Rt Hon Winston Peters Leader of New Zealand First
The Benefits of having New Zealand First in the Centre: Security, Experience & Balance
2.00pm, 20th October 2019
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you all for your warm welcome to this, the party’s 26th Convention. Speaking on behalf of caucus colleagues, it’s great to see so many supporters here in Christchurch. It is your loyalty and your hard work that sustains and inspires us in parliament. So, thanks to all of you here today for keeping the faith.
We know how difficult it can be from time to time for our members to hear criticisms of New Zealand First and its MPs. All New Zealand First ministers have felt the glare of the media spotlight, as has the party. What keeps us motivated throughout is knowing that we are delivering on our promises, achieving real benefits for our supporters, and leading positive change for New Zealanders. We couldn’t do that without your support so, again, thank you.
Christchurch has been through a lot. Twin earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011, then the tragedy of March 15 this year. Through it all we have gained the upmost respect for the resilience shown by Cantabrians. You have revealed to all of us how a community forges courage through hope. So be assured. New Zealand First will always stand with the people of Christchurch, through good times and bad.
On 19 October 2017, New Zealand First announced a coalition with the New Zealand Labour Party. Two years on we have no regrets about that choice because, effectively, we had no choice. The National Party of John Key, Bill English and Steven Joyce was ideologically committed to the neo-liberal project. That was clear. So are their successors, Simon Bridges and Paul Goldsmith.
Sadly, nothing has changed in that party for 35 years. National still expects us to accept that the very ideology that pits employer against worker, town against country, and the big end of town against the small business owner is one that will reduce inequality, fix homelessness or give all New Zealanders the chance to forge a better life for themselves and their families.
Well, old National never accepted that, never believed that, and when they were great never practised that. And nor does New Zealand First. It’s today’s National Party that’s going to have to change, as Jim Bolger reflected 20 years after he was Prime Minister.
You see, the Coalition Government came into being on the back of growing awareness about the social ills resulting from nine years of National’s neglect of the country’s social services and increasing concern about the gap between the haves and the have nots.
New Zealand First knew from the start that we would need multiple terms to change course to give every New Zealander the same opportunity to succeed. We have made a good start but we realise that people are looking to us to provide leadership to arrest our most intractable policy dilemmas and problems that have built up over decades.
Take housing. In just two years this government has taken new housing construction and social housing construction to their highest level since the 1970s. But Kiwibuild has failed and we won’t let up until we’ve helped deliver low-cost affordable housing to all in New Zealanders who want it.
Our stable Coalition Government has set a new and more inclusive course. One underpinned by a resilient economy under our prudent economic management. Strong surpluses, comparatively strong growth, a competitive dollar for our exporters, and a strong commitment to invest in our people.
We have prioritised restoring lost capacity in our essential social services like health and education. We are aggressively pursuing every trade opportunity to advance our economic wellbeing and help diversify our economy, and we’re making good progress. We have put New Zealanders first by banning offshore speculators in our housing market.
We are also rising to the challenge of climate change because only through leadership by the Coalition Government, working in partnership with the agriculture sector, can we maintain our competitive edge as a world-leading exporter of protein to the outside world.
We are encouraged that the Coalition has the backing of a strong majority of New Zealanders. We have been able to work constructively together but make no mistake, New Zealand First sits at the heart of this government.
The benefits New Zealand First brings to the Coalition? In short, we bring security, we bring experience and we bring balance.
It was immensely satisfying to announce with Minister Tracey Martin three weeks ago the new SuperGold Card. It is landing exceptionally well, with over 47,000 cardholders so far downloading the new app and over 159,000 visits to the new user-friendly website. We also announced serious new benefits for our seniors, with over 500 new providers of discounts and other benefits.
After nine years of lip service from National, we kept our promise to deliver a better card with more benefits because the financial security of our seniors matters to New Zealand First. But you haven’t seen anything yet. The next phase of the SuperGold card will focus on further developing the card for a broader range of seniors’ daily services.
Security also sits at the core of two of our other portfolios, Defence and Foreign Affairs. These portfolios are not obvious vote winners in our domestic politics. Yet both are critical in promoting the peace and prosperity of New Zealand. Minister Mark is the most significant Defence Minister in decades. Of that there is no debate. He has secured over $3.8 billion dollars in Budgets ’18 and ’19 to completely overhaul the air wing of our defence force while offering support for our veterans. It has not gone unnoticed by our overseas partners that New Zealand is pulling its weight in defence.
When there is a climatic disaster abroad, or humanitarian crisis in the Pacific, or when we and the Pacific Islands need maritime and air surveillance to protect our fishing resources and rights, it’s our defence force that is our and their first port of call. And one political party in New Zealand understands that. So thank you Ron Mark.
