• Jim Bolger
Prime Minister

Members and guests of Nelson Rotary Club, Hon Dr Nick Smith, ladies and gentlemen.

It's an accident of timing that I am here tonight in Nelson for what will be one of my last speeches in New Zealand as Prime Minister.

It's an appropriate location.

It was to Nelson the young Edward Stafford came in 1843.

The young Anglo Irishman went on, in 1856, at age 37 to become in effect New Zealand's first Prime Minister and also its youngest.

Nick Smith, aged 32, can take comfort from that.

It was at age 37 I entered Parliament in 1972.

New Zealand, like the world around us, has changed and developed remarkably since those days.

Socially, economically, in the composition of our people, our attitudes and visions for the future.

The 1960's and 1970's were as we know a formative period of sweeping change.

A great social revolution amongst the younger age groups was underway - in music, in politics, in thought and expression.

A social revolution that, it must be said, was not necessarily acknowledged, recognised or accepted at the time.

It was another Anglo Irishman, Edmund Burke, who said 200 years earlier in 1770 that "To complain of the age we live in, to murmur at the present possessors of power, to lament the past, to conceive extravagant hopes of the future, are the common dispositions of the greatest part of mankind."

In the '70s the disposition of governments was to deal with issues through ever more controls and regulations.

Earlier budgets and election manifestos making fascinating reading.

Finance Minister Rob Muldoon gave assurances in the 1972 Budget that "local prices for butter, milk, sugar and bread would be held at present levels."

Imagine - a government still decreeing what the price of sugar would be across the country.

The Labour Government of 1972 led by Norman Kirk was elected on a platform of freezing prices on Post Office and Railway fares and a promise to adjust Railway timetables!

It got worse. We had an export ban on certain categories of meat to try and keep prices down in New Zealand.

The 1975 Budget brought in by Labour Finance Minister Bob Tizard in response to the major economic problems caused by the first oil shock amongst other things, put a tax on statuettes and vases.

Having warmed to his task he then put a sales tax on cuff-links, shirt studs, combs and hairslides.

Powerful stuff for those who yearn for the good old days.

Later in the '70s we had sales tax put on caravans and boats and in the '80s a freeze on almost everything to try and resolve economic problems that kept getting bigger because, as a society, we refused to face the need for far reaching change rather than ineffective tinkering.

It must be said that a government that concerned itself with the appropriate sales tax rate on cuff-links and statuettes was hardly one that was concentrating on longer term economic strategies.

What is important here is not the specifics of the time, amusing though they may be, but to picture where we have come from and where I believe this country of ours is or should be heading.

There were the other great issues that demanded the attention of mainstream society.

Apartheid in South Africa and Springbok Tour protests, the growth of environmental concerns and the big New Zealand issue of Treaty rights.

The abhorrent policy of apartheid ended with the election of Nelson Mandela as the first black President of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela is one of the outstanding figures of the second half of the 20th century.

Environmental issues will always be with us as we seek to protect, preserve and enhance the land we live in.

My own involvement has been extensive, from establishing the first Marine Reserve when I was Minister of Fisheries, to the opening of the magnificent Kahurangi National Park in May last year.

I recall the protests to prevent the milling of the last giant totaras in the Pureora Forests a few miles from Te Kuiti.

Those protests were successful and now we can enjoy for all time those magnificent trees.

I very much regret that I leave office as Prime Minister before an acceptable solution has been agreed with regard to the sustainable management of West Coast forests.

Timberlands needs to try harder to find a more acceptable policy.

Treaty issues have become the most demanding issue for Government to manage.

I recall one of the defining events of my time being the great land march in 1975 from Te Hapua in the Far North led by that remarkable woman Dame Whina Cooper.

Over weeks they made their way down the North Island and presented their petition to Parliament.

For a short period in 1975/76 I was Under-Secretary to the Minister of Maori Affairs, Duncan MacIntyre, and I had the privilege of chairing the Maori Affairs Select Committee that heard the petition in Auckland.

