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ACT's Education Pledge - And Winston's Money

Rodney Hide MP Sunday, August 10 2008

ACT's Education Pledge - And Winston's Money

Speech to ACT Auckland Regional Conference; Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Epsom Girls' Grammar; Sunday, August 10 2008.

They say a week is a long time in politics, and the past fortnight has been an interminable nightmare.

We have witnessed, what history will judge as, the most disgraceful episode imaginable: a hypocritical Foreign Affairs Minister effectively branded a liar by the media that went further and questioned whether the word 'corrupt' should be linked to his name.

And throughout this, both Prime Minister Helen Clark and National Leader John Key refused to condemn him; refused to distance themselves from him; refused to ask the direct questions that any self-respecting political leader would ask.

Winston Peters was allowed to roam free because Clark and Key put power before principle. Their own petty self interest. They put their own electoral success before the interest and good name of our nation.

That's why I am calling today for a special Anti-Corruption Commission to be established to investigate Winston Peters and New Zealand First. We must wipe this stain from our political landscape. We must get to the bottom of the secret funding deals so long denied, for which explanations have been promised but never given. More on that in a moment.

Invited to speak here today I determined there was no finer stage on which to talk about ACT's education policy.

Everyone will tell you a nation's future is as bright as the students who leave its schools and universities. They say it because it happens to be true and then, having said it and watched parents nod furiously - just as you are doing - they do nothing about it.

'They' being every political Party in this country bar ACT. ACT will do something about it. Here's a fact.

Since Helen Clark came to power, more than 400,000 Kiwis have voted with their feet; they've left New Zealand, and they've left for good. Last year's departures alone wouldn't fit into the new 60,000-seater Eden Park.

Even those with the strongest ties to this land have left in droves, with one in six Maori now living in Australia. They are leaving because the land of their birth offers no hope. No future. That's Helen Clark's legacy.

And here's what's really scary: John Key promising not to change a thing. We've had a week where John Key's been explaining to an incredulous nation, reeling from the secret money slipped to Winston, that he believes private enterprise is no better than State ownership and control. No wonder politicians are rated so low.

I've watched John Key and spoken with him. And with his colleagues in the National Party. I can safely say there is no secret National Party agenda.

I can go further: the National Party has no agenda; no plans - other than to be in government. National is sticking with Helen Clark's agenda - putting power above principle and policy, and selling our future down the road with the mediocre and second-rate policies that Helen Clark has delivered.

Making this a country people want to come to, not leave, means building a world-class economy that provides our best and brightest with opportunity and reward. It means building a world-class education system that prepares our children for the real world and for a life of creativity and energy and accomplishment; a life in which they can realise their potential.

ACT will abolish the excessively bureaucratic system of funding schools. We'll take the power away from the Wellington bureaucrats and put it where it belongs: in the hands of people who know best - parents.

We will ensure all New Zealanders receive a quality education that fosters success, not one that breeds failure. We believe every child should have the right to a quality education. No child should be left behind just because of where they live or because of their parents' financial position.

Nothing radical here. We just happen to believe in an educational system that teaches children how to think and how to succeed. An educational system that teaches our children right from wrong, one that teaches them respect and decency. And here's how we'll do it.

Every child will receive an education scholarship. And before anyone gets too excited, no, we will not be spending a cent more than is currently spent on educating our children. Not one cent more.

The budget will be precisely the amount the Government currently spends on your child's education. You then decide which school to spend that scholarship at - public, independent, whatever, your choice.

Say you have four children. You will receive $7,500 for each child. That's what the government currently spends on educating every child in the country.

No, sorry that's not correct; that's how much is spent per child. But a great swag of it goes on paying for bureaucrats. Now ALL the money will be in the hands of parents to give to the school they believe will do the best job - four children, and you'll have $30,000 to spend. Schools will be hanging out to meet you and give your children a first class education. A scholarship for every child ensures each and every child is special and important. It empowers parents. It creates opportunities for excellent teachers.

We believe in doing what's best for the student. We don't believe education should be at the mercy of ideology and politics. That's what Helen Clark believes, and John Key doesn't plan to change a thing.

