Thank you everyone for overflowing this event and this venue. Thank you Brooke, and welcome to ACT’s MPs as we start the political year. Something is happening in our country. Our team have confounded the critics. They just cannot quite bring themselves to write that ACT brought in nine rookie MPs and we have the best team in Parliament. They said that we wouldn’t do it. Then they said we would be ‘squeezed out’ by National under a new leader. Instead, over the past three years, ACT remains New Zealand’s fastest-growing political movement… And it’s not even close.

It’s true though, and it’s thanks to the individuals who make up the team. So, before we go any further, let me say a sincere ‘thank you’ to the colleagues who give their all for a better New Zealand every day.

ACT finished 2022 with great momentum. Some people say nice guys finish last, but they didn’t mention arrogant pricks. The simple truth is that every month ACT becomes bigger than one person. And ultimately, it’s about YOU.

Brooke was rated best first term MP by Parliament’s most senior journalist. Nicole was ranked sixth and Karen won plaudits too. Mark Cameron was not ranked, but he was robbed. He may be the hardest working of all, but not many Wellington journalists see him in cow sheds up and down the country. I could go on, but we have a team that trusts each other, and a team that you can trust.

Now we start a new year with a real target for our very real momentum.

Thank you to our hosts here at the Maritime Museum. Thank you and apologies to our original venue, Five Knots. The first venue for this speech sold out in six hours. Thank you also to Orakei Bay, our second venue that sold out just as quickly. Thank you finally to the Maritime Museum for hosting us, nearly three times larger than the first venue and we still had a waiting list.

It’s a sign that ACT is on a roll, because of you. Thank you for giving up your time and money to support ACT’s first election year event.

Our mission is to deliver real change. It simply isn’t good enough to paint a red Government blue, and then pretend it’s all fixed by endlessly promising to just ‘get things done’. Trimming the sail will not work. We need to chart a whole new course. And we can only do it with the brand new coalition of like-minded New Zealanders that we in this room represent.

Why the government needs to change

First of all, this government needs to change. You might think, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Well, it’s not just me. The latest Curia Poll has New Zealanders saying the country is going in the wrong direction by a margin of 53 to 33. The latest NZIER business confidence survey shows business confidence at the lowest level since records began in 1970, with 73 per cent of firms expecting conditions to deteriorate. Kiwis are smart, and so they are simply voting with their feet. In the year to November, 42,800 New Zealand citizens emigrated. That’s one reason why there’s a worker shortage. So, it falls to us to give them back a country they feel proud of once more.

It's not difficult to see why people are so gloomy. We have a Government that just doesn’t get it. They’re not just screwing up one or two bad policies. It is the values that run through everything they do, which have caused us to veer so badly off track.

Labour’s list of failures would be quite funny if the results in the real world weren’t so tragic.

They tax tradies’ utes to help wealthy people buy Teslas. Here’s the thing with that: New Zealand’s emissions are already capped by the Emissions Trading Scheme, so this policy makes no net difference to the climate.

They want to tax the most carbon efficient farmers in the world broke and watch their former customers around the world eat food from farmers who emit more carbon dioxide. Only Labour could damage the economy and the environment with the same policy. And, for the avoidance of doubt, no, taxing Kiwi cows for their farts will not make an iota of difference to flooding in Auckland… Clearing drains regularly would help more. And it is insulting and infantile to pretend otherwise.

They banned oil and gas exploration to reduce carbon emissions. Now, exploration will take place overseas and New Zealand firms will import coal to make up for the lack of oil and gas. Yes, we CAN bankrupt ourselves in the pursuit of some nebulous goal; but that does not mean that we SHOULD.

They loudly promised that they would build 100,000 houses. The problem wasn’t a shortage of houses, but a shortage of serviced sections to build them on. Once they figured that out, they started wholesale Government developments. Now Kainga Ora is trying to make housing affordable by using taxpayers’ money to bid the price of land, builders, and building materials up even higher.

They say there’s not enough competition in the grocery market… And it is not only in supermarkets that duopolies are a bad idea, incidentally. What is their solution? To force supermarkets to sell to their competitors at government-controlled prices. But pricing thousands of items every day is not only unworkable, it will discourage foreign competitors entering the New Zealand market! If you doubt that, they had to promise Costco a five year exemption from this lunatic policy to get them here.

