Leader Of The Opposition’s Te Puna Speech
Tēnā koutou katoa te whānau o Te Pirirakau.
Tēnei te mihi ki a koutou I tenei waa.
Tino koa ahau ki te tu kei waenga nui I a koutou,
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā ra koutou katoa.
It is great to be home in Te Puna, among my family, friends and community, this time as Leader of the Opposition.
It makes me so proud seeing Michelle, Aimee, Bradley and Amelia, and my mum Trish, and my brothers Craig and Nathan, in the front row. Each one of you – my mother, my brothers, my wife, and each of our children – has made me the person I am today.
So too our friends from St Joseph’s Church and the wider Te Puna community – and of course the Bay of Plenty National Party. You have all moulded me, Michelle and our family into who we are. That’s why it is so important to us that you are here with us this afternoon.
There is one person I am particularly thrilled to welcome to Te Puna, and that is my Deputy Leader of the National Party, the MP for Auckland Central, Nikki Kaye. Thank you, my friend, for making the trip down to Te Puna today. We have a lot of work to do for New Zealand – these next three months, and next three years.
I will speak at some length today, and I have chosen my words carefully, because I want to outline clearly, to you and the wider New Zealand audience:
· Who I am, and where I have come from;
· How my values have developed as a result, and my core political beliefs;
· What sort of Prime Minister I plan to be; and
· My broad aspirations for New Zealand.
I have put myself forward as a candidate for Prime Minister at a time when our country faces its greatest economic and unemployment crisis since the Great Depression.
We will find out on Thursday how bad things were in the first three months of the year, to 31 March – covering just the first week or so of lockdown.
But, we already know, as officially reported by Statistics New Zealand, that nearly 40,000 jobs were then lost in the month of April, the worst since records began.
That number rolls easily off a politician’s tongue, but it is nearly 40,000 families who have lost some or all of their income, at the worst time imaginable to find a new job.
And that’s despite the bipartisan Wage Subsidy Scheme, which will end up costing around $15 billion, taking the edge off the immediate crisis and making us all feel a bit more secure than we really are.
Things are now forecast to get much worse.
According to Infometrics there will soon be a second wave of job losses, twice as bad as the first. That means around 120,000 families will have lost their income by the election, and it will be worse by Christmas.
Infometrics forecast that in October, November and December – just after we have voted –New Zealand families will be hit again by a third wave of job losses.
Everyone’s fear is that the third wave of job losses and unemployment will be the worst of all.
Every small town, every suburb in the cities, will be hit. Those who can least afford it will suffer most. Even families who have never imagined unemployment will find themselves without work and income, just in the lead-up to Christmas.
This must not be allowed to happen.
The National Party celebrates, along with everyone else, that the Team of Five Million did a fine job through the health crisis.
But this election is about the looming economic and unemployment crisis.
We simply cannot pretend it’s not happening:
· By trying to inoculate ourselves from it, with an ever-growing and suffocating state;
· By freeze-framing our economy, with never-ending and unaffordable wage subsidy schemes; and
· By getting angry – as the Prime Minister does – when businesses have no option but to accept the reality we all find ourselves in, through no fault of our own.
We are going to need to confront, honestly, the challenge ahead.
That means the election will be about:
· Which of us – the Prime Minister or me – has the team and background to get you, your families and your communities through the economic and unemployment crisis ahead;
· Which party has the best track record in creating more jobs; and
· Which party has the record in building a better economy, while caring for the welfare of every New Zealander.
New Zealanders trust National Governments to come to power at times of economic crisis, and to steer New Zealand safely through them.
As well as small business owners, I have taken advice in the last few weeks from my friends, colleagues and mentors John Key, Bill English and Steven Joyce – and of course the former Minister for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, who will be Foreign Minister in my Government.
The National Party got New Zealand through the Global Financial Crisis and the Canterbury Earthquakes safely. We did it without raising taxes or cutting entitlements, but through disciplined financial management and a relentless focus on jobs and growth.
I will build on the fundamental economic, financial and commercial strengths of the last National Government as we face an even more terrible crisis, later in the year and beyond.