You want to know how principled the Nats are?

Back in 2004, John Key labelled Working For Families 'communism by stealth'. Now he's all for it. What John Key labelled 'communism by stealth' just four short years ago is now National Party policy. That's how principled the Nats are.

And, rather than build a better future for our nation, they plan to leave the education system just as it is. Well, not if they want ACT's support after the election.

Which brings us to MMP.

It's bad enough that National has abandoned its principles in favour of Helen Clark's policies and condemned New Zealand to a mediocre future. It's truly shocking that it has dropped its standards to match Helen Clark's in her desperation to hold on to Winston Peters and limp through to the election.

The donation scandal engulfing Winston Peters is sinister. An overseas billionaire dropped $100,000 into a Government Minister's lawyer's account to the Minister's financial advantage. That same billionaire was seeking a Government favour from that same Minister - and we're supposed to believe that no one but the lawyer knew about the $100,000.

We also now know that Sir Bob Jones gave $25,000 to Winston Peters for New Zealand First. It disappeared into the hitherto secret Spencer Trust administered by Winston's brother Wayne.

Bob Jones understandably wants to be reassured that his money went to New Zealand First. No reassurance is forthcoming. Winston Peters refuses to explain what the Spencer Trust is about and what happens to any of its money.

The Velas gave $150,000 to New Zealand First. Nothing wrong with that. It's their money. But Winston has always denied taking big money. And the money appears not to have turned up at New Zealand First. Where's it gone?

Anywhere else in the developed world, a Minister in these circumstances would be stood down and the financial shenanigans investigated — if for no other reason than to clear the air and reassure the public that everything is above board. That hasn't happened. Prime Minister Helen Clark is 'satisfied' with Winston Peters' assurance that he has done nothing illegal. She has accepted this from a man whose credibility has been shot to bits.

But John Key has set the same standard. He hasn't questioned Peters, or ruled him out of his Cabinet.

This is a disgrace. A National disgrace.

Here's how bad it is: the Dominion Post this week ran an editorial headed 'Tell The Truth, Mr Peters'. By its very inference, it was telling readers that Peters was not telling the truth.

But it went further. It questioned his ethics and honesty, and stated: "At the very least, he and his MPs and the party are guilty of gross hypocrisy. Official scrutiny might reveal if they are guilty of worse."

I have never seen such a strident editorial in a New Zealand newspaper.

It went further: "It is hard to conclude other than that he is a liar and that his actions or those of his party verge on the corrupt."

No New Zealand politician has ever before been so publicly condemned. Never. Ever. Liar. Corrupt.

The editorial went on to correctly point out that both Clark and Key are themselves tainted by their refusal to denounce this behaviour.

Behaviour that makes a mockery of any reputation New Zealand might have had as a bastion of democracy and a land free of graft and corruption.

Our good name has been sold down the river by Labour and National's refusal to hold Peters accountable. By allowing him to continue to parade himself as Minister of Foreign Affairs. A post Key is still prepared to hold out for him.

This is a shocking indictment of our Parliament under MMP, where the two old Parties put power above principle and integrity. It's been left to the ACT Party to ask the tough questions.

That's why I pressed for the matter to be referred to Parliament's Privileges Committee.

That would get some answers I thought. It has the power to get people to attend and give evidence. It has the power to get the necessary documents. It has more power than the police. I had thought the Privileges Committee would move quickly to restore the integrity and good name of our Parliament. Silly me.

Both National and Labour have shown they plan a major whitewash. They have both shown they have little interest in calling the business people who made the massive cash donations to Peters and his Party. This is the man who repeatedly railed against big business donations and denied emphatically that neither he nor his party ever took such donations. Now we know the truth. Now we know what a hypocrite he is.

What we don't know is where the money went and what it was used for. We don't know because Peters won't tell us. Helen Clark could have asked and demanded answers. She didn't. 'Have you broken the law Winston?'


'Oh, well, that's okay then.'

And the privileges committee is to planning to be equally weak-kneed. Why? Because both Clark and Key fear they may need Peters to form a government after the election and they don't want to upset him.

