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Leader’s Speech To Mainland Regional Conference 2021

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Good afternoon, delegates. It’s an absolute privilege to be speaking to you all here today as your leader.

I’d like to acknowledge National Party President Peter Goodfellow, my fellow board members, my South Island colleagues, outgoing regional chair Roger Bridge, and all of you, the members of the National Party. It’s great to see you all here today.

This is the third in our series of regional conferences up and down the country this year, and the turnouts have been fantastic. It’s been heartening to see you all so engaged after a challenging year in 2020. It didn’t end with the election result we wanted but we’ve had a really positive period of reflection since then through our internal review. The findings of this review are a key element of our regional conferences this year.

But the focus is also on moving forward. We need to talk about the big issues facing New Zealand right now and look to the future. We need to talk about what makes National the party of choice to address these issues.

Many of you are saying that National needs to reemphasise our core party values – what we stand for. I agree. We shouldn’t let an extraordinary twelve months question who we are and what we stand for.

In putting forward solutions to the challenges New Zealand is facing, we cannot lose sight of what sets National apart from other political parties. We need to build the case for why National’s values will lead to a better way of life for all New Zealanders in the areas that matter to them.

Those values are: loyalty to our country, its democratic principles, and our sovereign as Head of State; national and personal security; equal citizenship and equal opportunity; individual freedom and choice; personal responsibility; competitive enterprise and rewards for achievement; limited government; strong families and caring communities; and sustainable development of our environment

These are strong values. They represent me, and they represent you. We need to approach our plan for a better New Zealand through the lens of these values.

National has begun a conversation about including the Treaty of Waitangi in our party principles, and I welcome this discussion. I have spoken a number of times over the past few weeks about the role of the Treaty in New Zealand’s democracy today.

The Treaty covers three basic but fundamental values that can already be seen reflected in National Party values.[i] Article 1 establishes the Queen as our sovereign, or kāwanatanga. This speaks directly to our first National Party value of loyalty to our country and sovereign. Article 2 confirms the property rights of all people. It establishes that all iwi, families and individuals have tino rangatiratanga over their own land and property. Property rights are a key democratic principle and a core part of National’s values. Article 3 gives all the people of New Zealand equal rights, ōritetanga.

Those three simple concepts – nationhood, property rights and equal rights – are a powerful foundation for a country, and a powerful foundation to consider our National Party values.

The preamble to the Treaty provides the context in which it was signed and should be read. The preamble states that its intention was to promote peace and avoid lawlessness. Again, directly in line with National Party values of national security and strong communities.

It should be acknowledged that the Treaty was breached, many times, when the Crown invaded and confiscated Māori lands. But New Zealand has always recognised one Government that represents all of the people of New Zealand.

However, the Labour Party, especially since the 2020 election, has begun to govern with a new, radical interpretation of the Treaty. Labour’s view is that in the Māori version, Te Tiriti, the tino rangatiratanga granted to the chiefs results in iwi sovereignty.

Labour’s Deputy Leader, Kelvin Davis, has talked about two spheres of government: kawanatanga – the Government, and rangatiratanga – iwi sovereignty.

Jacinda Ardern has said that consultation with Māori hasn’t worked, and that her Government is now working in partnership.[ii]

Andrew Little has said the Crown has obligations under the Treaty to allow for decision-making rights.[iii] He expects his new Māori Health Authority to be constructed in a way that gives effect to rangatiratanga.[iv]

Kelvin Davis also has a view that if the Government removes an at-risk child from a Māori family, that is a breach of tino rangatiratanga.[v]

I cannot emphasise enough what a radical departure this is from the history of Government in New Zealand. Everywhere we look, Labour is applying a perspective that the Treaty requires co-governance in policy, law, and in their communication with New Zealanders.

This has the potential to be the biggest change to our democracy since our country was founded 181 years ago.

Let’s go through some examples. The Government has – without consultation, under urgency, and against official advice – passed a law allowing councils to create Māori wards for the 2022 local government elections.[vi] This can now be done without councils consulting the people in their districts, even if those districts previously voted against Māori wards.

