The Campaign From The New Zealand First Perspective
Rt Hon Winston Peters
New Zealand First Leader
16 Feb 2012 SPEECH: The Campaign from the New Zealand First perspective
EMBARGOED AGAINST DELIVERY: 11.45am, 16.02.12
“THE CAMPAIGN FROM THE NEW ZEALAND FIRST PERSPECTIVE”
Speech to the Victoria University 2011 Post-Election & Electoral Referendum Conference,
Legislative Council Chamber, Parliament Buildings at 11.45am, 16 February 2012
Good morning and thank you to Victoria University for the opportunity to speak here today.
There are three enduring myths about the 2011 campaign:
The first myth is that the election was won by National. It wasn’t
However, the media’s framing of the election allowed National to create the perception of political invincibility.
Never before has a Prime Minister enjoyed a honeymoon period as long as that gifted to Mr Key.
Once the media finally woke up to behaving independently, National came within a whisker of losing.
The second myth is that Phil Goff failed as an opposition leader. He didn’t. He was ankle-tapped by his own party’s perceived disunity.
The third myth is that New Zealand First was a party struggling for relevance. This is the main myth to dispel today.
NZ First: ‘still relevant’
Over the years, there has been little academic inquiry into the origins of NZ First or the historical forces that have shaped it.
It is little wonder, then, that most in the intelligentsia struggle to understand this party’s appeal.
Yet the historian in us would argue that NZ First is part of a rich tapestry of New Zealand political culture.
Our political philosophy is one that has its origins deep in the country’s colonial past, and in our opinion, originated with the 1890s Liberals and King Dick Seddon himself.
New Zealanders have always been contemptuous of abstract theory and free market economics. We’ve got a keen sense of fairness and a devotion to common-sense.
Historically, New Zealand has also been fiercely proud of its democratic tradition. The idea that everyone should work-hard and chip in was balanced by a belief that we all deserve a fair share of the spoils.
We are of the view that these attitudes have gradually eroded from public life since the 1980s. But the cultural strands are still prevalent outside of the ‘Wellington Beltway’.
There is a reason why our message resonates strongly with provincial voters and it is something that other parties simply don’t get anymore.
So those who say that NZ First is no longer relevant should get used to the idea that our brand of politics is here to stay.
The campaign in context
For 18 years, New Zealand First has campaigned to protect New Zealand jobs and industries.
The 2011 campaign was no exception.
Few New Zealanders want to become tenants in their own country.
After all, the principle of self-determination is one that runs deep in the national psyche.
And yet the Key Government has demonstrated a complete lack of discernment on this issue.
For example, the decision by the Government to not subsidise the construction of KiwiRail rolling stock in New Zealand last year cost the country up to 1200 new jobs.
The issue reawakened the public’s consciousness to the issues around globalisation and domestic manufacturing in a time of high unemployment.
In this regard, New Zealand First had the most consistent position of all parties.
The Crafar farms sale also raised the spectre of foreign ownership.
The thought of New Zealand farmland being controlled by a totalitarian dictatorship incensed many New Zealanders who recognise the importance of economic sovereignty in a globalised world.
China’s neo-mercantilism might have been lost on Cabinet - but it was not lost on ordinary people. They may not know the academic term for it but they can certainly feel its effects.
No sane person disputes the need for foreign investment. But the fact is too many of our companies and institutions are now controlled from overseas – with little or no benefit to New Zealanders.
Much of this is not foreign investment. It is the result of foreign corporate raids. Much does not create new assets or employment.
The extent to which investors in Beijing or Sydney can influence domestic policy undermines the democratic process and threatens our national sovereignty.
Governments should be accountable to the people who elect them. They should not be slaves to big business or foreign governments.
This was, of course, a central theme in our 2011 election campaign. It is one that spoke to many New Zealanders from across the political divide.
But these were not the only issues on the mind of the electorate...
The National Party’s confidence and supply agreement with the Maori Party resulted in a number of controversial policy decisions in the area of race relations.
For example, New Zealand First’s principled stance on the Foreshore & Seabed issue was juxtaposed with the opportunism of National.
The party’s submission on the Coastal & Marine Area Bill to the Maori Affairs Select Committee in December 2010 laid down the gauntlet. We may have lost the legislative battle, but the issue nevertheless gave the public an insight into the real nature of John Key and National.
The Maori Party’s flagship policy of ‘Whanau Ora’ was also at odds with the New Zealand First philosophy and a source of frustration for many in Maoridom, as well as the wider community.
Any speculation or uncertainty about the New Zealand First stance on coalitions should have ended at Kelston on 6 November last year.
In a speech there, we made clear the position of our party: That we would not be a member of any government – National or Labour.
Of course, we were prepared to work constructively with any party on issues where common ground exists.
But any ‘blank cheque’ agreement was out of the question... because the Westminster System demands there be a strong Opposition and our view was that no party was better qualified to lead the Opposition than New Zealand First.
The turning point
The Kelston Speech was a pivotal moment in the campaign.
Others will argue that it was the ‘teapot tape’ that did it for New Zealand First. But the fact is momentum had been building long before the scandal broke.
A Roy Morgan poll released on Friday 11 November, the day of that now infamous meeting between Banks and Key, had New Zealand First support at a ‘high’ of 4.5%.
Months earlier, Horizon placed our support at 6-9%.
The same day, TVNZ announced New Zealand First’s inclusion in its Minor Parties Leaders’ debate the following Wednesday.
By now we had also piqued the interest of The New Zealand Herald, whose own Digipoll had recorded a surge in support for New Zealand First.
The following Tuesday, we held an outdoor meeting in Tauranga, as part of a national tour. For the first time in the campaign, television news actually covered us.
Admittedly this coverage was on the back of the tea tapes, but by then the mainstream media had no choice. The TVNZ debate the following night was widely reported as a victory for NZ First.
The final round of opinion polling produced a mixed result – with two pollsters (Digipoll and Roy Morgan) registering New Zealand First support above five percent and the rest predicting we would fail to make the threshold.
In any case, we knew the polls were wrong. Those of us who had actually spent the past three years on the ground knew the mood of the electorate. And one only had to listen to talkback radio to have it confirmed.
For well over two years, NZ First had been packing church halls and community centres from the Far North to Invercargill.
Filling halls is a political market indicator of support.
The party chose to go around the media, rather than through it. We had to, to break through the cone of silence.
We spoke to the real New Zealand.
And the real New Zealand spoke back.
And the rest, as they say, is history.