Speech: National Northern Regional Conference, 2023

Kia ora, good afternoon and thank you.

Before I begin can I acknowledge:

  • Sylvia Wood and all our Board for the great work they’re doing.
  • The incredibly positive and energetic Ward Kamo – our Northern Regional Chair.
  • My good friend and our fabulous Deputy Leader – Nicola Willis.
  • All our MPs and candidates.

But most importantly, thank you for your commitment to the National Party, your commitment to our values and your commitment to returning a National government this year.

Do you want a government that will finally beat the cost-of-living crisis?

Do you want a government that will restore law & order?

So, you want a National Government?

Well so do I, and so does every New Zealander who knows that this great country that we all love could be doing so much better.

So does every New Zealander who understands that having the highest-ever home-grown inflation right now, is unnecessary and unacceptable.

And every New Zealander appalled and embarrassed that in this country - that used to be among the world’s best for educational standards – two-thirds of secondary school students failed to reach the minimum level the OECD says is necessary to succeed in further learning, life, and work.

What has happened to our country? Well, I’ll tell you.

Six years of a Labour government have happened, that’s what.

And that Government is taking New Zealand backwards.

You don’t need to be an economist to work that out.

All of us know there’s something fundamentally wrong with a Government that builds a brand new, massive health bureaucracy while nurses in hospital wards are literally crying with exhaustion and worry.

That is, when they’re not filling in the forms to move to Australia.

It’s not just our nurses. Doctors, teachers, engineers, bus drivers, chefs and mechanics are all being drawn to Australia.

Australia doesn’t pay higher wages because their employers are kinder than we are.

And it’s not because Australian businesses are more generous than we are.

It’s because Australia has a bigger, stronger economy so can afford higher wages than New Zealand can.

And we should never lose to Australians!

But you never hear Labour talk about growing the economy and creating opportunity.

You’ll hear me talk about that. And National talks about it, because National knows that it’s only with a strong economy that we can afford the things New Zealanders deserve and expect.

I’m talking about better cancer drugs, more resilient highways, and a world-class education system.

With a strong economy, we could pay for those things, and more, without increasing borrowing or taxes.

Only a strong economy will drive the growth and investment we need to lift incomes for all.

National will create opportunities right here in New Zealand. Under National, Kiwis will know they don’t need to head overseas just to afford the basics - because if they work hard, they can get ahead right here at home. 

But Labour talks only about spending.

Labour has probably replaced singing The Red Flag with singing Money, Money, Money when they crank up the karaoke at Labour Party functions.

Because Labour is addicted to spending.

It’s the only part of the economy it understands. And, to be fair, it understands spending very well because it does a lot of it.

Labour is spending a billion dollars a week more than National was when it was in office.

You know, I know, and every family knows that if you don’t live within your income, sooner or later there are consequences.

So, Labour has to get the money from somewhere to pay for its extra spending and one way or another, it ultimately comes from you - taxpayers.

A Government has a few more options than most of us when it wants to spend more.

A Government can, for example, make people may more tax.  Right now, the IRD is collecting, on average, $17,500 more tax per household than when National was in government.

That adds up to an additional $43 billion more in tax each year coming into the Government’s coffers.

Labour loves tax. The ute tax, the jobs tax, Labour loves a new tax.

And can’t we all see where they’ll be going next?

It’ll be a capital gains tax or a death tax or a wealth tax, or all of them.

I am proud to say – National is the party of lower taxes.

Under me there will be no inheritance tax. There will be no wealth tax.

And there will be no capital gains tax.

And I challenge Chris Hipkins to make the same commitment – but he won’t.

David Parker screwed the scrum this week by suggesting that 311 wealthy people are at fault for other Kiwis not getting ahead.

That’s wrong.

Hard-working New Zealanders are going backwards not because some New Zealanders are successful, but because Labour is mismanaging the economy.

Labour wants more tax because it’s easier than bringing discipline to government spending.

It wants more extra tax because, as David Parker made clear this week, Labour resents success. 

That’s a fundamental difference between our parties:

National views success as something to celebrate. 

Labour views success as something to tax.

Look, there is unfairness in the tax system.

And that’s the squeezed middle - Kiwis who are going backwards because the cost of living is outstripping wages and the Government refuses to adjust income tax brackets for inflation.

National will deliver tax relief for hard working Kiwis, and that will see a couple on the average wage better off by $1,600 a year.