David Parker’s recent Cabinet papers on resource management reform note a direct role for Māori in resource management decision making.[vii] The Prime Minister and David Parker met with five iwi organisations and the Labour Māori Caucus in December, after the election, and at this meeting a commitment was made for the Government to work with iwi on freshwater and resource management reform.

Then we have the Māori Health Authority. A separate entity that will sit alongside the Ministry of Health. It will have to co-sign policies and strategies. As Andrew Little has made clear in writing, the Māori Health Authority will have veto power over the country’s entire $20 billion health budget.[viii]

The Waitangi Tribunal has, in just in the past few weeks, recommended that we have a separate child welfare service for Māori in order to comply with Article 2 of the Treaty. Kelvin Davis has voiced his support for this.

The Department of Conservation is conducting a review of how it can give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. DOC is having hui with iwi on some draft recommendations. Those recommendations would see the ownership model of the DOC estate reformed, and the functions and powers for the DOC estate delegated, devolved and transferred to tangata whenua.[ix]

This isn’t just our National Parks, it’s the entire DOC estate. For example, that is 85 per cent of the West Coast; 44 per cent of the South Island.[x]

The document also recommends we recast the legal status of waters, resources and indigenous species. Nanaia Mahuta, in her role as Minister for Local Government, is also undertaking a review of the three waters. This is our drinking water, waste water and storm water.

Currently, the infrastructure for these is owned and operated by local councils – owned by everyone. But last Monday, the Department of Internal Affairs presented the Government’s Three Waters proposal to the South Island’s 23 mayors and South Island iwi.

Some of the mayors were so appalled at what was presented, they have reached out to me.

I understand others have expressed their dissatisfaction directly to the Minister.

The proposal, presented by the Government, would see all water infrastructure in the South Island consolidated into one organisation. This means councils that have invested in pipes, wastewater and drinking water facilities would see their assets gone. Some council debt will also be transferred to the new organisation.

We understand that four mega-agencies, similar to Auckland’s Watercare, would be set up across New Zealand – one for the Upper North Island, one for the Central North Island, one for Lower North Island, and one for the Mainland.

But that is just the half of it. A document outlining this proposal, which I have acquired, proposes that the new Mainland water agency will be 50 percent owned by Ngāi Tahu.

Let me say that again. A document given to the South Island’s mayors last week by the Government’s Department of Internal Affairs proposes that all the drinking water, waste water, and storm water infrastructure across the South Island should be merged into a single organisation, and that this organisation should be co-owned by iwi.

Now, many people will say that Ngāi Tahu are a top-class organisation. They have proven this over many years. But this is beside the point. Water assets are publically-owned. Ngāi Tahu is not a publically-owned organisation, and Labour’s proposal is not based on Ngāi Tahu being the best organisation to manage the asset.

Labour’s proposal is yet another example of a radical interpretation of the Treaty that is leading New Zealand’s government towards a fifty-fifty ownership with iwi. A deal done behind closed doors with no say from local residents.

I say these changes can’t be rushed through. The Prime Minister needs to pause all of this work and explain to New Zealanders why she views the Treaty this way. She needs to explain how wide this reform will go. Which areas are next? Where it will lead?

When it comes to these issues, people will have different views. I am under no illusion that this is a highly complex and contentious debate. But I say, we must be able to discuss constitutional issues openly and reasonably. If we agree that the Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of New Zealand then we must also, surely, agree that all people in New Zealand have a right to be heard on this – a right to an opinion.

The Prime Minister must have the courage to debate this with all New Zealanders.

Her Government must be there for all people. Whatever happened to the Team of Five Million?

Under questioning in Parliament, Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has now said there will be public consultation on this issue soon. He will consult with iwi on the issue of the constitution and then talk to the rest of us about partnership. The Prime Minister has also said consultation will occur soon. This is a welcome development.

I will hold the Government to account on this because a national conversation needs to happen. It is what I have been calling for. But it must be an open conversation with all of New Zealand, and the Government needs to pause its radical reforms while we have this debate.

As we move through our party’s constitutional consultation, I want to outline where the National Party stands on Māori issues. First, Māori are the first people of New Zealand. Māori people, culture and reo are at the heart of our unique national identity. By supporting the enhancement of Māori culture and language, we are enhancing New Zealand’s culture and language.