They worried that loan sharks were exploiting vulnerable lenders, so they made everyone in New Zealand report how much cat food they bought before they could get a mortgage or a credit card.

They wanted to protect Māori children, so they changed the Oranga Tamariki Act. Those kids then got taken out of safe homes and put back into dangerous ones, because they think ‘whanau is always best’. And it takes the courage of Karen Chhour to stand up and show them just how wrong they are.

They wanted to improve the quality of freshwater, but they accidentally defined a wetland so broadly that a paddock with a manmade drain got defined as one. One hundred and two houses are held up while lawyers argue about whether or not that paddock is a wetland. Each one of them charging by the hour. I only wish I was making this up.

They wanted to solve gun crime, so they banned 240,000 firearms and managed to retrieve 60,000. The gangs now have the rest.

They wanted to improve the quality of journalism. So, the Public Interest Journalism Fund paid media organisations $55 million if they report Labour’s view of the Treaty. Only Labour could spend $55 million on improving journalism but actually damage trust in journalism.

They wanted to lift children out of poverty. They did it by raising benefits. There are now 30,000 more kids living in a benefit-dependent household than when Labour started. All the evidence shows growing up without parents going to work is bad for kids’ development.

It is the insincere peddling, the incoherent and incompetent. And it falls to us to reverse - not refine - this lunacy. No ifs, no buts and no more excuses.

Jacinda Ardern’s idealism simply collided hard with reality, and all New Zealanders are now paying the price.

Every time I hear Chris Luxon say that the Labour ‘doesn’t get things done’, it terrifies me… Could he seriously want them to do more?

When I think about Jacinda Ardern seriously telling New Zealanders they could sit in their friends’ garden, but she didn’t trust them to go inside and use the toilet, I think she did enough.

We don’t need a Government that gets things done, we need a Government that does a lot less so that you can get things done.

Why a change of government won’t be enough

New Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ only policy so far is to dump his own party’s unpopular policies.

That leaves a lot of questions. Will the union and Māori factions in his caucus let him dump their prized projects? Does he really want to dump them? Or does he think we’ll all understand better if he just explains them, as he’s suggested we don’t understand co-government?

Here’s a thought experiment. What would happen if Labour really did dump all their unpopular policies?

Let’s say Hipkins winds back three waters, dumps the media merger, cancels so-called Fair Pay Agreements, ends the co-governance culture war and puts the skids under the jobs tax Labour call Income Insurance.

Let’s say he commits to a conception of the Treaty that treats New Zealanders as adults with equal political rights. Then let’s say he puts victims at the centre of crime policy instead of trying to empty the prisons as Labour has aimed to do so far.

Next would be ending Labour’s war on immigration. Starving business of workers doesn’t make them more productive, it just hands another advantage to their global competitors. Then it could stop using education as a political staging tool to recruit children to ideological causes.

Let’s say he dumps all that (not a complete list), what happens next? Well, Labour would be back to where they started in 2017, with big problems, big promises, and no solutions.

The truth is, Labour won’t dump their own policy agenda. It’s not as though Hipkins has been quietly seething in the background of the Ardern Government, opposing everything it does. In fact, he’s been a founding member of Ardern’s kitchen cabinet all along, right up to the orchestrated handover of power last month.

A more likely scenario is that another Prime Minister Chris gets the chance to dump Labour’s destructive policies, in just 249 days’ time.

But even then, let’s be absolutely clear: A reversal is not guaranteed. If you doubt that, let history be your guide.

Five times National has vigorously opposed Labour’s policies from opposition and five times it has come to office and bedded them in.

That’s part of the reason we’re in this mess - National governments don’t actually oppose Labour policies… They just want to manage them, and they always find big Government feels better from the back of a Ministerial limo.

Only with a decent contingent of ACT MPs (as in recent polls), will the reversals actually happen.

That’s why ACT is here - and why our movement is thriving. Our job is to make sure promises are kept. Our job is to make sure we don’t just get a change of government but a government of change as well.

Voting for more of the same will get us more of the same.

This election, we don’t just need to evict Labour from the Beehive, we need to evict its IDEAS as well.

Getting rid of Labour’s bad ideas is really just clearing the decks for the job we have to do, though.

