NZ First Leader's Conference Speech
Eden Park Conference Centre, 18th July 1999.
Leo Tolstoy once wrote:
"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it can be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread in to the fabric of their lives.
As we meet on the 6th birthday of this party the biggest challenge facing us is the reestablishment of some fundamental truths for our country. The mass membership of the old political parties has crumbled. Power is no longer vested in both the parliamentary and organizational wings. In each case one wing does indeed dominate the other-the politicians dominate the people constitutionally when the reverse should be the case.
Many of you will remember those disturbing years after 1984-when party manifestos meant nothing, with an emerging breed of spin-doctors, consultants and shadowy vested interests with the ability and money to capture a party's soul. It is worse today.
In short, New Zealand suffered from a failure of political and institutional leadership. We began, unheralded and unmandated an economic and social experiment which most now admit has failed.
Leadership is not about always being right. Leadership is also about sometimes admitting that you were wrong and that you do make mistakes. How can any one leader be 100% right about everything all of the time? All the policies and manifestos in the world are meaningless when you cannot trust the leadership
That is what leadership is about-trust.
Nobody expects leadership to be infallible. But you have the right to expect it to be trustworthy.
For there to be true political leadership in New Zealand's future, we have to create an environment which returns politics to the people, where decision making involves everyone.
That is why New Zealand First must offer the people of New Zealand a partnership where true power sharing exists.
The critical issues for this election in 1999 are these:
A track record of keeping political promises and
Making MMP work for the people.
We are about to enter a new century.
We are not the same country we once were and the public expect different things from their leaders…more constructive approaches, less confrontation, and more cooperation.
Above all they want courage from their leadership.
In Northern Ireland this week, the chance to break from 300 years of internecine fighting and mayhem hangs in jeopardy because one political party is not prepared to forget the past and give peace a chance.
People may not have loved Jim Bolger, or for that matter me, and there were many displeased with the National-New Zealand First coalition, but the time had come in 1996 when faced with the mathematical reality of the election for us to set our differences aside and put the country first. Our Deputy Leader Peter Brown MP set out for you yesterday our many achievements, all of which happened because we were prepared to sacrifice our popularity for progress, to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders.
The public have had enough of the nonsense, of the insecurity, of the general tit for tat that has dominated New Zealand politics for far too long. They have also had enough of being preached to by politicians who demand the public take responsibility for their actions-demand the public cooperate and work together-but aren't willing to do the same themselves.
Delegates. We have had to arrive at an important decision for New Zealand First at this convention. Because of our coalition experience we do not relish working alongside either National or Labour, given their past record of political betrayal. But there will come a time soon when both will come to us and we will talk to them. To do otherwise would be irresponsible, petty, and a betrayal of MMP-the new electoral system that we campaigned years for.
Politics is not always fun; it can be lonely, terribly lonely, yet it demands personal and financial sacrifice. For it is about public service and duty to one's country. It is a fact that we have given up much to be here and sacrificed a lot in terms of both money and lost time with our loved ones and children.
We are proud of those MPs who came with New Zealand First and stayed with us on a matter of principle on which this party was founded-the non sale of strategic assets to majority foreign ownership. We are proud of those two former Ministers who left the perks of office for their beliefs-and would be prepared to do so again. It bespeaks a party free of the politics of self interest. When, in the final weeks of the coalition, the interests of the country and the values of New Zealand First came into direct conflict with the National party's agenda, we found out then and there who were there for duty-and who were there for themselves.
We have learnt from our experience and we are wiser and stronger for it.
Last week, for political reasons, the Right's so-called coalition partner and all the parties of the Left closed the door on the electricity reforms. We did not. We kept it open because there is still a chance that we can secure for every New Zealander, every consumer of electricity, lower power prices. Whilst that possibility remains we will keep the door open. It is what MMP is all about and it saddens me that we in New Zealand First seem to be the only people who understand that.
In other words we do not have the option of "fence sitting, with no commitment".
Lining up around us are political parties that have never come to grips with MMP. In contrast New Zealand First is determined to make it work. It allows hundreds of thousands of forgotten New Zealanders to finally have a say.