My job, over the next three months, is to earn the trust of New Zealanders:
· For my commercial experience at the most senior levels of Zespri, Fonterra and Apata; and
· For my background and values on which I will draw, when making judgment calls as Prime Minister, as we work together, to build a better economy out of the crisis.
When people want to understand my background and values, I say, “Come to Te Puna.”
· Come here to Māramatanga Park, where I played rugby quite badly and tennis a little better.
· Take a look at Te Puna Primary School.
· Go to our little St Joseph’s Church.
· Visit one of our local marae, which are integral parts of our community.
· Wander around the kiwifruit orchards and the fantastic new high-tech pack houses.
· Take a walk through the shops and small businesses at nearby Bethlehem or the big smoke of Tauranga.
That’s who I am.
In my business career, I have worked in the fresh air of the Bay of Plenty, the air-conditioning of Fonterra, the mountain air of Geneva and the polluted air of China, on everything from:
· Company capital structures; to
· Local and central government regulatory issues; to
· Trade policy issues at the World Trade Organisation, and practical market access issues in Asia; to
· Working with farmers, growers and shareholders to maintain their confidence in the company.
I understand big business and its role in New Zealand. I want more small New Zealand businesses to succeed and grow to become bigger businesses.
But I am much more grounded in family, community, and the small businesses and community institutions, like this local rugby club, which are the threads with which our New Zealand cloak is woven.
That means, when I speak of ‘the economy’ it is not the economy of Wellington statisticians and policy analysts.
The economy I see is the economy you live in – the economy in your community:
· Your job,
· Your high street,
· Your marae,
· Your local sports club,
· Your school or kura,
· Your business,
· Your home, and
· Your families.
Growing up, my family was traditional; some would say old-fashioned.
I was born in Te Aroha in the Waikato. Te Aroha, of course, refers to love. My grandparents on my mother’s side, Eileen and Henry, were an enormous influence on my life. Even though they have passed on, they anchor me still.
Henry was mayor of Te Aroha for 15 years with the extraordinary Eileen at his side. Their lives were testaments to public service. They were not motivated by money, although they knew it was important. Serving their community gave their lives meaning, and that’s what they sought to instil in their grandchildren.
Even as a very young boy, I loved the land and the environment. I loved going back to Te Aroha with its sense of place and space. I loved walking with my grandfather up the mountain and looking out over the Hauraki Plains – and afterwards heading to the natural thermal spa.
Tangata whenua have a special relationship with the land and the environment – from which mauri is drawn – but I think all of us also have our own deep connection with this land we call New Zealand, from which we gain our own life force.
My father Mike and mother Trish were partners in every sense. They were each other’s life force.
Dad knew all about the operational side of their businesses, but it was Mum who knew finance, taxes and administration – and she ran the books the whole way through.
When we were very young, Dad took primary responsibility for earning the money for our family, while Mum took primary responsibility for looking after me and the three other boys, Gavin, Craig and Nathan, who soon followed – as well as the business.
Dad was a sharemilker who wanted to buy a dairy farm but he had this inspirational idea that kiwifruit would be the next big thing. We moved over the Kaimais, here to Te Puna, 45 years ago.
I had a happy childhood. I don’t recall ever going without. But I know my parents risked everything for the orchard and then Apata coolstore, and it was touch-and-go many times. I can see now how hard our parents worked to protect us children from the stress they were under.
At St Joseph’s Convent, across the road, I was pretty much the only Pākehā kid. Even then, in an unformed childish way, I was aware of socioeconomic disparity. I knew my family was very comfortably off, relatively speaking. I felt that rare experience for Pākehā in this country – the sense of being different and in a minority.
Later in life I became very proud that it was my party – the National Party – that has done so much to honour our nation’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, and address the breaches of the past, and the present.
I have also come to see in adulthood, that which I did not see as a child; that there is a relationship between the Treaty promise of tino rangatiratanga and the importance the National Party places on the values of self-determination for individuals, families and communities. As Prime Minister, I will seek to advance those values.
