Winston Peters - “What Price Democracy?”
An address by Rt Hon Winston Peters to Nelson Grey Power
Friday 14 December 2007 at 1:30pm
Stoke Memorial Hall, 560 Main Road Stoke, Nelson
“What Price Democracy?”
Good afternoon – it is good to be back in Nelson.
Of late, there has been much said and written about democracy – our right to choose our governments - and our right to freedom of speech.
We regard these rights as sacred, but sadly, sometimes we take them for granted.
While we are a relatively small country, we a nonetheless a country built on great traditions and values.
These values have ensured that despite our relative size and isolation, or perhaps because of it, we often lead the world in the progress of democracy.
Just four years ago our parliament celebrated its 150th anniversary – one of the few democracies that can make such a claim.
Indeed, our first parliamentary elections were held in 1853 only 13 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
This is because New Zealand’s settlers resented the fact that they had no control over their own affairs and soon demanded self-government.
At first, not everyone had the right to vote. But over the next half century New Zealand was to become one of the most democratic nations in the world.
It is worth reviewing just what a proud tradition our democracy is built on.
In 1867 Parliament established four Maori seats in which all Maori men over 21 could vote for their own representatives.
Then in 1879, after much debate, the franchise was extended to all adult European men, regardless of whether they owned or rented property.
In 1889 plural voting was abolished, which confirmed the principle of 'one man, one vote'.
In 1893 New Zealand led the world in the struggle for women's rights ensuring the right to vote for all adult women.
By that time it was widely accepted that the franchise was a right of citizenship, and that all adult citizens should be able to take part in elections with few exceptions such as if you were in jail or adjudged insane.
It is interesting to note that opposition to electoral reform has always come from a small clique of wealthy elitists, who have always believed that money should be the perquisite to power.
Now the critical point here is that not all those who are wealthy hold such views – but there has always been a residual clique who have sought to restore the class system of a previous era.
So it was when New Zealand embarked on its latest electoral reform – the move to Mixed Member Proportional representation – MMP.
Opposition was led by a small, but powerful clique.
New Zealanders in the main have always resisted the duplicitous overtures of this small clique – they know elitists when they see them.
New Zealanders voted for MMP because they became sick of the old two party system under which election manifestos, of late, always seemed to be dropped in favour of secret political agendas.
You all remember the social and economic disaster that came from the 1984 election after which Roger Douglas posted a for sale sign on New Zealand.
Then in 1990, National betrayed the electorate and put up an even bigger for sale sign – and cut benefits and pensions – and sold more taxpayer owned assets.
So a combination of treacherous politicians and some big business interests stripped the assets built up by generations of New Zealanders and left us all the poorer.
The ideal of public service gave way to personal gain.
That brings me to the latest chapter in the history of this sorry business – the Electoral Finance Bill.
You must be wondering what all the fuss was about.
It is simply this - if we do not learn from our mistakes we are bound to repeat them and that is why we supported this legislation.
The crux of the debate – which was never properly explained in the media – was that it was never about freedom of speech – it was about the freedom of the of this small clique of well financed, ideologically driven elitists to buy speech and drown out dissenting voices.
It is a new, insidious and imported style of politics and it is not the New Zealand way.
New Zealand First has experienced this first hand on many occasions.
That is why the Electoral Finance Bill was needed.
But rest assured, ordinary New Zealanders can still say what you like, do what you like, protest, shout, chant slogans and walk to the steps of parliament or whatever.
Those who are part of this largely foreign owned clique who have pillaged our economy since 1984 cannot buy the next election!
It is not for sale and they will be stopped in their tracks!
Now, coming back to Nelson, you more than most, have felt the effects of some of the political mistakes of the last two decades.
You've seen our valuable assets sold for a pittance of their real value and have experienced the damage of rampant privatisation.
You've had your superannuation slashed and your standard of living reduced.
You've seen health services reduced and elder care funding neglected.
You've seen retired people – who have made their contribution to society – forced to accept standards of third world health care.
The most vulnerable in society have borne the brunt of this ideological assault.
And we must ask ourselves could this all happen again?
The simple answer is yes – and it will, unless you act to stop it.
There is no doubt there are forces gathering against ordinary New Zealanders.
They have been plotting against you for more than two decades because on their warped and twisted balance sheets you are not an asset but a liability,
To their way of thinking you are not part of the productive sector, you are a drain on the economy.
These people are blinded by ideology, but they are dangerous because they control many of the levers of power.
Let me warn you here and now that the people who sold your assets and slashed your benefits are alive and well..
These people have never gone away, nor have they abandoned their agenda.
They have been lurking in the shadows waiting for the chance to complete their unfinished business.
They have realised that a full frontal assault will not work.
They tried that approach in 2005 – and they almost got away with it.
Big business, overseas interests and a religious sect poured millions of dollars into one party's coffers to try to buy an election.
They were caught red-handed.
They had engineered the leadership of the National party and put a former merchant banker and Reserve Bank governor at the top to finish the job of privatising and selling New Zealand.
