Challenges for the FuturePrime Minister
Southward Museum, Kapiti Coast
I am very ambitious for this country. I am also very ambitious for every New Zealander who lives in it. I hope that they can succeed as New Zealanders in their own families, in their own community and in our country collectively.
If you think about where we have come from in the last two decades, while there have been periods of success and times of anxiety and failure, I think you can only conclude at the end of this journey that we are a different nation today.
And for me the new New Zealand that has emerged is the New Zealand of the future. We are now in a position that will allow us to succeed in the Asia- Pacific region.
It is the New Zealand that will allow young New Zealanders to be able to be international citizens, because they know who they are, they are confident in themselves and of their performance personally. And they are also confident that we as a nation know what we are doing and know how to succeed.
So what does all this mean? Well, for five years now you and I as New Zealanders have actually been living within our means, spending less than we earn. We actually understand that just like a family we have to meet our expectations within the resources that we have available.
One of the great successes of the previous National Government and the current National-New Zealand First Coalition is the understanding of the importance of spending only this generation's resources on this generation's needs.
While there are very many demands that New Zealanders would like to have met, if we are to succeed we must share the responsibility of meeting those expectations and aspirations within the available resources while still allowing business in New Zealand to succeed and do well.
I am sure I don't have to remind you that if we don't create wealth in this nation we have nothing to share. It is imperative that we have a vibrant business environment where wealth can be generated, and jobs created, to provide prosperity for individuals, communities and our whole nation.
We have to deal with the realities. I am proud that the current Coalition Government which has committed itself to the key elements of good economic performance.
Debt repayment, even though it's about the least sexy thing a politician can talk about, is a key issue. Just like a family can't convince their banker that they have no obligation to their mortgage, neither can we as New Zealanders walk away from the debt that we have accumulated over two or more decades.
And remember, as we pay off the mortgage we have more of the money each year to spend on our priorities.
Fiscal discipline is the second principle that the Coalition Government signed up to in its agreement. Again while it's an enormous constraint, it's nothing more than families in New Zealand have to face up to.
It is important that people who say "well the government should do something about it", responsibly consider the other priorities for that money.
We cannot and must not spend more than we have. And people must think about whether they believe governments are better at spending New Zealanders' money than businesses and individuals are.
The National Party in particular, but also I believe the Coalition Government, understands the balance of creating a political and economic environment where business thrives and prospers, individuals are rewarded for their effort and those in need can be cared for.
We must keep reforming. The Coalition Government is committed to continuing to do the things that are required to keep the economy buzzing and expanding.
Roading reform is an important element of the future. We have had a steady increase in the number of vehicles on New Zealand roads for nearly ten years, but there has not been an equivalent increase in the spending on our roads.
Roading makes up 6% of the GDP in New Zealand and whatever we do we must come out at the end of the year with both a pricing system and a management system that can allow the roading network to be maintained and expanded at the same rate as the economy grows and expands.
There are some fascinating issues within the roading debate. The issue of congestion pricing, which is important for Auckland. The more accurate collection of roading costs from road users. The vexed question of whether or not rates are an appropriate way in which to collect revenue for roading purposes.
Clearly some people pay more than their share currently, some people pay far less than their share from their actual road use. And the roading reform will try and unlock those questions and come up with some rational change.
Whatever we do we will have to spend more money on New Zealand roads as our economy grows, and if that is the case then obviously we are going to have to collect that revenue from somewhere. While I'm not going to announce this morning who is in for a change in that regard, I want to say that at the moment we are under-resourced. We have been using reserves for fifteen months to fund our roading network and there will need to be changes in that regard.
In the area of electricity, again a huge area of reform, the Coalition Government is committed to getting electricity input prices down. We have created an electricity market but there are still some blockages, which the Coalition Government is committed to unlocking.
Why is it important? Well, New Zealand business and New Zealand consumers are entitled to know that they are not paying any more than is necessary for the power that they require. The electricity reforms are our best chance of getting power at a competitive price for both consumers and industrial users.
Another, more contentious area is the ongoing question of asset sales.
While the Coalition Government has some clear fixed positions on this issue, we also have some clear intentions, where appropriate, to continue to ask the question whether business could run some of the SOEs better than government organisations. And we will look at those issues case by case and ask questions about the benefits and risks of retaining assets in Crown ownership or passing them into the hands of the private sector.