In my parents’ businesses, the payroll always came first, and then the bank, and then the IRD – and this includes those times when interest rates passed 20 per cent in the 1980s.
Times were tough, especially for many of you I was at school with, as the economy was first ground down by Muldoon’s National and then violently restructured by Lange’s Labour.
But even if we four boys didn’t get the 1980s equivalent of the latest iPhones – and my brothers wore hand-me-downs – we were always okay. There were fresh scones on Sunday and a meal on the table every night.
Dad was gentle and softly spoken. He taught us four boys all the sports, and how to play and have fun – and how to work hard. He taught us how to be men. He taught us how to be honest, kind and gentle men – and, as teenagers, sometimes we even were. Most importantly, he taught us about love.
I miss him very much. He died soon after he helped me put up the first National Party hoardings for the 2017 election. He didn’t really approve of politics or politicians but he would be very proud of me today. My Catholic faith tells me he is here with us, even in a way I don’t understand.
In contrast to my father, my mother Trish is bubbly and vivacious. As well as running the companies’ books, she got up early to make us boys our breakfast so we would do well at school. She made sure we ate lunch. She drove us all around for our activities, for sport, and music lessons. With four teenage boys in the house, it must have smelt pretty bad. She helped us with our homework. She taught us we were lucky and we should be grateful. She adored us but knocked us down a peg or two when necessary. And, again, most importantly, she taught us about love.
My parents were, and are, deeply committed Catholics. Their four sons – how do I put this gently with my mother in the audience? – were a little less faithful to every element of the rules.
My parents were thrilled when Craig, who is here today with his wife Cass and little Louie, got his first serious job as an actor on Shortland Street. Given their conservatism, they were perhaps a little less thrilled when he played a gay pharmacist. And like the rest of New Zealand, they were shocked when he did what was one of New Zealand’s first gay kisses on primetime TV. But, by god, they were proud of him.
As an old-fashioned, traditional family, we were taught and grounded in our parents’ values. But, as we grew older, we were also taught to make our own decisions about what we accepted and did not.
To me, that is what drives social progress: that we learn from our parents but we challenge their ideas and develop our own.
One thing that will never change is that, for me, what makes a family is love.
You can have the most traditional family structure, as we did, yet if you do not have love, you are not a family at all.
But a family with love:
· A traditional mum-dad-and-kids family;
· A wider whanau of grandparents, grandkids, aunties, uncles and cousins;
· A family where the two parents no longer live together but share the parenting in different homes;
· A family with one parent;
· A blended family;
· A family where it’s mum-and-mum or dad-and-dad;
· Two people who love one another, and
· Single people whose families might be dispersed around the world …
If these have love, then each is a family like any other.
There are single people whose love and support come from their network of friends. And then there are some people with no family and no friends, and we should hold in the highest regard those who provide them with the care and support that all humans need.
Families are the fundamental units of our society.
Together they form communities. Communities expose us to other ideas and perspectives than we gain just from our own family alone. They are the threads of this cloak we call New Zealand.
Families, communities, land and love. These are the things I am all about. And I believe they are what New Zealanders are all about.
We also need money to put roofs over our families’ heads, food on our tables and to buy many of the experiences and material things we value.
I support New Zealand’s basic macroeconomic framework that was put in place from the mid-1980s, and which remains broadly supported across parties.
That is, I believe in:
· An open and competitive economy;
· A broad-based, low-rate tax system;
· An independent central bank with the primary goal of price stability;
· The book-keeping rules of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, now part of the Public Finance Act; and
· Voluntary unionism and a flexible labour market, underpinned since 2000 by good faith.
Maintaining a firm and disciplined commitment to this basic macroeconomic framework is absolutely fundamental to our recovery from Covid-19.
The worry is that it is being steadily eroded by this Government, more by mistake than design.
Paul Goldsmith, as Minister of Finance, will be the custodian of the core macroeconomic disciplines in my Government.
Among other things, that means National will not increase the taxes New Zealanders pay. Nor will we ever cut benefits, and we will continue to increase New Zealand’s investment in hospitals, schools and the welfare safety net.
