John Key - National: Setting the agenda
John Key MP
Leader of the National Party
28 April 2007
National: Setting the agenda
Speech to the Southern Regional Conference, Invercargill
It's a real pleasure to be addressing my first regional conference as Leader of the National Party.
It's great to be down south in the stomping ground of Deputy Leader Bill English, and it's great to be in heartland New Zealand.
I am hugely proud to be leading this wonderful party of ours. The National Party is built on age-tested principles that reflect what is best about New Zealand.
We are a party of enterprise; a party of personal freedom and individual responsibility; a party of family; an inclusive party; a party of ambition. We believe in every individual's capacity to shape their own life, and we believe in this great nation of ours.
New Zealanders from all walks of life make National what it is. We're a broad church and we take strength from our diversity.
Today, I would like to thank every member and volunteer in this room who helps make this party strong. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the work of National Party Regional Chair Kate Hazlett, and Party President Judy Kirk.
The efforts of our members are what keep us vibrant; keep us connected and make us heard. So thank-you.
I am excited about what lies ahead for us. National is absolutely committed to winning the next election. And the one after that. And the three after that!
We have the drive. We have the fresh ideas. We have the people. And we have more Kiwis behind us than any other party in this country.
Let me tell you, I am determined to lead National to Government in 2008. I am determined to serve all New Zealanders with the strength, courage and energy that they deserve.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we must be determined.
The mission before us
A great mission lies before us.
New Zealand is at a critical juncture in its history. In a new century we find ourselves in uncharted waters. Big winds are blowing in our direction.
The explosion of the Internet is bringing billions of potential customers within our reach. Our booming and ever-wealthier Asian neighbours are reaching out for new services and new products. People everywhere are seeking safe and green havens in an increasingly unstable and dirty world.
New Zealand is uniquely placed to respond to these global forces. But we cannot sit back and wait to be blown any which way by these lucky winds. Because if we do not adapt to take these winds - if we don't lift our sails accordingly - we may find ourselves in peril.
We need to harness global opportunities and ensure every Kiwi can use them to build a better life.
I'll tell you what won't work. It won't be enough to simply chant incantations of "economic transformation" and "sustainability". We need more than warm platitudes.
New Zealand needs a vision of what we want and how we plan to get it.
We must act now to bequeath the New Zealanders of tomorrow maximum opportunities, security and choices. These are our children and grandchildren I am talking about. As we have had the gift of a great country, so must they.
That's why I want to lead a National-led Government.
We need to raise our sails and catch the drift of this new millennium. We simply won't get the future of our dreams by treading water. We have to be more ambitious, more outward-looking, and more responsive than ever before. We need to maximise the contribution of every single New Zealander.
Labour is running dial-up policies in a broadband world.
To steer this country forward we've got to change the tack - we've got to change the crew in Cabinet, and above all - we've got to change the Captain!
National is ready to lead
The National Party is ready to take the helm. We're ready to ratchet this country's dreams up a notch.
Our caucus is in cracking shape. I am proud to lead a group of men and women who are experienced, driven and in tune with ordinary New Zealanders.
It was no accident that Labour lost 10 electorate MPs in the last election. Those MPs were booted out because they had lost touch with their voters. New Zealanders chose National MPs to replace them because National MPs can be trusted to listen and work hard for the causes their constituents care about.
Just look at the southern representatives in the National caucus. MPs like Otago's Jacqui Dean, Aoraki's Jo Goodhew and Invercargill's Eric Roy. Those three have made their presence known in Parliament this term. They've got their teeth into real issues and they've put their hearts into their work. National is lucky to have them.
And we're lucky to have a formidable Shadow Cabinet that is taking it to Labour like never before.
While Labour's Ministers spend time asking each other patsy questions we've got people like Katherine Rich and Bill English asking them the questions that matter. The hard questions. And let me tell you now, the effects of Katherine's tough education questions can be quite devastating - especially when they're teamed with questions by Jonathan Coleman. Just ask Steve Maharey! Keep up the pressure, Katherine.
The National caucus are a great team. We are firmly united and we are ready to govern this country.
New Zealand wants National - and it's not just me who thinks it. New Zealand thinks it.
For the past six months, I've had the privilege of travelling New Zealand from city to town talking to the people who make our country tick. I've been to places like McGehan Close and met people like Aroha Ireland, a young girl with big dreams for her future. I've milked cows in Horowhenua. I've visited primary schools in Canterbury. I've met with iwi in Ruatoria.
In every one of these places I have found people who are quietly cheering for the National Party.
Sure, there are plenty who are loudly backing us, but there's something else happening as well. Even people who voted for Labour in 2005 are telling me they don't think Clark and Co represent the future of this country.
Kiwis are sensing what I see every time I return to Parliament. Helen Clark has lost her mojo. That's right, she's lost her mojo. And the Labour Party has lost the pulse of the people. Labour has lost the pulse of the people and it has lost New Zealanders' hearts.