The conduct of foreign policy is also central to enhancing the country’s physical and economic security. We have worked hard to improve our relations with the United States as we seek to prise open the door to free trade discussions. We are quietly confident of a real breakthrough.
The Pacific Reset is another strategy designed to help vulnerable island states help themselves. That in the end pays a long term dividend to New Zealand. Money spent now can prevent a lot more taxpayer money being spent in the future if political instability ever takes grip in the region.
We took the defence and foreign affairs portfolios not just because New Zealand First places a premium on strengthening the country’s security but also because our political experience matches the demands faced in these challenging portfolios.
There is an old wisdom - ‘the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity.’ Being a minister means asking the right questions, analysing the information received, and then exercising judgement about what is possible and what is not. Experience helps with the quality of questions posed and in the analysis of where resources are most needed and will have the greatest impact.
Our judgment about the neglect shown to regional New Zealand sits behind the huge commitment we secured when forming the government - to place the rejuvenation of our regions front and centre in the Coalition’s work programme.
The ‘First Minister of the Provinces,’ the Honourable Shane Jones, is delivering $3 billion worth of desperately needed investment to spur economic growth in our regions. For the first time in a very long time regional New Zealand knows that it has a government that is with them.
Additionally, the over $1 billion investment in rail, Minister Jones’ one billion trees strategy, and plans for long term transformative projects that will turbocharge our regions, help the environment, and spur a great economic revival in regional New Zealand.
Only by having New Zealand First at the heart of the government are these scale of investments possible. We are proving that New Zealand First is the insurance every New Zealander needs to ensure our regions get their fair share of resources.
- We understand the provincial New Zealand outlook;
- We understand the regions;
- We understand the need for development;
- We certainly aren’t ‘Beltway’ theorists – if you doubt that, two words: Shane Jones
Our experience is also evident in our ability to prevent the government from making poor policy choices. Having listened very carefully to arguments for and against a Capital Gains Tax we said ‘No.’ Remember, we got rid of secondary tax within six months of being government. Having listened to the country’s lifeblood, its small employers, we exempted all SME’s from the 90-Day rule in the Employment Relations Amendment Act.
And having listened to our agriculture sector we insisted on full sector engagement as we address climate change policies through the Zero Carbon Bill and bringing agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme. Our approach will result in better climate change policies that ensure our vital and world-leading farming sector flourishes.
New Zealand First has always had an ear for the provinces, and New Zealand First has always considered that wise government can bring farmers along with us as we face changing global consumer expectations. Global consumer expectations is forcing this change, whether we like it or not. We think that farmers understand that to maintain their competitive edge in these markets changes have to be made. We also realise that the transition needs to be just for it to last.
In Fletcher Tabuteau, Jenny Marcroft, Mark Patterson, Clayton Mitchell and Darroch Ball (not necessarily in that order) we have a rock solid caucus of talent unmatched by any other party in parliament. And they all have their feet on the ground.
Our experience is revealed every day in parliament. We take the fight to our opponents, whether it is Minister Martin’s measured and assured responses to whatever passing car Mr Bridges or Paula Bennet are barking at, or when we take the fight to them in Question Time or in the General Debate.
Experience matters and our ministers and indeed all caucus members have done the party proud in advancing the New Zealand First agenda in and outside parliament. We have the best team, experienced, savvy, and determined to advance your goals for the party.
Balance & Common Sense
New Zealand First, as a centre party, sees itself as providing balance between the extremes of left and right. Under MMP having a centre party committed to providing balance is the crucial ingredient to achieving good government.
We know common sense is needed to blunt unworkable ideas that are ideologically driven, whatever their direction. We are therefore proud to have applied our common sense to any number of policy areas where without us the government would have run ahead of public opinion.
Our presence in government has seen a reduction of over 10,000 in the number of permanent residents flooding the country as we transition the economy away from its previous over-reliance on immigration as an economic growth strategy while straining infrastructure beyond all tolerable limits for people already living here.
Our common sense also ensured that only those refugees most in need–women and children at risk, the disabled, and cohesive family groups–sit at the front of the queue for the privilege of entering New Zealand. We ensured that only those who can financially provide for the health demands of their parents can bring them in.
New Zealand First also provides balance in law and order. While accepting our prison rates are too high New Zealand First seeks to find solutions while never losing sight of the need for personal responsibility and not blaming colonisation for poor choices that hurt others or their property. We therefore seek to balance the need for reform in the justice sector with the need to keep New Zealanders safe. That’s why we’re training 1800 new front line officers.
Many thought at the outset of this Government that we would collapse. For two years New Zealand First has worked constructively every day to strengthen the unity of our government. The balance we provide is underpinned by a common sense that asks the rich to respect the needs of the poor while asking the poor to respect the contribution of our wealth creators.