At that time the occupation of Bastion Point was in progress and I recall agreeing to meet representatives, including a much younger Joe Hawke - now Labour List MP - to enable them to lay their concerns in front of the Select Committee.

It was a time of high drama when slowly non-Maori New Zealanders came to realise that all was not well and our self-proclaimed excellent race relations were about to require much attention.

One of the defining characteristics of my time as Prime Minister has been the enormous amount of work we have put in to settle genuine grievances.

To make progress we had to be more open about what needed to be done and the costs it would entail.

The progress we have made gives me a sense of achievement, and tomorrow I go to Kaikoura for the signing of the historic Ngai Tahu settlement.

I am proud to have led a government that has taken the time to listen to Maori concerns and to put the Treaty settlement process firmly on this and future governments' agendas.

Treaty settlements are not political vote winners, but they must happen if our country is to move forward together.

I pay particular tribute to my colleague, Hon Douglas Graham, for his commitment and work in the Treaty settlement process.

As a nation we have made much progress in recognising what it means to be a member of multi-cultural, multi-racial New Zealand.

But it is an aspect of public policy that requires constant attention, because many New Zealanders still nourish the belief that New Zealand is the Anglo-Saxon country it was 50 years ago.

As a multi-racial society we must have zero tolerance for those who, in whatever way, preach or practice racial intolerance.

There is no room for a Pauline Hanson in New Zealand.

Given the recent publicity about the small white supremacist pro-Nazi groups, it was right for the Race Relations Conciliator Dr Rajen Prasad to speak out strongly and to use the law if necessary to combat their message of hate.

I now want to talk about the future.

There are still many areas of New Zealand life that need attention and leadership.

While traumatic at the time, in hindsight, making the economic changes that were needed to give us a sustainable future, while politically demanding, have been technically easy.

All that was required was the political will to put in place rational economic policies.

Today's politicians mustn't lose the economic gains already made and equally important they mustn't ignore or put in the 'too hard basket' further steps that need to be taken.

Importantly we must seek to improve competition for all services because that will give customers better service at better prices.

If monopolies worked the old Soviet Union would have been a success story instead of a monumental failure.

The hard task ahead is how to address the demanding social issues that confront modern society.

The more rigid value systems of earlier generations are gone and for many nothing of enduring value has replaced them.

The sense of despair that creates for some can be seen in our awful youth suicide figures.

The loss of motivation and the joy of worthwhile purpose can be seen in others.

The loss of any sense of respect for other individuals can be seen in the level of violence against persons.

It is not an attractive story and the greater use of drugs no doubt is a significant factor.

My strong support for Safer Community Councils, which work to change community attitudes and approaches, is because I believe working to change attitudes is the only long-term solution.

Ever since I have been in Parliament we have responded to demands for more police and heavier penalties.

We put more people in jail, yet offending continues to increase.

In my view spending more and more money on more jails won't provide answers.

We have one of the highest prison populations in the developed world now.

We need to involve the community more and we must develop more innovative penalties if we are to succeed in changing reoffending.

Offenders come from the community - the community has to take more responsibility.

I would rather spend the extra millions on healthcare than more prisons.

Providing an educational environment that will inspire the brightest minds of the generation must be a high priority.

How to capture the best and so keep up, if not in front, in a world that will change faster than any previous experience prepares us for.

One of the challenges I enjoyed as Prime Minister was to be constantly seeking a new way forward.

Knowing that to do so was to provoke political opposition and not to do so was to invite stagnation and failure.

It was much more fun to provoke the political debate.

To succeed demands that we are open to new ideas, ideas that acknowledge the radically changed nature of our society.

The concept of building up the social capital of the nation by giving more authority and responsibility to communities is part of the new order for tomorrow.

Ironically the most radical thing we can do is to trust communities more and devolve to them greater decision making, which enables communities to have more say in how their tax dollars are spent.

The bulk funding of schools, the various health initiatives involving community organisations and the delivery of policies providing social support through agencies such as city missions are part of this trend.

That trend must be kept going and the Government is now looking closely at how we can make this approach a reality in a substantive way.

Most people fear any disturbance of a settled order of doing things.

