Peter Dunne's Keynote Address to Petone Rotary Club
2 October 2012
Good evening and thank you for the chance to join you tonight and to share some thoughts with you.
I always enjoy talking to Rotary Clubs, because you are able and pragmatic types; motivated and strongly focused on your careers, your businesses and families.
You have an outward-looking focus and a real investment in our country and your local communities.
Rotary after all is a very community-minded institution, both with the camaraderie and support you share with one another, but also with the good and generous work you do for others.
All in all, you provide a good model of attributes for New Zealand, and as such you are the kind of group that I would like to bounce a few ideas and thoughts off this evening.
I am sure you will not hesitate to tell me if I go astray!
So, where to start?
Perhaps with someone who has been the focus of a lot of news recently.
As Leader of UnitedFuture, and consistent with the liberal democratic principles we espouse, I am distinctly uncomfortable with many aspects of the Dotcom affair.
The incompetence of the intelligence agencies is on the face of it so intolerable as to raise wider questions about purpose and intent.
Is it credible that they failed so badly, or were there other forces at play?
The prequel donations saga carries similar overtones.
I accept that the cock-up theory, rather than conspiracy, is usually a more reliable and accurate explainer of events like this, but the ineptitude that has surrounded all of this leaves me wondering.
While the media can often be a big part of the problem in these sagas, I think this is an instance where dogged media persistence, the newspapers especially, needs to be acknowledged and respected for raising a level of accountability.
I have been reminded frequently in recent days of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous quote in 1930s Germany, and its powerful ending that: “… then they came for me, and there was no-one left to speak for me.”
We are obviously an entire universe away from anything remotely approaching the circumstances Pastor Niemöller was facing, but his message about the dangers of political apathy is relevant.
While the explanation for all these recent events more than likely lies at the innocent and incompetent end of the spectrum, they do serve to remind us that democracy and open government is always a work in progress.
They remind us that the intimacy of our society, while normally a significant asset, can sometimes be a major problem.
‘She’ll be right’ has never impressed me as a desirable Kiwi attribute, and these events prove why.
The review announced yesterday faces the dual challenges of not only overhauling the procedures that seem to have failed so woefully in this instance, but also persuading the sceptics that the GCSB will be the more credible for it.
Only time will tell whether those goals can be achieved.
Without so much as a hint of schadenfreude, the slow, unfolding dual train wrecks of the Banks and Dotcom affairs have perhaps shown what a good coalition partner UnitedFuture is for the current Government.
We just get on with it.
We are about getting things done and delivering what we promise.
We are about stable government – and in these tough times, New Zealand needs that more than ever.
We are also about having a ‘no surprises’ policy when it comes to our relationships and our dealings, virtues I suspect John Key must be appreciating right about now.
Perhaps, enough said on that!
Feeding the children
On a more serious note, I would also like to talk about breakfasts, lunches and our children.
There has been some very useful media coverage recently of the issue of children in lower decile schools turning up without breakfasts and often without lunch as well.
It goes without saying that no child can thrive, let alone learn, in such appalling circumstances, and it is a blight upon us all as New Zealanders that any child in this country should suffer like this.
Unfortunately, I think we also have a lack of clarity around this issue, when we truly need all the insight and understanding we can muster if we are to resolve it.
Of course, we owe it to every child in the country to make sure they are fed and looked after.
But who, in the first instance, is the “we”?
Let us not beat too lightly around the bush here: first and foremost, the “we” are the parents of any child.
If you have a child, your very first duty is to provide for their welfare.
And it does not get more basic than feeding them.
We must ram home parental responsibility and we must do so without apologising.
And when there are situations where people simply cannot provide properly for their children, then we must look at how society can step in, be it with school food programmes, from charities or corporate sponsors, whatever it takes.
Our children must be fed.
I, however, do not feel that the cause of these children is helped by the fiction that seems to have been accepted as fact, that there are 270,000 children in poverty in this country.
That is a politically-loaded number which actually has little to do with any real measure of poverty – it certainly does not mean there are 270,000 starving children heading off to school each morning.
As Rodney Hide – who is saying much more useful things since he left politics – said in his Sunday newspaper column recently, the 270,000 figure is a very relative term.
That figure is based on a household's net income being less than 60 per cent of an equivalent sized household's median income.
The cut-off income for a couple with four children is just over $1000 a week, net.
Enough for cereal for breakfast, and a couple of sandwiches and a piece of fruit for lunch for all of those four children.
Certainly it would be tight.
And, no, I would not want to be living on it, but let’s not call it poverty.