Also important are the areas of Immigration, RMA and ECA.
What does all that mean to ordinary New Zealanders? Well, we do need to think about our population base and the population conference is going to open up the important question of what sort of immigration strategy we need as a nation.
We must not simply put this aside as being something that is too hard or too delicate. Indeed our nation's wealth and prosperity have grown on the fact that as we have been an open and outward looking country for over one hundred years.
We are a pot-pourri of the world, if you look at the make up of our population. And if we are to be relevant in the future, we need to think carefully about the number of people and the type of people we want to be the New Zealand of the future. At the moment I believe we have this issue screwed down too tightly and I hope that after the immigration conference we can strike a better balance.
In the area of the Employment Contracts Act, an Act might I say that has unlocked wonderful opportunities for our country, for both men and women alike, there are still issues that need to be dealt with. And I can assure you that the Minister of Labour, Max Bradford, is currently working with the Coalition partners, and indeed other Ministers, to try and get those final modifications made so that the New Zealand business environment is positive.
The RMA again is something that still requires attention but I personally believe it's about the way the law is applied, rather than the detail of the law itself.
It is very important that people understand that the Act was meant to be permissive. To actually ask the question "how can development occur so that we mitigate environment risks" rather than "there are always environmental risks and we should impede development". I fear in some jurisdictions around New Zealand we have the cart before the horse.
We must turn it around, so that while we manage environmental risk, and we must do that, we also allow development and investment and growth to occur where that is proper and appropriate, without undue or unnecessary obstruction.
The final area of importance is the area of ACC. I want to assure claimants in New Zealand that there must always be an insurance based system that covers workers in their workplace and I would prefer non-workplace to continue to be covered as well. But I also want to say that the costs of ACC are a large cost to business and workers. The Coalition Government has agreed to try and see how we can introduce competitive activity within the ACC framework so that we get the benefits of that improvement.
We will not be privatising ACC, but the programmes like the Accredited Employers Scheme and other innovations that are going on in ACC at the moment, are very likely to be expanded and enhanced so that there are competitive pressures and claimants and employers alike can be more confident and more certain that this is the programme that's serving all of their interests.
At the end of the day though, economic policy is only half of the equation.
For we are not going anywhere as a nation if we don't feel comfortable and satisfied with ourselves. And we do need to continue to work on the question of "how do we achieve that goal?"
We must get to a point in New Zealand where we all are comfortable with the New Zealand of today. I can point to exciting programmes that the Coalition Government have introduced in the social area that are materially making a difference, such as innovations in special education and free visits to the doctor for under-sixes.
We have the enormous innovations in Roger Sowry's area, where we are trying to co-ordinate the multiplicity of social agencies. There are a few families, and there are about 30,000 of them, who keep emerging in every single area of dysfunction. We are requiring the state agencies to come together, so that they meet the families' needs rather than asking families to try and fit to the state agency framework.
There is very good progress being made in that area and I think that we will see some real innovation. But I don't want to fudge this issue because there are some very difficult questions that are still to be asked in the social policy area.
And I believe that until we are prepared as a nation to face up to those issues we will continue to feel a sense of unease. I want to say very clearly that even though that dysfunction and unease is there, simply throwing money and thinking that that will fix it is not the solution.
I discourage people from thinking that middle class guilty consciences can be appeased by politicians simply standing in front of you and saying that we are spending more than ever before in this area.
While that is important, and indeed we are spending more than ever before in many areas, we should not pretend to say that governments can do what families are not prepared to do for themselves.
While the government can and will always have a huge responsibility in this nation to see that there is inclusion and care and nurturing, we can never expect a government to do what New Zealand families and New Zealand communities will not do for themselves.
We must be bold, not timid, in this area. We must be courageous, not apologetic. We must be ambitious for our people, but not judgmental. We must be honest, realistic and sensible, but we also must include the concept of nurturing and care. Our government organisations do their best, but families and communities can nurture and care better than faceless organisations.
We need as a nation to find these new understandings. The Coalition Government I believe is committed to doing that. And as you know yesterday the Caucus gave me authority to try and negotiate with our Coalition partner to a point where the transitional arrangements can be understood and accepted and agreement and progress be made.