Under either Chris, there’s still the same problem. Where do the new ideas come from? Just stopping Labour lunacy doesn’t solve the long term problems left by successive governments.

We need more than a choice between ‘getting things done,’ or ‘bread and butter’ how did politics get so inane. New Zealand needs more than a new slogan, it needs a real change of policy taking the country in a better direction.

In the end, it comes down to a simple question for voters - ‘Who do you trust?’

The right values

But before that there is the question of values.

The central cause of our troubles is that successive Governments have abandoned the values of progress.

Once upon a time rulers placed little or no value in a person… People were simply fodder for the doctrine of the church, or the King who got his powers from God. It was best if they couldn’t read and didn’t ask too many questions. Putin still believes something like that… So does the government in Iran if you’re female.

The Enlightenment changed all that. Descartes said ‘je pense, alors je suis’. If you think, then you are. It’s that simple. We ALL matter, because we’re all capable of thinking for ourselves.

Galileo looked through his telescope and saw Jupiter’s moons. The Church could threaten him all they liked, they might have thought he was an arrogant prick, but their word of God collided with reality, sounds like someone else I know.

“100 Authors Against Einstein” was a book denouncing the great man’s theories. Einstein defended himself with reason: ‘Why 100?” he’s supposed to have said, “If I were wrong, one would have been enough.’

The enlightenment wasn’t just about reason, it was about universal human rights. No matter where you came from. No matter your race, religion or gender.

Martin Luther King Jr quoted enlightenment thinkers when he said, “the architects of our republic… were signing a promissory note… that all men — yes, black men as well as white men — would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Or, as President Biden put it so eloquently, ‘all men and women were created equal by… er, you know the thing…’

The Treaty was written in the shadow of the enlightenment. It said that the Government had Kawanatanga… The right to Govern. The people had tino rangatiratanga, or self-determination, over their lives and property. They also had ngā tikanga katoa rite tahi. The same rights and duties as each other.

Limited Government, self-determination, property rights and equality. I reckon the chiefs who signed the Treaty would sign up to ACT today.

It’s difficult to overstate what the enlightenment has meant. It’s not only freed people around the globe from violence, hunger, and oppression, it’s freed people to live twice as long.

How often do we hear about, let alone celebrate the values of reason and universal humanity? You know, the values that have given the average person a whole extra life, just in the last 200 years?

But we hear the exact opposite from the Government: What matters is NOT the content of your character… What matters most is your skin colour or background.

They think we are NOT all thinking and valuing beings. We are NOT all equal. We don’t have the same rights and duties. We are either the oppressors or the oppressed… And we should simply feel shame for our heritage, rather than learn from it. You will be able to think of examples yourselves, I’m sure. Now tell me - is this really progress?

There’s no point thinking and evaluating, if you can’t share your thoughts… But Labour tells us free speech is dangerous and must be cancelled. ‘We know best’. ACT is built on the principle that censorship is not the answer. The best antidote to bad ideas isn’t to just shout them down… But to debate and defeat them, with better ideas.

In health, education, and resource management, we are told that what Māori thought during the 400 years Māori spent in isolation from the world is more important than our bonds of common humanity. If you question this doctrine then you are racist, obviously. But Nicole, Karen, myself - and thousands of others - will take the name-calling and trolling because, in the end, we believe we can do SO much better.

Putting you back in control

Today we live under new doctrines that look like life pre-enlightenment. It is more important to follow the new doctrines of privacy, health and safety, and the principles of the Treaty than it is to apply your own judgement and take responsibility for a situation. Labour’s regulatory juggernaut disempowers honest Kiwis every day, while hoarding power with those who don’t deserve it and have no idea how to use it.

You only have to look at the insane CCCFA, the pipe in the paddock-cum-wetland, the trouble with getting a wharf consented, even at a port!

Forget setting up a new supermarket. If the Overseas Investment Act and Resource Management Act weren’t enough to kill off ambition… There is now a ‘Grocery Commissioner,’ a bespoke regulator devoted to harassing a particular sector.

Life is expensive in New Zealand because red tape saps progress. The new priests make sensible people run the hamper wheel of compliance activity, and it’s un-Kiwi. This country should be a project in human progress.

