• John Luxton


Your Worship the Mayor, Neil Burrow, Otago President, Brian Foley, National President other special guests, plumbers, gasfitters, ladies and gentlemen.

I am very pleased to be here at Carisbrook today to open your 96th Annual conference. It is perhaps a fitting surrounding to celebrate attaining almost a century. However unlike some of our cricketers, given time, I am sure you will make the 100, and continue on.

Plumbers and gasfitters are important people. As well as being important, you are also useful, which are two attributes that dont always go together. But why are you important and useful?

It is because you and your members provide services that are vital to our society and our economy. You are responsible for the building and maintenance of what is generally a hidden but vital part of our nations infrastructure.

There isnt a household or business in New Zealand that doesnt benefit from the result of plumbing everyday. You help us fill up and empty out.

It has been suggested that as an industry you are concerned about the public image of plumbers. Some may believe that Frank Spencer from the TV program Some Mothers Do Have Em and his interesting efforts to fix his toilet reflect an image of your fraternity. Frank is not a realistic mascot and he possibly makes your Associations role harder in repostponing public perceptions.

But making your job easier is the likes of Mr Phillip Routhan the owner of WH Shannon, a plumbing firm from the West Coast who beat off all comers to win the New Zealand Institute of Management and Management Magazine Young Executive of the year Award in 1995. His efforts as a plumber to achieve and win this award has displayed that your profession can operate to the highest professional standards.

I am also informed that for the first time the Society has gained representation on the World Plumbing Council.

I believe that any profession that is customer focussed, performs quality work for a fair price, is efficient, on time and cost effective, will enjoy the confidence of its customers and the wider public.

I guess this, together with the widely publicised antics of a few, may also explain why politicians are not rated highly by the public,.

Personally I believe the size of Government in New Zealand is too big. We need more private enterprise. The Plumbing industry is dominated by small family private enterprise businesss, often a wife and husband team.

I believe one of the best ways government can assist you, and the other 5500 plumbers, is to better control what it does itself. To ensure a stable economic environment softening the business and political cycles of the boom and bust approach of times past.

At one-third of the economy, the role of Government is still too large. Plumbers and other New Zealanders are paying a high price for the excess through your taxes.

Government doesnt actually create wealth, it merely transfers it. Unless business creates wealth and prospers then we will lose the ability to have both a cohesive society and an environmental friendly society.

Governments job is to provide security for its people, help improve standards of living for its citizens, to be fair, and to look to the future of the nation. I believe to do this we should be striving to have less government and more private enterprise.

Over the last decade, we have made much progress by reducing the Governments proportion of the economy, but frankly its not enough. Government spending is still high. The Manufacturers Federation and other industry groups are right to put pressure on government to reduce spending. Not only because such spending can have an inflationary impact, and therefore affect the profitability of manufacturers and exporters, but also because the imposition of large government is a burden on the taxpayer and society.

It is therefore pleasing that the Budget Policy Statement recently released by the Treasurer indicates a continuing disciplined approach regarding Government expenditure.

As always the quality of spending needs to be worked on. Industry organisations were right to challenge the new Government to justify its spending plans.

The question must always be asked, why should the government get into areas which private enterprise can more successfully operate? It is important to ensure that private sector innovation and investment is not crowded out by government activities, or that compliance costs are increased.

I understand you are seeking changes to your current licensing regime for the industry by suggesting the Institute of Accountants approach as model.

From the limited knowledge I have of your proposal to the Minister of Health, it appears to me to be a progressive move. I am a strong supporter of more industry self regulation and less government regulation. Such an approach can be more responsive to innovation and change. Increasingly the centralised Government approach cannot keep up in a rapidly changing world. So often we regulate to try and cure the perceived problems of the past, but end up preventing progress in the future.

Coincidently, my office in Wellington is on the same floor as the Minister of Health, Bill English, so given the opportunity I would be happy to pass on this sentiment.

On the broader issue of compliance costs, I am conscious that for business, especially small business such as yourselves, government can cost you much.

Compliance costs imposed by both local and central Government in New Zealand are too high. My Ministry, the Ministry of Commerce, is now starting a programme to look at the compliance costs of existing legislation such as OSH, RMA, Privacy and Human Rights Acts, not to challenge their basic concepts but rather to improve their operation.

But we also need to recognise that the monopolies that Government legislation imposes on its citizens in areas as diverse as pharmacies, conveyancing, optometrists, teachers, lawyers, tariffs, local government, and the marketing of primary produce can also impose a cost.

Government itself can also lock up innovation and impose costs on society in the monopoly provision of services such as education, health, ACC, energy, airport services etc. These need to be reassessed regularly. My personal belief is that such areas could be further opened up to competition, innovation, the drive and Kiwi ingenuity that freedom from politics and government meddling can offer.

I believe we underestimate the lost opportunities because Government, for whatever reason, has retained monopoly provision of some services, and allows the monopolies of others to remain.

Nothing ever stands still. While some may think Government has done all the improvements it needs to, simply they are wrong. If we are to continue to make progress in an increasingly competitive world, lets have less Government and more private enterprise.

Lets also continue to see change occurring. What is change but progress by another name.

So in conclusion, thankyou for having me here today. I would like to wish you an enjoyable and progressive 96th Annual conference. I now declare the 96th Annual Conference of the NZ Society of Master plumbers & Gasfitters open.