So, Labour’s approach is clear – spend more, borrow more and tax more.

National’s approach is different – if we want to spend more, we need to earn more as a nation and grow the economy.

But the most recent data shows New Zealand’s economy shrinking. Economists are only debating when the recession will start, not whether it will happen at all.

There is another way to get the books in order. But Labour hasn’t tried it. It appears to them unthinkable. You’ll know what it is.

It’s reducing wasteful spending.

With $30 billion going on light rail in Auckland, $1.7 billion spent on consultants last year, $200 million spent on a failed polytech merger, and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on “on-again off-again” projects like the Auckland Harbour bike bridge, the TVNZ-RNZ media merger, and the Jobs Tax - I don’t expect to see fiscal responsibility from Labour, ever.

It’s just not in their DNA to be prudent with your money.

What frustrates me even more than the additional spending, is that there’s absolutely nothing to show for it.

Educational achievement is going backwards while health wait times are skyrocketing.

It takes a special skill to borrow more, spend more, hire more bureaucrats and yet deliver less for Kiwis. But Labour have done it.

This must not continue for another three years, and I thank you for being here today and sharing my commitment that October 14 must be this Government’s last day. 

And next month must be Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s last Budget. 

Because New Zealand cannot afford another one.

New Zealand can’t afford three more years of a Labour Government.

There has to be a turnaround and, ladies and gentlemen, a National government that I lead will make it happen.

I came to politics because my frustration kept growing that this great country, full of hard-working, innovative people, is not making the most of the opportunities it has.

I didn’t want to be just another critic. I wanted to make a contribution.

I want to make a difference and get things done to improve Kiwis’ daily lives.

After two and a half years in Parliament, to me, the need for a turnaround seems only greater, and more urgent.  There is just so much potential in New Zealand yet we’re going backwards.

New Zealand has become inward-looking, timid and focussed on the wrong things.

As I said, we used to be in the top 10 countries in the world for maths, reading and science. Now, we’re out of the top 10 in all three. In maths, we’ve dropped from 4th to 27th. 

It’s symbolic of a relentless, backwards slide during six years of a Labour government that is focused on the wrong things.

We’re seeing the impact of it everywhere – like the woman I met in Napier the other week, who was having to reduce her family’s food budget despite food prices skyrocketing.

People who never expected to be in financial difficulty, now are.

Keeping your head above water financially should not be such a struggle for so many people.

I’ve met people living in fear of losing their house – the roof over their family’s heads - because of mortgage interest rates going through the roof. And it’s even tougher for those who bought during the very high house prices and so have very large mortgages.

People talk about having to find an additional $700 a fortnight to service their mortgage, as though that money is hidden somewhere, but when your budget is fully committed already, that money simply doesn’t exist.

Meanwhile, the Government has been working on things like the proposed merger between TVNZ and RNZ, hate speech legislation, the health bureaucracy, Three Waters and other ideological projects - all while New Zealanders are crying out for proper management of the economy to get the cost-of-living crisis under control. 

Labour has chosen to spend excessively and this has made inflation worse than it otherwise would have been, so now it’s embedded. 

Life in New Zealand should not be this difficult for people who work hard and are trying to get ahead.

And I’m telling you that there is another way. A better way.

The National way.

And if we become the government, the turnaround will start immediately. 

Under a National government that I lead, New Zealanders will get ahead.

National’s aspirations for New Zealand are not simply wishful thinking.

National is part way through a comprehensive roll out of practical, workable policies that will deliver results so that all New Zealanders get ahead.

That, after all, is the point of growing the economy. We don’t want to grow it just to get a tick from international ratings agencies.

We want to grow it so that New Zealanders get ahead.

Let me tell you how we’re going to do it.

National will have five priorities in government:

The first is addressing the cost of living.

In the past two years of this Government, the price of food has gone up 20%.

Hands up if, in the past two years of this Government, your income has gone up 20%.

I thought not.

As I mentioned, in the same period - just two years - the cost of a $500,000 mortgage has increased by $700 a fortnight.

Is it any surprise that there are now 20,000 Kiwis in mortgage arrears?

So, National will deliver practical support. For example, New Zealand’s childcare costs are among the most expensive in the world.

National’s Family Boost plan means that families earning up to $180,000 will be eligible for up to a $75 a week or $3,900 per year rebate on their childcare costs.

And we’ll pay for it by slashing Labour’s wasteful spending on consultants.

