ACT Is DeliveringRegulatory Reform
It's great to welcome you back to Epsom. And to do so as local MP. The people of Epsom have been very good to us. We haven't forgotten their great support. I don't take it for granted. I never will.
I continue to work hard every day to be the best MP Epsom has ever had. I have a great team helping me.
I especially want to thank Edgar Henson for managing a great election campaign; Priscilla Tate who does a great job every day in Epsom; and who can ever forget the phenomenal efforts of Lynn Fergusson over the years.
On behalf of the party I would like to thank our retiring President Gary Mallet who kept the flame of ACT alive in the lean years.
We must also thank Richard Prebble who led us into Parliament and taught us all such a lot. He laid the ground work for ACT's success.
Welcome especially to those loyal believers who've been with us since way back, delivering pamphlets in the wind and the rain. You put in the hard yards year after year. It's because of you that ACT is where it is now - still alive - despite the many obituaries - with two Ministers, a hand on the tiller and making progress in achieving our goals.
ACT did not go into the last campaign just to win votes. We campaigned on principles, we campaigned to make a difference, we campaigned on policies - ACT policies. We aim to deliver.
ACT is about shifting the country up a gear, and I can't think of a better job. Although it's early days yet - just four months since the election, with a backdrop of a world in crisis - I can report good progress.
We've shown we can work constructively with National in government. Our Confidence and Supply Agreement allows us to disagree, deliver on our campaign promises and to contribute as Ministers.
It sets out clear goals, definite policies and transparent processes for ACT to contribute to our country's direction. It means we can disagree, and yet hold National to account. We can contribute to government but still be ACT. We can stick to our principles and our policies. That's important, and we can deliver.
That's my focus as a Minister, and as party leader. Delivering. Party members who kept the faith all through the years didn't do so for us just to warm our seats in Parliament. It was to change our country's direction. And that's what we are doing.
So, what is ACT bringing to this government? And what are we achieving? Contrary to what many people believe, we are not in coalition with National.
Our position is clear. We support them as the majority party. But we sit on the cross benches. We support them on confidence and supply, but do not guarantee support on any other position or policy. It's case by case.
My deputy Heather Roy and I are Ministers but outside our portfolio responsibilities, we and our three MPs, John, Roger and David, are free to criticise any National policy or decision.
We do that, and will continue to do so - but respectfully. Our aim is not to destabilise the government. Far from it. Our aim is to get better policy and better results for New Zealand.
Both National and ACT want to see a more prosperous and successful nation driven by the initiative and hard work of individuals.
But ACT is the radical party, bursting with ideas. We are a party of reform. We see problems and we want to fix them. By contrast, National is a conservative party. It shares ACT's philosophy and commitment to private enterprise but is more cautious of change.
However our shared philosophy and vision has provided a great basis for our working relationship. And I think National needs to be, and doesn't mind being, prodded along.
We campaigned last year to bring our kids home. Too much of our young talent, energy and enterprise is contributing to the wealth of other countries. We need their contribution here in New Zealand.
That means making this great country an even greater place in which to live and to work and raise a family. We want the next generation to know that this is the best little country in the world. That means lifting our standard of living and making our country safe.
Our campaign promise was to catch Australia by 2020. We have compromised - we've set the goal with National to catch and match Australia by 2025. That's a big stretch. It means boosting productivity growth to 3 per cent a year.
We haven't seen that growth for years. But we are ambitious, for ourselves and our country. We don't just set big goals. We measure our performance and hold ourselves to account. That's also what our 2025 Commission will do.
It will measure our economic performance, report to government and to the people of New Zealand, and make recommendations on the changes needed to lift our game.
Our goal of catching and matching Australia by 2025 is not a "business as usual" target. Of course ACT has differences with National on economic policy. That's what you would expect. We want bolder and better. We are the party of Sir Roger Douglas after all.
All around the world, governments are struggling with the global economic crisis. Some are making a complete hash of it. How lucky are we to have Sir Roger Douglas back. Not just back, but on fire and contributing to the national debate on New Zealand's economic direction.
We also differ with National on health, education and welfare policy. We want an end to the state monopolies. We want to empower kiwi families through competition and choice.
We want to make every child count. We want every family's health to be important. That's why ACT is radical. That's why ACT wants reform. We have our differences. We are a different party to National.