Of course, COVID response showed us peak doctrine from the high priests of the podium. ACT made the simple suggestion that people who don’t want to take the vaccine could just do a Rapid Antigen Test twice a week to show others they are not a risk. Not only had the Government banned Rapid Antigen tests, we were attacked by Judith Collins, no less. We will all be counting the cost of that toxic groupthink for years.

Nowhere else is the retreat from progress more obvious than in education. After all, there is no more precious gift than a useful education… And no surer cure for poverty than the empowerment and education of the next generation.

Make sure than any kid born into this country, whether they’re rich or poor… town or country… boy or girl, gets a chance. A chance to be the best in the world if they apply themselves.

It’s that place in their community where a knowledgeable adult they respect exposes them to the wonders of human knowledge. A place where they can be initiated into wider humanity… where WHAT they think matters less than WHETHER they think.

But today, education is at the back of the bus… unless you are interested in indoctrination. Perhaps the most soul-destroying thing about this Labour Government is their abandonment of the commitment to education and opportunity. When there’s a crisis, education is sacrificed first.

Last week all Auckland region schools had to close, even in rural communities unaffected by flooding. Why can’t that school community use reason to make its own decision? If there is a better group to make decisions on students, than their own mums, dads and teachers… Again, it comes down to that simple question, ‘who do you trust?’

Why don’t kids go to school? It’s not just that the Government regularly tells them not to, it’s that there’s less to learn when they get there. They’re not stupid. They know that sitting on beanbags in a ‘modern learning environment’ attempting to recreate 5,000 years of human knowledge for themselves is dumb.

The new Curriculum Refresh, which attempts to put 400 years of human history when Māori lived alone in New Zealand on a par with the rest of human history, will make things much worse.

It is time to recall our enlightenment values. It is time to recommit to a country based on progress. It is time to champion a country where each and every person is not fodder for the new doctrines of the woke left, but a thinking and valuing being with the same rights and duties as every other.

A Fairer, Freer and more Fortunate New Zealand in 2035

I’ve argued before that New Zealand has a cycle of upheaval, then milk and honey followed by dissension and more upheaval.

Today we stand at another precipice. It’s too hard to build a house, a business, a wharf, a road, a working stormwater system, or much else. That leaves a generation wondering what future this country offers them.

The education system is not fit-for-purpose for our children. Most treaties, by definition, are devices to bring us together… But now ours is used to divide us by race. If we want to keep the dream of a first world nation in an island paradise alive, it falls to US to take on the job ourselves.

In another decade, our country will change based upon what direction we choose next... The question is: What do we want New Zealand to look like in 10 or 15 years’ time?

After all, that’s why we’re here. ACT wants to leave this country a better place for our children… and those who come after. So let me finish by painting a picture of what our future could look like if we make the right choices - if we choose real change.

Imagine that we have had a national conversation about the Treaty of Waitangi and New Zealanders have decided that Article Three is correct when it says all citizens have the same = rights and duties… Co-government of public affairs is no longer. Instead, we’ve moved on to meet our challenges as a modern, multi-ethnic liberal democracy. More united than ever. That’s ACT’s referendum on co-governance.

Imagine we have a tax system where people aren’t punished with five increasingly higher tax rates as they succeed and earn more income. We have a political culture where we don’t look first to Beehive bureaucrats as the answer to our problems… But instead to local communities first. That is ACT’s policy of localism. It is regional partnerships with Government for infrastructure that’s been returned to councils, local democracy for freshwater laws, and tertiary institutions that succeed or fail on their value to students, not Te Pūkenga.

Imagine that, before politicians make new laws, they were forced to ask: ‘What’s the problem I’m trying to solve here?’ ‘What are the alternatives?’ 'What could the unintended consequences from this law be?' Imagine truly rational, common sense regulation that isn’t creating yet more complexity and cost. That is ACT’s Regulatory Standards Act.

That means it’s possible to build enough homes for the people who want to live here. There are no children living in motels. Millennials are homeowners, and so are Gen-Y. Both are committed to New Zealand because they can afford their own part of a property-owning democracy. That is ACT’s property-rights-based approach to Resource Management, GST sharing with councils that let building go ahead, and private quality assurance on building to break innovators free from Council control.

