Kia ora! What a brilliant conference!
The energy wave from this weekend will carry us right through to election year and I say: bring it on.
We’ve had a fantastic weekend. So many great sessions. So many good ideas. So much ambition.
I want to thank my fantastic deputy leader, my good friend and Finance Minister in the next National Government, Nicola Willis.
Nicola and I lead a stellar caucus that is united, committed and really humming.
I can tell you that our MPs have their hopeless Labour counterparts on the run, and our task is to run as many of them as we can right out of Parliament.
Most importantly, I want to thank all of you – the members, the volunteers, the backbone and beating heart of this party.
There is no National Party without you.
Your belief in a better future for this country, your willingness to promote National and do the hundreds of essential jobs that will get us over the line next year, are the true strength of our great party.
The New Zealand I Want
The video you just saw told a little about my life before politics. It also gave you a glimpse of the three most important people in my life: Amanda, who you met yesterday, and our children William and Olivia.
The lives of all children, and the circumstances in which they raise their own families, will be shaped by the decisions political leaders are taking right now.
My vision is for a more confident, positive, ambitious and aspirational New Zealand than we know today.
A country with a government that backs those who want to get ahead, manages a more productive economy, respects taxpayers, and actually gets things done.
I envisage a society built on New Zealanders’ rights and responsibilities to each other, and to our country.
A New Zealand where young people go overseas to act on a bigger stage, not to escape the cost of living and lack of opportunities here at home.
A country with welfare and education initiatives that help people flourish.
A country that meets its emission reduction targets.
A country that holds on to its ethos of fairness, including to the generations that follow ours. A country that fosters social mobility, and that encourages government, businesses and communities to work together.
I want New Zealanders who can’t support themselves to know they will always be looked after.
For everyone else, taking personal responsibility, and being proud of it, should be part of what it means to be a New Zealander.
Don’t we all want to live in a New Zealand that embraces diversity and multi-culturalism, recognises the Treaty, acknowledges Auckland as the biggest Pasifika city in the world, welcomes needed migrants, but that first and foremost serves the common cause of all New Zealanders.
A country that emphasizes what unites us, instead of what divides us. A country that says absolutely, explicitly, that there is one standard of democracy, equal voting rights and no co-governance of public services.
That’s the New Zealand I want to live in.
However, Labour’s view is for a dependent society where big government squeezes out business and community initiatives.
Labour MPs wouldn’t have a clue how it feels to be responsible for a business whose employees’ jobs depend on that business succeeding.
I know that feeling. I’ve borne that sense of responsibility.
And I say to the Government, let businesses compete.
Stop piling on extra costs, like Fair Pay Agreements dreamed up to appease Labour’s union backers.
Make New Zealand open to the world, engaged and confident in its ability to find solutions.
New Zealanders don’t need the Government to tell them to be kind.
We need the Government to tell us when we’ll get an appointment at the hospital.
We need the Government to keep us safe from gangs and street violence.
We need the Government to get kids back to school.
Being in government isn’t about telling people that you care.
Saying you care, while taking no meaningful action, is empty.
Caring means identifying the problem, devising a solution and getting things done.
That’s what a National Government that I lead, will do.
And it’s what a Labour Government led by Jacinda Ardern, demonstrably cannot do.
Labour has shown time after time that it cannot deliver the things New Zealanders want and need.
From hospital waiting lists to being able to afford a first home. From parents desperate to get mental health support for their kids, to an increasing number of people living in cars and the thirteen hundred more children living in poverty since Labour came to office - the very things that Jacinda Ardern campaigned on are all worse.
Instead of devising solutions, Labour announces working groups.
Maybe they report back. Maybe they don’t. The general sense of Labour being overwhelmed by the burden of office, does not change.
Instead of solving problems, ministers put Band Aids on top of Band Aids.
The Government made up the cost-of-living payment to cover its own mismanagement of the economy which has seen inflation overtake wage growth every quarter for the past two years.
And then they so mismanaged delivery of the payment, that your taxes are being given to investment bankers in London, French backpackers, and dead people.
Labour cannot deliver anything.
They conflate spending more with doing more, when those are two very different things.
Since Labour came into office, 50,000 more people are dependent on the Jobseeker benefit than when National was in office five years ago. It’s a Government failure that I’m going to talk more about in a minute.
Since Labour came into office, there are four times as many people living in cars, rour times as many on the state house waiting list, and 4,000 kids in motels - at a cost of a million dollars a day.
The Government is spending $5 billion more a year on education, but now only 46 per cent of our children are attending school regularly.
These are economic and social failures under Jacinda Ardern’s watch, yet she never holds herself or her ministers accountable for them.
A massive increase in government borrowing and spending over the last few years has overheated the economy and super-charged the cost of living crisis.
This year, the Government will spend $51 billion more than National did only five years ago.
