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Sam Neil's Oamaru Speech

Sam Neill's speech to a public meeting in Oamaru this evening in support of Otago MP David Parker.

Oamaru Speech

Sam Neill

September 14, 2005

It hasn’t always been comfortable, but I have stood up to be counted this election. I want to say that I don’t belong to the Labour Party and I certainly don’t speak on their behalf.

I speak for myself.

I’ve been amused by some of the flak I’ve taken in the past few weeks. It seems that some are of the view that being an actor disqualifies you from having views on politics. And that perhaps only journalists are qualified or brainy enough to pass judgement on serious matters. Well, I may only be a thick actor but I’ll tell you this. If nothing else, a few years of showbusiness teaches you how to spot the clowns!

Actually, I’ve been surprised at some of the unpleasant ways this campaign has been fought. National’s campaign I have to say takes the biscuit – the iwi/kiwi poster is utterly disgraceful.Now I see one that characterizes Helen Clark and Don Brash as more personal attacks versus less personal tax. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

But I don’t want to attack Dr Brash. He is after all a man of impeccable manners.

I have to tell you I’ve met Helen Clark a few times, and I like her a lot. She is warm, lively and amusing and one of the striking things about her is that she has impeccable manners.

But I am not voting for Helen Clark because of her good manners – I am voting for the calibre of her leadership – she is easily the best leader in this contest.

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I think Labour has been very kind to Dr Brash in this. He was after all a top bureaucrat. That is to be respected. But he has never been elected to anything except by his own party. He now wants to lead this country. So we should at the very least inspect him closely. He may have our future in his hands, and he certainly wants to.

But first I want to talk about our Government. I’m not going to pretend there is such a thing as a perfect government. No government can be all things to all men, and certainly there have been things about this government that have irritated me, and I have said as much.

But I think it’s fair to say that this is by and large a fair minded and sensible government. And that the country now is in pretty good shape. Good shape; economically and socially. Crime is down, and unemployment at a record low. And I credit Helen Clark’s government for that.

I think the alternative is pretty stark.

I want to talk about tax cuts, a big issue in this election.

Look – all of us would like to pay less tax. Of course! And let’s not forget that Labour has promised just that, but cuts that can be sustained by Michael Cullen’s carefully maintained surplus. National (and ACT) on the other hand are offering us huge tax cuts. “Don’t let them take your money”, they say. But at what cost? At what cost to you, to your family, to your country?

Perhaps we should look at somewhere else where they recently used the time-old bribe of tax cuts, and see how it worked. In 2000 George Bush, under the reasonable sounding “compassionate conservatism” offered huge tax cuts. And he delivered.

Take a look at America now. The rich are certainly richer, but the economy is in the tank, a healthy surplus has been converted into a massive deficit, and the US is a place that cannot even afford the basics. Like maintaining levees in low lying Louisiana. Might I suggest that tax cuts led indirectly to the flooding of New Orleans?

How will National pay for these tax cuts? In the same way that Bush has – by running down social services, and by borrowing – putting the country into massive debt. Inevitably health will suffer, education will suffer.

Dr Brash is a banker, so he undoubtedly loves the idea of mortgaging the country. I hate it.

Who will be asked to repay the mortgage? Probably not you and I. More likely our children – the taxpayers of the future. To me it is immoral and plain wrong to ask our children to pay for our tax cuts [to ask our children to pay for putting Dr Brash into power].

I want to talk about Foreign Policy. Amazingly this has become a secondary issue in this election. To me it is the most crucial.

The greatest achievement of this government is that they kept us out of the war in Iraq. Let’s make no mistake about this – this war is a bloody mess, and a terrible blunder, with disastrous consequences for the future.

Helen Clark had the foresight, the common sense and the guts to say no, and to stay out of it. Don Brash would have gone there. This alone should disqualify him from ever leading this country.

It would be a mistake to see Dr Brash as some kind of harmless, well mannered twit. He is not a harmless twit. Although his manners are impeccable.

We know that Dr Brash despises our nuclear free policy. We know that he and Lockwood Smith would like to see us align our foreign policy to that of the Pentagon, in the vain hope that that might lead to some kind of free trade deal.

Frankly, I think they are deluded.

Helen Clark’s government (and David Lange’s twenty years ago) have shown us that independence in thought and action is what keeps us secure, respected in the eyes of the world, and makes us friends rather than enemies.

Our old friends in America and Australian and Britain by contrast, are up to their necks in trouble at the moment. National’s mentor, John Howard, has Australia mired in Iraq with no idea how to get out. He has utterly compromised Australia’s security and independence, and history will judge him harshly.

Dr Brash would do the same for us. He is not a harmless twit.