Hundreds of thousands whose noses were pressed for years against the window of political power and despite their numbers could do nothing to influence it. Greypower waited 13 years to see the surtax abolished, primary school teachers waited 100 years for pay parity, our very young waited the same time for free medicine, and Maori waited for an equally long time to stop peppercorn rentals on Maori reserve land leases.
Those are just a few examples of how MMP has improved people's lives because for the first time they had a say.
MMP is despised by some because it requires elite groups to share power.
Through all these years the reality is that I have not changed and New Zealand First has not changed.
We stand alone from the other parties because we believe in old fashion concepts such as integrity and trust. We have established a track record that is consistent. Listen to the talkback hosts and the commentators and there is an irony in what they say. All have to admit that we kept our promises; that we sacrificed our political fortunes for our principles. The only complaint now comes down to this: "you said you would not go with National and you did"
The truth is the exact opposite. We did not say we would go, or not go, with any party at the last election. When on the last day of negotiations in December 1996 it emerged that Labour, with its lowest vote since 1928 had not secured the Alliance's 13 MPs' support for a Labour-New Zealand First coalition, we were left with one option.
There is not a New Zealander, or member of this party for that matter, who had a greater distaste of going with National than I did but we as a caucus and a council faced that bitter reality, made a unanimous decision amongst all of those people to go into government and put in place our policies, and we are proud of that record-so many achievements in so short a time, in a most difficult political environment.
We tried for almost 2 years to move the National party, and Treasury away from the slash and burn, elitist, market forces economy they were determined to pursue, without any regard for the results.
New Zealand First insists that politicians accept responsibility and accountability. That Ministers will not have to be driven to resignation by the media and the Opposition; that the Government will play a responsible role in directing policy rather than hiding behind well paid and faceless boards and officials.
We look forward to an end to the constant cage rattling, an end to constant reforms--a return to a stable public service supervised by a rational agenda for our social, health, education, and welfare services, and quell the uncertainty among our young and our elderly.
An effective public service, in the view of New Zealand First depends on commitment and dedication.
It does not depend on the social connections of contracted board members and the manipulations of executives who are on salaries ten times and more the national average, mission statements couched in business-speak, uniforms in place of public service, and consultants who are paid to deliberately misinform.
Both the old parties have decided to outbland one another. In policy there is very little to choose between the two.
New Zealand needs New Zealand First--a moderate political party with initiative, resilience and an enterprising view of our country's place in a 21st century sun.
That will need the dynamism of ideas that a new generation of young New Zealanders can bring to bear, a generation that will build a future of consequence and not feel they have to move away to prove themselves in the Northern Hemisphere, or in Australia. A generation that will be educated to the same degree, geared to compete on the world stage, prepared to forge a lifestyle here in their homeland, a lifestyle with its own uniqueness that will be the envy of the rest of the world.
Today we are like Ireland during the potato famine.
We have created a class of young New Zealanders who feel they have no future in their place of birth and who have headed overseas, never to return.
New Zealand First is going to help young people. We believe that education spending is an investment -not an expense
We are going to reduce the interest rates on student loans. We are going to peg their interest rates to the CPI plus two per cent.
At present they pay over seven per cent. We need our young people here, in New Zealand if we are to get New Zealand back on the path of economic recovery.
But first there is a need for government to pursue sound, and balanced economic policies.
1) That is why New Zealand First will amend the Reserve Bank Act itself, so that we stop the failed monetarist experiment of the past 15 years.
2) We will invest in a New Zealand development banking utility.
3) We are going to give tax incentives for exporters.
4) We are going to invest in science and technology, education and training to gain skills, skills and more skills.
5) We are going to invest in research and development.
There is a need to move away from the economics of 'shrinkage' towards the economics of growth.
New Zealand needs a clear national strategy for our international business activity.
The best dose of medicine for enhancing the New Zealand business climate is to acknowledge the destructiveness of our tight monetary policies.
There is a need to learn from our 15 years of mistakes and to stymie declining investment and output. The fact that 1 in 4 jobs has disappeared in the manufacturing sector is the single best indicator of the state of our industry.
