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Speech At The Auckland Club - Michelle Boag




Today I have been asked to speak about politics, perception and public relations, which is very appropriate because today I also want to address a question I get all the time.

Where is the Opposition?

That's the question I get as I go around the country. So today I thought I would address exactly that.

In the midst of Helen Clark's woefully inadequate response to the catastrophic events of September 11; in the wake of the government's costly and near fatal dithering over Air New Zealand; in the wake of a raft of legislative bungles that have to be fixed by urgent retrospective action, it's a valid question.

Today I'd like to answer it, because I can assure you that the Opposition is alive, well and competing for the front pages of the newspapers along with George Bush and Osama bin Laden. Pretty fierce competition!

Today I want to give you just a few select examples of what we have been saying and doing over the last 2 - 3 weeks, a period when unquestionably, the world has changed.

Let's work backwards, and start with this morning.

Wednesday 26 September

This morning the domestic headlines are given to the fact that Helen Clark is urging support for Air New Zealand. This is after Mondays performance when she single handedly sends the share price plummeting to an all time low of 15 cents after speculating on Statutory Management as a viable option, demonstrating once again that she is completely out of her depth when it comes to commercial matters. Bill English by the way said on Monday it's time the government gave the public some assurances as to the future of their national airline. Today it appears she is doing exactly what he said she should do.

Tuesday 25 September

Yesterday we saw the emergence of a shambles with the government's own employment legislation leading to the invalidation of 40 unions by a Court of Appeal decision. The government announces it intends to pass urgent legislation retrospectively to fix the problem. National's Industrial Relations spokesman, Lockwood Smith, quite correctly labels it a major botch-up.

Monday 24 September

National's housing spokesman, David Carter, highlights a secret "Closing the Gaps" initiative with the government giving $2 million in suspensory loans, which will be written off, to 70 private homeowners in "substandard" housing. You won't have read about that because the Herald hasn't bothered to cover it.

Friday 21 September

Tony Ryall, National's Commerce spokesman, notes that Treasury papers with blanked out figures make it clear that state-owned Genesis Energy has made tens of millions of dollars out of the supposed "electricity crisis" despite Genesis CEO Murray Jackson telling the Holmes Show that the power company was making an 'insignificant amount' extra out of the crisis.

Ryall asks if the amount is so insignificant, why isn't the Government releasing the figures so New Zealanders can decide for themselves?

Thursday 20 September

Tony Ryall also points out that in the space of 24 hours the Government has adopted 5 different positions on the Commerce Amendment Act in a desperate attempt to fix up a failure with its own legislation It went like this: 10 am Wednesday, the Court of Appeal judgement is announced, there is no comment. 3pm Wednesday, when National asks an urgent question, Commerce Minister Swain says he will call for a report. 7pm Wednesday, a press statement from Mr Swain says the Commerce Commission will seek clarification from the Court. 10pm Wednesday, Swain says he will move an amendment to the Statutes Amendment Bill. 9am Thursday, Swain says there will be a separate bill passed through all stages under extraordinary urgency. 2pm Thursday, a separate bill will be passed under urgency and sent to a select committee.

And why the confusion and the need for urgent legislation?

More botched legislation. The Government ignored submissions from companies and the advice of National that transitional provisions should be expressly included in the Commerce Amendment Act.

Wednesday 19 September

The government appoints Derek Fox to chair the board of the Maori television service - speculated as a $130,000 a year job - just weeks after claiming they had not offered Fox the job. Murray McCully, who predicted exactly this four weeks earlier, accuses the government of using taxpayers money to remove an electoral challenge from Fox, who stood against Parekura Horomia in Ikiroa-Rawhiti last election, and who has threatened to launch a new Maori Party and take Horomia on again in his seat. Who is involved in the appointment of Mr Fox to the role? The Minister of Maori Affairs. Who is the Minister of Maori Affairs? Parekura Horomia. Hang on - isn't that who Derek Fox was going to stand against? Indeed. Do you think Derek Fox will do so now that he has this important new and time-consuming job? What do you think?

Tuesday 18 September

Bill English rattles Helen Clark by exposing her discomfort with standing side by side with the United States and the rest of the civilised world in the response to the World Trade Centre terrorist attack. The media notices but prefers to speculate on a leadership challenge in the National Party rather than comment on Clark being wrongfooted.

Monday 17 September

National's Defence spokesperson Max Bradford today reveals that the head of the army, Major-General Dodson, got rid of his deputy, Brigadier Lou Gardiner, because he wouldn't comply with Dodson's instruction to shred documents in advance of a government inquiry.