Let me give you a simple example from recent New Zealand history.

The greatest protest against me in politics was not on health or education issues, not on tax policy, not on superannuation - no it was when I was Minister of Labour and I introduced law to permit - not require - shops to open on Saturday.

The established order was being changed and that created fear, followed by protest.

It all sounds a nonsense today when most shopping is done at weekends but it was real at the time 20 years ago.

The same fear and protest is abroad today with the reduction in the size and range of service being delivered by some smaller hospitals.

The decisions to change the way we deliver healthcare are totally rational.

There is no purpose in keeping old hospital wards full of empty beds, but most New Zealanders don't understand that yet.

Instead of protest we should celebrate the fact that modern medical practices mean we need fewer hospital beds because we can treat people in the community for many more complaints.

Instead of protest against change we should demand change, so as to spend the health dollars to deliver additional healthcare, not have them go to maintain old systems and old buildings.

In much less than 20 years we will look back on changes to the health system and wonder what the fuss was about.

The world beyond our shores is moving in two apparently contradictory directions.

In trade and commerce the march of globalisation continues apace and the global village becomes more and more a reality as technology continues to shorten reaction time and break down barriers to commerce.

At the same time, but moving in the opposite direction, people are seeking to establish a clear sense of identity so as not to be lost in the global village of billions of people.

The world community of nations is growing as people re-establish old countries as independent nations once again.

Most of the conflict around the world is caused by groups seeking independence for their ethnically or culturally distinct group of citizens.

Unfortunately many of the boundaries being fought over were established by earlier colonial powers with no thought to the history of people or separate distinct cultures.

New Zealand inherited from our former colonial power Britain much that has served us well.

And since the signing of the Treaty to the present day we have progressively taken more responsibility, made more of our own decisions and established our own identity.

We are no longer a farm for Britain but traders of diverse goods to the world.

We no longer look to Britain alone for leadership but make our judgements in concert with many others.

Our identification is no longer only with Europe but also includes the vast Asia-Pacific region we live in.

In other words we are proudly our own people and for me the last step we have to take is to have a New Zealander as Head of State of New Zealand.

In fact I find it difficult in this day and age to muster any coherent arguments against that simple proposition.

We have, after all, had full Parliamentary authority for the past 50 years and have been New Zealand citizens, not British subjects, for almost the same length of time.

The time is approaching quite rapidly when we must, to maintain our sense of nationhood, move to our own Head of State.

This is not a move against the past or the present, it is a move we must make for the future.

As a small country one of our challenges is to be relevant to the world at large.

The only way to achieve that is to be an example of a successful society advocating modern solutions within an efficient framework of policies.

We must maintain a value system that reinforces the worth of each individual.

I recall something Mother Teresa said many years ago: "I have come more and more to realise that it is being unwanted that is the worse disease that any human being can ever experience."

Finding answers to that will take love, not modern medicine.

Such love can only come from a family structure, however defined.

I know that the greatest blessing in my own life has been my family.

It is they who have given me the support and strength to do the job and they who stayed rock firm when others departed.

When I soon depart the stage I will do so with a sense of the privilege it was to serve in the highest office in the land.

And I will leave the Prime Minister's Office confident that our country is well positioned for the future.

And I will recall from time to time various battles of particular interest, like the one to build the new Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa, when we had no money to do it.

Yes, I will recall battles on Saturday shopping and voluntary unionism and the fiscal responsibility law so that no successor government can cheat the public with shonky books as Labour did in 1990.

I will reflect on how so many talk of the wonders of technology and yet I had to battle every year to increase the science vote.

I will think of those we have been able to help through increased overseas development aid and reflect on the mean spirits who argued against it.

I will especially think tomorrow at Kaikoura, when I sign the Ngai Tahu settlement, and in all the other tomorrows, of the work to remove the sense of grievance from Maori by seeking fair settlement for past wrongs and reflect on those who say forget it and it will go away.

But most of all I will reflect on the many friends and family that made it all possible.

My concluding thought is to recall the observation that being an MP is the sort of job all working class parents want for their children - clean, indoors and no heavy lifting.