'Third-term-itis' has well and truly sunk in. It's up to National to ensure this 'third-term-itis' is terminal.
The Labour Government is now nothing more than a lame duck government. They no longer have a parliamentary majority. They are simply marking time, with the number of defeats mounting at an increasingly rapid rate.
Labour can't get the numbers on its trans-Tasman therapeutics legislation, its proposal for state funding of political parties, and so on. The latest example is the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Amendment Bill, where the Government is headed for yet another embarrassing defeat.
The Labour Government is actually stuck in neutral, and the danger is that the country is going to go into reverse.
And what Labour and Helen Clark are choosing to put their weight behind is dismaying New Zealanders. Besides state funding of political parties, we have an obsession with the Brethren, new art levies, and so on.
Surely, New Zealand's Prime Minister has better things to focus on? Many of these issues are nothing but straw men. They don't mean anything to ordinary Kiwis.
The truth is, our Prime Minister is trying to distract Kiwis from her botch-ups. You would be, too, if you'd overseen the recent list of muck-ups: the pledge card scandal, old Taito the Tiler, the Mallard stadium debacle, the systematic incompetence at the Corrections Department, the unravelling of the cruel hoax that is "20 hours free" and the lab-testing fiasco in Auckland.
I could go on, and these are all serious issues to be sure. But they are symptoms of a more serious malaise.
An analysis of Labour's performance, even when measured against its own objectives, paints a bleak picture. Labour came to power saying hospital waiting lists were a disgrace. Those lists have only got worse. Labour's attempts to manipulate the numbers by bumping sick people off waiting lists is the new disgrace.
Labour came to power saying it was disgraceful that Kiwi kids were leaving school unable to read, write and do maths. Billions of dollars later and their own agency reports that a disgraceful one in five kids are failing at school.
Labour came to power saying they'd be tough on crime. Well, Labour should ask Karl Kuchenbecker's family if they think they've lived up to that promise. Karl Kuchenbecker - a good man, a father of two young boys - left home on a quad bike and was sent home in a coffin by a paroled man who should have been locked up. I'll tell you what I think about that. I think a Government responsible for a tragedy of that magnitude has well and truly lost the right to call itself tough on crime.
Labour's attempt to blame every problem and crisis on past governments has lost credibility. They have had seven years, a fair shot by any definition.
Sure, Clark and her crew are experienced now. But is it good experience? No, it's not. The bulk of Labour's so-called experience is in the dark arts of ducking for cover and shirking responsibility.
New Zealanders are impatient for fresh thinking. That's why they're looking to National.
It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, every person in this country harbours some hope and aspiration for themselves and their country. The National Party will win the next election because people can trust us to stand up for their aspirations.
Helen Clark thinks that everything good in this country is down to Labour and that everything bad in this country is down to National. She's wrong.
In the end, our country is only as good as what each New Zealander decides to put into it. That's why National will applaud ambition, that's why we'll back ordinary Kiwis, and that's why we'll stand up for the things that matter.
Setting the agenda
In the past few months, while Clark and Co have been preoccupied with smacking and state-funding of political parties, National has been setting the agenda.
In January, I gave a speech at my old Burnside Rugby Club. I voiced my concern about an emerging underclass in this country. Helen Clark said it didn't exist - nothing to see here, move on. 83% of New Zealanders told her she was wrong. They said there is an underclass in this country and, guess what, we don't like it. We are concerned about growing violence, intergenerational welfare dependence, youth gangs, and desperate families
What's more, a large number of New Zealanders said they supported my idea of encouraging business and charities to get stuck in and help. Labour called that idea "Tory charity". Well, I'll tell you what ordinary Kiwis call it - they call it a sense of community.
That's why National announced our policy of removing the cap on tax rebates for charitable donations. We are serious about backing groups doing important work in our communities. Groups like city missions, the Salvation Army, Women's Refuge, and many others.
We want to encourage the culture of giving that is such a big part of The Kiwi Way. We think the Government shouldn't take the generosity of Kiwis for granted, and that's why our policy would give them some of their tax back. You can be sure that this isn't the only announcement National will make about giving tax back!
In the lead-up to election 2008, National will continue to set the agenda. We will continue to announce policies that flesh out our vision for New Zealand.
The three 'Es'
Today, I'd like to outline for you three themes that I will keep coming back to as I lay out my vision: the economy, education and the environment. I will keep coming back to those three 'Es' because they are the things that I think will be vital to New Zealand's success in our rapidly changing world. The "Es for Excellence", if you like.
New Zealand needs an economy that is keeping
up with the best in the world, and which can provide Kiwis
with competitive incomes and meaningful work.
Without it we simply won't have the quality of life and education and health services that Kiwis have a right to expect.
We must not settle for being Australia's poor cousin - or India or China's, for that matter.
