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Judd Speech: Turning Back The Tide

Turning Back The Tide

Catherine Judd Speech to ACT Upper South regional conference 2003

Thank you for attending today. We are continuing our regional conferences in good heart, albeit with a growing sense of urgency about the task ahead.

ACT's mission is to advance liberalism - that is the realisation, enlargement and defence of liberty and individual freedom, subject to the rule of law and moral standards. ACT wants the state to perform its important roles - above all, to protect individuals and their property - but we want to restrict the powers and functions of government so as to give full scope for individuals, families and enterprises to thrive and prosper. We want to change the way people think about government and its relationship to individuals.

That is our mission, and that means that ACT is a party of influence, not a party of government. We can pursue our mission from the cross benches or from within government, or from alongside it.

This is my third term as ACT's elected president and in the past two and half years I've learned many lessons about politics and the business of trying to influence public thinking. I'd like to share just a few of these with you today.

First there is the great challenge of engaging people in discussion about ideas. Many people find it odd, or embarrassing or simply irrelevant. Most don't see how their getting involved in politics themselves could make any difference to the way our country is going or the quality of their lives or those of their children in future. Many treat those who have stepped into the political fray at worst with contempt or at best with bemusement.

Like our MPs I often get baled up at events like this, in airports or anywhere really by people who tell me, usually with the best intention in the world, what we should be doing, and what we're doing wrong. Of course I welcome all ideas and engagement, but trying to change the world is a large and exhausting business full of pitfalls, and what we most need is more help. Not too many people say how I can I help? But there are in fact many ways, great and small, in which individuals like you can help effect change.

Last week at a dinner a businessman said to me `why aren't you doing more about the foreshore and seabed issue?' The answer is we're doing our best - we're holding our own hui in parliament next weekend and I'm trying to raise money to pay for a speaker from Canada. We're organising meetings around the country on this too. But we're also fighting the abolition of the Privy Council, we're organising a book tour to launch Deborah Coddington's excellent book on choice in education, we've just run a month-long campaign on the flatulence tax with Gerry Eckhoff covering every provincial centre on the ACT bus; we're running direct mail campaigns on tax and law and order and we're working up a campaign on health. These are all core ACT policy areas that we need to communicate to our potential voters and we can't afford to neglect any of them. We're running polls and focus groups to try to work out how best to communicate our ideas. We're running conferences like this all around the country. And all of this on a shoe string with a heavy reliance on volunteers.

So I've learned that this is a very hard-working, hands-on party. It has to be, because each of these things requires a massive effort.

And a massive effort is required given the task in front of us. Occasionally something pops up that reminds you of the challenge we have in advancing classical liberal ideas to the public.

Last week, for example, Colin James in the Business Herald reported on a poll by a marketing and social research company into public attitudes towards business. Earlier polls, James said, had demonstrated widespread public ignorance of the crucial role of business in raising and maintaining living standards.

The latest poll asked if there was a female business leader the respondents particularly admired. Only 37 percent could name any female business leader. A third of those did nominate their most admired businesswoman. Can you guess who it was? Theresa Gattung perhaps? Or maybe publisher Wendy Pye? How about Rachel Hunter or Lucy Lawless then?

Nope. Can anyone guess? Yes, you guessed it - it was Helen Clark!

When so many people can't distinguish between the people who create the wealth and the people who redistribute it, you know we've got a lot of work to do.

But I console myself with the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay

Experience, `Never mind the ridicule, never mind the defeat, up again old heart'.

Another important reality I've grasped is what David Henderson describes in his excellent book The Changing Fortunes of Economic Liberalism as liberalism's `chronic weakness'. That is that the conscious adherents of liberalism are so limited in numbers. Liberalism, he says, has no solid basis of general support, and there are few if any countries in which there is a well-supported political party or movement which openly and consistently makes classical liberalism its central body of doctrine, its raison d'etre.

He notes in fact that ACT New Zealand is the only such party in parliament in the world. That is an accomplishment of which we should be extremely proud.

