Rt Hon Winston Peters ‘State Of The Provinces’ Speech
12:30pm, 6 March, Taranaki Chamber of Commerce
Ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon.
It is a pleasure to be in Taranaki, a backbone region of New Zealand, with its energy and farming sectors important contributors to the economy of our country.
So, today the New Zealand First perspective on the year ahead will be outlined, including the way forward through the economic transformation of our regions.
But before we deal to that, let’s deal with some headlines you have been subjected to over the last few months.
It includes a full scale attack on my party by some in the media. Best encapsulated by the words of a recent columnist in the NZ Herald where he said that my Party “appears to be in breach of at least the spirit, if not the actual letter of the law”.
Now let’s stop and ask what is being said here. For it is the only interpretation that I have ever seen, being applied to an individual or an organisation in recent western legal history.
For when did you last see someone in court for “breaching the spirit of the law, if not the actual letter” of it?
This view has been repeated ad infinitum, where offence against the law is not being argued, but rather someone’s opinion that there should be a law against it, even if it doesn’t exist now.
See how that works? The media way is that now opinion is everything and that the law doesn’t matter.
That approach has all the intellectual rigor of Stalinist Russia.
Where proof is meaningless, process totally ignored, other political parties blind eye treated, and a grasp of electoral law utterly ignored.
You’re hearing a cacophony of hyenas out for someone’s political blood.
But that’s how it is for some in the media these days – utterly frustrated that their narrow, bigoted, minority view is not accepted by the public.
These people despise ordinary New Zealanders or anyone who stands up for them.
What you are witnessing is the remnants of an industry in deep crisis because too many of their practitioners prefer fiction over fact, speculation over substance and never apologising or explaining, when daily they are proved wrong. Everywhere their decline has been extenuated by their hysterical drivel.
Now having got that out of the way New Zealand First believes that the success in our regions is crucial to our wider economic performance.
We say this as a matter of principle, driven by the conviction that the health of our cities rests upon our productive regions.
In the words of William Jennings Bryan “Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”
New Zealand First therefore places you at the centre of our political concerns, not as some adjunct to be paid lip service from time to time.
We also meet today amidst economic and health concerns over the spread of Coronavirus where from the beginning we have planned for the worst as we strive for the best.
Our all-of-government response encompasses all sectors of the economy.
We stand ready to help any businesses affected by sharp declines in demand.
It is vitally important that New Zealanders go about their daily lives without a sense of panic or fear.
New Zealand is well positioned through our strong financial management to weather this storm.
It is times like this that the national character is tested but we are a strong and resilient country and we will get through it.
Starting the Work
On 19 October 2017, New Zealand First decided to enter a coalition. We said then far too many New Zealanders had come to view National’s neo-liberal agenda not as a friend but as a foe. The coalition partner choice we made that day was a choice for positive change and a rejection of the status quo.
The catch-cry for our ambitious plans set out in the Coalition Agreement was “let’s start”. Only by doing so will capitalism’s human face be restored
And this meant starting:
· Creating a more prosperous economy for all to share in;
· Addressing the disparities between cities and regional New Zealand;
· The hard work of restoring lost capacity to our essential social services;
· Laying the foundation for a more just society.
The coalition has made serious progress and is cheered by the ongoing support of the ‘quiet many’ over the ‘noisy few’.
Naturally, after 35 years of neo-liberalism it takes more than one term to change course and realise the social benefits.
Remember in 1984 the Labour Government launched an extremist economic experiment at the same time as Prime Minister Hawke and Treasurer Keating in Australia were laying out a plan for incremental change.
Back here the National Party at that time, rather than oppose this un-mandated experiment, preferred to argue that they could pursue that experiment better than its architects.
You’ll remember what happened next – in the 1990 election there was a landslide victory by National but within three years of similar economic extremism, the landslide result was destroyed and there was a hung parliament on election night 1993.
Australia’s Labour party in their incremental change, grew their economy in real terms 35% greater than the NZ economy being experimented on, first by NZ Labour and then by NZ National.
Underpinning New Zealand First’s policy approach has been a willingness to break out of short term electoral cycle thinking, and investing in long term reform solutions.
It means New Zealand First enters this election year seeking the endorsement from voters to keep doing the work we have begun.
We will set out for voters our ambition, economic direction, and principles to rebuild this country.
Where we’ve come from
In setting out what New Zealand First stands for this election year, the best place to start is by telling you what we do not stand for.
We don’t stand for letting this country fall into a pattern of decline and drift.
We don’t stand for complacent, disinterest on issues of growing inequality and serious signs of social distress.
We don’t stand for a distorted economy with run down health, education and social services.
And we do not stand for an economic strategy that is built upon the floodgates of immigration.
Average net migration through the 1990s and 2000s was around 12,000 per annum.
Under National the number exploded in 2014. Annual net migration soared to 38,300; then 58,300 the year after, followed by massive increases to 69,100 in 2016 and 72,300 in 2017.
The stress this exponential rise in immigration placed on New Zealand explains the challenge the coalition inherited alongside rocketing demands on the housing market and a crippling infrastructure deficit.
