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Brash - Address to the NZ Chamber of Commerce

Brash - Address to the NZ Chamber of Commerce Annual Conference, Hamilton

Dr Don Brash MP National Party Leader

08 November, 2003

Address to the NZ Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting, Hamilton

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is fitting that my first speech as leader of the National Party is to the annual conference of the New Zealand Chamber of Commerce. You issued the fourth in a series of booklets on economic growth and the importance of business yesterday, and I commend you for trying to get New Zealanders to recognise the importance of these issues.

National supports business. National understands business. National understands that any dreams any of us may have for our country depend on our ability - and that means the ability of our productive sector - to create the wealth to support them.

And there can't be many other places in New Zealand where as much wealth has been created as here in the Waikato.

It is not just the quality of our land: it is the knowledge and skills in making it some of the most productive farmland in the world.

Today, I am going to tell you about where National is at, and where we are heading after our leadership change and Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. In a phrase, we're just revving up.

I have a great team, and that great team - collectively - is developing the policy that will excite New Zealanders in 18 months time, or whenever Helen Clark calls an election.

We are going to involve our Party membership in developing that policy, along with interest groups with a positive contribution to make and those in the wider public who share our values.

And it is going to be a centre-right platform, not a centre platform or a right platform.

You shouldn't expect much of a change in our policy direction as a result of the change in leadership.

It is largely about communication, commitment and clarity. I've said I want us to have a sharper focus. I want us to attack the Labour/Anderton/Green Government with more urgency, vigour - and rigour. I don't want us to be afraid of the electorate by watering down our message.

I want us to have the utmost integrity. We are going to develop policy. We are going to say what it is. And we are going to be proud of it. But we are not taking some huge fundamental change in direction. Our values are more enduring than that.

The very name of our Party is the first principle on which all our policy is based: we are a party for the whole nation - not just for business people, not just for farmers, not just for Aucklanders; but all of those and more, everyone.

In my management of the Party Caucus, I have sought to be inclusive.

I have so many able people in the Caucus that it has been hard to find the right job for everybody, but I have tried to make sure that portfolios were allocated to my colleagues on merit, no matter whom they supported in the recent leadership election.

We're aiming to involve our Party membership, much more than ever before.

And that's the style I want to bring to the country as a whole, as we seek to earn the trust of the electorate and deliver on what we stand for.

I said before my election as leader that I believe this Labour Government is destroying New Zealand.

And I use the word "destroying" without any qualification.

It is destroying the country in which we grew up, or to which we chose to immigrate.

It is destroying the New Zealand we still love today.

And - perhaps most importantly - it is destroying the nation that, with leadership and vision, we could be; that we aspire to be.

Nations are defined by their expectations, and ours are unique.

We have expectations about how we want to be perceived in the world.

We have expectations about how we want to protect and enhance our natural environment.

We have expectations about how our kids will be able to grow up, compared with kids in other countries.

We have expectations about the opportunities we want to be available to our kids when they leave school and tertiary education, to see - and take on - the rest of the world.

We have expectations about the quality of our health and education systems - about our ability to look after the sick, the struggling and the old.

But our ability to deliver on these expectations and more - the expectations that define our nation - is slowly but steadily being eroded.

And it is in that sense that the Labour/Anderton/Green Government is destroying New Zealand.

Fifty years ago, New Zealanders enjoyed living standards not too dissimilar from those enjoyed by Americans, and higher than those enjoyed by the Aussies.

That meant my generation - and Helen Clark's generation, and Jim Anderton's generation, and Jeanette Fitzsimons' generation - were able to enjoy the same opportunities, the same experiences, and the same goods and services, as those enjoyed by the Americans and Australians who grew up at the same time.

It simply isn't true any longer.

Today, we enjoy a living standard only three quarters that of Australians, and little more than half that of Americans.

For every opportunity a New Zealand family has, the average American family has double it. We see what this means around us, every day.

