Dunne Speech To United Future Annual Conference
ADDRESS TO UNITED FUTURE ANNUAL CONFERENCE, BODY AND SOUL CONVENTION CENTRE, GLOVER STREET, NGAURANGA, WELLINGTON
SATURDAY 6 OCTOBER 2001 AT 11:30 am
When United Future was formed late last year, we came together because of our shared beliefs and common determination that New Zealand could do so much better, and that we could herald a new start in New Zealand politics.
We had had enough of the disillusionment, the political double-talk, the broken promises, the character assassination and the lack of core values, that had driven politics for too long.
We had had enough of always settling for second best - because we believed there was no reason at all why New Zealand could not once again be the best place the best place on earth to bring up a family.
And we had had enough of the fact that the hopes and aspirations of mainstream New Zealand families seldom seemed to fit with the agendas of the political parties elected to government. So, we said then, it was time to take politics back to the people once again.
All those points are still true today.
New Zealanders are still crying out for sensible, soundly based leadership that looks beyond today, and focuses on the country we are building for the future.
As a people, we continue to seek a framework that provides not only certainty and security, but also enables us to get on with our lives with confidence and a minimum of interference from others.
And we have almost given up on hoping for common sense and integrity in politics.
I firmly believe United Future is a beacon of hope in the midst of these troubled times.
I am absolutely delighted at the way this Party has come together over these last few months, to address those challenges, and at the determination I see in our members to make sure we succeed.
Your confidence and optimism inspire me and make me proud to lead this diverse and talented team of mainstream New Zealanders, drawn together by a passionate commitment to the future of our country.
I want to make a special mention of Anthony Walton.
No-one could ever describe Anthony and me as alike.
In many ways, we could not be more dissimilar.
Yet we have gelled strongly as a team, and as friends, and it is our diversity that gives us breadth, and the capacity to reach out to many different sectors of contemporary New Zealand.
In many ways, our relationship symbolises what we want for New Zealand.
We both want to harness vibrancy and diversity, enthusiasm and experience, to make our country once again the best place in the world to live in and bring up a family.
We both want a country that is democratic and prosperous, compassionate and tolerant.
We both want a country that values enterprise and innovation, and celebrates achievement, where principles and values count once more, and where integrity and honesty are no longer seen just as quaint words that belong in the dictionary.
We both want a country where families come first, where we enjoy a clean and unspoiled environment, and where we strive for the best in education, and health services.
Above all, we both want to rekindle that spirit of principled independence, ingenuity, pragmatism, common-sense, and passion for the underdog that have long been seen as the fabric of our national character, but which some now doubt, and others scoff at.
Both of us firmly believe there is no future for our country is isolation, no point in yearning for a better past, and no hope in pushing narrow agendas.
Anthony, I am looking forward to the next twelve months and beyond, as we build up to the next election, and to working with you and the rest of the team to make our dreams the country's reality. Across New Zealand today, I hear a strong call that what the country desperately needs to make our MMP system work effectively is a viable centrist political party, to stop all the nonsense we have seen in recent years.
United Future is that voice of reason, and recent events make our mission so much clearer and more pressing.
We stand ready to work alongside other parties that share our commitment, but we will not assist the extremists and the downright flaky to drag this country down.
Our country stands frozen in the headlights of a prolonged period of disruptive, if necessary, social and economic reform; a soulless lack of vision from the most austere and politically correct leadership outside of the Taliban; and now, the emerging choking and stifling fear brought on by the horrific events in the United States.
Preoccupations with economic and social statistics, falling unemployment figures, or the GDP growth rate suddenly seem vacuously irrelevant and trivial.
People are yearning as never before for something more, and I sense a rising level of frustration among many New Zealanders about what is going on and where we are headed.
Witness the appallingly lack-lustre reaction of the Prime Minister to the terrorism crisis.
Initially she could not even make up her mind whether to carry on to Europe or to come home.
And then, when she did return, she found it almost impossible to state clearly that New Zealand would do all it can to play its part to rid the world of fundamentalism, terrorism and extremism.
Or, the National Party, which is so bogged down in its leadership debate that the rest of the world does not seem to matter.
My friends, what we need now is a renewed commitment to leadership built around good, solid values and new ideas.
And that is what this Party, United Future, stands ready and willing to deliver, and what sets us apart from all the rest.
We do not believe in reinventing the wheel, nor sermonising at length about what needs to be done, but about getting in there and doing it, based on sound policy, experience and common-sense.
We are neither sentimental, nor extremist, but pragmatic, sensible, and, above all else, reasonable.
We have a commitment to the core values of honesty, reliability, respect for others and the law, tolerance, fairness, compassion and social responsibility.
Yet, somehow, governments are not supposed to have views on such things, despite the fact that they are at the core of every person's life, and it is that vacuum that, in my view, explains so much of the anxiety and uncertainty in our world today.
This perceived lack of national values leaves people unclear what society's anchors are anymore. We want to take the traditional strengths our country has been built on - the cornerstone role of our families, the heart of our communities, our neighbourhoods and suburbs, the passion and dedication of our community institutions - and use these to create a society that is forward thinking, compassionate, and united.