Sure you remember, health, education, and social services were badly run down. Evidence of neglect was everywhere from people sleeping in cars to rotten walls in hospitals.
We did not create these problems, but it is this government that is fixing them.
The coalition’s recently announced stimulus package re-invests in restoring health and education buildings to the first world standard New Zealanders should expect as of right.
Our offshore agencies designed to amplify New Zealand’s voice on the world stage and to provide defence and security were disgracefully rundown.
In fact it was worse than that. National left us with hundreds of millions of cost over-runs in Defence, announced a $20 billion forward spending plan for Defence whilst not setting one dollar aside to fund it.
As a small country, with our markets thousands of kilometres away where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s presence on the ground is essential, they sacked a hundred vital diplomatic staff.
Just how wilfully negligent National had become was sheeted home when as Acting PM in July 2018 I heard some shocking information.
The network of tsunami buoys, designed to give us early warning of a tsunami generated from an offshore seismic event, was on its last legs. Worse, we were advised it had reached the point where one buoy, on the blink, with less than 12 months shelf life left was the country’s sole warning device from any deep-sea tsunami generated from north of New Zealand.
Something as significant as restoring or providing basic protection for our citizens with tsunami warning buoys was wantonly ignored by the previous government.
We fast tracked budget approval, design, and construction.
And the full enhanced network of 15 dart buoys to protect our coastal nation and others will be in place this year.
This is but one more example of addressing years of wilful neglect to restore New Zealand as a first world country.
We said at our last party conference that we hope National can rediscover its former self.
That National Party was once a party of the centre. National under Bridges and Paul Goldsmith is not. In fact Goldsmith is an unreconstructed and unrepentant neo-liberal. Voters should know that.
National has all the hallmarks of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Each day they wake up at 6am stuck on the same radio channel and looping the same old neo-liberal ideology.
They haven’t learnt that this country has moved on from the mid-1980s.
Ladies and gentlemen - I don’t believe a single one of you has less business experience than Simon Bridges and Paul Goldsmith – put together that is.
Whether National can break free from its intergenerational dependency on extremist economics is an open ended question.
For these reasons, along with our record of achievements in office, New Zealand First has evolved as the party of the centre.
Ironically, this was once the domain of the National Party, when it used to be National with a capital N. Where real leaders like Holyoake were in charge and people like me were proud to be members.
Having been in politics a long time, and a member of the National Party for over 25 years, the one thing our Party is confident about is that the first call we will get on election night 2020 will come from the National Party.
Why? Because it has already happened three times before.
Regional New Zealand
New Zealand First is proud of its leadership to ignite the economic potential of our vital regions. The $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund has not just been welcomed but seized upon in the provinces.
The fund kick-starts and creates opportunity like a former time when New Zealand was in the first three countries in the world. Many of you grew up during that time when New Zealand was truly “Gods own”.
With investment and development comes jobs and opportunity. The PGF work of the last two years has initiated projects which will be positive legacies for decades to come.
We were pleased to announce this morning $18 million to develop green hydrogen as an energy source in the Taranaki. This will benefit energy workers and all the ancillary businesses supporting its development.
We have now committed over $21 million towards the ‘Just Transition’ away from fossil fuels, part of $54 million so far committed by the PGF to the Taranaki region.
In fact, New Zealand First is so committed to the provinces flourishing that it regards the PGF in its current form as a pre-condition in any future government formation.
New Zealand First, working with regional New Zealand, will turn economic potential into performance. We will put all of New Zealand first.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
The Coalition Government has run a strong economy during a period of heightened global disruption and uncertainty.
Our fundamentals are solid.
We have produced comparatively strong growth against those countries we compare ourselves with. We have run surpluses. Our debt track is the envy of many.
We are building more houses than any period since the 1970s. Unemployment is historically low, as is the dollar for exporters, and the government is aggressively pursuing every trade opportunity.
The country therefore enters election year with a well-performing economy but New Zealand First believes its potential is much greater.
During this election year a debate on tax policy is likely to resume. What we don’t support is clear. We listened and said ‘No’ to a Capital Gains tax. Nor are we about to support any personal or company tax increases.
And it goes without saying but New Zealand First will be an immovable obstacle to any government which seeks revenue by shifting the age of eligibility for our superannuants.
That position is baked into the party’s DNA because we value the contribution older New Zealanders have made and continue to make in their communities.
Fortunately we secured in the Coalition Agreement that National Superannuation eligibility remained at 65 as well as the new SuperGold Card.
New Zealand First advocates a tax policy which offers targeted tax relief in the greater interest of growing the economy.
We wants to incentivise our small and medium enterprises to grow, to produce more goods and services, and employ more people.
In looking at ways to support small and medium businesses the following principles are guiding our policy development:
· The ease of understanding and compliance;
· Tax efficiency;
· Practical tax relief that will have a real impact in terms of economic growth, innovation and productivity.
