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Judy Kirk: Address to National70th Conference

Judy Kirk: Address to National70th Conference

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the birth of our great party. I want to commence this 70th annual address by the President by paying tribute to the foundation members of the party, to my predecessor, Sir George Wilson, and Don Brash’s predecessor Adam Hamilton.

Those great New Zealanders who founded the party did so in the early years of the first Labour Government. They commenced the project of rebuilding the centre right with hope and determination.

All that effort was rewarded in 1949 when the Rt. Hon Sir Sidney Holland swept to victory. That produced the first eight years of National Government. After a brief hiatus, the Rt. Hon Sir Keith Holyoake swept to victory in 1960 and we were in office for 12 years.

Then the Rt. Hon Sir Rob Muldoon crushed the Labour Party in 1975 to produce another nine years in Government. In 1990 the Rt. Hon Jim Bolger won the greatest victory of all and we had another nine years in government.

We all hoped the 15-year cycle would be repeated in 2005 and that Don Brash would become the next leader of a long-term National Government. We doubled our vote but we didn’t quite make it. There is, however, so much we can be proud of in the 2005 result:

• As I said, doubling our Party Vote. Of course the most important vote. We won the Party Vote in 36 electorates.

• Winning a host of seats, particularly in rural and provincial New Zealand and reclaiming our ascendancy in those parts of the country. Some areas were simply stunning. Look at the East Coast of the North Island. We went from a position of having no electorate seats to winning them all. Even in the 1960s, the most we could manage on the East Coast was to hold most of the seats some of the time. Yet Napier went to the National Party for the first time in over 50 years. A stunning achievement, and a huge tribute to the talent and work of Chris Tremain and his team.

• Where we did not win, on many occasions we came very close indeed. Seats like West Coast-Tasman, Otaki, Rotorua, Hamilton West and Taupo are all now winnable. The Labour Party, which was formed in Blackball 90 years ago this year, has deserted the good people of the West Coast, and Chris Auchinvole is going to ensure that National wins the Party Vote again and takes over there in 2008. Very few things would give me greater pleasure than to see the Labour Party exiled from its original heartland seat.

• All around the country, new National MPs were elected. From Jonathan Coleman in Northcote to that happy warrior, Eric Roy, in Invercargill, these new MPs have greatly strengthened our caucus and reinvigorated the party. Each one of them has a huge contribution to make.

I thank you, the party members, candidates and MPs for all your good work in 2005. The party’s performance was outstanding.

No matter what your contribution, whether it was gathering membership, door knocking, scrutineering, taking voters to polling places, fundraising or putting up hoardings – everyone’s effort collectively has made a great difference.

But there is one person to be thanked above all and that is our leader, Don Brash. He fought an outstanding campaign and, as a result, the Labour Party is only clinging to office by its fingertips.

No one in New Zealand’s political history has achieved as much as Don Brash in such a short time. Look at recent Prime Ministers.
It took Rt. Hon Sir Keith Holyoake 26 years to reach the top, the Rt. Hon Norman Kirk 15 years, the Rt. Hon Sir Rob Muldoon 15 years, the Rt. Hon David Lange 8 years, the Rt. Hon Jim Bolger 18 years, and the current Prime Minister 18 years.

Don Brash is on target to make it in six years. Such a rise through the ranks is virtually unprecedented.
My research tells me that Don came within a whisker of being the fastest rise from MP to PM since another former Governor, Sir George Grey, in 1877. He’s risen through the ranks faster than Rafael Nadal, the new star of world tennis.

The National Party has not rested since the last election. As usual, Don has been giving everything 110%. He is here, there and everywhere.

The Hokitika Wild Food Festival, rural field days, party meetings, industry and local government conferences, schools, Rotary meetings, arts functions, sports functions – the list goes on and on.

Don, thank you for your leadership and commitment. You truly believe in the National Party and you have re-connected this great party with the people through your passionate belief in New Zealand and New Zealanders. Your determination to succeed is second to none.

The members of the frontbench are all so talented and capable. I know we all look across Parliament’s debating chamber at their counterparts and get frustrated because we know that the National Party ranks are vastly more talented and ready for government.
Our senior team is on the front foot. Don and the caucus are setting the agenda and they have been since the election.

There are two key messages I want to leave with you today. The first is to keep up the effort, to show perseverance; and the second is to ensure that we stay focused on the enemy that is the Labour Party.

A few minutes ago I mentioned how Labour had held on by its fingertips. They are still there, not governing effectively, but in government. We need to keep up the pressure to ensure we are in government next time to deliver the policies that will build a more secure and prosperous future for all New Zealanders.

Over the past few weeks, I followed the World Cup competition in Germany. What struck me more than anything was the number of games that went down to the wire and, in many cases, went beyond extra time and were decided by penalty shootouts.