Being poor is having much less than that.
Unfortunately, it is ideologically driven and self-serving exaggeration such as this by the proponents of some causes that – even if well intentioned – starts to dent the credibility of their cause.
There is real poverty out there and we need to deal with it compassionately, humanely and as a decent society.
But it does no one any favours by exaggerating it for effect or political agendas.
Māori, water and the wind
Another issue that has been exercising our minds recently and that may well be before the courts soon is that of the Māori claims on water.
While Māori do have rights with respect to water interests, they are not and never can ever be exclusive rights.
Were they to be so, the logical conclusion must be that all New Zealand’s natural resources are owned by Māori – a claim long since rejected.
As with the foreshore and seabed, natural resources like air and water belong to all New Zealanders, and it is the Crown’s responsibility to exercise that ownership equally and fairly on behalf of us all.
Where customary usage can be established we should negotiate particular settlements in each specific instance, again in a manner similar to the provisions of the foreshore and seabed legislation.
UnitedFuture long promoted the public domain solution for the foreshore and seabed, which was finally enshrined in the 2010 legislation.
The same principle ought to be followed in respect of the current water rights debate.
Threat to Race Relations
I think at this point we also need to step back a little because there is something going on here that needs to be challenged.
Since its signing in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi, our nation’s founding document, has been both honoured and dishonoured in various ways at various times.
But I would like to think we have got a little better – perhaps a lot better – in recent times at facing up to these issues.
On the occasions that the Treaty has been breached in word, deed or spirit, it has often been the Pākehā at fault, as evidenced by the much needed and very important Treaty settlements process of recent years.
In recent months, however, I believe we are seeing greed and opportunism and an attempt to cash-in, coming from some sections of Māori leadership, and none of it does credit to them.
In an age when we are righting wrongs of the past; in an age where Pākehā New Zealanders, I think, generally acknowledge the transgressions of their predecessors and with goodwill, want to see them put right, aspects of recent developments are very concerning.
Greed, it would seem, is not just a white man’s sin.
Māori leadership would do well to consider the implications of some of their particularly unreasonable demands around water – and now it would appear, coming further in from the fringes, the wind.
There is a well of goodwill in New Zealand among non-Māori and Māori alike.
Most New Zealanders genuinely want to understand, and then engage in and resolve issues around the Treaty of Waitangi.
But it is not a bottomless well of goodwill on either side.
Greed and opportunistic resource grabs are neither ethical nor smart, and will come at considerable cost to social harmony in this country that we all have to share today.
Sadly, it is once more a case of the extremists at either end of the argument who risk destroying the capacity of the rest of us to reach balanced, fair and enduring solutions, that the vast majority of us can live with.
Now you may agree with some of the views I am expressing today – and judging from some of the heads nodding at various points in the last few minutes, I suspect that many of you do – or you may disagree.
Either way, you are hearing my views tonight because the self-appointed experts, pundits and media luminaries who have constantly predicted both my demise and that of UnitedFuture have been, in a word, wrong!
Even when we got numbers elected to Parliament in 2002 and 2005 it was seen as either an unintended fluke, or a perversion of the electoral system.
The barely disguised glee in some quarters that the Electoral Commission’s recent initial recommendations on the future of MMP might finally deliver our death blow has given our critics their latest run at this tired old theme.
But what they continue to fail to appreciate is that you cannot kill an idea.
That is why when looking at electoral reform it must be a fundamental principle that the capacity to promote and represent an idea, or shade of political opinion, is enhanced and strengthened, not diminished by whatever changes are made.
Democracy is the contest of ideas – and democratic elections should be about promoting that contest, not limiting it.
I believe that through UnitedFuture, I have brought and continue to bring strong ideas to the table of national politics.
I challenge dumb ideas, whether they come from the left or the right, and I do it on behalf of middle New Zealand.
I firmly believe that UnitedFuture and I are very close to where the vast majority of New Zealanders in their values and in their way of thinking.
There are clearly many who do not vote for us, but their politics are not far from ours, and I think they value our contribution on an issue by issue basis.
And for those reasons I am very comfortable that we pay our way as a political party.
UnitedFuture and I make a real and valuable contribution to New Zealand politics on a scale that far outstrips our size and numbers.
All of which leads me to the role UnitedFuture plays in the current Parliament.
Let me give you three specific examples.
First, for years UnitedFuture was a lonely and sometimes sole campaigner for the development of the Transmission Gully Highway north of Wellington.
We included support for Transmission Gully in both our 2002 and 2005 confidence and supply agreements with Labour, and got Labour to agree to set aside funding for the construction of the Highway, provided there was a matching contribution from the region’s local authorities.
