SPEECH: Central North Island Regional Conference

Good morning, delegates. It’s an absolute privilege to be speaking to you all here today as your leader.

I’d like to acknowledge National Party President Peter Goodfellow, regional chairperson Andrew von Dadelszen, my fellow board members, my Central North Island colleagues, and all of you, the members of the National Party.

This is the final in our series of regional conferences up and down the country this year, and the turnouts have been fantastic. It’s been heartening to see you all so engaged after a challenging year in 2020. It didn’t end with the election result we wanted but we’ve had a really positive period of reflection since then through our internal review.

The findings of this review are a key element of our regional conferences this year. The need for party and caucus discipline has been highlighted by delegates at all our conferences, but the focus is also on moving forward.

Now, I suspect you may have heard or read a bit about my other regional conference speeches. I have been talking about some big issues facing New Zealand at the moment – democracy, governance, the Treaty of Waitangi – and I am going to come back to those.

But first, let’s talk about that Broken Compass Budget.

On Thursday, Grant Robertson presented his Budget to Parliament and to New Zealand. We had mixed messages from the Labour Government leading into this Budget. First, our nurses, corrections officers, police officers, and teachers has their wages frozen. Then, in the same week, they announced their so-called ‘fair pay agreements’. In reality, they are just a return to National Awards and compulsory unionism. So either Grant Robertson is trying to have a bob each way or there is some serious confusion in the Labour caucus.

But it is no surprise that they produced a Budget that has all the direction of a broken compass. We saw a Budget that lacks ambition and a plan, rather than a pathway to prosperity and a roadmap for growth. There was nothing much in there for middle New Zealand. We expected benefit increases in this Budget and benefit increases is what Labour gave us.

It was a Budget for benefits, not for jobs. Labour dressed it up as ‘addressing hardship’ but, in reality, the only reason they increased benefits was to compensate for all the hardship they have created.

Increasing the cost of living by adding more costs onto businesses was always going to make life harder for our most vulnerable. Piling more costs onto residential landlords was always going to make life harder for renters by decreasing supply and forcing a spike in rents.

This is consistent with a Government that is intent on creating greater reliance on the State and less autonomy for New Zealanders.

It is easy to increase benefits – just sign the spending off; no delivery required. It’s so easy that even this Labour Government can do it. Perfect for a Finance Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Infrastructure Minister, and, of course, the Minister in charge of Implementation, who clearly doesn’t trust his fellow Ministers to deliver on anything.

National believes that investing to get Kiwis off benefits, into work, and give them more control over their own lives is a better way forward. It is hard to grow an economy, create jobs, and develop support services but we think it is actually worth the effort. And I trust our team to have the ability to deliver.

Speaking of trusting your team and valuing your team, it is clear this Government does not value Police and Corrections Officers. There is, actually, less than nothing in this Budget for law and order – $90 million was cut from the Police budget at a time when gang numbers are at a record high.

New Zealanders are feeling less safe in their communities, and violent crime is rising.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has delivered on his promise to reduce prisoner numbers by 20 per cent but he hasn’t done that by cutting crime or improving rehabilitation. He has, instead, decided to just let criminals out early.

A reduction in prisoner numbers by letting criminals out early is not what people in Tauranga, Hamilton, Taupo, and, definitely not in my hometown of Matamata, want to see. This is why we have Simeon Brown running rings around Kelvin Davis and the Labour Police Minister Poto Williams.

Crime and gangs are a huge problem, and one that the Government won’t properly acknowledge. There has been a marked rise in gun crime and that is simply not acceptable. National does not make friends with gangs. We do not cuddle patched gang members. We do not give in to them. We are the party of law and order.

Meanwhile, Labour’s Health Minister Andrew Little is spending nearly half a billion dollars to begin a restructure of our health system – the end of District Health Boards and the centralisation of public health.

A Māori Health Authority with a veto power over the general public health system. A veto power that Jacinda Ardern does not want to talk about, but a veto power that her Minister of Health continues to back. A veto power that she and her Cabinet has approved. A restructure and veto power that will not improve Māori health.

Getting doctors and nurses into poorly-serviced regions will improve Māori health. Economic growth that lifts New Zealanders out of poverty will improve Māori health. Better education will. Vaccinations will. Actually, building decent housing will. Shifting all health decisions to Wellington will not.

And the Government has decided the perfect time for this is during the middle of a pandemic.

Here’s an idea: rather than spend half a billion dollars on starting a restructure, how about doubling the amount of new money allocated to PHARMAC for buying life-saving drugs?

Ultimately, nobody should get too excited about the Budget we’ve just seen. The Labour Government has a profound inability to put anything it announces into action.

KiwiBuild? Failed.

Remember the so-called ‘shovel-ready’ projects from last year’s Budget? Half of them haven’t even seen a shovel in the ground. They were just words.

Remember how climate change was Jacinda Ardern’s nuclear-free moment? Under her government, greenhouse gas emissions have got worse as her ban on off-shore natural gas exploration bites and our imports of Indonesian coal through the Port of Tauranga grows exponentially.

Remember the Pike River families? False hopes kept alive by a Government willing to spend $50 million dollars on a cruel politicisation of a tragedy.

Remember how light rail in Auckland was going to be operating by 2021? Well, I can report from Auckland that there is still no business plan, no contracts signed, no idea how much it will cost – no light rail.

How can they stand in front of us and promise to deliver anything in this year’s Budget when they have failed to do so every year since they became Government?