That equates to about $25,000 per household of additional new spending this year alone.
This year’s Budget included by far the most new spending of any Budget in New Zealand’s history, and it was delivered when the economy was already overheated and inflation was rising.
Grant Robertson is addicted to spending. He was overspending long before anyone had even heard of Covid. He has missed every new spending limit he has set for himself over five Budgets.
So, it’s not surprising that, as Nicola said yesterday, to pay for all this spending during Covid, New Zealand has borrowed more than any OECD country, apart from the United States.
You couldn’t run a household or business like this, and you shouldn’t run a country like it either.
If you think of the economy like a car, then the Government and Reserve Bank have been squashed together in the driver’s seat, pushing the accelerator flat to the floor. Now, like some terrified passenger realising the car’s going too fast, the Bank’s pressing down hard on the brake. The car’s got the wobbles and there’s a very strong likelihood it’s going to crash.
The impact of this hair-raising mismanagement of the economy is that homeowners, some who bought during the record house prices reached under Labour, are lying awake at night fearing that the next interest rate rise will be the one that forces them to sell up, likely at a huge loss.
Worst of all, for all this government spending, nothing is being achieved.
It can be different. I know it can.
The last National government came into office in 2008 inheriting a set of Treasury forecasts showing deficits stretching out for a decade.
In fact, every incoming National Government since 1960 has inherited an economic mess from Labour. In 1975. In 1990. In 2008.
We certainly know what to expect in 2023.
But the last National government got the country’s books back in order very quickly.
Its Ministers managed public spending with the same care that people manage their own household’s budget.
The contrast between National and Labour’s approach to economic management could not be starker.
National knows how to turn things around.
We have a five-point plan to beat inflation, and another five-point plan to make New Zealand wealthier so Kiwis don’t have to work for an hour to earn what an Australian earns in 45 minutes. National’s plans will be implemented by a capable administration that holds itself accountable.
National will not only lift New Zealand’s economic performance, it will restore New Zealand’s confidence too.
Bureaucracies & Centralisation
Labour believes in an over-bearing State that thinks people need to be told what to do and how to do it. They believe in centralisation and control.
Just look at the mega-mergers of our polytechs, health system and Three Waters. It’s always the same story. Labour thinks that Wellington knows best, and better than the rest of New Zealand. They’ve spent more money, hired 14,000 more bureaucrats, and got worse results.
Only Labour could spend so much to achieve so little.
I reject that approach.
National believes those closest to the problems should be closest to the answers. That’s why we back community-led solutions. For example, the Covid vaccine roll-out showed that bureaucrats in Wellington don’t always know best how to reach people. Just ask the Maōri organisations who had to take the Government to court so they could get people vaccinated.
National also believes in personal responsibility. We back Kiwis to make the best decisions for themselves, their families and whānau.
I want to come back to welfare because New Zealand is rightly proud of its history of supporting people through adversity and a government I lead will build on that legacy.
In fact, we will do more, using the social investment model that Sir Bill English introduced. It uses long-term data to work out where and when targeted actions should occur to change the course of a person’s life – and taxpayers’ liability - for the better.
National wants all New Zealanders to be able to pursue their aspirations. A good education, followed by a job, is the best and usually the only long-term path to achieving this.
When it comes to welfare, every New Zealand government, Labour or National, will always support those who permanently cannot work and those who are temporarily unable to work.
But when it comes to those who can work, Labour and National’s approaches differ.
Having a job in early adulthood sets you up for success throughout your working life. Conversely, if you’re on a benefit before you turn 20, across your lifetime you’re likely to spend 12 years on welfare.
I know people are worried about this. I was talking to a mum in Wellington whose son has been absent from school for so long that he’s been unenrolled, and now he’s going to go on the benefit and she’s worried sick about what his future will look like.
She’s right to be worried.
Welfare dependency pushes people further away from the rungs of social mobility. It locks them out of the opportunities, sense of purpose and social connections that jobs provide.
Benefit dependency not only harms the person trapped on a benefit, but it also can harm the children who grow up in benefit-dependent households. And under Labour, there are more of them. There are now one in five children in New Zealand growing up in a household that depends on welfare. One In Five.
As a nation, we all bear the costs when welfare becomes not a safety net to catch people if they fall, but a drag net that pulls the vulnerable in.
I will not be a Prime Minister who allows young people’s lives to be going to waste when there is something more that could be done to propel them along a more fulfilling life path.
I will not be a Prime Minister who thinks it’s okay that the numbers of young people who are able to work, but who instead are on a Jobseeker benefit, is growing during a period of almost full employment.
I will not be a Prime Minister who thinks that work is punishment and that it’s kinder to people to prioritise their entitlement to a benefit over their responsibility to work if they can.
Right now, with businesses crying out for workers, there are 50,000 more New Zealanders on a Jobseeker benefit than there were under National.