Our commitment to the core economic framework means we also believe in a confident, open, outward-looking New Zealand, trading and interacting successfully:
· With our sibling and ally in Australia;
· With our other siblings in the South Pacific;
· With our friends in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN); and, of course,
· With the United States, China, India, and the EU and post-Brexit United Kingdom.
But the political debate in this country has for too long been stuck on those types of issues. It needs to be about much more.
I joined the National Party, rather than the Labour Party, when I became active in politics in 1988. No one can deny that is partly because of my background. And, by then, National had come to accept the new open economy that I support.
But I also chose National because I did not agree with the speed and indifference with which Labour had gone about the economic reforms.
I was in for a bit of a shock when my own party took over in 1990 and moved even faster, allowing unemployment to reach 11 per cent in 1992 – the worst since the Great Depression, but a record that will probably be broken over the next year.
I think both Labour and National could have done those economic reforms more gently, more caringly and with a greater sense of love for our fellow Kiwis.
If we look across the Tasman to our sibling rivals in Australia, it pains me to say that Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard managed the reform process better than David Lange, or my friend and mentor Jim Bolger.
I believe the speed and sequencing of the economic reforms did terrible harm to the institutions of our communities, and to far too many of our families.
As I said, National’s economic management over the last decade – in the face of enormous challenges – was outstanding, and will be the model for how my Government manages the economy over the next three years and beyond.
Credit where due: Helen Clark and Michael Cullen also ran strong surpluses for most of their time in office.
But, for all their strengths, I do not believe that previous governments, or the current Government, moved fast enough or boldly enough to address the social deficit, or help the underclass, or however you describe the deep-seated social problems we continue to see all around us.
Historic progress was made with Bill English’s social investment approach, which has been largely abandoned by this Government. Social investment will provide an important framework for my Government’s approach to housing, health, education, social development and corrections.
Similarly, Whanau Ora was a fantastic contribution from the National Government’s confidence and supply partner, the Māori Party.
Bill English developed the Living Standards Framework, but there is no evidence it was used in Grant Robertson’s three Budgets. I am confirming today that it will be used to put together Paul Goldsmith’s Budgets – and to measure my Government’s progress.
All these moves were historic steps by the last National Government – but we did not put them in place as fast as we should have.
So too, I believe successive governments should have acted faster, and more boldly, to achieve stable policy on issues such as:
· Climate change, which I am proud to have now resolved in negotiation with the Greens’ James Shaw; and
· Water management, where we still have parts of the country with water shortages, including even our main city of Auckland, despite 98 per cent of our fresh water still flowing into the sea. Yet the Government can’t work out what to do.
Likewise, the Government speaks of “wellbeing” but I struggle to see “wellbeing” embedded in anything it is doing. For the Government, I think “wellbeing” means no more in practice than “KiwiBuild” did. To be blunt, I think they use “wellbeing” as a cheap slogan.
By the most important measures, poverty in our communities has got worse since the change of Government three years ago. According to the Government’s own data, over 10,000 more children have moved into material hardship since it was sworn in. Around 20,000 more children are living in poverty according to the relative measures.
And those ten or twenty thousand real-life tragedies were before the current economic and unemployment crisis.
We need a serious discussion this election about our country’s future over the next three, six and nine years – not just cheap slogans and working groups.
As I said at the outset:
· Job numbers collapsed by an unprecedented 40,000 in April;
· The second wave of job losses is expected to be twice as bad, and
· There is forecast to be a third wave – perhaps even worse – after the election and in the lead up to Christmas.
Without a Government that is competent to deliver an economic plan, and with a record in sound management, hundreds of thousands of Kiwis will experience unemployment of some form over the next couple of years – many of whom have structured their financial affairs assuming future family income at least double what is available under any welfare system.
National supports the raising of benefits by $25 a week at the start of the health crisis and National supported the bipartisan Wage Subsidy Scheme, which has worked as a short-term measure to freeze-frame the economy while the virus was addressed.
But, in the context of what is ahead for you, your families and your communities, these moves provide no enduring answers at all.
The story of the next three years will initially be about a desperate attempt to protect all our families from the worst effects of the worst economic downturn any of us has ever known. And then it will be about building a better economy than we had before.