Since David's book was published some other true liberal parties have sprung into life, but only in the former Eastern bloc, in countries such as Estonia which having suffered under the Soviet regime, now prizes freedom and truly understands its meaning and value as the only alternative to big authoritarian government.

David Henderson's point is that we are mistaken if we think the battle of ideas has been won for the liberal cause. The battle of ideas is in fact far from over, nor is there an end in sight. My point to you and all supporters of ACT is that we are small and we have few allies. It's good to spend time as we are today debating and testing ideas. In this regard I'm delighted we have Ruth Richardson with us today to talk about the Reform Britain project that she and our co-founder Sir Roger Douglas have been working on.

But, and this is another lesson to be learned, the real battle is happening out there, preparing for the next general election. We need to muster more support, we need to work continuously to raise money, recruit members, build electorates, identify outstanding candidates, organise meetings, get more direct mail out, build our databases - all the basic, unglamorous, unpaid, practical `stuff' that makes up an effective grassroots campaign machine. We are engaged in a battle, and these are the only weapons with which we can slowly but surely make incremental gains.

Perhaps the best and most important thing I've gained from my involvement in ACT is a real appreciation of its humanity and compassion, both as the driving force behind its policies and as a powerful common quality among its MPs and supporters.

This quality was movingly described by Martin Hames, a powerful thinker and writer, economist, former economic advisor to Ruth Richardson, passionate freedom fighter, and sufferer of Huntingdon's disease, who took his own life just over a year ago. Shortly before his death Martin published his last book, The Crisis in New Zealand Schools, in the foreword of which he included the following note of dedication. He wrote:

"I cannot resist adding a more personal biographical note.

In the course of writing this book I was diagnosed with a degenerative and ultimately terminal neurological disease.

The kindness subsequently shown to me on a personal level utterly belies the caricature too often presented of `the New Right' as heartless people preaching a heartless view of our human obligations.

Having moved in market liberal circles, I have come to know personally many of the people, or classes of people, most demonised by many on the political left.

I number among my closest friends shocking characters like Treasury officers, Reserve Bankers, certain hated politicians, ACT New Zealand members - even employees of the Business Roundtable.

If what we owe one another is merely what can be written down in a contract, as some critics allege we believe, what explains the concern that so many have shown me? After all, I will not in the future be contributing much to the market liberal cause, or indeed to any cause except myself. Shouldn't I have expected to find these people suddenly doing a rapid and ruthless cost-benefit calculation and deciding no longer to return my phone calls?

Of course it has not worked out that way. I am not an emotional person, but I do get emotional when I consider the kindness and very genuine support given. At such moments, I almost feel, with the poet Yeats, that:

My body of a sudden blazed;

And twenty minutes more or less

It seemed, so great my happiness

That I was blessed and could bless.

I can think of no more eloquent tribute to the true compassion of liberals.

While we can and must continue to find smart ways of presenting our ideas simply and imaginatively, I suspect there is no better way of overcoming the image of the heartless `New Right' than through our people, our members and candidates but in particular our MPs. It's in the way they relate to ordinary people, the way they talk, the lives they lead and have led, their integrity, their commitment, their humour, their passion, their warmth, the human stories they can tell to illustrate our ideas - this, our human talent, is the most powerful tool of all.

Having the most able, most `real', most hard-working team in Parliament is a great asset of which we should all be immensely proud. They are a critical part of our liberal brand and our message and we must be mindful of this as we look for more candidates to represent ACT in the next general election campaign.

I'd like to turn now to a pressing challenge we face in pursuing our mission, and that is how to work in an MMP environment with other opposition parties to present a credible, coherent, appealing alternative to the current authoritarian Labour coalition government. ACT was established as an MMP party and I believe has been one of the most successful parties at understanding and campaigning in this environment.

That's important because, like it or not, MMP is going to be our electoral system for the foreseeable future and parties of the centre right need to embrace this reality. That means not just paying it lip service but substantially changing the way we all operate. Let's face it: National isn't going to get 50% of the vote in the near future and NZ First isn't going to disappear. All three parties have legitimate constituencies and a rightful place on the political spectrum.