The National Party finance team is working hard to scrutinise every inch of the Budget. Andrew Bayly and Michael Woodhouse have already hit the road to talk with businesses about how it will impact them.

National’s view is that every dollar spent must be spent on growing New Zealand’s economy. This is the key difference between National and Labour. Labour spends money on initiatives designed to keep people dependent on government. National spends on money on initiatives that empower New Zealanders by creating opportunities for every individual, every family, and every whānau to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives.

Limited government. Competitive enterprise. Reward for achievement.

We are ambitious for New Zealand and we believe in New Zealanders.

Now, I do want to discuss with you the challenging conversations we have been having over the past month. I am disappointed by the Prime Minister’s refusal to engage with New Zealand on these issues in good faith. It can be hard to raise these topics, but I am not afraid of hard work. I am not afraid to tell people the truth.

And we cannot afford to be complacent about our rights and freedoms – our democracy. There can be no justification for eroding fair representation and equal rights for every person, regardless of the ideological reasons presented.

National is proud of the progress we made in Crown-Māori relations. We settled more Treaty claims than any government before, or since. These settlements meant iwi could invest in the future of their whānau, hapū, and their whenua. There is now a growing Māori economy.

We supported targeted solutions to social development challenges through initiatives like Whānau Ora, which this Government failed to give extra funding in the Budget by the way, and we did not settle for a one-size-fits-all model of working with iwi. We did not just throw up expensive alternative systems and create competition for resources. We worked directly with iwi on appropriate and bespoke solutions. National still backs that approach.

Yes, we do oppose the Māori Health Authority in the form that Labour has agreed to. We do oppose splitting Oranga Tamariki into a ‘Māori response and everyone else response’. We oppose the proposed water reforms being undertaken without full consultation with all New Zealanders. We will not accept separate justice and education systems based on ethnicity. National believes we are better together.

We don’t waste hundreds of millions constructing separate systems when those funds could go towards deliberate programmes and strengthening the system as a whole.

Dr Shane Reti has worked as a GP for many years in Northland. He has been a key member of a District Health Board. He knows healthcare inside out. Every day, he hears from concerned medical professionals and administrators. They foresee more bureaucracy and wasted funding.

Another big issue facing all New Zealanders, which needs immediate action, is housing.

National’s proposed housing solutions will, quite simply, get houses built. By scrapping the Resource Management Act and incentivising councils with infrastructure grants we will increase supply, quickly.

We will work with iwi on ways to enable construction of papakāinga on their whenua. That’s housing on Māori land – land that’s already owned, and land where social housing could be built – and we will empower iwi to take a more active role in community housing of whānau, through construction and management.

In fact, we will empower other community organisations to build more community housing for those in need. That’s what we did in government and that is what we would promote. Organisations like Habitat For Humanity and Monte Cecilia Housing Trust are eager to work alongside Kāinga Ora on more projects. This is just one area where we know we can make a huge difference to New Zealand.

New Zealanders know they can trust National to get stuff built.

I wish I had enough time to run you through all of our MPs because we are an impressive team. Our caucus is actually intelligent enough to write books.

Speaking of which, Tauranga MP Simon Bridges is our Justice spokesperson and he has his eyes on a significant battle we will need to fight: so-called hate speech laws. Another example of how the Government is trying to regulate every little piece of our lives. National believes in freedom of speech and will be fighting for it.

National is often described as a ‘broad church’. That’s one of the things that makes us great. And we are held together by several, enduring, core values: loyalty to our country, its democratic principles, and our sovereign as Head of State; national and personal security; equal citizenship and equal opportunity; individual freedom and choice; personal responsibility; competitive enterprise and rewards for achievement; limited government; strong families and caring communities; and sustainable development of our environment.

We approach our plan through the lens of these values when we look to the future and at the considerable challenges New Zealand faces. They are strong values. They represent me and they represent you.

I know that the National Party is the best party to lead to New Zealand. National is focused on building a better, more aspirational, future for New Zealand. National is committed to addressing past wrongs through Treaty settlements and improving outcomes for Kiwis across the board.

We want our cities to be world-class, with superior infrastructure, clean beaches, and quality housing.

We want to see land controls freed up and the Resource Management Act scrapped so we can get houses built fast.

We want people to be able to afford a home and raise their children in safe communities.

We want to see sensible social investment that will help people find meaningful work and lift their families out of poverty.

We want to see investment in the first thousand days of our children’s lives to give them the best start possible.

We want to see investment in science and growth in our tech sector to attract the world’s best and brightest to come here.

We want to see businesses and farmers empowered to use science and technology to reduce emissions.

National knows that enabling commerce will enable Kiwis to work together and grow their own future. We want a New Zealand that is ambitious for itself and New Zealanders who have the tools they need to succeed. We want a Parliament that will work for all New Zealanders to guarantee their hard work gets fair reward.

When the country is moving forward, New Zealanders have enough money in their pockets to afford more than just the essentials. When the country is moving forward, houses are getting built and people can afford to buy them. This is what will see our inequities addressed. This is what will see health outcomes improve for all. But more than that, it will mean our children will grow up with aspiration and opportunity.

I will continue to ask challenging questions and demand the Government talks to New Zealanders before making fundamental changes to our democracy.

National wants more for New Zealand. We know that if New Zealanders are working together, we are all better off.

We believe in New Zealanders and we firmly believe that we are better together.

Thank you.