Don Brash, a man most unsuited to politics, was the ultimate façade for their cause – the country would have been ravaged had he won.
When that plan did not work – he was gone by lunchtime!
Their methods have changed in the past year.
Like all leeches that survive they have adapted over time.
This time they have put forward a new leader.
John Key has yet to show his true colours – we have not seen the real John Key yet.
But the code words his henchmen use are disturbing – for “partial privatisation” read asset sales and privatisation of schools.
For retirement income which is “too generous” according to Bill English, read cuts to superannuation.
During a taxation debate this week Lockwood Smith let slip that the Working For Families programme is too generous, again read more cuts.
And remember the health policy release. The cap on doctor’s fees will be lifted and market forces will decide the cost to patients.
The language is in code but the intent is still the same. The elderly, the sick, families and the underprivileged are going to be targeted again.
We in New Zealand First are ready to fight again and will draw up the battle lines.
But we are concerned that some of our friends appear to be lining up on the other side.
We fought alongside groups like Greypower and the Sensible Sentencing Trust over many issues for more than 20 years.
From the superannuation surcharge and increasing superannuation through to really tackling law and order through to dramatically lifting police numbers.
We didn’t agree on everything and we sometimes had our differences – but we apprehended the blind ideology in both National and Labour, and we confronted it, each in our own way.
We were honest about our agendas and dealt honestly with each other.
We accepted that some in your organisation are National supporters and some are Labour supporters, but our track record of delivering our promises for retirees over many years ensured that we could deal with each other professionally.
Grey Power has always prided itself on being apolitical and we have always respected that, despite some of your members openly attacking us when all we have tried to do is make your lives better.
It staggers us therefore to hear in the public debate about the Electoral Finance Bill some in Grey Power aligning themselves with the people who want to cut their benefits and asset strip the country.
Some have lined themselves with foreign owned interests who have looted and pillaged our economy and with foreign owned media who are distorting our democracy.
Not once has the NZ Herald, or any of the other foreign owned media interest for that matter, declared their status.
It is those forces who want to buy power at any price.
Now we must ask ourselves what type of democracy do we want in New Zealand?
It used to be based on the view that Johnny’s vote was the equal of his master.
It was egalitarian in nature.
From Seddon through to Savage and from Fraser through to Holyoake, we accepted these egalitarian principles.
But these principles have been under attack for more than two decades by those forces we have been discussing.
Those forces who would sell off what is left of the family silver, cut every government service and privatise the rest and most importantly the same forces who view retirees as unproductive and a drain on our economy.
We saw these forces in 2005 – huge funds of secret money seeking to distort our democracy.
Now they have the audacity to say free speech is under threat.
If that were the case they would be locked away and shut down like in Zimbabwe or Pakistan.
The fact that they have been free to peddle their lies actually highlights the flaw in their argument.
The Electoral Finance Bill is not about free speech at all – that is covered in our censorship laws, which outside of a few extremes are probably too liberal.
It is about direct electioneering and bought speech.
Let me ask you this – how many of you will be donating more than $12,000 at the next election?
How many of you will be donating more than one thousand dollars? How many of you will be spending more than $120,000 electioneering – that is directly supporting a party or candidate?
Greypower has proudly been apolitical for a long time now.
You have always promoted polices which best support our retirees.
As long as you remain apolitical then this Bill will be no threat.
But if you align yourselves politically and spend money doing it, then every New Zealander deserves to know just which party you are supporting.
That is what this Bill ensures – transparency and spending limits, just like those imposed for decades on political parties and candidates.
Now the danger of not acting – of not setting limits would be to push us further down the path of some countries where uncapped spending results in hundreds of millions of dollars being spent and less than fifty percent of the voting population bothering to turn up.
That is not what we want in New Zealand.
What we want is a fair and transparent contest of ideas – and hopefully that is what we will get.
Winston Churchill once said that no one pretended that democracy is perfect or all wise, in fact he said “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others”.
We do not believe the Electoral Finance Bill is perfect and we wish there was no need for it.
But the price of allowing this small but dangerous, well financed clique to buy an election so they can sell New Zealand is just too great.
Overseas graveyards are full of New Zealanders who sacrificed everything to fight the evils of fascism, communism and every other “ism” that denies the basic human right of one person one vote.
Democracy is too important to be bought and sold.
So New Zealand First wishes you all the best for the Christmas season.
We encourage you to keep using your SuperGold Card and there will be more to come on that front in 2008.
We hope you enjoy the increased superannuation we secured for you and the additional funding for eldercare.
We promise you we will never give up the fight for a fair and equitable country which values its retirees.
But we encourage you to ponder how many of these gains you are prepared to put at risk in 2008.
In other words, “which side, pursuing which policies, will you be on?”
As John Philpot Curran said: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty!”
His is a stark warning that the battle of the many over the privileged few never ends.
So let’s ensure that we in our generation remain committed to it and have a heritage of democracy to hand to the next generation.