It's worth noting that each of these parties springs from a number of sources. ACT, founded by Sir Roger Douglas and Hon Derek Quigley, was formed by members of the fourth Labour government, members of the National Party, the New Zealand Party and many others.

As historian Barry Gustafson recently pointed out, National, formed in 1936, was always a very broad-based party, containing a diversity of factions forced to work together under the First Past the Post system.

`...the United Party led by George Forbes, the Reform Party under Gordon Coates, the free-market Democrats funded by William Goodfellow and other Auckland and Wellington businessmen, the Freedom League led by Ronald Algie, and various Rightwing Independents and Country Party candidates eventually joined together in the National Party to avoid splitting the anti-Labour vote after 1935.'

The second National Party leader Sid Holland realising the political reality did a number of things to get the right together. Once such example was `arranging' for Ronald Algie, leader of the Freedom League, a group formed after concern about National's collective instincts, to become the candidate for Remuera.

Getting all the groups together meant that by the 1943 election, National had won 12 seats from Labour and by 1949 they were in government.

Thus history demonstrates what can be achieved if parties of the centre right can work together. But the lesson is not that ACT and New Zealand First should be absorbed into National. The reality of MMP is that groups that may have co-habited under the umbrella of one party under First Past the Post can no longer do so. Each represents a legitimate and individual constituency

Rather the lesson is this: unless we co-operate and present a credible alternative to the Labour/Green coalition they will be back again in 2005 and the centre right will languish in opposition indefinitely. Anyone who thinks that can't happen should remember that's exactly what happened to the Labour Party here during the 1960s. Even worse, in Australia the Labour Party spent 23 years out in the cold in opposition.

We don't want to end up in the position of some European countries where there is one major reigning party, generally a Labour-lookalike, and a bunch of non-cooperative right-leaning parties competing for opposition status or at best minority coalition partner.

So let's get moving. We need to remind ourselves that, as the old saying goes, "politics is won in the centre", and around 70% of the New Zealand electorate resides in the centre. This means there is a large amount of the vote that can be moved.

National has an important part to play in providing leadership to the centre right and taking it forward, and our primary relationship will be with them. I'm delighted that Don Brash, National Party Finance spokesman will address us today. Don is number three on National's front bench and would have to be the most capable finance minister in waiting anywhere in the world.

Don Brash was appointed by ACT co-founder Sir Roger Douglas as Governor of the Reserve Bank and reappointed by Ruth Richardson and Winston Peters. He doesn't have to be in politics but he has decided to put his country first and the centre right is very much the richer for it.

Don Brash is a person who could have been an ACT MP - some refer to him as the ninth ACT MP. He decided to choose National and represents the free market strand within that party.

New Zealand First also shares some common ground with us. Winston Peters, whose own origin is in National, voted for Ruth Richardson's Employment Relations Act, and New Zealand First and ACT share some common ground on law and order. Quite significantly all three parties are running a joint campaign to secure a referendum on the abolition of the Privy Council.

At our Wellington regional conference in August I put forward some ideas on how the opposition parties might regain some ground so an alternative government might be formed. The board of ACT has since discussed these ideas and are in principle in agreement on these as the framework of a strategy, however I would be interested in your thoughts and reactions.

The strategy is based around the premise that we on the non-authoritarian side of the political spectrum must present a viable, credible alternative to the authoritarian Labour government. The strategy has three basic elements.

First, cooperation in Parliament so voters can see the parties working together constructively in the House. This has been occurring and I'm pleased to say it has added to the overall effectiveness of the opposition.

Two, a sensible, rational strategy for the centre right to win constituency seats.

And third, centre right "coalition" messages, particularly in the general election campaign.

Returning to my second point, to regain the Treasury benches the centre right must win constituency seats - remember that Labour holds 45 seats compared to National's 21. Of course ACT will actively and vigorously compete with all other parties for the party vote and particularly in Auckland and Wellington but also Christchurch. We would like to have an ACT MP from Canterbury and we need to lift our average party vote here from 7% to at least 10%.