Dr Brash has transformed the National Party. A great achievement some would say.

Yes, it is transformed. And it is no longer I fear the party I remember. The party of decent, moderate men – the party of Jack Marshall, Brian Talboys, Duncan McIntyre, Philip Burdon, Doug Graham,or even Bill English.

The National Party is now nothing more than ACT in a different dress.

“Know a man by the company he keeps”, or as they say in Greece, “show me his friends and I will show you the man”. We have learnt in the last few weeks who Brash’s political mates are:

the hard right

big business

the intolerant religious right

and the same people who flogged our national assets in the 80s and 90s and robbed this country blind

I want to talk about Maori. The National Party has made a lot of traction since Brash’s Orewa speech. The tenor of Orewa was, as I read it, that there is a kind of Maori ‘problem’, that Maori are somehow unfairly advantaged in this country.

Let me be clear about this, when we talk about Maori, I don’t see a ‘problem’. We’re talking about my family, my friends, my community, my country.

There are many things that give me great pride in New Zealand. Here are some of them;

our great New Zealand artists like Colin McCahon (from Otago), Ralph Hotere (from Mitimi – now Otago), or Janet Frame (from Otago, none other than Oamaru!)

the All Blacks (personally, I think the new haka led by the amazing Tana Umaga at Carisbrook was one of the defining moments of modern New Zealand history).

the landscape of Otago, of our electorate

our nuclear free policy

And there is something else that gives me pride in New Zealand – the Waitangi process.

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time in Australia. It’s a great country with wonderful, generous people. But the uncomfortable truth is that race relations in Australia are a disgrace. While White Australia prospers, black Australia, unseen, lives in fourth world squalor. Their government refuses to acknowledge this, or a past that includes wholesale theft of land and even massacres of their native people. They refuse to even say sorry.

We do things differently here. And we should take pride in that. The uncomfortable truth is, and even a cursory reading of history will tell you this, that bad things happened here too. It’s a fact that Maori were cheated and forced off their land time and time again.

But in New Zealand we have the honesty and guts to own up to that, and the Waitangi Tribunal is an honest attempt to make some reparation and to work towards reconciliation.

Yes, of course the Waitangi process should, and will, come to an end. But it should only finish when justice has been done. It is a gross distortion to characterise Waitangi compensation as kind of pigs-back rort. The plain fact is that the total money that has been distributed is roughly equivalent to a couple of years Telecom profit!

In the wider scheme of things, that’s five-eights of not very much.

Yes, we are one people, but we are also many. And I for one sleep better at night knowing that I live in a country that acknowledges its past, and in doing so allows us to walk together into a brighter and clear future.

As for Maori seats – the National Party would abolish them. Our forebears also did many wise things. And Maori seats were introduced to ensure there would always be at least some Maori representation in Parliament. It seemed only fair. National want to abandon this fair principle and in doing so, I believe, wish to marginalise Maori even further. Well, I say no to that.

Finally, I want to talk about David Parker, our MP.

David has impressed me as an intelligent and conscientious advocate for Otago, with a comprehensive knowledge of the issues that most closely affect us in this part of the country.

We had a “meet the candidates” debate in Queenstown a couple of weeks ago, Some of you will be aware that what worries us up in the hills is that over-development threatens to overwhelm and wreck one of New Zealand’s, indeed the world’s, most beautiful areas. I have to tell you that the National candidate caused some consternation when quizzed about our concerns. As best as we could understand, her answer to Queenstown’s problems seemed to consist in part, to make more land available to developers and the consent process even easier. I am not convinced she has a thorough grip on the realities of Otago.

That is why I am endorsing David Parker, a decent man who listens and who has our best interests at heart.

And the interests of the nation. Helen Clark calls him “quality”. He deserves our vote.

And in this most crucial of elections I believe Labour deserves our vote.

And I believe Helen Clark deserves our vote. She is a clear sighted and independent world leader; a calm voice for moderation in a world increasingly given to extremes, and a leader with a clear vision of a fair and united New Zealand.

National’s vision such as it is, is I believe narrow and somewhat mean-spirited and is dedicated to the laughable proposition that if the rich get richer it is somehow good for all of us. It is a vision above all guided by self interest and after “Orewa” carries the slight but unmistakable whiff of something darker altogether.

Labour’s vision is entirely different and is dedicated to the idea that all of us: Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Islander, or Asian; immigrant or indigenous; young or old; are entitled to a fair deal. They believe that investment in health and education are key to a fair and prosperous future. And that an independent foreign policy is key to a safe and secure future. And they understand that a sensible moderate consensus driven government is key to a peaceful and prosperous country.

Ladies and gentlemen – the Labour candidate for Otago – our MP, David Parker.

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