Address to the Dunedin Cabinet ClubState Services
There's a major contest looming sometime in November. New Zealanders are fixated on it. It will be a titanic struggle. The consequences of the result will be profound for this island nation. It is a watershed, a dividing line between going forward positively as a vibrant young nation, or turning back, despondently to the slough of negativity and despair.
I am, of course, referring to the Rugby World Cup final.
And yet, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an event about which you and I can do little. We can only stand back and watch, hope and worry.
The other, relatively minor, event sometime around November is the general election.
I say "relatively minor" because I sense a mood in the nation which is somewhat blasé about the result. If the current political polls are correct, the nation seems to be drifting slowly to the shoals of a Labour/Alliance government and few people seem to have grasped the significance of the course or its consequences.
Many assume that Labour is, at bottom, a reasonable party that won't do anything too radical. Indeed they might improve matters in one or two areas. I'm not so sure.
Meanwhile, people seem to be in denial about the possibility of Jim Anderton being Deputy Prime Minister.
I want to say today that the contest for the General Election this year will also be a titanic struggle. The choice for the country is truly between going forward positively, building on the progress of the last 15 years, or turning back, despondently to the slough of negativity and despair.
It is serious. And, unlike the World Cup, there is something we can do about it.
Now, it would be too easy today to focus on Jim Anderton and the dire consequences of his policies. I trust that throughout the campaign the simple message - that if you get Labour you also get the Alliance - will be delivered both forcefully and often.
Instead, I want to zero-in on the Labour party. I want to look at the problem from the point of view of a handful of groups in New Zealand society and to ask the question: "why are these people Labour's enemies?"
The West Coasters.
Labour's proposal to ban the sustainable logging of native trees provoked a swift reaction on the West Coast.
We were treated to the spectacle of Dr Cullen being shouted down and his car being pelted with eggs. All the while Damien O'Connor stood by, looking positively ill. He should be. The unthinkable could happen and Labour could lose the West Coast-Tasman electorate.
Helen Clark, Dr Cullen and the bulk of the Labour MPs, meanwhile, see this as a necessary evil. They cynically conclude that a few mad West Coasters don't matter in the scheme of things; it's Auckland that counts.
It appears also that honouring agreements doesn't matter to the Labour party.
As an Environment Minister, and one who cares greatly about this country's unique flora and fauna, I am scarcely a keen proponent of logging native timber. But there's a history to relate.
Around 5 million hectares of New Zealand's 6 million hectares of natural forests enjoy permanent protection under the management of DOC. Of the remaining natural forest, nearly all is protected from unsustainable harvesting and loss of natural values, either by law or by various contracts.
To achieve this unprecedented level of protection, successive governments have had to negotiate with both those who have depended for their livelihood on the harvesting of natural forests and those with conservation interests. This was especially true in the case of the West Coast forests of the South Island where the Crown (in this case the Labour Government) negotiated the 1986 West Coast Accord with conservation groups, councils, saw-millers, and timber workers.
The Accord was a negotiated compromise that achieved the conservation of large tracts of natural forest on the West Coast. In return, the deal provided a phased transition to sustainable management of those forests set aside for native timber production. This was to allow sufficient time for the local community and industry to change to plantation timber processing.
In signing up to the Accord, Labour and the conservation groups agreed that logging should continue. The sort of logging people had in mind at the time was so called "beech management" which involved clearing up to 20 hectares at a time - a bit like calling cyclone Bola a forest management tool.
Fourteen years on, the management scheme proposed is single log extraction using helicopters - several orders of magnitude less destructive.
Now I understand that some people believe there should be no commercial use of native forests at all - and didn't support the Accord when it was signed. I respect those people. But it is a morally indefensible position for those who did put their signature to the Accord. The Labour party's integrity is impaled on it.
Its willingness simply to discard its earlier commitments has left the people of the West Coast feeling betrayed and angry.
The repercussions are wider. Protecting the environment outside national parks relies on the maintenance of trust and goodwill between landowners, communities and the Government. Labour's actions have dealt a massive blow to that trust. If they were to gain power, one thing's for sure; there won't be anyone lining up to sign any more environmental accords.
I should also note that Labour's policy to ban sustainable forestry on Crown land could, according the Furniture Association of New Zealand, imperil more than 4,000 jobs in New Zealand's furniture manufacturing industries,.
The main advantage New Zealand manufacturers enjoy is their use of indigenous timber that the public here appreciates. Guaranteeing a low impact, sustainable supply would be even more attractive. But removing it altogether will mean they have no alternative but to import tropical timber.
