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Brownlee - Address to National's Northern Region

Brownlee - Address to National's Northern Region

Gerry Brownlee MP National Party Deputy Leader

29 April 2006

Address to National Party Northern Region Conference Waipuna Conference Centre, Auckland

[Ad-Lib Introduction - Dr. Brash]

Delegates, we meet again at this Northern Regional Conference in our 70th year as strong as the National Party has ever been, and committed to the National Party because:

We believe in choice not compulsion.

A hand up not a hand out.

Self-reliance not dependence.

Competition not state monopoly.

Straight talking over political correctness.

Equal opportunity over special preference.

We believe in strong families, and safe communities

And we believe that all New Zealanders stand as equals before the law.

They were the principles that formed our policy going into the 2005 election and we have not backed off any of them.

Twelve months ago you were engaged in the selection of new candidates in anticipation of the 2005 election.

You did a great job and sent to Parliament five brand new MPs:

Paula Bennett, Jackie Blue, Jonathan Coleman, Tim Groser and Allan Peachey.

All of who have made a wonderful start to their political careers.

You also sent back to Parliament, my friend, the Honourable Tau Henare, who has begun to carve himself a very senior position within the Party's ranks.

There is no doubt that our current polling position is, in part, due to the performance of these new Members of Parliament.

So I congratulate them, but more importantly I congratulate you for the foresight you had in making them your choice and the faith you have placed in them.

They join our very experienced team from this region:

John Carter, who is reconnecting us to the local government community throughout NZ.

Judith Collins, who has not only become a very strong House performer, but is a great advocate for the role that women play in the National Party.

Phil Heatley, the irrepressible Member for Whangarei, stepping up and being noticed in all of his portfolios.

Dr Paul Hutchison, perhaps the best advocate for science and science-based economy in New Zealand.

John Key, who has managed to convince Helen Clark that Michael Cullen's use-by date is well and truly past.

Murray McCully, taking on the difficult task of Foreign Affairs and I think guiding National to a very, sound position, post election.

Wayne Mapp, taking party policy directly to the floor of Parliament with his Labour Relations Reform Bill.

Clem Simich, bringing much honour to the party in his role as Assistant Speaker.

Lockwood Smith, the senior man and significant backroom contributor to our economic team.

Maurice Williamson, making more progress on pushing National's transport policy than Labour will ever make on roads for the Auckland region.

The tireless, hard working Pansy Wong, whose enthusiasm for the party and our best interests never dwindles.

And the knowledgeable and always considered Dr Richard Worth.

These are your Members of Parliament, and this region can be very proud that this group of people will make up the core of Ministers in the next National Government.

There is no doubt in my mind that National will be the government after the next election, whenever it might come.

And we need to start thinking now about what the makeup of that new government will be.

The only certainties about the next election results are that we will be going out for as many party votes as we can get.

The election will be conducted under the MMP system, as will government formation, and although outright majority will always be our goal, it's a fair bet that a coalition will need to be formed to achieve government.

As we move toward that day there are a number of hurdles we must get ourselves over. So let's take a look at the political landscape.

We are aware that the Green Party has made it clear they would not wish to work with us under any circumstances.

We observe that the NZ First Party is in an extremely precarious position and currently spends most of its time attacking the National Party Opposition. Day by day, it becomes more interlocked with Labour.

Unlike NZ First, the United Party are moving to put themselves in a position where they can discuss the prospect of coalition with either major party.

There are many similarities between us and them, and certainly plenty of ground for discussion.

The Act Party experienced its worst election in 2005. They now face some challenges but we know success for them brings to the table a party we can work with.

Then there is the Maori Party.

It is my contention that in the seven months since the election, the Maori Party has cemented itself very firmly into the political landscape for a long time to come.

They are no aberration. They are competent political operators and look set to be an even bigger influence on the next Parliament.

We went into the 2005 campaign with strong policy around the relationship between Maori and non-Maori in this country.

Underlying that was our strong belief, which we have not swayed from, that all New Zealanders should be treated as equals under the law.

We want to complete historical treaty grievance at a much greater pace than the current government are working on.

If we keep going at Labour's pace, we are going to spend the next 35 to 40 years arguing over some $600 million and be sidetracked on endless interpretations of what the Treaty of Waitangi means.