In recent decades, we have propped up our living standards by borrowing from foreign savers to the point where we have become - by a substantial margin - the most heavily indebted developed country on the face of the planet.

Despite all that borrowing, we have a health system which, in the opinion of our leading cancer specialists, is more akin to that in a Third World country than that of a developed country.

We have an education system which leaves substantial numbers of people - children and adults - almost totally illiterate and innumerate.

Our tertiary institutions are gasping for help, handicapped by the extraordinary Soviet-style price controls imposed by Steve Maharey.

We are, in this country, apparently unable to provide a social welfare safety net for our most neglected and disadvantaged kids that keeps them safe from being killed.

That is simply disgusting, but the Labour Government - in office for four years - says its all everyone else's fault.

And it is not just core social services that are failing.

We have, in this country, 350,000 working-age adults and their children - in total, equal to the population of four Hamiltons - out of work, on welfare, and seemingly condemned to a life of poverty and dependency.

We have a continuing exodus out of our country of our brightest and best, and also of people who simply think they'll have better opportunities elsewhere.

Every single year since 1979, more New Zealanders have left New Zealand than have returned.

Over that period - less than 25 years - there has been a net outflow of over half a million New Zealanders.

And, even with the threat of terrorism, a slow global economy, and war, that net outflow of New Zealanders has continued in the last two years.

We have deteriorating race relations, partly because of our relative economic decline but largely because of the patronising and condescending way in which this Government deals with Maori.

We have a foreign policy which has left us with almost no allies at all - the worst relationships with Australia, the US and the UK that I've ever known.

We have to turn this around. And I am determined to do that.

But we first have to make a decision, as a nation, that we actually want to turn it around. I say that seriously. There are some who don't.

The Greens, for example - on whom the Labour Party is increasingly reliant to govern - would say that we are better to be poorer than, say, people in Australia, Europe, North America and Singapore, in order to have a non-competitive, non-productive, hand-holding, 1960s-dream society.

Many in the Labour Party would say "no, being close to the UN and the South Pacific is more important than being closely aligned to Australia, the US and the UK, even if it does cost us in strategic terms, trade terms and in the pocket".

Margaret Wilson seems to say: "look, we don't want to work as hard as people in other countries. We have to accept being poorer in exchange for having more time for ourselves".

These are perfectly acceptable positions to take - if they are put in those terms.

But those are not the terms - the honest terms - in which the Greens and Labour phrase the debate.

We are told we can have four weeks annual leave, and earn just as much as we would otherwise.

We're told we can have a regime where it's difficult to be fired, but we're not told that that makes it all the more difficult for the young, or the old, or the brown, or the unemployed to be hired.

It's dishonest. And Helen Clark knows it. But she hopes that dishonesty will sustain her in power.

I believe that New Zealanders don't want to be second rate.

I believe New Zealanders want their kids to have the same opportunities as kids in Australia, North America, Singapore and Europe. I believe New Zealanders want access to the same quality of healthcare that people in those countries have. If so, we need to put in place policies that can deliver those goals.

In foreign policy, defence policy and trade policy, we need to finally decide whether we stand with our old friends and former allies or not.

In economic policy, we need to finally decide on policies - both macroeconomic and microeconomic - that will deliver greater wealth.

That means we have to look at the Employment Relations Act.

Forget the ideological argument about whether it is a good thing or a bad thing in principle to give more power to unions.

Margaret Wilson's Employment Relations Act means that every employer in this country is less likely to employ a young, unemployed worker than they otherwise would be.

Unemployment is higher than it would be because of Margaret Wilson's Employment Relations Act.

We have to get serious about cutting compliance costs, which the KPMG-Business New Zealand survey a few weeks ago suggested had gone up for 98% of firms in the last year.

The RMA processes, OSH, ACC levies, the never-ending tax forms. Yes, some of these costs can fairly be blamed on the policies which National adopted in the 1990s. But they are all getting much worse now. I tremble to think what a third term of Labour would mean.