The bizarre irony is, by banning sustainable logging of native timbers in New Zealand we will only encourage the unsustainable logging of native timbers in Indonesia, Brazil and elsewhere. Unless, of course, Labour plans to ban the importation of anyone else's timber. Perhaps that's a further detail they'll get around to announcing in due course.
People earning over $60,000.
Labour intends to raise taxes for this group. Of course, we don't know what further accommodations would have to be made to have the Alliance on board.
Senior University lecturers, a wide array of health workers, skilled tradespeople, small business operators who have had a good year - these are sorts of people who earn too much, according to Labour. Apparently, New Zealand is so rich in skills that we can afford to lose them.
Aside from the practical effects of this new tax rate, it is the symbolism of the act that is most disturbing. It is driven by mean-spiritedness and envy. It questions whether you really deserve to keep the money you have earned.
It puts a dent in the aspirations of many who would like to reach that income bracket one day.
This is a message that we can ill afford to send in this country.
I might add that the $300-400 million derived from Labours 39c tax rate will by no means cover all the projects they wish to undertake. The clamour for increased social spending grows ever louder and Labour would most likely be overwhelmed by it.
Assuming they don't raise more taxes or run up large debts, the only alternative for them is to re-prioritise spending. Which means that once more the core state - defence, foreign affairs, justice, policy spending - will be squeezed mercilessly.
Parents who want to send their children to private schools.
The Government currently funds private schools with a percentage of what it would cost to run an equivalent state school. For new entrants to form 4, they receive 30%. For Forms 5,6 & 7 we fund 40%.
Labour has said it will cap this amount. The Alliance has said it will abolish the assistance altogether, which will pose a problem if they are in coalition together.
Parents with children at private schools pay taxes toward a public education system (and GST on the school fees), but they stand to be denied any benefit from those taxes. Parents quite rightly are allowed to spend their money on cars, houses and overseas trips, but if they dare to spend it on their children's education they will be penalised.
The message from Labour (and, as always, more stridently from the Alliance) is fairly crude: education isn't something that you should be prepared to make extra sacrifices for.
It stems, I would suggest, from a preference for central control. It says the centre, the PPTA, and the most successful lobby groups, know best. Anyone who doesn't conform to this pattern does so at the Government's displeasure.
Schools who dare to be bulk funded.
If Labour gets its hands on the education lever, the education sector will be thrown into reverse gear. They've become much more backward focussed than I ever dreamed was possible. They are even promising to reverse some of their own initiatives of a decade ago.
Labour promises to reverse bulk funding despite it being a compulsory feature of their own legislation passed in 1989. The reversal will disrupt 783 schools and 286,294 pupils, despite research showing it is working well and schools like the flexibility of the system.
Labour promises to scrap any form of national assessment. With every state in Australia, the UK and the majority of American and Canadian States having moved to nationally consistent measures of pupil achievement in literacy and numeracy over the last decade, Labour will be denying parents information provided in most western countries. Labour wants to fudge pupil achievement and avoid nationally consistent standards.
For over a decade, education policy has been about empowering parents, letting schools make decisions for themselves and being clear about the standards that need to be achieved.
Labour won't trust principals and parents to make the best decisions for pupils, is going to give the power back to Wellington bureaucrats and has gone soft on standards. Children can only be the losers.
Workers who want to negotiate a collective contract.
Labour's industrial relations policy means that any groups of employees wanting to negotiate a collective contract would be required to employ a union to do so. Monopoly bargaining rights for unions would force many workers to join unions. What's more, once a person joins a union, the union will be authorised to represent them in all negotiations - individual and collective.
Labour will legalise strikes in pursuit of multi-employer contacts. This will simply allow union domination of New Zealand work sites by those who have a vested interest in a particular industrial dispute.
I have outlined only a few areas where Labour's proposed policies are cause for considerable anxiety. Of course, in many important areas we still don't know what they plan to do. Nor do we know how influential the Alliance could be. But these stark differences are, for men, reason enough to fight Labour and the Alliance every inch of the way.
We may have had elections in recent years when there were more similarities than differences. That's genuinely not the case this year. In fact I'd say, the differences are wider than at any time since the early 1980s. The difference is that in 1984 Roger Douglas didn't tell the country how radically different he was from Muldoon. Labour this year has been disarmingly frank about turning the clock back.
If you think my analysis of the lurch left is negative, I make no apology for that. There is a real choice this election and New Zealanders need to be clear about it.
National, I hasten to add, is far from a spent force. I rate our chances highly in the election. Voters can be sure with National of a sensible government which will continue the real progress we've made as a nation over the last decade.