However proud we are of how our Team of Five Million addressed the health crisis, we cannot risk a Labour Government being in charge of the economic and unemployment crisis ahead.
National’s JobStart, which will pay businesses $10,000 for each new full-time employee they take on before Christmas is an essential first step. So too our backing of the devastated tourism industry with our $100 million Tourism Accelerator plan. We’ll do a hundred little things, like keeping a bit more money in teachers’ pockets, by paying their teacher registration fees, as Nikki announced on Tuesday.
But these things are only the beginning.
The Budget tells us that the Government plans to borrow another $140 billion over the next four years. The only thing the Government can really tell us about that figure is that it will be wrong.
We all know that, if Labour’s economic mismanagement makes the downturn worse, the borrowing will be greater. If we manage the economy more carefully under National, we will be able to borrow less. That’s just a fact of New Zealand politics. But, either way, we all know that New Zealand will be borrowing an enormous sum. And it will need to be paid back.
As Prime Minister, I will lead a strong and extraordinary team, of seasoned ministers from the Key-English Government and brilliant new talent. Our job will be to maintain financial discipline, and invest wisely, the tens of billions the country is borrowing.
That’s not just to protect our families and communities through the Christmas jobs crisis and the dark times ahead in 2021. It’s also to make sure we use the money to create more jobs, support stronger families, build closer communities and deliver a better economy than we had before.
National’s prudent economic management, plus our new initiatives like JobStart, will return New Zealand to an economy like the one bequeathed by Bill English to the current Government, creating ten thousand new, real, permanent, full-time jobs every month. We’ll achieve it, because economic management is in our National DNA.
That is the point of difference between National and Labour this election.
We’ve seen, these last three years, how easy it is for a Government to fritter away billions of dollars on pointless and ineffective working groups and KiwiBuild programmes – sold well by a Prime Minister, but amateurishly overseen by clumsy and incompetent ministers.
Let’s go through just some:
· KiwiBuild: 100,000 houses promised – 10,000 in this term; only 395 built. It’s almost unbelievable, but it’s not even the worst.
· Mental health: $1.9 billion announced in last year’s Budget press statement; but just $20 million of it directly helping those members of our families and communities who are most in need. It’s KiwiBuild, but this time it’s mental health.
· Breast-cancer screening: The Government said it would increase the age for free screening to 74, but it’s done nothing about it. It’s KiwiBuild again, but this time it’s breast cancer.
· Tertiary education: The Government committed to a $2.5 billion million fees-free policy yet somehow managed to reduce the number of young people going into tertiary education. It’s KiwiBuild, but in tertiary education.
· Light rail in Auckland, and the slow, agonising, inconclusive debates over the second harbour crossing or port. It’s KiwiBuild again, but this time it’s about the basic ability to get around our biggest city.
· Greening the economy: Two years ago, the Government talked up its new $100 million Green Investment Fund. But, as of last month, hadn’t invested a cent. It’s KiwiBuild, but this time with the green economy.
· And, then there’s child poverty: The Prime Minister put herself in charge of child poverty reduction, but her clumsy and incompetent ministers have made it worse. It’s KiwiBuild, but this time it’s more of our children living in poverty, much to the Government’s shame.
It’s not kind for a Government to issue press statements dishing out huge sums of borrowed money, but then utterly failing to deliver to the families and communities those dollars were meant to help.
In my lifetime, New Zealand Prime Ministers have tended to be kind, competent or bold. Some have managed to be two of those things. My background in business and politics, and my grounding here in Te Puna, mean I plan to be all three – kind, competent and bold.
In fact, I want to go further, and faster.
I don’t think that kindness is a deep enough value. I was born in a town called Love. What drives me is the deep community connectedness, care for each other, belonging and unconditional acceptance that I learned in Te Aroha and here in Te Puna; values that are best described as loving our neighbours as ourselves.
One of the wonderful upsides of the battle against Covid-19 is that the real heroes in our communities have been so much more visible. People like:
· The nurses and other health professionals;
· The check-out operators and supermarket workers;
· The cleaners;
· The farmers, orchardists, dairy and meat industry workers and everyone in the agri-sector; and
· The truck drivers and courier drivers.