Sunday 16 September

Justice spokesman Wayne Mapp exposes the fact that Human Rights Commissioner Ros Noonan knew of Ella Henry's misbehaviour on 5 July, advised the Prime Minister on August 10 who advised Associate Justice Minister Margaret Wilson on 12 August. But when the case became public on 23 August, the Government declared the matter "closed". It wasn't until public opinion and political reaction suggested the matter wasn't closed that a resignation was elicited on 24 August. Mapp points the finger clearly at Helen Clark for her role in the cover-up.

Friday 14 September

Bill English calls for the Government to organise an official Memorial Service to remember those killed in the terrorist attacks. They still haven't. There has still been no "moment of silence" - no instruction on lowering flags - and it wasn't till a week after the tragedy that Helen Clark opened a Condolence book at Parliament. No wonder New Zealanders are ashamed of their government.

Thursday 13 September

Bill English notes that food prices are 6.3% higher than they were a year ago and nearly 9% higher than they were when the Government took office.

Monday 10 September

National announces its policy to make clear the right of a parent to discipline a child, but outlaws discipline that will injure a child. Bob Simcock, National's Social Services spokesman, lodges a private members bill to define what constitutes "reasonable force".

Sunday 9 September

National's Associate Health spokesman Paul Hutchison attacks the governments proposals to change maternity arrangements which will take choice away from women and reduce access to specialists.

Friday 7 September

National's Health spokesman Roger Sowry accuses the Government of ignoring the plight of women with breast cancer who have to wait 5 - 6 months for radiation treatment or who have to travel to Australia to get treatment because of lack of funds in the Health system - despite the fact that Labour took an extra 6c in the dollar off many of us in this room to put into health and education - which they haven't done.

Thursday 6 September

National's Revenue spokesperson Annabel Young says the Government is hiding behind a wall of secrecy on its taxation of charities by refusing to give the public access to the submissions.

The Government's proposal drew over 1000 submissions, but they won't allow anyone access to them.

That's just a few isolated examples from the last couple of weeks, and there are plenty more where they came from.

I haven't mentioned the fact that ACC - projected by the Government to make a profit of $168 million, in fact made a loss of $313 million - a drop of $481 million - nearly as much as what they were originally putting into Air NZ.

I haven't mentioned that Michael Cullen's superfund, which will pay on average only 10% of our superannuation needs in the future, is being borrowed from day one.

I haven't mentioned that Marion Hobb's desire to control TVNZ content has almost halved the balance sheet of TVNZ.

The point is that the political landscape has changed in the last couple of weeks, and it has coincided with a period when this government has demonstrated quite clearly the following:

1. Despite its protestations, it doesn't understand business, it doesn't understand the realities of not opening your mouth to talk about how bad things are for Air NZ, as Cullen did, or how statutory management might be a viable option, as Clark did, because those sorts of remarks do have an impact on the media, on the market and on shareholders - sometimes a very detrimental impact, as we have seen.

2. Helen Clark is completely out of touch with New Zealanders and how they feel about their place in the world. Invariably, New Zealanders feel ashamed and sold short by their Prime Minister who couldn't put the words "United States" and "support" together in the same sentence. Her instincts are all wrong. She dearly wants to be a great non-aligned socialist leader. The trouble is, those leaders went out of fashion with the failure of communism in the 80's and the 90's pragmatism of center-left governments such as that of Tony Blair.

3. A number of legislative shortcomings are now coming home to roost, and the government is resorting to retrospective legislation to sort them out.

4. We have proof that this government is guilty of withholding information and covering up adverse issues that it thought it could get away with.

The rules of engagement have changed.

We are dealing with a government that is out of its depth.

Helen Clark has failed her first major test as Prime Minister, and she knows it.

So where is the Opposition?

Well we're doing the work you have to do to when you're in Opposition. It's not glamorous, it's not always productive in terms of media attention, and it certainly isn't always getting the attention of the 6 o'clock news, except for introspective speculation which seems to be based on the fact that Bill English has bought himself a new suit and made a good speech in the House.

And where's Jenny Shipley? Right now she's in New York, seeing at first hand the dramatic effects of September 11. No doubt she'll have some strong messages to deliver to the government when she comes back on Sunday from all those New Zealanders in New York who are ashamed at the lack of support from Helen Clark's government for our once close ally and friend.

This government is taking New Zealand down a path where New Zealanders instinctively don't want to go.

National understands that, and we also understand that at the end of the day New Zealanders want a government that does understand commercial realities, that is interested in delivering an economy where people can work hard and get rewarded, and that does want to stand alongside and in support of its friends in the civilised world.

That's where National knows New Zealand's future is, and that's where we are going to lead them.


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