New Zealand First will present to voters a mix of tax relief policies that will include:
· Accelerated Depreciation – That is, allowing business to depreciate at the same rate as Australia to help them bring forward their investment decisions;
· A ‘Give it a Go’ Scheme – Where we will offer special tax concessions for certain business start-ups in rural and regional New Zealand.
· An Instant Asset Write-Off Scheme – which would allow small businesses with turnover less than $1 million to claim immediate deductions for new or second-hand plant and equipment purchases such as vehicles, tools and office equipment up to a combined value of $3,000 annually.
Rebuilding our transport infrastructure
Over the past two years we have taken serious steps towards rebuilding our transport infrastructure.
Our rail network had fallen into deep decline after a failed privatisation experiment, our roading network has been living off false promises and become over congested with heavy trucks, and the development of our ports has lacked strategic oversight.
It was gratifying to see a $1 billion funding boost in last year’s budget to support a long overdue redevelopment of KiwiRail.
The benefits are compelling, particularly so for environmental protection and climate change responses.
Yet, the work has only begun.
New Zealand First in 2020 seeks to secure a firm commitment from other political parties to move the Ports of Auckland.
It is established beyond dispute that the port can no longer function after 2034 and we are determined to begin the shift away from Auckland.
Fifteen years is precious little time to effect such a transformative change and in our view there is not a day to waste.
Demography is Destiny: A Population Policy Discussion
Returning to immigration, there is an old saying that demography is destiny. In New Zealand that destiny is being shaped without any real public awareness about how rapidly the country’s demographics are changing.
In 2004 Statistics New Zealand projected our population to hit five million by 2050. Instead, we have hit that projection 30 years early.
Why? Simply put, under National immigration exponentially exploded. Their only economic plan was to turn on the immigration tap and leave it on.
By doing so there was a blithe disregard for both investing in the infrastructure needed to support the tsunami of immigration they triggered as well as the demand it placed on housing, education, and health and its effect on the country’s way of life.
There was no public mandate for this choice.
There was no public debate.
There was no leadership.
Well, during election year New Zealand First is going to lead that overdue debate about what is a sustainable population policy.
We think you need to make it clear to your politicians how many is too many. We will then act on your choice.
The Coalition Government has managed in two years to slow down the rate of increase, with the New Zealand Herald recently reporting that net migration is about 20,000 down from its peak under National.
Treasury forecasts further decreases, with net migration reducing by a further 15,000 per annum by 2023/2024.
But New Zealand First is unhappy with this progress. So, in 2020 we want to lead a discussion with voters about a population policy.
· What population growth is acceptable to New Zealanders to maintain and preserve their way of life?
· How long before a migrant should be granted permanent residence?
· What skills does the country most need and where are these skills most required?
New Zealand First firmly believes that current levels of immigration are unsustainable.
Not only does it distort our economy but in our view we make it too easy to become a New Zealand citizen.
Immigration settings are accentuating the flow of people into our cities, Auckland most profoundly, but at the expense of regional New Zealand.
Additionally, the ageing of our population is exacerbating these trends, with our towns and rural New Zealand ageing faster than our cities.
If nothing is done we will see many of our provincial towns continue to shrink, thereby losing essential services and becoming ever more hollowed out compared to urban New Zealand.
That must not stand.
Furthermore, the demand to come to New Zealand will only grow from those countries, including Australia, that do not possess this country’s natural endowments: plentiful water, rich soils, low population density and a stable democracy.
The current immigration track must stop and only New Zealand First, with a stronger hand in 2020, can make this happen. A vote for New Zealand First will see:
· the permanent residency qualification raised from two to five years;
· the introduction of a rural visa scheme, replicating successful schemes in Australia and Canada, that will apply to communities with fewer than 100,000 residents, and which will place into law an obligation for migrants to stay in their specified place of settlement until they have secured permanent residency;
· greater ministerial control exerted to ensure Immigration New Zealand administers agreed policy settings.
One thing you can say about New Zealand First is that we are not a party of beltway theorists.
Our Ministers have a real world view of the importance of providing the support for those who are teachers, nurses and doctors, defence force staff, farmers, and of course our Police force.
Our approach is well documented in the Coalition Agreement where we laid out our commitments – including our commitment to seriously increase the number of Police Officers in this country.
And we mean what we say.
We have in just 30 months trained over 2000 new front line police – already 200 more than we promised.
One Citizenship for New Zealand
We are going to work towards one single CITIZENSHIP for New Zealand.
On conclusion, our policies are not framed by a three year view. Serving in office is a special privilege for the opportunity to provide this country with long term solutions.
Many things were said about New Zealand First when it made its decision at the formation of the government in 2017.
Our record in office has been to defy predictions.
Our record in office has been to initiate generational reform.
Our record in office is to work tirelessly for provincial New Zealand.
Our record is to work tirelessly to rebuild the neglected infrastructure of this country from railroads and ports to the defence force.
Our record in office is of a stable, constructive, and moderating government partner.
We have continued to provide reliable leadership in the protection and pursuit of New Zealand’s vital interests.
Our drive is to make this a better country.
As the centre party in New Zealand politics New Zealand First represents to voters in 2020 insurance against ideologically driven excesses in either direction.