They are prepared to put moral conscience aside and lie down with a man whose name is mentioned in the same breath as hypocrisy, liar and corrupt by a leading newspaper.

That's what MMP has done for us: turned leading politicians into self-serving hypocrites themselves.

There is talk of the need for a referendum on MMP some time in the future. Nonsense. We need it now.

But what we more urgently require is an Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate Winston Peters. A corruption commission made up of distinguished overseas judges and fearless police investigators. It too needs the power to get the financial records and demand answers from party officials.

We need that because our political leadership - Miss Clark and Mr Key - has sent a frightening message to our own law enforcement agencies and our judiciary: Winston Peters can do as he likes. Winston Peters can do no wrong.

Clark and Key have spoken with one voice on this matter.

Winston Peters should have no problem with an independent anti-corruption commission. It's New Zealand First's Founding Principle No 13 under "Honest Government" to have just such a Commission. I bet his supporters never thought Winston Peters and New Zealand First would be the first Party in the gun.

But sadly Winston Peters demonstrates Carr's First Law of Politics: Always Accuse Your Opponents of Your Own Most Egregious Failings.

The polls are telling us that we face a Key government with Helen Clark's policies and with Peters as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Don't you believe it.

MMP was designed for and imposed upon Germany after WWII. Designed to ensure no one Party was ever again able to rule that troubled land. The Germans, who are no slugs, have been trying to beat the system ever since. They try tactical voting, they try giving both votes to a single Party, they try each and every way to beat the MMP curse. But they can't. And neither can New Zealand.

MMP ensures that the winning Party has to do deals with one or more minor Parties. Hence the determination by Clark and Key to ignore words such as hypocrisy, liar and corrupt. But does anyone seriously think Peters will do a deal with National? They kicked him out of their Party. He even tried going to court to stop them, but couldn't. To be blunt: he hates them. Listen to him in Parliament: supporting Clark and attacking Key.

And the Greens? With National? Yeah right. And the Maori Party? I don't think they can afford to support anyone after the election.

Starting to get nervous? You should. This is not over by a long shot.

Fortunately, ACT remains the only Party with a principled and consistent political philosophy. A philosophy best captured by the phrase, 'The Guts to Do What's Right'.

It is the understanding that a society best prospers when people are free to make their own decisions.

When ACT says we want to make New Zealand a better place, we mean we want to make New Zealand a freer, more prosperous and secure country. That's our vision. And we have set out goal to beat Australia by 2020. Not just in the rugby and netball - economically, socially, politically, environmentally. And we have set our 20-point plan to achieve that goal.

No secret tape recordings of us: everyone knows where ACT stands on the big issues.

We can make a big difference in education. And by making a big difference in education, we can make a big difference to our country's future success.

We have been led from proud achievers to a country underperforming. We are falling behind Australia and other countries we like to compare ourselves to. We are losing our best and brightest overseas.

And National doesn't want to change a thing. Even their secret policies are little more than Labour in drag. National is moving closer and closer to Labour on everything that matters. And both the media and the voters are noticing.

The answer to this national dilemma is simple: anyone who truly relishes change, anyone who values personal freedom, should vote ACT.

And we'll take Mr Key into the negotiating room and have a little chat. There will be certain bottom lines if he wants to be Prime Minister. These won't be secret. But we haven't signed off on them yet.

And yes, we do think Sir Roger Douglas should be Minister of Finance. We certainly need his vision, principles and guts around the Cabinet table as the country heads for rocky times.

The other good news is that a vote for ACT means no need for Winston Peters - besides, as the truth comes out, even his own supporters will see Winston for the hypocrite and worse that he is; once they realise the sums of money involved and how that money has been spent.

Winston and his Party will be gone and won't be missed after this election.

That's why we need the facts out now, so voters know what has gone on. Peters won't explain, so it's been left to the media and ACT to reveal what's been going on.

I truly believe that events of the past few weeks have demonstrated, as never before, that ACT has a major role to play in restoring honour and integrity to the political system of our great country.

With your support we'll do just that.

Thank you.

It is a privilege to serve


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