Yet, everywhere we look at the moment, the very building blocks our country has been founded upon are under withering and sustained attack.
Ask this Government what it thinks about the role of the family, and you will be drowned in the weasel-words about how difficult it is to define the family today, how dangerous it is to stereotype any type of family as typical, and how unwise it is to attempt to force our particular views upon the rest of society, and so on and so forth, ad nauseam.
But look at the unctuous hand-wringing and the tut-tutting and diving for official cover every time the mental health system fails a family and a tragedy occurs, or every time another horrific case of child abuse and neglect is discovered.
Watch them run round and round in circles to rationalise what has happened, while never stopping to offer comfort, let alone a solution, or any hope there will not be a next time.
The vitality of our neighbourhood and suburbs is being ripped apart by an obsessive determination to reduce everyone to the same level, whether it be through rigid school zoning which denies parents the right to send their children to the schools they want, or through the latest tax grab on gaming machines, which, while it might sound fine in theory, will simply end up meaning that money raised by local sports clubs will no longer be spent locally, but will be forced into a national pool to be spent the way the Government wants.
Worse still, the Government now wants to put up the rates on sports clubs by 50%, thus hitting them a second time.
But what really takes the cake is their determination to tax charities and churches for the voluntary work they carry out, simply ensuring that those services will stop being provided, thereby throwing the load right back onto central government.
Totally back-to-front, but utterly predictable when you live in a world which believes that not only does the Government always know best, but, even worse, it is entirely appropriate that the Government should always know best.
The net effect of all this is that we have, as some writers have observed, socialised responsibility, where the state has taken over the provision of so many things, leaving individuals less responsible for themselves and those around them than ever before in the last couple of hundred years.
And that has left us selfish and introverted, more pre-occupied with what is in it for 'me', and not at all interested in any sense of wider community responsibility.
Worse still, the Government's message - whether it be in health, or ACC, or even an issue like Air New Zealand - is trust us, we know best what is good for you.
President Kennedy's famous injunction to ask not what your country could do for you, but what you could do for your country has never been more relevant, and is the clarion call United Future wants to take up in New Zealand today.
That call starts with the New Zealand family, and I make no apology for the fact that we are the only Party in this country that is so blatantly standing up for the family, because we are unbowing in our belief that the family is the key to a decent and functional country. I am fed up with seeing good, mainstream families struggling to do their best for their kids, keeping the boards of trustees going, or coaching the sports teams after school or at the weekend, being told they are privileged, or that if they succeed and earn that little bit extra they will pay more tax, or that they have to give a little bit up to close the gaps with others.
Every strike against mainstream families is a strike against the core of our society, and a further triumph for ideology over common sense.
United Future says it is time to put the family centre stage once more by ensuring that all government policies recognise the impact they may have on interests of the family.
We would do this through the establishment of a Commission for the Family to promote the status of the family and the role of parents, and to be the filter through which all legislation is passed, before it is implemented, to make sure it is family friendly.
The Commission would also be responsible for providing a family mediation service to support, promote, and develop the provision of marriage and relationship counselling services, to facilitate family support and parental education programmes, and to be a general advocate for the interests of the family in the decision-making process.
At the same time, there are many other things we need to do, to assist our families, and to give our children the best possible start in life.
Here are a few examples of the steps we should be taking.
We ought to be funding both Plunket adequately to ensure all children receive the recommended eight well child health checks in the first five years of life, and the Parents as First Teachers programme to guarantee all at risk children and their families a place on the programme.
We ought to be guaranteeing all pre-school children over the age of three years, 15 hours per week early childhood education, and expanding the current vision and hearing tests in schools to include years 1, 3, 5 and 7.
Of course, we should strongly support the Commissioner for Children and his advocacy role for children, but at the same time we could look to encouraging older people to assist with early childhood, school, after school and school holiday activities, and acknowledge their contribution, through a modest community volunteer tax rebate.
Why not capitalise on the wisdom of their experience of life generally, and as parents in particular?
Above all, we need to recognise that becoming a parent is one of the most demanding and complex times in a person's life.
While we must never give the impression that the Government knows best how to meet the challenge of family life, we do need to change the culture so that seeking advice and help when it is needed is seen not as a failure, but rather the action of concerned and responsible parents, and that the support mechanisms are there when needed.
That also applies to our teenagers.
They are the key to a prosperous, fair and strong society in the future, so their interests and needs have to be fostered and respected today to help succeed in the years to come.
Our teenagers need strong leadership and sensible guidance to ensure a smooth transition to adulthood, and families, schools and the wider community all have a part to play in providing a strong sense of self esteem, community participation, values and goals for them.
There is no more powerful issue at present affecting our young people than this Government's seemingly hell-bent determination to pander to the Green's obsession with drugs by softening the cannabis laws, in spite of all the opposition from teachers, parents, and the overwhelming majority of submissions to the Health Select Committee.
The one thing this Government could do today to show it cares for the New Zealand family, and understands the fears and concerns of parents trying to do their best for their teenagers, but feeling anxious and uncertain, is to categorically rule out any decriminalisation of cannabis.
