UnitedFuture- your Liberal Democratic party (Speech to UnitedFuture AGM
28 August 2012
A recurring theme in New Zealand politics over most of the last two decades has been that the demise of UnitedFuture is both imminent and long overdue.
We have been treated as the proverbial political funeral, merely waiting for the celebrant to turn up to put us out of our misery.
Even when we have succeeded in getting numbers elected to Parliament in 2002 and 2005 it has been 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 initial recommendations on the future of MMP might finally deliver our death blow was as palpable as it was nauseating, and is the latest iteration of that theme.
But what all our critics continue to fail to appreciate is that you cannot kill an idea, no matter how lonely or dimly the flame might burn from time to time.
And nor can you deny the will of the people.
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.
Democracy is the contest of ideas – and democratic elections should be about promoting that contest, not limiting it.
To cite a parallel, last week’s All Blacks/Australia test was not so much a contest between great teams and players, as a challenge to see who could best thwart the pedantry of an overly zealous referee.
Just as we want a running game tonight, we do not expect to see our electoral process dominated by pedantry, at the cost of the expression of differing political ideas.
UnitedFuture has survived over the years, at times by its fingertips, because there are enough New Zealanders who grasp and believe in our liberal democratic principles and who would be politically disenfranchised if we were not here.
To rub salt into the wounds of our critics, this party, despite its small size, has been arguably the most successful support party under MMP, in terms of the policy achievements we have made and continue to make.
All of which leads me to the role UnitedFuture plays in the current Parliament.
Let me give you three 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.
Second, last month 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– I could give a separate speech on our achievements in the tax field over many years, from charitable donations, to business and personal tax cuts, income-sharing and child support changes, but that would take many hours.
In the current Parliament, UnitedFuture’s position has added prominence because my vote is periodically the casting vote.
This has caused a great deal of head-scratching amongst people who really should know better about how this so-called one-man band makes up his mind on these things.
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?
Whatever it must be, it clearly has no appreciation of the public interest at heart.
Well, actually, it is none of the above.
While I might be a one-man band 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.
Our 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, 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.
That means simply this.
All of us have to do what we can to build the base of this party to be a clear and effective voice for those who agree with what we stand for, and want to see us continue to play a role in Parliament, and Government.
We have to make the case to those mainstream New Zealanders who are not wedded to either National or Labour that there is a party there for them that is not extreme, idiosyncratic or simply unreliable.
And the way to do that is through sensible and workable policy.
Next year will be the year of flexible superannuation.
Our policy of allowing people the choice of full New Zealand superannuation at 65; or, a reduced rate from 60, or an enhanced rate if they defer to 70 proved popular last year, and continues to attract political support.
Already, the Labour, ACT and Māori Parties have shown interest.
And, under our confidence and supply agreement with National, a government discussion document setting out how flexi-super might work, and its pros and cons, will be released for public debate.
Superannuation remains an important issue.
It is far bigger than the 65 or 67 eligibility age high-horse that both the major parties have got themselves trapped upon.
Flexi super provides a way through the current morass, by letting people effectively choose their own retirement date, rather than have the state impose one upon them.
Another priority next year will be the implementation of legislation to phase out the practice of commercial guided heli-hunting – now euphemistically referred to by its proponents as Aerially Assisted Trophy Hunting – as per our confidence and supply agreement.
We will also be working to achieve other confidence and supply agreement provisions – including ensuring the preparation of pre-release alcohol and drug assessments for prisoners appearing before the Parole Board; and the preparation of the new annual Family Status Report by the Families Commission to measure how New Zealand families are getting on.
Finally, can I acknowledge and thank Robin Gunston and the Board for their efforts over the last year, Judy Turner for her ongoing support and encouragement, Bryan Mockridge and the Auckland team for their efforts, and all those who stood as candidates, or trudged the streets for us at the last election.