But I have been impressed with National's willingness to work positively and constructively with us and the Maori party, and to listen to ACT ideas and consider them.
Our relationship is proving honest and open. That comes from John Key himself. He sets the tone. He's developed a new style of working together. John's a great guy to work with. He appreciates ACT and has been very generous in his relationship with us.
It was great that he would make the time as Prime Minister to open our Conference and to wish us well. He is in my experience a very generous and warm person, very inclusive and open. He's also very smart. It's also clear to me that John Key is committed to keeping his promises to the people of New Zealand.
I am fortunate enough to meet John regularly, in a formal as well as informal way. A Leadership Council made up of John and I meet at least every month.
The meetings allow us to consult on major strategic elements of the government's programme, review progress on lifting New Zealand's dismal rate of productivity growth, and consider new policy initiatives. The meetings are working well. So we have set out our goal and established our relationship with
Then there's the policies we campaigned on. It's the number one job of any government to keep us safe from the thugs and bullies in our homes, places of work and on our streets. Successive governments have failed us.
We campaigned on "Three Strikes And You're Out" and our Three Strikes Bill is now before Parliament. That's ACT delivering on its promise.
We've got it to Select Committee stage but we are going to need public support to ensure parliament passes Three Strikes into law. National's commitment is only to support our Bill to Select Committee.
We need the people of New Zealand to make it plain to MPs that they have had enough of violent crime and that to make New Zealand safe we must support Three Strikes through to become law.
We campaigned last year to abolish the dopey Emissions Trading Scheme that will push up prices, lose us jobs and income, all for no great benefit.
This policy was tough to deliver on - National backs the ETS. What we've got is a parliamentary select committee reviewing it. That's a start.
And most importantly, we have a rigorous and quantitative cost-benefit analysis underway. It's shocking that Parliament committed to the ETS with no regard to the cost.
Thanks to ACT, we are going to know what experts estimate the ETS will cost us. In the current economic crisis it's nuts to be loading unnecessary costs through the ETS onto businesses.
We should not be running ahead of Australia. We should put the brakes on the introduction of agriculture into the scheme. We should not have the scheme hitting business hard and costing us jobs. We are working hard to get a rethink of the ETS and to mitigate the worst of it.
For years government spending has spiralled out of control. We promised to get spending under control. As a result, we have agreement with National to send ACT's Taxpayer Rights Bill to Parliament for proper scrutiny.
This Bill will cap government expenditure to the rate of inflation. That's what it needs. Taxpayers in the driver's seat on spending, not politicians. I also sit on the Cabinet Expenditure Control Committee and that's allowed me first hand to see just how out of control Government spending is.
We can get spending under control. We can also get taxes down. Our agreement with National sets the medium term goal of cutting the rate of tax across the board to 30 cents in the dollar.
Tax. Spending. Law and Order. The big three. We also campaigned on rolling back red tape. What a job that's proving to be.
Because of ACT we have a government exploring with us the concept of a New Zealand Productivity Commission associated with the Productivity Commission in Australia.
That's to support our goal of higher productivity growth and improvements in the quality of regulation. We also have reviews of major legislation such as the RMA underway, with the first round of changes before Parliament.
We're also looking at changes to the Building Act and the Local Government Act. All these changes will have a huge impact on productivity and help businesses, communities and individuals move forward.
Now, to education. That's most important. We can and we must do better. ACT wants greater choice and competition in education. I can't think of a better way of raising standards than by giving parents a choice of where to send their children for their schooling. Choice in education should not be the preserve of the rich.
Led by Heather Roy, we have an inter-party working group looking at ways to increase parental choice and school autonomy. I have high hopes for that working group. So that's what we have been up to - and that's just over the first four months.
I have two ministerial portfolios. Both are core ACT. New Zealand is over regulated. The government has got too big.
Resources have been draining from the productive sectors into the state sector, which has been dragging the economy and the country down. Red tape is tying up businesses in knots, in particular those in building, construction or property.
Every time you try to do anything in a building you own, you run foul of the building regulations. The practice of imposing more and more obligations onto businesses and councils must stop because businesses have to pass on those costs to consumers, whereas councils pass them on to ratepayers and consent applicants. Change is needed and ACT is the party to do it.
Businesses big and small are drowning in bureaucracy. In recent years there's been an avalanche of new rules and regulations. No wonder people gave up on projects - saying "it's too hard." That has to stop.