We are still committed to removing unnecessary references to the "Principles of the Treaty", from legislation. And from regulation - even dental health contracts¡K

We want to see the Foreshore and Seabed better protected in the interests of all New Zealanders.

And we contend that the time for separate Maori representation in Parliament has passed.

These remain our policies.

So, as we contemplate success in 2008, there are a number of things in 2006 that from my portfolio perspective challenge us ¡K things we must deal with and develop policy around.

They are big issues that the wider party needs to take a view on. Let me outline them and then pull them all together.

The first point. Currently, Maori throughout the country are being asked to consider which electoral roll they would like to be on. Do they want to be on the Maori Roll or do they want to be on the General Roll?

Without going into arguments about the right or wrong of that option being put, let's just look at the simple reality.

This is lawfully taking place and the likelihood seems that the number of Maori seats will rise by at least 2, possibly 3, from 7 to perhaps 10 in the next Parliament.

It is my contention that after the 2008 election, the Maori Party will hold at least 8 seats in Parliament.

The second point. On the 15 March this year Barbara Stewart's Member's Bill, the Electoral (Reduction in Numbers of Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill, was read for the first time in Parliament. In promoting the bill, Mrs Stewart pointed to the 1999 referendum seeking the reduction of Parliament to 99 members, which was overwhelmingly supported by New Zealanders.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the bill achieved the requisite votes to pass its first reading in Parliament. It's before a select committee and the question now becomes, will it pass into legislation when it returns to the House later this year?

And will voters in 2008 be electing only 100 Members of Parliament? Possibly 70 constituency seats and only 30 list seats.

We supported that legislation going to a select committee because for many, many years now New Zealanders have expressed a desire to reduce the size of Parliament, and we should have the debate.

But we need to also be very aware of what the consequences of that debate may be, given our current electoral system.

It is National who have to give this bill the greatest consideration.

The bill was introduced by NZ First, so they won't change their opinion.

It's supported by United Future, who will do anything to differentiate from the Labour Government and, in my opinion, are unlikely to change their position.

It's supported by the Act Party, who have long railed against the size of Parliament, and are almost unlikely to change their position.

It's supported by the Maori Party, who have worked out that 8 seats out of 100 give them a lot more influence than 8 seats out of 120.

And it was supported by us because we saw merit in the debate.

The size of Parliament is interesting, its easy to deal with, but I can't help thinking that much as the 1993 vote to change the electoral system to MMP was a reaction born of a desire to constrain politicians, so too is this issue

¡K..Have less of them so they won't bother us so much¡K

But the size of Parliament, big or small, does not constrain politicians. It's the nature of the voting system. It's adherence to the conventions, rules and understandings of our constitution that give reality to rights, and should constrain political excess in a democracy like ours.

We don't talk about this very much but we are going to have to because here is my third point.

The third point. In March of this year the United Nations Commission on Human Rights presented the report of the Special Rapporteur on the system of Human Rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people in New Zealand.

The report was authored by Professor Rudolpho Stavenhagen. His nine-day visit to New Zealand was generated out of Maori discontent over the Foreshore and Seabed legislation passed by the Labour Government in 2004.

Though the Professor claimed to speak to a wide cross-section of New Zealanders, it is worth noting that he did not talk to the National Party as the main party of Opposition.

It is true that the National Party has roundly condemned his report as being lightweight and bearing little resemblance to the reality of life in this country.

In fact, we went so far as to say the best thing the Government could do would be to toss the report in the bin. It made for an interesting sound bite, but it's not that easy.

Though that may be our view, the Maori Party has said that the 22 recommendations made by the United Nations Special Rapportuer could have been a Maori Party manifesto.

Sixteen of the recommendations are largely political in nature. Things like: - A call for targeted social assistance. - A call for the Government to do more to clean up industrial waste at Muketu and Kawerau. - More fair and equitable settlements. - More resources for the tribunal to do its work. - Ratification of ILO No.169. - Lowering student fees and increasing allowances. - Recognising cultural revival, and so on.

These are all political issues that we can deal with, some we would agree with and argue are being done, but for the most part, given that we have had 160 years of paternalistic and patronising policy for Maori, they are very arguable from our point of view.

