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Boag: Address to Northern Club, Auckland


Thank you for your attendance today. I know this occasion is jointly hosted by the Northern Region of the National Party and the Northern Club, and I appreciate the work both organisations have put into bringing you all along here.

I thought today I would talk about a subject that was the main plank of my election as President of the National Party five weeks ago - and that is renewal.

For the eight months that I spent campaigning around National Party meetings throughout New Zealand I talked constantly of the need for renewal. I believe that the substantial mandate delivered to me by the Party here in Auckland five weeks ago was an endorsement of that position. My job now is to deliver it, and I thought it would be helpful today to address how I think that renewal can be achieved.

First, is there a need for renewal in the National Party? Absolutely. Any political party that suffers an election defeat looks for renewal, but in a party that has been in government for nine years it is especially relevant.

The big question of course is how - what are the components of that renewal process, how are they achieved, and what is the role of the party organisation and the President in that process?

Today I want to answer those questions.

First, what are the components of renewal?

* Review and restatement of philosophical platform * Regeneration through new blood * Intensive grass roots policy development * Clear differentiation of policy and approach * Removal of barriers to renewal

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1) Review and restatement of philosophical platform

Any party examining itself after a loss has to look at its philosophy and say, is it relevant - is our philosophy out of touch?

In my view our philosophy as contained by our stated principles is not the problem. The problem arising from 9 years of government is that we lost touch with our philosophical base rather than it being a case of our philosophy no longer being relevant.

Let's revisit what National stands for, according to our constitution:

* Equality of opportunity * An open democracy based on individual freedom and justice * Tolerance of differences and respect for individual diversity * Encouragement of individuality, personal achievement and nationhood * An open, competitive economy, driven by private enterprise * Active participation in the international community * Sustainable management of resources * A role for government in the delivery of core services * A taxation system that is limited to funding essential services and does not discourage enterprise, hard work and the accumulation of wealth

I can't see a problem with any of those principles. The only thing that I would change would be to make the final one a positive rather than a negative - a taxation system which encourages enterprise, hard work and the creation of wealth.

There is one more principle however that I want to specifically address today, and that is the following:

"The promotion of talented, able Members of Parliament who are committed to representing all New Zealanders and are dedicated as a team to good government and the promotion of these principles". Which brings me to my second point.

2) Regeneration through new blood

That principle is vital for the second major component of renewal - the importance of new blood to an organisation in renewal and the need to promote and recognise talent, regardless of seniority.

I have heard the argument expressed that National needs to retain some experience amongst its ranks so that the next National Government has the benefit of access to experienced Ministers.

Ministers experienced in administration is certainly important for the credibility of a future Government. However, I suspect that many National Party supporters would say that unless we focus on the new talent available to us, we can forget about the need for experienced Ministers, because we won't be in Government. A balance between experience and new talent is important for good government.

As President it is my job to make sure that this new talent is available to us, and I want to make it very clear that the National Party welcomes interest and involvement from talented people who believe they have a contribution to make to New Zealand's future.

In fact I want to go further and call for the active recruitment of people of talent and ability to become involved in our Party and help us to regenerate our organisation.

The National Party has a truly democratic system of candidate selection which allows candidates to be judged on merit and their ability to contribute, rather than the Labour Party system which provides for the hierarchy to select on the basis of seniority, service or ideology.

Inevitably, the introduction of new talent means gaps have to be created. Obviously we will be campaigning hard to win constituencies and to achieve an increase in our Party vote. Success in these areas will add somewhere between three and seven constituency seats and the possibility of a similar or even greater number of extra list MPs. However, as a Party, we cannot afford to depend solely on new opportunities created by winning electorate seats or an increase in our Party vote.

Again I am sure the very strong message from our supporters would be that those gaps have to be created now by current MP's who have given valuable service to New Zealand over the years, but now have to move on.

In the next few months many people will be watching to see how the National Party responds to those messages from our supporters.

Let me make it quite clear that the party organisation bears considerable responsibility for this issue as well. The party organisation selects constituency candidates, and decides on the ranking of list candidates. The ultimate responsibility for renewal therefore depends on those who make those decisions, and those members of our organisation who simply point the finger at the Caucus are missing the point.

Judgements that affect the renewal process will be made at three levels:

(a) by the Caucus, who have to decide on their own personal choices (b) by electorates and senior party officials who make decisions on who their Parliamentary representatives will be (c) by the Leader in her final allocation of positions of responsibility as we head into election year.

