Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our conference.
This is a crucial conference for ACT and is another step in the rebuilding and the rejuvenation of our party.
Thank you for coming and for your support.
Thank you, to you Alan Gibbs, your family and staff for hosting us on your magnificent, inspirational property.
I would also like to acknowledge a number of people here today.
Firstly, I would like to thank you John Banks, for your commitment to, and leadership of, our party. You have taken on a very difficult and lonely job in circumstances you didn’t expect. A job that involves personal sacrifice, unrelenting demands of the party and electorate and constant public scrutiny.
As Associate Minister of Education with responsibility for introducing Partnership Schools, you are on the verge of achieving finally, after 17 years, what has been one of ACT’s key policy planks – greater choice in education, which we believe will significantly address the educational underachievement in some sectors of our society. You have our full support.
Secondly, I wish to acknowledge and to thank on behalf of the party our outgoing President, Chris Simmons. Chris, you have led the party through two and a half very turbulent years and have admirably overcome the many challenges that you were presented.
Thirdly, to you Rodney Hide – your contribution to New Zealand politics and ACT over five Parliamentary terms – 15 years - has been huge! You made history by winning the seat of Epsom from the National Party for the first time in 50 years. None of us should ever forget that you winning, and then retaining Epsom ensured that the party remains in Parliament today. We collectively owe you huge gratitude.
On a personal level, I’d also like to thank you for your mentoring of myself and my former Parliamentary colleagues when we entered Parliament and for your continued support when I took over from you as the Parliamentary Leader.
I also acknowledge Vice President Barbara Astill and the other members of our Board.
I have been elected to a two year term as President of the ACT Party. As President I chair the Board of Trustees, the body responsible for running ACT and in particular developing and approving policy; identifying, selecting and ranking candidates; and raising the money required to run a successful election campaign every three years.
This is not a job I sought, nor one I would have challenged Chris Simmons for, but when Chris advised me that he intended to stand down and asked if I would be prepared to put my name forward, I seriously considered it.
You should know that I regard this role as one of the most important in New Zealand politics today. It is vital that ACT be rejuvenated and rebuilt for the sake of our country. We occupy a very important part of the New Zealand political spectrum and represent views and promote policies that no other political party does.
Since our founding in 1994, ACT has been the only party in New Zealand that has constantly elected into parliament a group of MPs who all agree on privatisation, free trade, the Reserve Bank Act, flexible labour laws, the importance of private property rights, one law for all and the rule of law.
I joined ACT 18 years ago. During this time I stood for the party in Epsom in the first MMP election in 1996 and served on the Board of Trustees for seven years in total, first as a regional representative, then Treasurer and finally Deputy Leader.
In 2008 I had the privilege of being elected an ACT List Member of Parliament and was appointed Minister of Consumer Affairs and Associate Minister of Commerce in August 2010, positions I relinquished in May 2011 to focus on my new role as Parliamentary Leader.
So ACT has been a big part of my life.
When I look back over those last 18 years, I despair at New Zealand’s lost opportunities.
I despair at successive government failure to build on the reforms of the 1980s and the early 1990s.
I despair at the welfare dependency culture that we’ve created in our society where people are concerned with their rights and think little about their responsibilities back to society.
I despair at how the Resource Management Act has become a massive and costly impediment to investment and growth, how it has reduced our living standards and further delayed infrastructure that should have been built 20 or 30 years ago.
And in particular I despair about the chronic levels of underachievement amongst some of our children – disproportionately, Maori and Pacific Islanders. I cringe when I see the desperate efforts of our opponents trying to misrepresent our position on partnership schools. If this is the calibre of the Teacher’s Union, no wonder we have a problem with some of our teachers.
I have watched as governments have wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars – your money and as a result have been unable to substantially lower taxes to provide real incentives for those who want to work, save, invest and get on in their lives.
Our problems are man-made. We have done it to ourselves. New Zealand could be so much more prosperous than it is currently.
