THE INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENTTreasurer
WELLINGTON CLUB, THE TERRACE, WELLINGTON
President Colin Coverdale, Ladies and Gentlemen
When you invited me here you said I could speak on anything I liked. Well, I don't particularly like the subject that I'm about to address you on, but the issue needs an airing.
The last few months have been hectic to say the least.
Some would have you believe that the reason is a series of "side-shows" that have been blown up out of all proportion.
The fact is, while these issues have undoubtedly cost some time, it is the Budget preparation that takes up most of ones waking hours, and those of colleagues.
We are now in the home straight, with Budget items going for final sign off by Ministers this week.
If you read the newspapers and watch Television and listen to the radio, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Government was in the middle of an Italian style meltdown, with the Coalition on its knees, bloody and bruised.
You probably believe MPs are ready to defect to form new parties, Ministers are at each others throats and the Prime Minister is holding secret meetings with other parties in readiness for the final hours, when, Mobutu like, we will all flee from the Beehive to safe havens elsewhere.
As with most of what one reads on politics these days, the truth is vastly different.
The recent attacks on New Zealand First and the Coalition are about journalists egos, first and foremost........ an orgy of self congratulatory journalism which boosts circulation and does little to ensure that New Zealanders are properly informed about what is really happening in government.
These self appointed, temporarily anointed gurus will no doubt be disappointed to learn that the Government is making real progress on the agenda outlined in the Coalition Agreement.
Don't take my word for it. Ask the Prime Minister, Don McKinnon or Jenny Shipley.
All will confirm that on a Minister to Minister, MP to MP basis, and around the Cabinet table, things are going smoothly.
While column inches dissect the fact that Tau Henare chooses to wear a certain brand of New Zealand sunglasses, the real business of Government is continuing apace.
Please think about that for minute. It is astounding that in New Zealand in 1997, some believe the fact that the Minister of Maori Affairs actually chooses to wear sunglasses is newsworthy.
While it is perhaps difficult to blame callow journalists who are naturally eager to match another colleague's mindless meanderings, you would expect editors to take a second look at some of the material that gets written by their foot soldiers.
But no. If it is about New Zealand First, or it shows the Coalition in a bad light, then it is instant news, and often on page one.
The fact that not one story in six months represents a media home run seems neither here nor there.
For example, commentators are forever predicting that the Maori members of New Zealand First are planning to run off and form their own party. That's been a tiresome theme for three years.
These stories are run again and again, written up as if they came from heaven on tablets of stone.
They are patently false, but you had to look at the Letters to the Editor column in the Evening Post to find this out.
They published a letter from Tu Wylie stating categorically that, and I quote, "My fellow Maori MPs and I have never contemplated, nor do we plan, to leave New Zealand First.
Despite all the pages of newsprint that have been dedicated to this party and this coalition over the last five or so months, the facts get more vague, truth is becoming a rare commodity, and evidence does not even seem to be in their dictionary any more.
Again, don't take my word for it.
When Richard Prebble, who it is probably fair to say is not a signed up member of the Winston Peters Fan Club, gets a headline which reads: "Peters subjected to orgy of assassination", then you just know that something is not quite right.
The media, to be fair, does need feeding, and regretfully some of the Coalition's own members seem unable to resist tossing a few scraps to the assembled chooks.
Some backbenchers seem unable to make the connection between the fact that they are in Government because of New Zealand First, and mouthing off to the media about every little frustration that annoys them.
Perhaps they would rather be in opposition, but they can take it from one who has been there, it is much more rewarding in Government because you can actually do something.
Others will be disappointed that they are not in Cabinet or that they were dropped from Cabinet. That is always sad, but the reality is we were limited by the number of Cabinet posts available, and some had to miss out or lose their place.
That is no reason to attempt to destabilise a coalition that is working very well.
The New Zealand First MPs have done themselves and their party proud in this respect - they have never bad mouthed their coalition partners in public - despite at times having every good reason to do so.
We do get frustrated with each other.
After all, we didn't form this coalition because we all necessarily liked each other - but because we felt then, and now, that it was in the best interests of New Zealand that we did so.
Having chosen our coalition partner, the New Zealand First MPs have been honourable in upholding their end of the bargain. They know that the coalition must work.