A Desperate Sinking into Fake News & Dirty Politics
Turning to National, we are seeing a desperate opposition traverse new ground in its use of ‘dirty politics.’ We see in New Zealand for the first time a descent into fake news, with National bombarding social media with distorted facts and outright falsehoods. On Friday, National was forced to take down its false advertising.
This resorting to fake news is a measure of Simon Bridges’ precarious hold on the leadership. With Christopher Luxon’s unseemly entry into politics pressure will build to breaking point, on Bridges, Judith Collins and Todd Muller, as National’s fault lines fight each other over the future leadership of the party. One wonders how the National Party caucus now regards Luxon’s greatest backer, John Key.
Whoever is National’s next leader will have to confront having Paul Goldsmith as their finance spokesperson. The author of published works on Alan Gibbs, Doug Myers and Don Brash–all architects and devotees of the Douglas/Richardson experiment–tells you all you need to know. The next National Government will seek to complete the Rogernomes’ vision of a minimalist state and a Darwinian battle for survival.
Alas, they have learned nothing from the decades-long disruption and inequality they caused first time round. Unless they change, and we hope they do, a future National facing economic headwinds will embark on austerity policies, condemning New Zealand to more social fall out.
We hope they change but the fact is New Zealand First, right now, as a party of the centre, is the National Party, when it had a capital N – when it put New Zealand First.
Sadly, National has ever since the Key era been essentially a marketing operation. News this week that Simon Bridges employs more social media staff in his office than policy advisors shows that nothing has changed. No wonder they have descended into pushing fake news.
And speaking of fake news, New Zealand First regards the catastrophizing of a climate Armageddon to our impressionable young as irresponsible. The world is not going to catch fire in 12 years.
Looking ahead, New Zealand First’s return in 2020 with an increased share of the vote to help speed the transformation of our economy. Only with greater support can we achieve all of our ambitions. Let’s offer just five examples.
- Foreign-owned banks have been allowed to gouge the New Zealand market. We think that only by seriously bolstering Kiwibank will that bank be able to increase its competitiveness and help moderate cost and conduct in the wider banking sector. The current ownership structure of Kiwibank is not optimal and its leadership has been lacklustre. New Zealand First wants to see it transform into a leading light in a sector blighted by corporate greed.
- New Zealand First is also committed to expanding the farming of our oceans and suitable marine areas. We believe we need a dedicated entity to spark aquaculture investment. That entity will also provide advice on how best to ensure the Resource Management Act provides a modern and fit-for-purpose framework to promote such aquaculture economic activity while maintaining sustainability values we hold dear as a coastal nation.
- Reform of the RMA is urgent and we are pushing hard to simplify it. It imposes too much cost. It is too slow. That is going to change.
- In a second term, New Zealand First will talk to any party that shares our vision for growing the country’s wealth. I know we are turning the economy around but our ambitions are for a country of much greater national wealth. Only by having such ambitions can we match the Nordic countries and Singapore. Our concern for the welfare of our people will always be there. But we want to pursue growth strategies that take us to best performers’ level of wealth – or, more correctly, to restore the level of wealth we once had when we were amongst the world’s leaders.
- Next term we are going to turn some of the focus on New Zealand’s skills deficit to areas where New Zealand First sees real solutions. One of those is enabling young women to make a choice for the trades, whether it be carpentry, electrics, engineering or a range of skills hitherto regarded as strictly the preserve of men. So instead of filling the deficit with a male from offshore why don’t we give a local New Zealand woman a chance.
Two years ago we walked into government with an excellent Coalition Agreement. Two-thirds of the way through the term we have well and truly delivered benefits. Now we are only one year out from a General Election. The choice made in 2020 is a crucial one for the future well-being of New Zealanders. If the wrong choice is made the gains we have made will all be put at risk.
New Zealand First is well positioned for the next election. We have a great team inside parliament, the best in our history, but all of you gathered here today remain our best resource. Together we will position New Zealand First as the pivotal centre party needed to form the next government, an insurance for the people of New Zealand against the excesses of either the left - or the right.
The party offers security to New Zealanders, the requisite experience to keep New Zealand as we all want it; prosperous, secure, and a nimble country of great promise. Crucially, New Zealand First is the only party that can guarantee balance with a good dose of common sense thrown in.
We will be working every day between now and the next election to attract as many voters to our cause as we can. The voting public will come to see that without us blind ideology will drive the next government. With New Zealand First re-elected the next government will have balance. Without our party it will not.
The stakes are high but we leave this convention confident in ourselves, buoyed by your fulsome support, and motivated to ensure that the job we started in 1993 and began afresh in 2017 – that that job is completed for all who call our great country home. Thank you.