ACT has a vision for the future but we need to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Following that first MMP election in 1996, Prime Minister Jim Bolger went on a massive spending spree – much of it poor quality! This was the price he was prepared to make you the taxpayer pay so he could remain Prime Minister in coalition with Winston Peters. New Zealand is still paying the price of those mistakes today.
Then followed nine years of Labour government and more lost opportunity!
Helen Clark’s desperate last minute bribe to students and their parents to try and win the 2005 election by extending the interest-free student loan scheme represents all that is bad about politics and politicians.
We now have a scheme where students are incentivised to borrow the maximum that they are permitted and to invest any surplus – only to repay it years later in devalued dollars or at a substantial discount.
And if they don’t trust themselves to invest it successfully, they should just put it in the bank and earn 3%! To do otherwise is simply not economically rational.
But it gets worse! National who so severely criticised the massive extension to interest-free student loans in opposition, has done little to wind it back. You won’t hear a single National MP criticise this loan scheme.
And nor will you hear a single National MP advocate what most other Western countries recognise as blindingly obvious – simple demographics demands that the age of entitlement for superannuation should be progressively increased unless we are to be burdened by heavier and heavier taxation.
Therein lies National’s problem, and ACT’s huge opportunity and in fact, ACT’s huge responsibility!
Under MMP National must position itself as a party capable of getting at least 40% of the party vote, and from National’s point of view, closer to 50%.
However, in doing this, National has been far too timid in advocating policy change for the good of the country, focusing instead on not offending anyone in their support base.
New Zealand is screaming out for leadership! True leadership would have the National Party advocating for FAR greater reform than what they are currently proposing.
And that ladies and gentlemen is the role that falls to us.
ACT can and MUST provide that leadership.
It’s the reason that this party has a future and always will have.
It’s the reason why we must rebuild our membership and our electorate organisations.
I believe that young people will be the key to the future of our party and we must find a way to really engage them – technology and social media are obvious tools but they won’t be the only solutions.
Similarly, I have always believed that Asians should be much bigger supporters of our party. They subscribe to the ethics of hard work, thrift and enterprise and a party that believes so strongly in low flat taxes should be a natural one for them to support.
ACT has always believed that your efforts should make a difference and it’s the immigrants who sacrifice so much to come here who would have so much to gain from ACT policies and philosophies.
I’m not saying that’s going to be easy! In fact, I’ll say the opposite. It’s going to be hard. Very hard! But we are fighting for our country and it is so important that we are successful.
Our goal at the next election in 2014 must be to achieve a minimum of 5% of the party vote, and to retain the seat of Epsom.
We’ve proved before that we can get 5% and more – we’ve done it three times before!
We built this party person by person. We had a vision for how great this country could be in 1995 and we went out and signed people up one by one at meetings all over the country. Jo Walsh who is here this afternoon reminded me recently that she signed me up following a Roger Douglas church hall meeting in St Heliers in 1995. For someone who went on to become an MP, a Parliamentary Leader, a Minister and now the President....that was a pretty good signing Jo!
But there is a second very important reason why ACT needs to rejuvenate and rebuild. Some would even argue it is more important.
And that is the simple fact that the National Party will need a coalition partner if it is to remain in Government. No party has gained more than 50% of the popular vote since 1951 and it’s even harder under MMP.
If ACT is not back in 2014 in even bigger numbers, National will be dependent on either the Maori Party, New Zealand First or worse still, both of them!
The country would pay a very high price for this. In fact it’s already paid a high price over the last five years and that would only get substantially higher if the Maori Party held the balance of power.
To get just a glimpse of this cost, one only has to look at the Emissions Trading Scheme. ACT is a party of principle and when we weren’t prepared to burden the country with the excessive costs of the ETS, a position vindicated by National substantially amending the scheme in the most recent term, the National Party went out and bought Maori Party support.
As part of that deal, National agreed to transfer 40,000 hectares of DOC land to four iwi with the intention that iwi would plant native trees and transfer the land back in 75 years time.