Similarly, we included support for Transmission Gully in our 2008 and 2011 agreements with National, and it was a moment of special delight a couple of months ago when Transmission Gully was finally signed off by the Environment Court, and the government confirmed it will proceed as one of the Roads of National Significance.
I would wager that there is not one of you in this room who will not benefit from this project going ahead.
Second, in July I launched New Zealand’s first National Medicines Formulary.
This is an initiative I have been pursuing as Associate Minister of Health since 2007 that will have real benefits to patients and doctors alike, and is an important adjunct to the National Medicines Strategy that we promoted and introduced under the previous government, which this government has now embraced as the overarching approach for its approach to the availability of medicines in New Zealand.
Over a quarter of a million more New Zealanders are now getting access to the medicines they need than was the case four or five years ago.
Third, the Game Animal Council which arose out of the pest management strategy we developed with Labour, and which was given life under National should be in place around the end of the year.
It has been a particular delight for me as Associate Minister of Conservation to be steering the legislation through Parliament, to establish the Council to give recreational hunting and the outdoors community generally, a greater say in the management of recreational opportunities in this country.
These are just three illustrative, but by no means exclusive, examples of our influence at work in this Parliament alone.
Throw in past work our achievements in the tax field over many years, from charitable donations, to business and personal tax cuts, income-sharing and child support changes, and you get a sense of our contribution.
In the current Parliament, UnitedFuture’s position has had added prominence because my vote is periodically the casting vote.
I am sure you can imagine the consternation that has caused in certain circles!
Is it an act of just capricious judgement?
Is it just made up on the spot?
Or, am I playing out some act of political revenge on those who may have crossed me in the past?
Occasionally tempting, perhaps, but no, I do not play such games!
Well, actually, it is none of the above.
While I might be one man in Parliament, I am nevertheless a UnitedFuture Member of Parliament.
So the first port of call in determining a stance on a particular issue has to be to refer back to UnitedFuture policy.
Many who were so critical of the stand we took on the Mixed Ownership Model for state assets failed to do that, and were probably stunned to learn we even had policy on this and a range of other issues, because they never expected our vote to matter, and therefore had never bothered to check out our policy positions.
Likewise, my support for Labour’s paid parental leave policy arises from the fact that Labour’s current Bill is a step towards achieving our own overall policy goals for paid parental leave.
Second, if an issue is not clearly covered in our policy documents, the second port of call is whether it forms part of a confidence and supply agreement provision.
Again, with the Mixed Ownership Model, there was a specific confidence and supply agreement provision about having statutory minimum Crown ownership and maximum private ownership.
So, based on existing policy and our confidence and supply agreement, not only was it obvious that UnitedFuture would support the Mixed Ownership Model, but it was also utterly consistent for us to do so.
However, in the event that an issue is covered by neither existing policy, nor a confidence and supply agreement provision, the UnitedFuture Board and I will decide jointly what our stand should be, consistent with our previously stated party principles.
The proposed Mondayising of ANZAC and Waitangi Days comes into that category.
To those who say this is all poppycock and that I simply do what the National government wants, I say it is worth noting that, ironically, the Labour Party has so far been a greater beneficiary of UnitedFuture’s approach on these matters than has National!
I spoke earlier of our liberal democratic values.
UnitedFuture sits firmly in the camp of international liberal democratic parties.
So what does that actually mean in laymen’s terms?
It means we have a commitment to promote strong families and vibrant communities, and to a fair and open society, free from poverty, ignorance and prejudice, and based on innovation, self-reliance, justice and integrity in business and personal dealings is.
This is, for example, very similar to Britain’s Liberal Democrats pledge to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, which seeks to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance and conformity.
Our policies and general political approach are shaped by:
- a commitment to promoting freedom and choice
- a strong sense of compassion
- a clear focus on community based solutions
- a celebration of our country’s outdoor heritage and lifestyle
as the key values that make New Zealand the country we would want it to be.
We favour open market-led economic policies and free trade, but we acknowledge the primary role of the State in areas like health, education and welfare, supported by a strong and vibrant community and voluntary sector.
These values clearly set us aside from the ideological rigidity of the traditional left and right wings of politics, and are strongly reflective of the moderate, centrist approach of many New Zealanders to political discourse.
But, like the Liberal Democrats, our challenge is to mobilise those who agree with our general approach to actually vote for us.
And as I say, you cannot kill an idea.
And on that note, I would like to thank you for listening to a few of mine this evening.