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Brownlee: Opening comments to National Conference

Brownlee: Opening comments to National Party Conference

It’s said that the importance of any occasion can be measured by the length of salutations offered at the beginning of a speech.

On this occasion, from the President and Leader, down to the last delegate to register, you all deserve a mention.

So, as we gather for our largest post-election conference in our 71st year, let me begin by saying:

Fellow Members of the National Party – thank-you for the great result your work produced last year, and thank-you for the on-going commitment you make as we move towards office in 2008.

This is an important conference because 70 years on, the values of Freedom, Independence, Choice and Personal Responsibility that defined the National Party approach to politics are as relevant for New Zealand today as they were back then.

Our opponents, the current Government, after seven years of reinserting state control and direction more deeply into the daily lives of New Zealanders, have shrunk into survival mode and offer no clear path to a better future.

Their big thing, post-election, has been to instruct all government departments and agencies to report all activity measured against the buzz word headings:

o Economic Transformation
o Families Young and Old
o National Identity.
These headings come as a result of advice our opponents took on how to go about reframing the political agenda. Nothing wrong with our policies, they say, just got the language wrong. We just need to change the spin!

Well, let’s look at Economic Transformation.

Dr Cullen tells us that due entirely to his own brilliance, we have, economically speaking, enjoyed seven great years.

You’ll hear more on the economy and where we’re heading later this morning.

But when you cut through all of the discussion about the various aspects that either drive, slow or grow the economy, isn’t there only one question for everyday New Zealanders? And isn’t that the question - are we better off?

In the year 2000, the Government commissioned a Living Standards Report to set a benchmark to measure against – to see if we’re better off. Two weeks ago they published the update.

After years of expanding central government influence in the economy, and years of increased restriction and redistribution, the result showed no change for 75% of the people. But it did show that the number of New Zealanders in severe hardship is on the rise.

Most notably, it showed that Maori living in severe hardship have increased by a massive 150%. The advice Labour got was that the words ‘Economic Transformation’ would let people instantly have a mental picture of what it means.

Under Labour, Economic Transformation, by their own measure, means we’re going backwards.

So what do falling living standards do for families young and old? The Living Standards Report shows that the number of families living in severe hardship has increased by 130%.

Remember that severe hardship is described as going without basics such as decent shoes, home heating, and fresh fruit and vegetables.

Life is tough for those people. They need help, they need aspiration, and they need encouragement toward independence of the state.

While the Kahui family may not be typical, for the Prime Minister to acknowledge there are more of them is an admission of failure to recognize the strength that comes from families being as much as possible independent of the state.

The extended middle class welfare of Working for Families doesn’t reach the families who are in severe hardship now.

But what it does do is drive out the incentive for families in work, to do better through work, by putting in place vicious abatement regimes on income earned over and above the level the state deems appropriate for your family.

Limited choice in education and virtually no control over quality, and the mass organisation of the health system, are all constraints put on families.

So the mental picture is clear under Labour – it’s families young and old, state controlled.

This country used to pride itself as being a can-do place. There wasn’t anything a Kiwi couldn’t turn his hand to, or we’d have a mate who could do what we couldn’t.

This is the country that produced an extraordinary number of world firsts - by per capita measure - a nation of over-achievers. Sports mad and culturally well up on the arts and literature.

It’s no doubt that the values of freedom, choice, independence and personal responsibility are factors that have driven us as a nation since our not-too-distant pioneering days.

We’re still a great country of achievers, but isn’t it an irony that the party that is so keen on state control should be so keen to grab the agenda with the phrase ‘National Identity’.

Labour is still reacting to the resonance Don Brash struck with everyday New Zealanders when he spoke at Orewa.

Because at the heart of that reaction was a concern to see us as one nation with many differences; where all are respected and treated equally before the law.

If we ever needed vindication of our call to abandon race-based policy, it came in the Living Standards Report.

Remember the Closing the Gaps policy? The $950 million scheme targeted at Maori. Race-based funding applied to government-run programmes.

We made great progress with self-help programmes in the 90’s, but they’re not for Labour. Under them, NGO contracts were cancelled. If the Government couldn’t do it, no one could.

And the result? A 150% increase in the number of Maori living in severe hardship. The concept of self-help and reliance is deep in Maori society.

We will push for early settlement of Treaty grievances. We will seek to remove laws that separate one group of New Zealanders from another.

We will fund initiatives based on need not race because, along with other freedoms and choice, that is part of nation-building.

New Zealanders will identify themselves and us as a nation by their choices.

We are a country that shares two dominant cultures and the blending of them increasingly identifies us.

National identity cannot be successfully forced by any government, and it will not develop in the absence of freedom, choice and independence.

Under Labour, the mental picture of our identity is mixed and confused.

There is no doubt in my mind that the National Party is the best party to lead New Zealand towards a strong and vibrant National Identity.


Economic Transformation,

Families Young and Old,

National Identity

These are catchphrases that sound good, but lack any inspirational values to back them.

They are little more than convenient headings designed to give structure to the advice of the spin merchants who drive so much of the Labour agenda.

It’s surely the mark of a grossly arrogant government to think it can simply change the words to disguise the agenda.

Make no mistake, their programme is the opposite of freedom, independence, choice and individual responsibility. It’s about control, dependence, restriction and compliance.

Delegates, we should enjoy this conference in a mood of celebration and congratulation. We didn’t achieve all we wanted in 2005, but we sure came a long way from the dark days of 2002, and we have not rested on the laurels of a near thing.

Over the weekend you’ll hear from many in the parliamentary team and I’m confident you will pick up the determined strength of the next government.

Much praise for the revitalization of the National Party must go to Don Brash.

Earlier this week Don was keynote speaker at the Local Government Conference. He encouraged the many delegates to that conference in the work they do.

And perhaps in a rear moment of candour he gave them a personal insight into Don Brash the Leader, when he told them their leadership style was critical.

He said: “In my experience, good leadership allows others to flourish; it inspires challenges and encourages. In the absence of warfare or some such crisis, the best leaders are humble. They know when and in what areas people want to be led, and where they want to be left free to find their own way.”

There could be no better description of the leadership style of Don Brash than that statement. While our political opponents lament a thin talent pool, Don’s stewardship of the party has seen an abundance of capability develop as he builds the next Government of New Zealand.

Delegates. As we hold our various policy discussions, both formal and informal, we should not underestimate the growing concern in the minds of everyday New Zealanders about the control the Labour Government is taking over their lives.

Delegates. We‘ve done well and we can do better. Can I thank you for your commitment, your effort, and your leadership in the electorates and interest groups.

And I thank you for joining our challenge to make the National Party values of

o Freedom
o Choice
o Independence
o and personal responsibility

The first choice of voters in 2008.

Enjoy the conference.


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