We are all in this together, and I think all New Zealanders now have a greater sense of community connectedness and care than we had before.
We would not use this term in today’s more secular and diverse age, but, in the 1930s, Michael Joseph Savage spoke of “applied Christianity”. As I’ve said, something like that will guide my Government.
Savage faced the last economic crisis of the magnitude of what is ahead of us, and was forced to borrow. He launched a major public works programme. At the end of it, New Zealand had the first of many state houses for low income workers, and significant infrastructure to power an improving economy – including large-scale hydroelectric schemes on South Island rivers and lakes.
My job, in the 2020s, is to make sure that, at the end of this crisis, your family is not just left with the $140 billion loan Labour is taking out against your future earnings, but that we have:
· Protected you through the economic and unemployment crisis, and immediately created the conditions for tens of thousands of real, permanent full-time jobs;
· Finally addressed long-term social deprivation, with the urgency applied to the economic crises a generation ago;
· Finally built the first-world road and public transport infrastructure New Zealand needs;
· Backed our families, and rebuilt the fabric of our communities;
· Restored our Government’s books so there’s more money for schools, hospitals, housing, mental health, addiction services, cancer screening programmes and treatments;
· A stronger social safety net;
· And, built a better economy for all of us.
These things are urgent.
The practice of the last 20 years of working groups flying around before governments get on with helping you is over. The game’s up, including because Covid-19 has shown us that the Wellington bureaucracy can in fact move much faster when it needs to.
Partly, I entered politics in 2014 because, like others, it was a childhood dream.
But when I finally decided to put my name forward I was middle-aged and married with three kids. I was on a Fonterra-sized salary. It has been quite good to be reminded again that Fonterra-sized salaries are not real life for the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders.
Michelle would not have allowed me to stand for Bay of Plenty six years ago had she not been convinced I was serious about wanting to make a difference, and nor should I have stood either.
Michelle – let alone Aimee, Bradley and Amelia – wouldn’t have agreed to me taking the next step, last month, unless they knew I was utterly determined to get New Zealand and its economy through this crisis stronger and better than it has ever been before. And I most definitely would not have put my name forward.
I took these big steps because I don’t believe we have fulfilled the Decent Society that we talked about all those years ago when I first joined the National Party.
I’m proud of what National and New Zealand has achieved since then, but I do not yet see an economy that is truly internationally competitive or agile enough to maintain and improve our standard of living.
Nor are we as green as we should be.
Nor do I see a society where every child is loved by someone, has food on the table, a jacket and decent shoes for winter, and a warm, dry house. I see children coughing all through the winter because of where they live.
And I know that if my children get sick – or when I had these things on my head cut off on Tuesday – my family receives absolutely world-class healthcare, but that is not true for everyone in our country. And I don’t believe that’s right.
But nor do I believe, as Labour does, in everyone being the same – not least because not everyone aspires to be a wealthy businessperson, or a great All Black, or a famous author, or a skin surgeon.
But we all aspire to something. And our individual aspiration is most powerful when supported by our families and our communities.
Allen Curnow, known to generations of Kiwis as Whim Wham, wrote the line of poetry that inspired me most studying English at university:
Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year,
will learn the trick of standing upright here.
It talks to my personal passion, that every one of us, in our time – not some distant year – can stand truly upright here.
My passion in politics is that all of us can choose our own paths and stand tall as New Zealanders in whatever we seek to do, fulfilling our own dreams and our own potentials.
My passion is that we all feel confident in our nation and its place in the world.
We should all feel grounded in a nation of remarkable natural beauty that we all take care of.
We should be grounded in a history to which we are all reconciled, and in our families and communities in all their different forms.
We should live our lives with genuine love for our country and neighbours, so that we help pick one another up at those times that we all have, when we need help.
This is my vision. That is what I believe in. That is what will guide me as Prime Minister.
Someone else once said: “Let’s do this”.
I say: “Sure. But you need a National Government to get it done”.