A call for new talent inevitably raises the question of how we intend to involve such people, which brings me to the third component of renewal:

3) Intensive grass roots policy development

Involvement in policy work at a grass roots level gives people an opportunity to be truly involved in the creation of ideas that will make a difference to New Zealand.

National has already made it clear that we are signing up to a strong growth platform - "Going for Growth" is the phrase that our leader, Jenny Shipley, has used to signal our commitment to a growth economy as the only way to ensure that New Zealand can climb back up the OECD ladder. The logic of that position is irrefutable.

In order to achieve that growth, we need policies that create an economic framework that encourages growth. That means policies on education, investment and taxation to name just a few. Last week senior National Party officials joined the Caucus at a three day meeting at Hanmer Springs to look at the components of our policies for growth and to work towards the refinement of many months of hard work on issues such as taxation, superannuation, education, welfare and macro economic approach.

The recent Knowledge Wave conference made it clear that there are a number of alternatives open to a Government that wishes to encourage innovation and investment to achieve economic growth.

This Government has closed the doors on those options. The path is wide open to National to explore this territory and take the best from the ideas on offer to create a framework that will create significant growth.

The National Party organisation is currently involved in an intensive programme of grass roots policy development to ensure that we give our members and supporters the opportunity to be involved in the creation of such policies. This work will be brought together with existing programmes of consultation with the public and sector groups that are being carried out by, for example, Bill English on superannuation and taxation and Nick Smith on Resource Management Act reform. Together, we will develop a platform of policies that signal our strong commitment to a growing economy and our desire to create an inspiring vision for New Zealand.

There is no doubt that the broadening of policy involvement into the wider community of interested and experienced contributors that is currently occurring with our national policy seminars will enhance our ability to tap creativity, substance and ideas.

4) Clear differentiation of policy and approach

The fourth element that is important in renewal of a political party is the clear differentiation of policies from our opponents.

These differences are now starting to emerge.

We have already made clear our intention to hold a binding referendum on MMP in response to public concern.

Last week saw the launch of a new campaign to promote a referendum on MMP. National is already committed to giving New Zealanders choice on this issue - a choice which most New Zealanders thought they were going to get after two terms of MMP when they signed up to a change to their electoral system by the smallest margin.

We are also seeing a very clear anti-development agenda emerging with this government, led by Sandra Lee. What is the point of encouraging the huge commitment to undergoing extensive Resource Management processes, only to have the Minister exercise a personal veto even when the approval has been received.

A clear differentiation on investment emerged yesterday with an indication that the government would rather see government involvement in Air New Zealand than consider allowing further international investment in the airline.

This governments agenda of control and the attitude of "we know what's best for you" will be clearly differentiated with Nationals agenda of empowerment and freedom within appropriate parameters.

5) Removal of barriers to renewal

While the National Party has become a weakened political structure over the last few years, it is still by far the biggest and most representative political party in New Zealand.

In terms of changing direction though, it is a little like trying to turn around the QEII.

Renewal of our Party won't be complete if it is just confined to the Caucus.

The Party has already made significant changes in its organisational leadership this year with a new President, a new Maori Vice President and three out of five new regional chairmen.

Our signal has come from the top. Our success will be measured by the extent to which we, as leaders of our organisation, can encourage committed New Zealanders to get involved and make a difference to the future of our country. My call for New Zealanders of talent and ability to join us is not just confined to our Parliamentary wing.

The party organisation itself needs new talent as we seek to broaden our networks and reach out to new communities where we have been under-represented as a Party.

Political parties are rather clumsy beasts - they are democratic, they are voluntary and therefore do not have the same inherent disciplines as a corporate or commercial organisation.

That makes the task of leadership even more challenging, but even more rewarding. And if that encourages some of you to take the bait, so much the better.

There is much I haven't touched on today in this short time, but I wanted to give you some appreciation of the task facing the party as it embarks on the demanding process of rebuilding an organisation that has a proud history, a testing present and an exciting future.

It won't be easy, and it won't be immediate. Those who think we can turn opinion polls around in a matter of weeks underestimate the time it takes for significant changes of direction to register with the public who are, on the whole, not interested in the minutiae of a political party's internal dynamics.

What they are interested in is what sort of New Zealand we want to create, and how we are going to achieve it.

Spelling out that agenda will be the focus of the National Party as we embark on the next fifteen months. I repeat my call for New Zealanders of talent, ability and aspiration for their country to join us in our quest. The renewal process has started. Our success as a Party and our chances of being the next Government depend on our progress. It's going to be an exciting time for National. Politics can be amusing as a spectator sport - but its much more rewarding as a participatory one. I look forward to your participation in our journey.

Thank you.


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