OPENING ADDRESS, 61st NATIONAL PARTY CONFERENCE

  • Jim Bolger
Prime Minister

HOTEL GRAND CHANCELLOR, CHRISTCHURCH

President Geoff Thompson, Deputy Mayor Morgan Fahey, friends and colleagues.

Thank you Bernard Duncan and your team here in Christchurch for the hard work in preparing for this very important conference.

Welcome to this historic conference.

They say a week's a long time in politics - well it's been a long 58 weeks since we last met as one representative body.

And more than a decade has passed since we have had the opportunity to absorb and discuss the comprehensive review of the National Party's role in the political life of our country.

I want to thank Jim McLay and his team for bringing together this very thorough document.

But to come back to the last eight months.

It's probably been the most tumultuous, demanding and exciting time I've known in politics.

We've been through a remarkable experience that launched our country into the turbulence of proportional representation from the virtual calm of a First-Past-the-Post system we all felt we understood, and generally felt comfortable with.

I make no bones about it, I am delighted we, the National Party, survived the storm of change, came through a very difficult election and managed a transition to Coalition Government that confounded the pundits.

I have to tell you it wasn't a matter of good luck and it wasn't something to do with phases of the moon.

The National negotiating team achieved results because we knew what we were doing, we worked to a plan and we managed the process with integrity.

It was arduous, at times frustrating and it was time consuming.

I didn't know I could say 'no comment' so many ways.

The bottom line, though, is that the negotiations were successful.

As the President put it, we have kept our hand on the tiller.

You will remember how devastated Helen Clark was on the night, how she described the decision as a "major disappointment"

Well, believe it or not, now she is trying to rewrite history by saying "We did not want to go into Government ( we decided to go into Opposition."

Pull the other leg Helen.

There has been much debate about list MPs in the last couple of weeks with the departure of Alamein Kopu from the Alliance.

Given the grab bag of conflicting personalities and goals within Jim Anderton's Alliance she may have shown great wisdom to get out before the edifice collapses.

What the ruckus shows is that the selection of list MPs needs to be done with great care.

The National Party List Standing Committee did a great job and the National Party has been enriched by the talents of people selected, and our diversity has been greatly enhanced by the selection of Arthur Anae, Georgina te Heuheu and Christchurch's own Pansy Wong.

Their selection was an example of using the list process to broaden the base of representation in the National caucus to better reflect the new diversity within New Zealand but still getting quality candidates.

The whole National Party team in Parliament is performing very well. You can be proud of them.

It's a hard working, tightly knit unit that has quickly come to terms with Coalition Government and is getting on with the job.

For 61 years the Party has been meeting, discussing, arguing, socialising and charting the country's right of centre political course.

We have over those decades reflected the values and aspirations of New Zealanders committed to family, self-reliance and shared responsibility.

We have determinedly carried the standard of individual freedom and equal opportunity through the cities and countryside for all that time.

Our values are unchanged, however, over all those last 61 years we have changed, adopted and adapted policies that would best allow us to achieve and enhance our goals.

We are doing just that yet again.

The Coalition in effect has rewritten the dictionary of government.

That does not mean we have lost any focus on our long time social and economic goal.

It does mean the process of debate and discussion has become a good deal more complex.

I believe we should be confronting this new challenge with enthusiasm.

There is no practical point in refusing to accept change, metaphorically burying our heads in the past and lamenting over what used to be.

No use either blaming those who chose to accept the blandishments promoted by the supporters of MMP and arguing that things would be very different if the referendum came around a second time.

The Aussies are saying the same thing about last Saturday's test.

The political challenge is to face the reality of long time coalitions and learn to manage, deal and accommodate the system.

I recommend to you the pamphlet "Progress '97, The First Eight Month", that's been produced for the conference.

It gives to you all a snapshot of just what has been achieved so far.

Governments of Western democracies everywhere would be proud to be able to put out such a pamphlet setting out progress to date.

This conference, under the banner "Stronger Communities - Stronger New Zealan" is structured to look at key issues.

We will welcome the input of visiting contributors.

Ministers Simon Upton and Doug Graham will deliver the early presentations this afternoon and after dinner we will have guest presentations.

It's not possible for all Ministers to speak of their plans for their portfolios, but let me tell you they are all doing a great job.

I believe we have now reached what I call a temperament of management within Government that will carry us through a constructive and productive term to the next election.

It is time to move on from the perceived difficulties and take the message of managed and constructive government out from this conference to the people of New Zealand.

As we review the momentous developments of the last year and plan for the year ahead, I want to leave you with a thought that has certainly guided me.

It's this: the National Party is unique among New Zealand political parties.

It has the depth and the history and the spread to provide the stability New Zealanders want in this time of political change.

Yet our Party has also demonstrated true foresight and the ability to adapt to new realities.

These two qualities make the National Party unique.

That is why we were the dominant party of New Zealand politics in the era of First-Past-the-Post.

That is why we have entered the MMP era as the senior partner in the first Government of the new order.

Let's celebrate that.

Let us build on it to become the indispensable party of New Zealand politics under MMP.

The change has worked because we made it work.

>From myself and Party President Geoff Thompson, from the Parliamentary wing and from members throughout the Party, there has been an extraordinary determination to build and prepare for the new system.

To safeguard the abiding beliefs that National stands for.

And to guarantee that New Zealanders would get good government, whatever the system used to elect it.

I applaud you all for that work.

I thank you for the certainty of your belief in National's values - and the bravery to adapt our processes to a new style of politics.

After our first Budget a month ago I spoke of "continuity plus."

Because the Budget unveiled a three-year agenda that continued the advances National has achieved in office since 1990 and added to them the perspectives of our coalition partner.

We've set out an ambitious strategy for the term.

We are at work on the next round of tariff reductions, leading to their elimination.

We are demanding more productivity and efficiency from the entire apparatus of government.

We are addressing shortfalls in health and bringing a new ethic to the welfare system.

We are aiming to put excellent, world-class education within the grasp of every New Zealander.

We are lowering the tax burden of all New Zealanders.

We are delivering surpluses in order to repay debt.

That's the programme of a Government that knows where it is going and knows how to get there.

You delegates are the lifeblood of the party, the bedrock of Government. Thank you for being here.

We have much to celebrate and a lot of work to do.

Have a great weekend.