Look at England versus Portugal. The firm favourite tossed out of the competition by the little guy as a result of penalty shootouts.

The final between Italy and France again went down to the wire and was only decided in the dying moments of the game. The winners maintained the pressure to the end, let their guard drop less than the other side, persevered and therefore won.

We saw what happens when someone makes a foolish mistake at the end. Bad judgment and loose lips lose games and elections.

So even soccer can provide us with a message. And that message is, it will always be the next 5% of the vote that is the hardest to obtain. But if we are to become the government, we have to sustain our vote and make our party 5% more electable in 2008. That is the goal everyone in this room should embrace.

Think about everything you do in the next period. We are not reinventing the wheel, we are not having to make huge strides like last time, but we have to win the next 5%. Everything we do, everything we say, everything we think must always be about that 5%.

So what are we doing to sustain our share of 39.1% of the vote and improve it by 5%?

• We have to maintain our rural and provincial vote. I would like to thank rural and provincial New Zealand for their support at the last election. Further, we have to grow our vote with youth, women, new New Zealanders, Maori and our vote in metropolitan areas.
• We have reinvigorated our policy process and are working on refreshing and updating our policies. That does not mean we are abandoning our 2005 programme. They are our bedrock policies. But there will be new circumstances, and new issues which need to be addressed.

• Our policy advisory groups are under way again. The Blue Greens are active, as are the SuperBlues and Primary Production groups. A revamped Classical Liberals group will shortly be re-launched in Wellington. And we are establishing six new policy advisory groups, which you will hear more about later in the weekend. Our aim with all these groups is to grow party involvement in the policy consultation process.

• The Candidates’ College is up and running again. It is focused on training another generation of high quality MPs. The College is one achievement of which I am particularly proud.

• The party organisation is as strong as it has been in many years. The Constitutional Conference of 2003 reviewed and renewed our constitution. We now have a very modern political structure. Now we need to sustain and further grow our membership and ensure activism on the ground is thriving.

• We need to hold on to our values – strong values that have helped shape our great party and its policy; values of personal security, equal citizenship and equal opportunity, individual freedom and choice, personal responsibility, strong families and safe, caring communities.

• Our cutting-edge political communication continues. As you know, our campaign last year was the cleverest in the history of politics. The messages were stark, clear and humorous. This is not just the Party President saying nice things about the campaign team. The brilliance of our campaign publicity was shown earlier this year when the party won the NBR “Advertising Campaign of the Year Award” – making history as the first political party ever to do so.

• The Party Vote 2008 fundraising campaign has begun.

• All around the country, electorates remain in a state of preparedness. One thing I have noticed is that there has been none of the traditional lull in the period after a General Election. The level of activity in electorates is as high as 2005. At grass roots level, there is a ready appreciation of the need to win that extra 5%.

The second message I want to leave with you is that the enemy is Labour. All too often in recent years, some have tended to be more critical of the National Party than of our opposition.

Now contestability of ideas is a good thing. From time to time we must honestly assess where we are going and how we are getting there. I do not want to be a president of a party that refuses to debate the issues. We must be able to talk about policies in a mature and constructive way.

We have to be careful, however, to ensure that internal party debates over policies and ideas are not perceived as disunity. We have to be disciplined and focused, mindful that perceptions of disunity are just as harmful as disunity itself.

So let us remember that Labour is the enemy: it is a party clinging to government by its fingertips, with no clue about how to build a better future for this country, and little understanding of why so many Kiwis choose to leave this country forever.

Labour deserve to be in Opposition and it is our job to give them what they deserve.

To do that it is essential that we all make a disciplined and unified effort through to the next election.

I don’t have to remind you that the Labour Party is an effective and unscrupulous political machine. They will stop at nothing to hold on to power, even rorting the public purse to fund their campaign, as they did last election.

We will have to be at our best to defeat them. Politics is a team game: we need unity and a common sense of purpose and resolve to achieve our objectives for New Zealand.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be your president over the past 12 months. It is a great honour to be President of the National Party.

I know that in the branches and electorates, hard-working, loyal activists like you, the members of the National Party, are there, working with your candidates and MPs, giving so generously of your time.

And, like the foundation members of the National Party 70 years ago, I want to remind you that this is a task worth fighting for.

We will leave this conference with the knowledge that the centre-right is re-building, that the talent is there in our caucus, that the membership is strong and well organised, and with a determination to confidently present our policies to the electorate.

It is our job to convince that majority of New Zealanders who want a change of direction, that National’s policies are the path to a more secure, prosperous and harmonious future for all New Zealanders.

Our team has the vision and the ability. You are all great New Zealanders, you follow in the traditions of people like Adam Hamilton and Sir George Wilson, and you will very soon have your reward.

Thank you.


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