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Message Withstands the Test of Time

Message Withstands the Test of Time

Monday, July 30 2001 Dr Muriel Newman
Speeches -- Governance & Constitution

Speech to the North Shore Branch AGM of the North Shore Branch of ACT New Zealand, 7.30pm, July 30, 2001, at the Methodist Church Hall in Campbell's Bay

"A prosperous future is why you are here today. It's why I'm here.

So, how do we get it?

Your future - the future for this country - is not back in the 1930s or the 1950s. Our future lies ahead, in the international world in the 21st century.

That's where your children and mine have got to earn their living, in the years to come. We have to face up to that world, as it is and as it will be, not bury ourselves in the past.

Our objective must be to get New Zealand ' our economy, but even more important, our knowledge, training, skills, and attitudes ' in a fit shape to take on that challenge with the certainty that we are going to win.

Why not?

New Zealanders have always gone out and done well on the field of sport. You name it: rugby, netball, canoeing, cricket, yachting, squash. But why just sport? Why not across the board?

How do you win?

You don't win by paying low wages to people who couldn't care less about productivity. You don't win by taxing people so hard that effort and initiative are punished instead of rewarded.

You win by excellence, by knowledge, skill and training. By organising so our people want to do well; want to innovate, to get rid of unnecessary obstructions; to find cheaper, smarter, more effective ways of doing a better job faster.

To develop new products, new processes, new methods of marketing, new ways or organising their work.

Look, every person in a job in this country knows, in their own patch, of ways to do things better.

Why aren't we doing it already?

Because the incentives have not been there to make it worth people's while bothering. As a result, our living standard has fallen in our lifetime from 3rd in the world to about 30th. Unless we turn history around, then it will fall in the lifetime of our children to 60th place or worse.

That's why I want to see personal income tax lowered, so that you can keep most of what you earn in the future. For the rest of your lives.

That's why I want to see everyone with a family who works, better off than those who are unemployed.

That why I want to get rid of poverty traps that make a lot of low-income people pay the highest marginal tax rates in the country.

What's wrong with that?

What wrong with being able to keep most of what you earn this year and for the rest of your life? What's wrong with working families getting more than people who do not work at all?

I care about unemployment. I care about curing it. I don't talk about it, I want to get on with the job. I want to get out in front of the public and expose what I see as the issues that matter to this country's future.

I intend to make sure this nation thinks these issues through. And make sure that no-one in the future will be in a position to ignore them, or sweep them under the mat."

Ladies and gentlemen, those words were taken from a speech by the Hon Roger Douglas to a rally of thousands at Chase Plaza in Auckland, on 20 December 1988, just after David Lange sacked him. The words, the ideas, the vision have not dated.

At his side were two other politicians of courage, Hon Richard Prebble and the Late Trevor de Cleene. They resigned their portfolios and gave away their Ministerial perks to stand shoulder to shoulder with the man who was the architect of New Zealand's reform programme.

But there was a problem with Sir Roger's reforms. Not that it was all too much, but that it was all too little. Along with Ruth Richardson' s efforts in 1991, New Zealand has only had a total of four years reform over the last seventeen years.

The vital areas of social delivery ' health, education, and welfare ' were never touched. As a consequence, the problems have grown: more sick people wait longer for surgery; youngsters continue to leave school unprepared for today's job market, lacking even basic competencies in reading, writing, maths and oral communication; the able-bodied continue to perish on welfare.

The ACT goal is to commit to an effective reform programme to produce real solutions to difficult and disturbing problems - the problems that particularly hurt the disadvantaged, and hold us all back.

That is the reason why Sir Roger Douglas formed ACT. That is the reason you are here tonight. That is the reason I am here.

We all know that New Zealand could be the best in the world if only the agenda of ACT was our guiding force: an open economy, a free market and a commitment to global trade. A nation that upholds the rule of law and respects private property rights. A country that believes in the right of its citizens to obtain quality education, and healthcare when its needed, to security in retirement, to a safety net during hard times, and to be treated equally under the law.

ACT believes in the underlying imperative that individuals are the rightful owners of their lives. In a democratic society where freedom and choice are paramount, people are expected to take responsibility for themselves and their families, and, as good citizens, to watch out for each other as well.

However, as each day does by, those individual rights and expectations are being eroded by the most left-wing government New Zealand has ever seen. As a nation, we are being taken over by regulation. As individuals, our freedoms are being constantly eroded, with political correctness and cultural sensitivity threatening to gag us: many people are now afraid to speak their mind. If they do, they are sneered at, jeered at, and called racists, bigots and sexists.

We have a government that is determined to stay in power. The blatant buying of votes from interest groups for that purpose is plain to see: $120 million to ensure support from the arts community; over $500 million to increase the incomes and secure the vote of almost a million pensioners and beneficiaries; $250 million to buy the Maori vote by "closing the gaps", a strategy quickly re-named once the polling showed a growing voter backlash.

But that polling also showed that closing the so-called gaps was not enough. Derek Fox was gaining support. The government was concerned that he was making inroads into the Maori vote. As a result, more money has been pledged to initiatives just for Maori.

This weekend a further $15 million was pledged to Maori communities for Maori language enhancement. That is on top of the $55 million a year that has just been announced for Maori television, which is on top of the $26 million of capital already allocated.

The problem is that there is nothing surer than that Maori TV is destined to fail. Sure, those consultants working on the project will get rich, but with the state as a driving force, in spite of all the taxpayer money that will be poured into keeping the Maori language alive, the language is doomed. The only hope for its survival is if parents recognise that keeping a mother-tongue alive is their responsibility and that of their schools. That it is the teaching of a language to children who thirst for that knowledge, that gives a language life.

During the time I taught at the United Nations School in New York, I saw mother tongue classes thrive. With students from over 50 countries at the school, parents and children alike came together after classes were finished for the day, to maintain their connection with their language. It was that individual commitment and effort that ensured success.

But there is a further problem with the government's funding of $55 million into Maori TV. It is being interpreted by many as a signal of contempt for non-Maori.

New Zealand on Air receives around $100 million to fund TV One and Two, National and Iwi Radio, as well as to make New Zealand programs. The funding actually available for that purpose is about $50 million. Maori TV will receive more funding to create its three hours a day of programming than all other local programmes shown on TV combined. Where is the logic, the fairness and the equity in that, I ask, especially when it is known that Sky TV put in an offer to broadcast six hours of Maori TV a day for six days a week for a cost of $600,000 a year?

Good government is about having a vision for lifting a country by putting in place sound policies and by getting the incentives right. New Zealand used to suffer poor performance form poor incentives. What little reform New Zealand enjoyed focussed on the removal of such privilege as subsidies, tariffs and levies. We saw the labour market opened up, and we saw growth and jobs resulting.

Sadly for New Zealand, this government is undoing much of what was done, taking us on a path that is in a different direction to the rest of the OECD. We will undoubtedly suffer, but the people who will suffer the most will be those who are the weakest and the most vulnerable. Those are the people who need a strong economy to help cushion them from life's misfortunes. Those are the people whose hopes and aspirations depend on putting in place the common sense vision of ACT New Zealand.

I want to end with a final word from that speech of Sir Roger's, and a comment:

Roger said, "People in a democracy depend totally on the truth to make sound judgements and wise choices for their own future. Telling the truth to the public is the basis of hope, freedom, democracy and the way of life we value."

I say, this government is building a reputation for double standards and half-truths.

Telling the truth, even if it is unpopular is the hallmark of ACT.


For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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