A National Government will reward individual workers and businesses for their enterprise. We will encourage innovation and hard work by taxing people and business fairly, and ensuring red tape doesn't get in the way of good ideas. Because only when we let businesses breathe do we let our economy roar.
What's more, we'll make New Zealand an attractive place for entrepreneurs by ensuring we have world-class infrastructure. National will bring urgency to the task of developing the transport and telecommunications networks that New Zealanders deserve.
This includes upping the country's game on broadband. It's shameful that large parts of New Zealand are saddled with second-rate, archaically slow Internet connections. It's unacceptable that so many businesses, including many in the southern region, find themselves in broadband 'black-spots', unable to get the speed of Internet connection demanded by global commerce. How can we expect to compete with First World countries if our Internet network is third-rate?
I think the Internet has the power to do for New Zealand what refrigerated shipping did. Used well, it can bring Kiwi products and services tantalisingly close to huge global markets. It's a disgrace that prevarication by Telecom and Labour has choked these opportunities. New Zealand has fallen well behind the Internet eight-ball.
Each year of prevarication is another year which New Zealand slips further behind the rest of the world. We can no longer expect our businesses to race in sandshoes while their competitors run in Air Jordans. Every Kiwi business deserves a racing edge.
So today, I would like to send a very clear message; dramatically increasing the speed and coverage of broadband will be an economic priority for National. We are working on policies to achieve this objective and you can expect to hear more about them in future.
But as much as wheels and wires matter, National knows that the most important ingredient in New Zealand's success will be our people. That's why education matters. This is the second "E".
We need to lift our people up by giving them the skills and knowledge to foot it with the best in the world. A poorly skilled workforce will condemn our country - and the people in it - to a humiliating race to the bottom.
At a bare minimum, we need to do something about the one-in-five children failing at school. We need to nip underachievement in the bud. Education is supposed to be a liberator, but if you can't read and write, you'll never be free.
That's why in a speech last month I announced our policy of setting national standards in reading, writing and maths, requiring all primary schools to test kids against those standards and ensuring the results are reported to parents.
Labour has rejected this idea. They think it's cruel to measure achievement and highlight failure. I'll tell you what I think is cruel - robbing struggling kids of a future by turning a blind eye to their troubles. That's what's really cruel.
In the next few months you can look forward to more education announcements, including how National plans to fix the NCEA mess.
Finally, we come to the third "E" - the environment.
New Zealand's clean green environment is such an important part of the Kiwi way of life and such a big part of the image New Zealand sells to the world. It is special to us and we have an obligation to preserve it for the New Zealanders of tomorrow.
National won't sit back and let the political Left act as if it has a monopoly on environmental policies. We will enter the debate on the big environmental issues of our time because they are too important to ignore. You can expect to hear more from us on climate change, clean water, forests, and on the environmental issues that impact on the Kiwi way of life.
Helen Clark may say 'carbon neutral' more times than we do, but rest assured that National will be coming up with sensible environmental solutions that will outlast today's trendy buzzwords.
So they are the three 'Es': the economy; education; and the environment. They are the things that, done better, will help ratchet New Zealand up a notch.
Rest assured - they are not the only issues National will concern itself with.
We will always have firm policies in law and order. I share your concerns about growing crime rates and I am determined to crack down on the offenders who threaten the security of our families.
We will have welfare policies that motivate beneficiaries to make the best of themselves by moving into work. We will pursue one standard of citizenship, and will make the most of the cultural, religious and ethnic differences we all bring to New Zealand. And we will have health policy that focuses on best outcomes for patients; not what is best for the bureaucracy.
We will do all of this and more. In all areas we will implement policies that will achieve the best results.
Before I leave you today, let me sound a warning. The National Party is up against a desperate, dying Government.
As Labour becomes panicked about the prospect of leaving office, you can expect them to resort to a cynical game. There may well be bribes and there may well be unfounded accusations.
But in the end, Helen Clark will resort to what she knows. And what she knows are the battles of the 80s and the 90s. National must not be tempted to engage in those never-ending debates. Kiwis don't want to resurrect the mothballed decisions of history.
We owe a debt to those who came before us, but we do not honour them by re-entering the battles that have already been won and lost. We must not allow Helen Clark to dress our new national conversation in the dated clothes of our yesterdays.
We are in a new century and a new millennium, with different and more complex challenges. The debates that Clark cut her political teeth on are over.
The next election will not be a choice between where we are and where we've been. The next election will be about where we go next.
It's time to turn the page. I'm impatient for tomorrow. New Zealand is impatient for tomorrow. A new generation is ready to take the helm. It's time to put National on board and welcome the winds of change.
Only National has the vision. Only National has the energy. Only National can map out the future that this country deserves.
Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow National Party members, there is plenty of work to do.
Strong tides have brought us here; and there are stronger tides to come; get yourselves ready, we're going to need all hands on deck.