But, it is so hide-bound by its slavish adherence to political correctness that it will not do so, and in the process it will confirm that it is the least family-sympathetic Government we have had in recent years, as well as leaving many parents feeling let down and unsupported.
Just as the family is the building block of our country, the economy is the mechanism by which we secure our opportunities and our prosperity.
And just as we believe the Government's role is to support and encourage the family, and not impose its peculiar prejudices upon it, we also believe the Government's duty is to support and encourage the growth and development of our economy and our risk-takers and entrepreneurs to achieve what they do best.
Yet, at the moment, we have a Government that thinks it can play the whole game, as well as making the rules and being the referee, the commentator, the selector and the whole crowd as well.
Look at the way Michael Cullen's 'I know best' approach not only destroyed Ansett and 16,000 jobs in Australia, but reduced relations between the two countries to an all-time low, as well as leaving Air New Zealand and its 9,000 employees teetering on their knees, only then to abuse journalists who dared question the wisdom of his stewardship.
Or Helen Clark, whose comments about the wisdom of particular investments, demonstrates an economic recklessness not seen since the last days of Sir Robert Muldoon.
We are a small, isolated country at the end of the world, that ever since the days of the sealers and whalers, or the start of the frozen meat trade in 1882 has lived by its ability to trade, to be part of the global market place.
Our future lies in the production of high quality goods and services - from our traditional agricultural base, through to the new smart technology based industries, or the services like tourism - that we can sell to the world, at a price it is prepared to pay.
We therefore need to gear our economy strategically and practically to be best able to meet these demands.
That means listening carefully to those who know best - our manufacturers, innovators and traders - about what they need to do their job best, and then acting upon that to ensure it happens.
Too often in the past, governments have told our producers what is on, and what is not on, and then have become puzzled when they have simply not done as the Government told them.
This Government is following the same old pattern, more inclined to rule things out, than to listen and then act accordingly in the best interests of New Zealand Ltd.
What is the point of having a Knowledge Wave Conference, if you rule out even considering some of its likely recommendations, before the Conference even starts?
Or, of convening a panel to cut business red-tape and then ignoring its key recommendations as too costly?
The mastery of technology has always been the key to the future, yet we have seemed extraordinarily slow to learn that lesson.
We need to do more to encourage both the competitive use of technology and also our teenagers and new graduates to become involved in our technology and research based industries, because they are important keys to the future.
Our tertiary education and immigration policies will be as important to that equation as our economic policy, and all need to be far more closely integrated if we are to succeed in our goals for the future.
In short, we need to develop a national vision of the type of country New Zealand can become over the next 15-20 years, and then we need to ensure all our policies have the capacity to provide the standard of living and quality of life to achieve it.
New Zealand does not lack people of talent, ideas and passion.
Nor do we lack the business and academic leaders able to develop the pathway ahead.
Indeed, they are among our current top export industry!
What we do lack, however, is the confidence to listen, and to act upon advice, and that is what we have to change.
For example, there are large elements of the present Government's industrial and regional development programme I applaud, although I fear their rigid adherence to it all as a panacea will ultimately destroy it.
We ought to be open and flexible enough to embrace new ideas, including the wisdom of a currency link with either the United States or Australia, or both; or the need for more innovative tax arrangements to assist the development and retention of new export industries.
But we must avoid the mistakes of the past which have seen such things as absolutes to be applied blindly and smotheringly, and which we seem unable to move on from when the time comes.
We need to develop a genuine partnership between government, business and academia to ensure that all our policies are geared to producing the absolute best for New Zealand at any given time.
And that is what United Future will do.
At the base of all these issues is the more fundamental of who we are as a people, and a nation.
That theme has been touched on already this morning.
I believe a great deal of our uncertainty at present stems from a lack of confidence in our own identity.
We have the real opportunity, if we care to grasp it, to make our country one of the world's most genuinely multicultural nations.
Building on the unique contribution that the culture of the Maori has made to each one of us, whether we care to recognise it or not, we stand to be similarly influenced by the cultures of all the diverse groups of people that make up contemporary New Zealand.
Our challenge will be to ensure this process of osmosis is a genuinely open one, and that we do not degenerate into a series of debilitating arguments about the predominance of one cultural tradition over another.
Of course, individual heritages and cultures need to remain strong and need to be nurtured - I am all for that - but I am also all for the weaving of a wider cloak, involving the fabrics of all the nations that make up our country, which we can wear with pride, that makes us New Zealanders, unique and special.
Our opportunity is great, our challenge awesome, and we must be ready as a Party to lead the way, because no-one else will.
So let us go forward from this Conference confident our policies are not only the best for our country, but also that they are what the overwhelming majority of decent New Zealanders are looking for.
Let us go forward committed to our goals and believing we can make a difference, and life better for New Zealand families.
Therefore let us be determined to select the best candidates to represent us in the election next year, and in the Parliament in the three years beyond.
My thanks to you all for your support to date, and my best wishes for the role you will play in the critical time ahead.