We have taken a "can-do" country and turned it into a "can't-do" country. It's dragging New Zealand down. When ACT went into its support agreement with National, I took on my two ministerial portfolios, Local Government and Regulatory Reform, because these are important areas that affect people and their communities in so many ways.
They're also areas in real need of change. Here's what I want to achieve. I have three primary goals.
First, I want to keep rate rises down and encourage councils to focus on core activities. Second, I want greater transparency and accountability in local government. Right now, council processes are rule-ridden, dictated by Wellington, murky and confusing, even to councillors.
My third aim is to cut the red tape. A lot of the problems come from councils' decisions. But, as I have discovered, central government has imposed huge and unnecessary costs on local government. I intend to change that.
And in fact one of the stupidest new laws imposed by Labour I am taking steps to get rid of, Section 92A of the Copyright Act. This section requires Internet Service Providers to have a policy of cutting off customers accused of copyright infringement.
I believe it should be repealed and I will be taking a proposal to remove the section to the National Ministers responsible. It's fundamentally flawed because it breaches the principles of natural justice. It makes people guilty without trial, and that is wrong.
We also have reviews of major legislation under way, as well as what I call the "low-hanging fruit". These are the silly infuriating laws that people have been writing to me about in droves.
We have a task force to carry on the work on the Commerce Committee in considering my Regulatory Responsibility Bill that will make government's law-making more transparent and accountable.
I am also working with Minister of Finance Bill English, following the Job Summit, to improve government processes in law making ahead of our Regulatory Responsibility Bill making it into law.
ACT has a big job to do. I have a big job ahead of me. But I consider myself the luckiest man with the best job and the best opportunity to make a difference for New Zealand and I have to thank you, ACT members, for delivering the best parliamentary team this country has ever seen.
ACT MPs are all strong minded individualists with opinions of their own. I encourage that. I promote lively debate and the free flow of ideas around our caucus. That makes it exciting and intellectually stimulating.
You can't have Roger there without vigorous discussion and debate on the problems facing our nation and the big policies needed to address them.
Plus each of our MPs has a free vote. The only votes they are obligated to provide are on confidence and supply, because that was our agreement with National.
Apart from that, we discuss as a caucus the way we'll vote. And no MP is required to vote the way of other ACT MPs. That's what having a free vote means.
We do it that way because we have seen what happens to third parties with leaders who just dictate their party's vote. Those leaders end up thinking they are the party, and those parties don't last.
It keeps us all on our toes debating the ideas and the policies of this government. That's us as a caucus. We also each have our individual roles.
New Zealand finally has an ACT Minister, in Heather, advocating for consumers as envisaged all those years ago when we set up the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers.
We can now give New Zealanders a better deal as taxpayers and consumers. And our independent schools now have a Minister who's their champion. Heather's role as Assistant Education Minister gives her special responsibility for independent schools.
It's a tremendous opportunity for ACT, for her, and most importantly for our next generation. Sir Roger Douglas is doing what he does best: setting out the economic vision and policy needed for our country to dramatically lift its performance. No one else is going to do it.
Roger's also been a tremendous help to me, especially because of his knowledge of the machinery of government, and in his strategic thinking. It's very encouraging having him as part of the team.
John Boscawen drove the opposition to the previous government's odious Electoral Finance Act. He ran my campaign in Epsom in 2005. He ran ACT's campaign last election.
He's a very successful campaigner and is developing into an excellent parliamentarian. With David Garrett we have a leading expert on law and order. We would not have Three Strikes before Parliament if it weren't for him. Because of David, we will have it passed into law. It's a great team. I am proud to be a part of it. We have a big job to do. But we are up to it.
I have been asked what our strategy is for the next election. It's this: to deliver on the promises we made last election. And we are. It's to show that we are different to National and that we make a difference to government.
It's to make a difference and to be in a position next election to make a promise to the New Zealand public that they know we will keep, because we have kept our promises from 2008.
Our election strategy is to show that we are a party that delivers. After the next election, I'm aiming to have ten MPs, and eight per cent public support. That's a big step up. But remember - we have surprised everyone by our success at every election.
We are going to keep doing it. Because we love it. We love our country. And we want the best for our country. That's what motivates me, like it motivates you.
That, and the goal of being the best MP Epsom's ever had because Epsom and New Zealand deserve the very best.