However, six of the recommendations have most serious constitutional implications for this country.

The first recommendation is that New Zealand design a constitutional reform to more clearly regulate the relationship between the Government and Maori on the basis of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The second recommendation asks that the Treaty of Waitangi be entrenched constitutionally. Interesting because earlier in the report the professor acknowledges that there is much confusion about what it means.

The third recommendation is that the MMP electoral system should be constitutionally entrenched at national, regional, and local government levels.

The fourth, that iwi and hapu should be considered as likely units for strengthening customary self governance of Maori in conjunction with local and regional councils.

The fifth, that legal services should be amended to ensure that legal aid is available to iwi and hapu as bodies of persons so they can afford access to the protection mechanisms of human rights in order to eliminate discrimination against Maori collectives.

The sixth recommendation is that the Waitangi Tribunal be granted legally binding and enforceable powers to adjudicate treaty matters with the force of law.

These are extremely challenging and highly controversial recommendations.

If they were to become the cornerstones for the Maori Party's next campaign, and therefore on the table for discussion after the next election, where would we sit on those recommendations?

We would no doubt take issue with all of them.

But the bigger question for a party that believes in one standard of citizenship and that all New Zealanders stand as equals before the law is why does this large group of identifiable New Zealanders feel they need their rights so prescribed in a constitution?

And, perhaps more importantly, we should be asking if other New Zealanders are feeling the same?

So - looking at my three points together, we have the realistic prospects of an increased number of Maori seats and quite possibly a smaller Parliament, where small party influence is a much greater and a significant player will most probably want to put serious constitutional issues on the table.

The current Government has little respect for constitutional niceties. In 2004, as a response to our positions on the Treaty of Waitangi and other matters, they put together an inquiry to review New Zealand's existing constitutional arrangements, with Peter Dunne as the Chair.

The inquiry produced a 165-page report. We said at the time it was a sham and we were proved right, because even though Mr Dunne is now a minister, the report has done no more than gather dust.

After the election, Helen Clark did away with the important constitutional principle of Cabinet collective responsibility in order to accommodate Winston Peters and Peter Dunne.

The tried and proven Salisbury convention of collective responsibility, alive and well in most Westminster-style Parliaments, was tossed out to suit the needs of the Prime Minister.

She said they had to be responsible only a little bit - when they felt like it - depending on what hat they were wearing.

And other ministers will soon try the same trick. Dover Samuels recently told Parliament that though he had criticised Chris Carter the day before, he was at that time speaking as district councillor - which he had been 10 years earlier - and the Speaker accepted it!

The Prime Minister's scant regard for the law in her own case is well known. In New Zealand today the Prime Minister is all-powerful. There is little to curtail the whims of the Prime Minister.

As far back as 1987, Professor Keith Jackson wrote, "constitutional niceties are largely alien to the New Zealand way of life. New Zealanders want results, and the New Zealand Parliament tends to be characterised by gumboot constitutionalism. It is in this spirit that so many checks and balances that characterise legislatures in most developed nations have been swept away, leaving the New Zealand system with remarkably few internal buffers".

Faced with those recommendations mentioned earlier, what would Helen Clark and Steve Maharey do? Where would their negotiations lead them?

Constitutional change should not be negotiated in the tension and compromise of coalition discussions. It's my strong view that the National Party needs to start raising a constitutional debate in New Zealand.

I'm asking each of our regional policy committees to start debating these issues and New Zealand's long-term constitutional future.

Because, 20 years after Professor Jackson expressed concern, the issues I've outlined today are all alive and we cannot leave them to political chance.

Sometimes, recognising the bits that are right in an opponent's argument can point to a way ahead.

We need to make it clear that the National Party wants a constitutional environment that respects the rights of all New Zealanders equally.

This is not a discussion we can avoid. These are not issues we can afford to be caught napping on.

New Zealand will need to decide who they can trust to engage on these issues.

Our challenge is to make sure that new Zealanders know that National wants constitutional arrangements that:

- Ensure our rights. - Require our responsibility. - And treat us all as equals before the law.

Ladies and gentleman we have a big job ahead, so let's get about our work.

Thank you.


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