We welcome ideas, capital and people who want to contribute to the rich fabric of that first world country in an island paradise. That is ACT’s policy of exemption democratic OECD countries from the Overseas Investment Act.

After decades near the bottom of the OECD rankings, imagine productivity here is growing again… Allowing businesses to increase wages - and consumers to make smarter choices, including climate-friendly ones - not being battered by pointless, punitive new taxes. That means that new pharmaceuticals are no longer something only other countries can afford. That is ACT’s policy of dumping the bureaucratic Zero Carbon Act, capping the Emissions Trading Scheme at the same level as our trading partners, and returning ETS revenue to families.

And imagine that we allow education entrepreneurs to offer parents and students real choice, and real power. Instead of having to send their child to the local state school whether they like it or not, parents have more and better choices. Attendance is high because schools transfer valuable academic knowledge so kids actually want to go to school and learn. And we are proud of our history, even as we learn from it, because we Kiwis know we are capable of holding one thought at a time in our minds. That is ACT’s policy of Student Education Accounts, putting parents in charge of their kids’ share of education funding.

We have a justice system that respects victims instead of making excuses for violent offenders. It is not only safe to run a dairy… but men and women can walk around our largest cities after dark without keeping someone on the phone, eyes over their shoulder until they get to their car. This may be bad for Uber… but good for everyone else. That is ACT’s truly victim-centric approach to crime and punishment.

In short, we are a first-rate, first-world country. That could be our future if we choose REAL change this year. No, it will not be easy. But we face complex problems, that have not yielded to the glib, student politics solutions proposed by Labour… even if National can manage Labour’s policy better, New Zealand deserves better. I believe in better. And I don’t know about you… but I think that it’s something worth working for.

Over to you

So how do we make it happen?

Under our system, politicians govern for two years out of three… but this year, we can make them pay attention.

If you share ACT’s values. If you’re someone who finds yourself here, in the most remote, the most beautiful country on earth… because you or your ancestors wanted a better tomorrow for their offspring. If you’re someone who believes in the values of progress: the power of reason, and the equal right of every human being to us it. And if you believe that, in spite of their flaws, free markets and the free exchange of ideas and inspiration are our last, best hope to eliminate poverty… raise living standards and improve our climate. Then there is a new movement for YOU.

If you don’t want to see more of the same. If you’re not convinced that National and Labour are really different after the last 90 years of political duopoly. If you believe in the power of policy, underpinned by good values to make this country a better place.

If some or all of this sounds like you, then I am asking you not just to agree… but to act. After all, ours is a country that does things for itself. And, if we don’t trust ourselves with the job in-hand, it will simply get left to the same old crowd.

Number one, we’d love you to give your Party vote to ACT. Every Party vote for ACT gets us closer to electing another, independent-minded ACT MP. That means the Government’s more likely to change, and the change is more likely to be real.

Number two, we’d love you to influence others. Word of mouth is the most powerful tool of political persuasion. In your life there are hundreds of people who don’t know me, or us. But they do know you. And YOU telling people why you are giving ACT your Party Vote is the most powerful form of advertising that there is.

Number three, get involved. Decisions get made by those who show up. We are fortunate to live in a country where politics is voluntary. Every three years people assemble for a peaceful contest of ideas. It is perhaps the best thing we have going for us.

People offer to host a house meeting, to introduce candidates to their friends. Or just come together to talk things over a beer or three. This is the lifeblood of our democracy… and it is time we had a transfusion.

They put a sign on their fence, to signal their support to their neighbours and passing traffic.

They reach into their pocket and pull out a direct mail letter they are helping deliver to their neighbours.

They share our content on social media, putting their endorsement of ACT’s message amongst their networks.

They donate their money in return for nothing more than the warm feeling that more people will hear ACT’s message from a well-funded campaign.

This all takes courage. It takes effort. But we can’t simply wait for the pendulum to swing back. And together, we CAN reverse Labour’s damage and chart a new course for this country. One that matches the aspiration that our ancestors demonstrated... And that shows the spirit of ‘doing it for ourselves’ lives on.

We can do more than just stop the damage; we can deliver the real change that will make this country - again - the best on Earth.

I’m up for it.

ACT’s team is up for it.

If you’re up for it too… Then join us. And together, on October 14th, let’s make history.

Thank you.

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