irresponsible, at a time when every professional adviser had warned the Government that the rapid growth in government spending was a major factor pushing up inflation, forcing the Reserve Bank to push up interest rates, and holding up the exchange rate, to the huge cost of our exporters.

Why should we have any confidence at all that Helen Clark, who has shown herself to be utterly cynical when it comes to buying votes, is now serious about putting in place a programme which will actually benefit New Zealanders?

Madam Speaker, there was, alas, not the slightest sense of urgency in the Prime Minister’s speech. No sense that we face a serious crisis.

No, not the prospect of an imminent slowdown of the economy, and quite possibly a recession, though that will undoubtedly hurt the many thousands of people who will lose their jobs.

No, the real crisis is that the gap between after-tax incomes in New Zealand and those in Australia has got markedly wider in the six years since Labour came to office in 1999.

In 1999, average after-tax incomes in Australia were 20% above those in New Zealand, pretty much the same gap as that in 1984. In just six short years, that gap has grown to 33%, and no amount of protestation from Michael Cullen is going to alter that fact.

And looking forward, every indication is that that gap will continue to widen over the next three years, with very slow growth in New Zealand and further tax cuts promised in Australia. It could well be a 40% gap by 2008.

There are lots of serious issues facing our great country - 12% of the working age population dependent on a benefit, more than 40% of the adult population having insufficient ability to read and write to operate effectively in a modern society, the police unable to deal with all the crimes which are happening all around us, the dangerous drift to racial separatism.

But surely the most serious issue is that widening gap. The prospect of getting a higher income is not the only thing which prompts people to emigrate, but it is one powerful motivator, and we face the real risk that too many New Zealanders - the young, the innovative, the energetic - those in whom we have invested most as a community - will decide to up sticks and leave. Already, more than 600 Kiwis are leaving for Australia every week, and that number is very likely to increase.

The risk is that we reach a tipping point beyond which the flow gets steadily greater and the task of reducing the gap ever more difficult.

And, of course, because our most highly skilled people are the ones who can command Australian salaries even when they stay in New Zealand, the gap between after-tax incomes in New Zealand and those in Australia also shows up in a widening gap between the incomes of highly skilled people here and the rest of us.

So the very nature of our relatively egalitarian society is threatened.
Madam Speaker, over the next year, we will hold the Labour/New Zealand First Government to account, and expose arrogance, incompetence and corruption wherever it exists.

We expect that that will keep us very busy!
But we also commit to supporting the Government where it is willing to adopt sensible policies in line with our own values and principles. We didn’t see much evidence of sensible policies in Helen Clark’s speech today, but we live in hope!

Following the election last September, National now has the strongest Opposition caucus in terms of numbers, ability, and experience in New Zealand history. We have the people needed to develop and implement our policies.

We also have a clear vision of where we want to go, what kind of country we want New Zealand to be, and - most importantly - what sort of policies will get us there.

We want New Zealand to be a country where people are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves, but where those who, through no fault of their own, have stumbled upon hard times, are supported through those times and actively encouraged to again have the dignity of self-reliance.

We want New Zealand to be a country where government seeks to expand the choices our citizens have, not close them down.

We want New Zealand to be a country where there is a business environment that attracts the investment that will boost productivity and incomes in New Zealand, so that Kiwis enjoy living standards every bit the equal of those in other highly developed countries.

We want New Zealand to be a country where we ensure that every child has access to a first class education by providing parents with alternatives if their child’s future is at risk.

We want New Zealand to be a country where everybody has access to good quality healthcare because we are getting value for money in healthcare spending.

We want New Zealand to be a country where people respect the rights of others, and are kept safe from those who would abuse those rights.

And we want New Zealand to be a country where people have equal rights under the law, regardless of race.
And we must be a country where, in spite of the diversity of our community, we share sufficient common values to bind us together as a nation.

This would be a country which our children and grandchildren would want to return to.
This is the kind of country which the National Party is going to fight for.
And Madam Speaker, we will be fighting for a country led by ministers with some integrity and sense of decency, so that we do not continue to see this squalid and shameful spectacle of a government repeatedly pillaging the public purse for party political purposes.


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