While the party vote is the most important vote for ACT for the greater good of the centre right we need to win constituency seats. Most of the seats can only be won by National and some of them will take a couple of elections to win back, but we must start now. A strategy must be put in place to reverse the current Labour stranglehold on electorate seats.

For more than a generation National used to win the provinces - we would like to help them do that again. In addition they must continue to hold the three key upper South Island seats of Nelson, Kaikoura and here in Christchurch Ilam.

But it will take more than ACT. It would also take the votes of NZ First supporters, and, if they recognised reality, United Future would look after its supporters and join the non-authoritarian side of the spectrum.

One approach would be to run centre right `banner' candidates. I would like to give you a couple of examples of how we could co-operate in Canterbury to maximise the constituency vote and defeat Labour without destroying our individual party identities.

Let's for example take the seat of Waimakariri. This electorate used to be held by Mike Moore and is now held by Labour's Clayton Cosgrove with around a 10,000 vote majority.

But let's take a closer look at this.

At the 2002 general election New Zealand First's Ron Mark won 5,615 constituency votes. If you add to this the 8703 personal votes gained by ACT, National, United Future and Christine Heritage candidates, Clayton's majority is cut to 2253. Why not help Ron Mark contest this seat with the endorsement for the constituency vote of ACT, National, and maybe United Future?

This would provide the voters of Waimakariri with a real alternative.

You can see by this `Electoral Pendulum' based on the 2002 general election results how much of swing is required for a seat to be won from Labour. With a two-candidate race, a popular MP like Ron Mark standing for the centre right and a solid campaign this seat is winnable. Even Labour voters who didn't in the past think there was an alternative might now vote for Ron.

Another local example, requiring only a small swing against Labour, is Banks Peninsula, which is currently held by Ruth Dyson with a majority of just over 4000. Lost to Labour in 1999, it's a seat that should be regarded as one National could win. In 2002 over 14700 votes went to other centre right candidates, meaning the real Labour majority is only 1463. It is not a safe Labour seat.

This approach would make the race in the constituencies much more interesting and relevant. There would be real contests and voters would have a real alternative.

On top of the constituency strategy we could add what could be called the "coalition campaign messages". This would be an agreed set of centre right positions that voters would get by voting centre right - policies that these parties agree on and will be delivered.

As an example of such a message, the ACT, National and New Zealand First positions on the Treaty of Waitangi are now very similar and all three parties could run on a No raced-based law type message. There is also scope in other areas, with messages such as Education choice and standards, a fair go for those who work, No parole, and Work for the dole. These are messages that surely all the parties of the centre right can sign up to. Labour certainly can't, and we need to show that this group of parties is closer to the values of New Zealanders than the PC and tax and bribe nature of the current Labour government.

None of these proposed strategies would undermine ACT's established Party Vote election campaign position. Indeed in some instances it may be the ACT candidate who is the centre right electorate candidate, allowing us the opportunity to gain constituency seats.

ACT is no longer prepared to be a `tactical appendage' of the National Party. ACT has to some extent already become the powerhouse of ideas for the centre right, witnessed by the fact that National and New Zealand First have adopted many of our positions.

Our aim is to become the strategic apex of the centre right, providing the intellectual weight and rigour, generating new ideas, defending personal responsibility and freedom and dealing with the hard questions that need debate. This is a pivotal role in putting forward a credible alternative government that seeks both to represent commonsense New Zealand values and aspirations and provide a fresh sense of direction and inspiration for the country.

But let me be clear - ACT alone cannot promote, debate and run a centre right strategy. We are happy to put forward ideas and work with the other parties but unless everyone is committed to an alternative to Labour, prepared to discuss it and work through it the strategy will fail.

ACT has been in Parliament for seven years and will be again after the next election. We'd just prefer to there with a majority of MPs who can provide an alternative to the current authoritarian Labour coalition government.

I would like to close by emphasising that ACT is committed to its independence, identity and principles. We are happy to work with other parties who share our ideas on particular issues, but we will never surrender our principles for short-term populist votes, and we will not sell our souls for cabinet positions or for seats on the Treasury benches.

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