Iwi were to retain the carbon credits which in 2010 were valued at over one billion dollars. The market has subsequently collapsed and so today its value is a tiny fraction of this, but it remains a fact that that was the price the Maori Party was able to extract to support a single piece of legislation.
I have a great deal of respect for Tariana Turia and her ability to extract benefits for her people. I think Maori electors generally fail to appreciate just how successful the Maori Party has been.
Since then, we’ve also had the Marine and Coastal Areas Act – our new seabed legislation and the government’s current Constitutional Review. One can only imagine the list of demands that will come from that should the Maori Party hold the balance of power in 2014.
Having painted such a negative scenario, I should at least highlight some of the positives.
Paula Bennett has made a great start to the social welfare reforms so badly needed and so strongly advocated by former ACT MP, Muriel Newman during her time in parliament and since.
Finance Minister, Bill English has also done his best to rein in the growing government expenditure given that his hands have been tied by others with regard to so many of the entitlement programmes.
And while National has been disappointing in so many areas, the alternative of a Labour/Green government doesn’t bear thinking about.
In the last month, we have had the charade of the opposition’s inquiry into the effects of the high exchange rate on our farmers and manufacturers.
This is their attempt to pretend that they care. It was the Green’s and Labour who wanted to impose massive additional costs on our farmers by taxing them on their animals burps and farts under the Emissions Trading Scheme when no other country in the world would remotely contemplate it.
It was also the Green’s and Labour who wanted to drive up the price of our electricity for our manufacturers and all New Zealanders and then pretend in Parliament that they care for those in poverty.
Before concluding, let me specifically address some comments to the people of the Epsom electorate.
The voters of Epsom have played a critical role in the outcome of the last three elections, firstly by electing Rodney Hide over Richard Worth in 2005 and 2008 and more recently John Banks over Paul Goldsmith in 2011.
The people of Epsom have huge power and have used it very wisely.
The Epsom electorate votes overwhelmingly National with their party vote, but it remains an undeniable fact that had John Banks not been elected MP for Epsom, the National Party would not have been able to form a majority government with ACT and Peter Dunne’s United Future.
Having ruled out Winston Peters as a possible coalition partner, National would have been left with only one alternative – The Maori Party. I believe had Epsom voters not elected John Banks, the Maori Party would have held the balance of power and would have been in a position to have decided who governed New Zealand. They would have extracted a huge price for their support!
We need to constantly remind Epsom voters of how crucial their support for John Banks was in the last election, and why it will be so important that ACT retains Epsom.
I have told John that in my new role as President, I want to go out with him every week on to the streets of Epsom, into the shops and on to the doorsteps, and constantly remind Epsom voters of how crucial their vote was in securing a further three years of National government.
During the many phone calls I have made over the last week promoting our conference, I learnt that National’s MP resident in Epsom, Paul Goldsmith recently held a barbecue at his home for his supporters. I don’t know how many of those supporters actually voted for Paul Goldsmith personally with their electorate vote, but those that didn’t should be very thankful that the majority of Epsom voters did. Because if they hadn’t, Paul Goldsmith would have found himself either in opposition now or at best, part of a government dependent on the Maori Party for the passage of every single piece of legislation.
I’d like to personally invite those supporters, the people who deliver Paul’s brochures to come and join the John Banks and ACT team in Epsom instead.
Because if those National supporters really want to the see the National Party in power with a strong dependable coalition party in ACT, they should throw their weight behind us instead.
And that’s why my fellow trustees and I will need your help. My commitment to you today is to do all I can to rejuvenate and rebuild this party. Over the years I have made literally thousands of ACT telephone calls, either asking for help or money, inviting people to functions or thanking people.
Following this conference, I intend to travel throughout New Zealand to meet and talk with both our current and our past members and supporters. I want to explain to them why it is so important that they support ACT and help us rejuvenate and rebuild a party that is vital for the future of this country.