I want to remind you that we do have a government today. Jim Bolger is the Prime Minister until he comes back after his APEC trip. He has given us the gift of time. Time to allow MMP to unfold as it is meant to, with the stability of government lead by himself during this period.
I am committed to the current Coalition Agreement, and to a relationship with New Zealand First, and want to take that forward, if possible.
If that is not possible, clearly there are other alternatives but for me a majority Coalition Government is by far and away the most stable government we can offer New Zealand. I plead for time and respect for the New Zealand First politicians who want to consult with their party, to be allowed to come to that decision, rather than pressure being put on them, that will give undue focus to something that is an important part of the MMP environment.
Can I conclude by saying that if we are to bring politics to life in New Zealand, the debate in the next two years is not about whether the coalition is working, but about the choices that the respective political groupings can offer New Zealand both now and in the future. I relish the opportunity to champion what the centre right can offer in a National-New Zealand First government.
While many people have seen that as dominated by the personalities, I think if you focus on the programme and the results we will meet the aspirations and expectations of the public.
I think both style and discipline will also help in delivering a fresh sense of purpose. We need to be able to answer the questions as we talk to New Zealand families, about whether we are creating an environment where their children, their teenagers and their graduates can expect a job to be there for them.
We need to be able to assure people that health services are there when they need them. To get stability and satisfaction, we'll need doctors and nurses and mayors and other community leaders to work together to try and balance the resources and expectations.
The Coalition Government is spending 1.2 billion dollars more over the next three years on health, but we will never be able to say yes to everything.
You and I together must bear the responsibility for making the choices.
It's also about having an education system that will turn out young New Zealanders that are ready to foot it in the world.
Our children will grow up to work in the Asia-Pacific region, one of the most competitive areas of the world. It is the hub of economic activity now and is likely to be for the next two or three decades. The universities and polytechnics and secondary schools of New Zealand must ask the question whether they are inspiring their young students and providing them with the abilities and skills to foot it in that environment. If the answer is "yes", good on them. If the answer is "no", let's talk about what we need to do in order to see we can make that change.
We have to learn to foster independence, not dependency. We have to move away from the victim mentality in New Zealand that often hamstrings us all. Applaud the tall poppies and the leaders in our community and support those who are in need of our support. Don't let the victim mentality kill the spark that makes New Zealand the individual place that it is.
I also believe we must be courageous in the area of the Treaty. I am committed to continuing with Treaty settlements, as this is in fact one of the most important platforms we can offer future generations. But I think we must be prepared to sift out that which is serious, as opposed to that which is frivolous. I think that some of the uncertainty in recent months has been that some of the claims seem to many New Zealanders to be beyond what can credibly be argued.
I also think we must face social issues with earnestness, not just platitudes.
The issue of fatherlessness in our nation is one of the most perplexing questions that we must yet face. It is an issue for men and women, not just men. It is an issue for our children in the future. It is no good just talking about our adult expectations of values, if we overlook the needs of future generations.
Children need nurturing. If they are left in an environment where they don't know who they are, we should not be surprised in the future if we are uncertain as a nation who we are. Many of the perplexing social questions - mental health, youth suicide, and other social distress, lies in the root of families being a less stable environment than they once were. And while we can't turn back the clock, men and women who parent children in our nation, even if they can't continue to live together happily, must think about how they can leave their children feeling nurtured, belonging and valued.
If we can overcome that barrier, I think we will actually succeed in many of the areas in which we are currently failing in. It will require sensitivity. It requires a searching that often eludes us.
The challenge ahead for me is to blend the values aspirations of the centre right party, the National party and the values of New Zealand First, which is a centre political party. I want to unlock the opportunities, and try to draw out the best of the politicians who are there, the best of the skill amongst our team.
For me, I relish the chance to develop the contrast.
I look forward next year to forcing Labour to say what they're for, not constantly say what they're against.
New Zealand deserves to have a clear choice, about a future pathway and direction. There are real choices and opportunities for us as a country.
Families, individuals, communities have that choice. It is up to us, as politicians, to get over our own differences, and focus on this nation's needs.
That is my commitment this morning, both as an individual who is interested in the future of this country, and one who I hope has some skills and abilities that may be able to make a difference.
There is much to be done in the next week.
We need time, but I am sure we can deliver.