We have to fix these problems. We have to address our tax system.

Our tax structure says to investors: "Invest in Australia".

The high marginal tax rates affecting those trying to get off benefits and into a job say to the unemployed: "Don't get a job".

Our roading infrastructure in New Zealand is an embarrassment, particularly in Auckland, but also in many other parts of the country, as you know only too well.

Our education system performs very well in some areas, but not in all.

Our secondary schools and tertiary institutions are still not providing all the opportunities - linked to an ever-changing workplace - that they need to, for all our young people. And far too many kids are still coming out of school unable to read, unable to write, and unable to do basic arithmetic.

And, of course, as I've said, what sort of society do we live in when our children are killed in state care, and the Government passes the buck to a budget almost five years ago?

Addressing these problems - these economic problems that cut into our social fabric - has to be our priority, and under my leadership it's going to be.

We are going to say: "Cut the spin, Ms Clark. This isn't working. You won't fix it. Your ideology won't let you. Step aside, we're going to."

It's not about being radical or conservative, left or right: it's about advocating and doing what works, for all New Zealanders. That's what we are going to be doing for the next 18 months.

Our nation has a unique history.

Our original citizens - Maori and European - embraced a unique and quite radical idea on which to base a new nation. But it is clear to most New Zealanders that there are unresolved matters on the Treaty front which cry out for leadership.

These need to be studied seriously and deeply, and a way forward found for both Maori and other New Zealanders.

After getting my economic team properly in place, these issues are my top priority.

I've asked Wayne Mapp and Georgina te Heuheu to take a very broad look at these constitutional issues, including the place of the Treaty, and of course Georgina's remit includes Maori economic development - as does mine as Leader and Finance spokesman.

I've told Wayne and Georgina that I intend to be a demanding boss. I'm determined that we lead in these areas.

National, in my view, can be proud of our record in leading in these areas in the past.

The National Party has been honoured over the years by the service and commitment of leading Maori figures - including leaders like Dr Pei Jones, Sir Henry Ngata, Sir Graham Latimer and Sir Hepi te Heuheu.

I'm delighted to have Sir Hepi's daughter-in-law, Georgina te Heuheu, providing critical leadership in this area today.

Historically, we can also be proud of our record on policy.

It was under Sir Robert Muldoon that we saw the very first state-funded Te Kohanga Reo established. No single initiative has done more to protect Maori language and culture than that.

In the 1990s, we promoted Maori self-management in education, health and social policy, just as we encouraged other communities to have more say in their schools, and their health and other services.

Most importantly, perhaps, no Treaty Minister has ever achieved more than Sir Douglas Graham. Certainly, he puts Margaret Wilson's efforts to shame.

As a party, we have a history of leadership in these issues.

One of the very positive developments in recent years has been the emergence of a tier of skilled, proud, entrepreneurial Maori leaders who now play a very significant role in key industries, such as fishing and tourism. They share many of the values and aspirations of your organisation and of the National Party. I am determined to work with them because they can help move our country forward.

Ladies and Gentlemen: we need to get rid of this Government. We need to get rid of it because of the harm it is doing to New Zealand. We need to get rid of it because it is holding us back from being the country we could be.

For the next 18 months, National will lead the debates on economic policy, on foreign policy, on education policy, on social welfare policy, and on how we resolve important constitutional issues, especially those related to the Treaty of Waitangi.

At the same time, we are going to go on the attack. Our goal is to show New Zealanders the damage which this Government is doing.

In doing so, we'll defeat it. It is a Government that is arrogant. It is a Government that is the most PC in the world.

It is a Government with just one belief: that its shadowy pollsters know what is best for you and I on every issue.

It is a Government led by a Prime Minister who praises her own abilities, and increasingly refers to herself in the third person.

That is the Government we will defeat at the next election, whenever that is called.

National has the talent and skills to do it. And we have the vision and the passion - the genuine care and love for all New Zealanders - to do it.

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