They know that we need another party as much as they need us, because if this coalition does not work, or can not work, then the whole MMP process and stable Government will be placed in jeopardy.
New Zealand First MPs are doing what they were elected to do - working on select committees, running departments and ministries, working with their coalition colleagues to put in place the joint planks of the coalition policy.
Other MPs could learn from their sense of loyalty and honour. When you make an a agreement you stick to it - through good times and bad - because you know that the agreement was made in good faith and with noble goals - in our case a better, fairer, more prosperous New Zealand.
We have made this agreement with National for three years and we will stick to it because it is in the best interests of New Zealand.
The media is intent that this not be so, because crisis sells papers, and sales mean profits.
One of the more insidious aspects of the whole barrage has been the media's "reporting" of items contained in an ACT publication called "The Goss".
The media has reported this, not as goss, but rather as gospel.
No facts, no evidence. If it lands on their desk, and contains anti-New Zealand First and anti-Government stories, then in it goes.
The public deserve better from their fourth estate than the re-heating of gossip, most of it either plain lies or vastly overstated and inaccurate versions of events.
Suffice to say, some of us do not hold out much hope for an immediate improvement in this state of affairs.
Our message for the holier-than-thou editors and columnists is this:
New Zealand First and its Leader, in this Coalition, is happy to be judged in 1999 by the people.
But are the media willing to be subject to the same scrutiny?
Who holds these journalists, who are predominately in the pay of overseas magnates like Rupert Murdoch or Tony O'Reilly, accountable for their reporting? Not the editors and not the owners. Their only game is profit.
That task falls to us.
When we are wrong we will say so, but we expect the same of the media.
Any journalist who does any less is not worthy of the job he or she is doing.
In our society, journalists are, quite rightly, free to write, print and broadcast what they like. That is their right.
But what we demand in return, is balance and accuracy. This has been sadly lacking for some time with respect to New Zealand First and reporting of the Coalition Government.
Now, to leave you on a high note, let us talk about the economy.
While the media has been gobbling up the side-show tittle tattle, we have been getting on with the process of running the country.
There has been much talk about the dangers of this Government blowing its budget....... euphemistically known as fiscal slippage.
To be frank, there are strong pressures on us to exceed our self-imposed spending limit of $5 billion over three years.
In health, education and other social areas there are many instances of great need.
Outside these portfolios, ministers are pushing another stack of spending proposals.
And this Government will not shrink from the fact that it will spend more in areas of critical need.
The Coalition Agreement and the Budget Policy Statement have made that clear... in fact, for the first time a Government has said from the outset what its spending will be, not for one year, but three years.
The spending limit has provided an anchor for the forthcoming, and future budgets. Without the limit, the Government would have had much greater difficulty holding spending demands at bay.
We are well aware of the risk of poor expenditure control feeding inflationary pressures, increasing the likelihood of tighter monetary conditions and lower growth.
We are acting to reduce, or remove, these risks by remaining within the fiscal parameters set out in the Coalition Agreement. New Government spending will be capped at $5 billion.
This year, the total macro-economic impact of the new spending will be about the same as the second round of tax cuts signalled by the National Government last year.
During the first term of this Government, government spending as a percentage of GDP is expected to fall. Further, work done by Deutsche Morgan Grenfell shows that government surpluses are not adding to inflationary pressures; in fact, the Government is only moving toward what could be described as a broadly neutral position.
If people still doubt our commitment to the Coalition Agreement's pledges of low inflation and prudent and conservative fiscal management, they need look no further than the Current-Year Fiscal Update, to be tabled in Parliament tomorrow.
This update will show there has been no blow-out in expenditure under this Government... revenue and expenditure forecasts are very close to levels predicted in December.
The 1997 Budget is now little more than a month away, on June 26th. It will show that this Government has been consistent... it will spend the money it has promised, but at the same time remain within the bounds set in the Coalition Agreement.
The Budget is an example of the Coalition at work. It might not be the impression you have got through the media, but it is a highly collaborative effort.
While working on the current Budget, we have realised we need still more savings and following the Budget we will work methodically through departments to find them.
In short, the economy is in sound shape, and so is the Coalition government.
I urge you all to not always believe what you read and hear in the media about us.
We are here for the next three years.
The June Budget will well and truly get this Coalition's agenda up and running.