There is no such thing as a "level playing field."
New Zealand First will support our exporters and get New Zealand working again.
And we are going to make social changes.
We will begin with the rightful recognition of the different groups in our society, both social and cultural.
The attitude that every New Zealander belongs here must prevail, rather than the attitude, that some people have more 'equal' rights than others.
Welfarism is not the answer. The role of the government is to foster an environment in which all individuals and groups are able to exercise maximum choice.
All of us know that evidence confirms the sorry state of certain groups, such as Maori in socio-economic statistics.
And it's time for us to admit that the issue is not so much the intervention required but the quality of that intervention.
We will target education not just to the students, but also to their parents. The role of parents and their attitude is vital in fostering the value of education in their children.
All New Zealanders should recognize the urgent need for Maori to make a full economic and social contribution to the future of the country. And we are not going to let political correctness prevent us from addressing the major issues that are eating away at the soul of our nation.
We know that the time-warped policies are not going to take Maori into the 21st Century.
There is no magic formula that says if you give Maori Treaty Rights their social and economic troubles will be over. New Zealand cannot have our peoples living centuries apart.
Maori survival depends not on political correctness and job quotas but a plan that understands the adaptation of cultural principles to meet future challenges.
The cultural principles that made the Maori battalion such a magnificent fighting force are still there, waiting and hoping to be revived.
Maori need education and skills to succeed-a social and economic vehicle to drive into the next century. But most of all they need jobs, jobs and more jobs.
If you want to empty our overflowing jails and stop our youngsters getting into trouble - give them jobs. Jails should only be for those who are a physical danger to society. Get the rest out working under penal supervision.
When last in government, we kept our promises to the elderly on the surtax, maintaining the level of GRI, and on income and asset testing.
The other parties' record is to take the 'guarantee' out of the Guaranteed Retirement Income.
We are going to reverse the mean minded decisions that have seen superannuation slashed to sixty per cent of the average wage. We will restore it to no less that sixty seven point five per cent.
The cost of this is about $300 million a year.
That is a lot less than these phantom tax cuts we keep hearing about.
And for war veterans, to whom we owe a great debt, who placed themselves on the line-we will start by increasing all war veterans' allowances and pensions by ten per cent.
The cost of bringing this in will be an average of $33 million a year.
We will pay for this by removing the bureaucrat and consultant snouts from the public trough.
This speech began by talking about integrity, trust and a track record of keeping political promises, and our belief in MMP.
We as a council and a conference have decided our position for the next election on the issue of coalition governments.
IT IS THIS:
We will wait until the people first speak, the people of NZ will decide the formulation of the next government by determining on election day who will be in Parliament, and in what numbers.
In 1996 we could not predict the election outcome. We can't predict the 1999 election, but what we can predict is that New Zealand will need New Zealand First on election day and into the future.
This party has the principles needed in government today.
Who we go with after the election will be decided by which other party shares these principles.
The answer to the question 'who we will go with?' lies not with us, but with other political parties.
In a real democracy, the people decide who's going to be the next government-not the political parties.
In all of history, democracy is a fragile and rare thing. Who are mere politicians to silence, before an election, the nation's Election Day voice, before an election is even held?
What a paradox! What an irony! That having failed the old parties now ask people to trust them to get it right.
For New Zealand First, the challenge is clear.
We helped hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders after the last election. Now, more depend on us to renew our commitment to our country for them.
In the next four months, when you set out door knocking, delivering pamphlets setting up meetings, telephoning and making personal sacrifices for your country remember this: You are the only hope for thousands of New Zealanders on the edge of despair.
So - go and spread the message. Go and tell your friends. Go and tell everyone in the dole queue, go and tell that farmer on the verge of walking off his farm, those small business people beaten to their knees, the youngsters overseas, the sick, the elderly, the forgotten people.
Tell them that help is on its way.
Look around this convention hall - and this is only part of our peoples' army. Let's continue our mission with cheer and determination. In the words of Arthur Clough:
seem here no painful inch to gain
far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look, the land is bright."