As you know, their benefits come from the taxes paid by other New Zealanders who would gratefully have kept that money, if they hadn’t had to pay it in tax.
Every measure of dependency on the Jobseeker benefit has increased under Labour.
Disturbingly, 34,000 under-25 year olds are on it - a 49 per cent increase under Labour’s watch.
Worse still, the number of young people who’ve been receiving the Jobseeker benefit for a year or longer has almost doubled.
That’s right. The number of under 25s who’ve been on the Jobseeker benefit for more than 12 months has just about doubled - in a time of acute labour shortages.
This doesn’t make sense to anyone.
It’s not a sign of a Government that cares. It’s a sign that this Government talks itself up but doesn’t know how to deliver. It’s a sign that this Government has no ambition for the people who most need help. And it’s a sign the Government is abandoning young New Zealanders.
But National cares. National cares deeply. A Government I lead will do more to steer young people away from a life of isolation and dependence on welfare, and towards a life of independence and participation through work.
National thinks that if you’re young and you can work, you should. And if you can’t find a job, you need encouragement to keep taking active steps till you get one.
Some young people have barriers to employment like, say, not having a driver's licence, or having an addiction.
Whether they are simple or complex, the earlier problems are identified and tackled, the sooner they can be addressed.
What we’ll do
So, today I’m announcing a new approach to getting young people at risk of long-term welfare dependency into work.
The increasing numbers of young people on welfare shows that the Ministry of Social Development is not giving them priority.
A National Government will not keep funding failure by government departments. If government departments can’t deliver, we’ll find someone else who can. So, in this case, we will bring community providers into the mix, redirecting some funding from the Ministry of Social Development, and getting community providers to do the job instead.
We’ll contract them to provide under 25 year olds, who’ve been on a benefit for three months or more, with a dedicated job coach to help them get into work.
Young jobseekers will get more support, with a proper assessment of their barriers, and an individual job plan to address those barriers, and find a job.
If we don’t do that, they’ll be on and off welfare for years.
A Government I lead won’t waste human potential and we won’t give up on people who could and should be contributing.
Currently people are not, as standard practice, required to have a plan to obtain employment until they’ve spent 12 months on a benefit. That is far too late.
And you don’t have to have a case manager, though you can call an 0800 number if you want one. That is far too casual.
Under a National Government, if you’re young and on the Jobseeker benefit for longer than three months, whether or not you ask for it, you’ll be getting help.
The very clear expectation is that your responsibility is to find a job and become independent. I know that there are many parents, just like that mother in Wellington, who don’t want welfare to be the easy option for their kids that it is today.
Unfortunately, the course for many young people is that they find a job, work for only days or weeks before quitting or failing, and going back on the benefit.
So National will offer a $1,000 bonus to a person who is under 25, has been on the benefit for 12 months or longer, and who then starts work and stays off the benefit for the next 12 consecutive months. In other words, they have successfully broken their welfare dependency.
On the other hand, those who blatantly do not follow their agreed plan - meaning they don’t turn up for courses, don’t apply for jobs or don’t engage with their jobs coach - will face sanctions.
Under Labour, the use of sanctions has fallen dramatically, so perhaps it’s no surprise there’s been a big increase in the numbers on a Jobseeker benefit, and in how long they stay on it.
If Labour thinks it’s being kind to set young people up for a lifetime of dependency, even when there are jobs they could be doing, National doesn’t.
National’s approach will be about people’s potential to contribute, not just their entitlements. That’s what a society built on rights and responsibilities is all about.
Any changes need to be fair to jobseekers, and fair to taxpayers. I believe this policy has that balance right.
In summary, I have messages for three groups of people.
First, to young people trying to find a job: That is a hard place to be and, if there was a National Government, you’d get more support and encouragement from your own job coach.
Second, to young people who don’t want to work: You might have a free ride under Labour, but under National, it ends.
Third, to taxpayers: National is on your side.
Fellow National Party members, this is a great country and all of us are so, so lucky to live here.
But under Labour, New Zealanders can see and sense that we’re heading in the wrong direction. Today, we feel insecure about things we once assumed were solid. Things we’ve taken for granted now seem uncertain.
I sense it. I see it. And that’s why I came to Parliament. What I’ve seen in the short time I’ve been in politics only motivates me more to win the next election so that a National Government can take New Zealand forward.
The election is going to be incredibly tight. Labour knows we’re back and they’re under threat. They’re trying to spin, deflect and distract from their own inability to deliver.
New Zealand needs a turnaround. And a National Government I lead will deliver it.
Only National can provide the hope that things can be different. Only National can deliver the prosperity New Zealand deserves. Only National can build the strong economy New Zealand needs.
National Party members, my enduring promise to you all is that, under my leadership, National will be the government that New Zealand needs, and National will take New Zealand forward.
Thank you all – let’s get to work. Let’s go and make it happen!