The National Party agrees that the Treaty is our founding document. To this end, I am encouraged by our discussion about including a Treaty clause in our constitution.

I believe the Treaty has an important role to play in our democracy today, and that it was breached by the Crown. These breaches, including the land wars, had a terrible impact on Māori communities and has left a lasting legacy. It is right that we continue to address these wrongs and it is right that we reach settlements with the iwi and hapū that have been impacted by Treaty breaches.

National is proud of our track record of settling Treaty claims, and our members can be proud of the support you gave us to do that. Treaty settlements have put iwi in a position to be leaders in business. To provide employment and services to their people, and to bolster the Māori economy.

The Government needs to empower iwi in this role and address inequities through tailored programmes for communities in need. In the South Island, of course, Ngāi Tahu and Wakatu Incorporation both provide economic leadership, employment and income across their Takiwa.

A National Government under my leadership will work with Māori to address inequities.

National has proven it can do this through initiatives like Kohanga Reo; Kura Kaupapa Māori; Whare Wananga and Whānau Ora, just to name a few.

In Te Waipounamu South Island, a specialised Whanau Ora Commissioning agency works with iwi to create innovation and whanau-based enterprise programmes. These initiatives demonstrate the commitment from National and National-led governments to upholding the Crown’s unique and enduring relationship with Māori.

The Treaty brought the people of New Zealand together and granted complete sovereignty to the Crown. It granted all people individual rights over their possessions. It granted equal rights to all people of New Zealand. But the role of the Treaty in our democracy today is complex issue. It is an issue we need to discuss further as a Party, and as a country.

National’s view is that one Parliament must represent all the people of New Zealand.

Every vote must be equal. Government services need to be provided for all.

Kelvin Davis has said the Government is devolving Oranga Tamariki decision-making, power and resources to Māori. He also agrees with the Waitangi Tribunal – that if the Crown takes a Māori child into its care, this is a breach of the Treaty, even if that child is in danger.[xi]

I do not agree. The Government needs to protect all children. New Zealand loses a child to murder every five weeks. This is a national shame. There is no way the State can remove itself from its duty to care for any child at risk. Every child, irrespective of ethnicity, deserves a safe life.

Labour’s justice working group has recommended separate justice systems.[xii] The Government needs to give justice to all victims. There is no way the Government can remove itself from its duty to seek justice for all.

National believes the foreshore and seabed belongs to everyone and is owned by no one. Water belongs to everyone and is owned by no one. The Conservation estate belongs to everyone. This is what National believes.

The operation of Government is serious. Government services must protect and provide for all. New Zealand’s 2040 vision must be of a confident country moving forward, together, founded on the Treaty of Waitangi. Honouring the Treaty and the rights given to all people of New Zealand. A shared history; complex as it is. A positive and ambitious vision of the future.

I will conclude by outlining National’s vision of the future.

We want our cities to be world-class, with superior infrastructure, clean beaches, and quality housing.

We want to see land controls freed up and the Resource Management Act scrapped so we can get houses built fast.

We want people to be able to afford a home and raise their children in safe communities.

We want to see sensible social investment that will help people find meaningful work and lift their families out of poverty.

We want to see investment in the first thousand days of our children’s lives to give them the best start possible.

We want to see investment in science and growth in our tech sector to attract the world’s best and brightest to come here.

We want to see businesses and farmers empowered to use science and technology to reduce emissions.

National knows that enabling commerce will enable Kiwis to work together and grow their own future. We want a New Zealand that is ambitious for itself and New Zealanders who have the tools they need to succeed. We want a Parliament that will work for all New Zealanders to guarantee their hard work gets fair reward.

When the country is moving forward, New Zealanders have enough money in their pockets to afford more than just the essentials. When the country is moving forward, houses are getting built and people can afford to buy them. This is what will see our inequities addressed. This is what will see health outcomes improve for all.

But more than that, it will mean our children will grow up with aspiration and opportunity.

National wants more for New Zealand. We know that if New Zealanders are working together, we are all better off.

We believe in New Zealanders and we firmly believe that we are better together.

Thank you.

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