But what New Zealand really needs is a plan to fight inflation. Only National has that plan.

Our plan will mean the Reserve Bank returns to having one job –to keep inflation under control. It worked before, and it will work again.

Our plan will also mean stopping loading costs on to businesses because sooner or later they are passed on to consumers through higher prices.

We’ll also reduce the bottlenecks that make it harder for businesses to grow, and, as I’ve said, we’ll provide tax relief by adjusting tax brackets for inflation.

And we’ll bring discipline to government spending.

Our second priority is lifting incomes for all.

To lift incomes – especially for those doing it tough – it’s critical to move people off welfare and into work.

Businesses are crying out for workers, yet under Labour there are nearly 50,000 more people on a Jobseeker unemployment benefit than when National left office.

National’s Welfare that Works policy will help young people find a job. We’ll work with every young person who’s been out of work for a year and create an individualised job plan for them and their circumstances to help them get a job.

But if they don’t play ball, we’ll sanction their benefits. Under National, personal responsibility will be back.

We’ll also lift incomes by enabling businesses to flourish. The more successful New Zealand’s businesses are, the better the salaries and opportunities they can offer.

In particular, to become a wealthier country we must earn more money overseas and that means really lifting our game in engaging with the world.

My government will hustle and create more avenues for Kiwi businesses to earn money overseas. One key focus will be pursuing a trade deal with India - because it makes no sense that our trade with one of the world’s largest economies has fallen since Labour came to office.  

Our third priority will be delivering resilient infrastructure for the future.

Labour has not delivered a single major transport project from start to finish in almost six years in government.

You’ll have seen us announce our Local Water Done Well plan to return water assets to local communities, letting them decide how they want to work together to achieve greater efficiencies.

Every council will be required to maintain the highest standards for drinking water – but deciding how that is delivered will remain in local ownership, rather than big centralised co-governed bureaucracies.

And you’ll have seen that National won’t be forcing co-governance on communities, like Labour’s Three Waters will. 

That’s because New Zealand is one country with a single system of public services to support all New Zealanders on the basis of need, not ethnicity. We are all equal under the law, and democracy means one person, one vote.

National’s plan to Electrify NZ will help double the supply of abundant renewable electricity and be a big step towards New Zealand meeting its climate goals.

We’ll bring in new rules for fast-track consenting of renewable energy projects, so we no longer have the ridiculous situation of a large windfarm that powers 75,000 homes taking eight years to consent, but only two years to build.

I meet people every day who tell me that layers of red tape are stifling innovation and encouraging them to simply give up on good ideas.

One of the great strengths of the New Zealand way used to be “getting on with it”. 

Now, we’ve become masters of making the job more difficult, more expensive, and far slower  than it should be. National’s approach will ask which regulations we can scrap, not what we can add.  

Fourth – National will restore law and order.

It makes me angry. I was talking to a family with a five year old child who were sleeping at the back of their dairy when a car came crashing through the front wall on a ram raid at two in the morning.

That is not acceptable. But under Labour there are no consequences.

National will give Police more powers to stop gangs gathering in public, make it harder for gang members to access firearms, and ban gang patches in public places.

And we’ll introduce Youth Military Academies, for serious, repeat youth offenders.

Under National, the culture of excuses will end. Consequences for actions, will be back.

Finally, National will provide better health and education services.

New Zealand can be world-leading and there is no subject on which I’m more passionate, or that motivates me more, than education.

We need to get back to basics.

National will require every primary school class in the country to be taught an hour of maths, an hour of reading and an hour of writing, on average, every single school day.

Too many kids are coming through the school system – or more worryingly, falling out of it – without the skills they need to extend their education or to one day have the jobs, incomes and careers they would like.

National won’t keep doing what isn’t working. I refuse to fail a generation of young Kiwis and a government I lead won’t let them down.

In our health sector, there are records being set for how bad it is, like the longest-ever wait times in A&E, or the worst waiting lists for surgery.

The health system is in crisis and while that crisis has been deepening, Labour has been busy building a new bureaucracy in Health New Zealand, and a Māori Health Authority that we will scrap. 

I’ll be saying more tomorrow about how a National government will help address some of the health workforce problems.

National Party members, that’s just a summary of some of the practical, sensible policies that National has already announced.

And before the election, there will be a lot more. New Zealanders will go into the election knowing what a National government is offering.

But a government I lead will be more than the sum of its policies.

It will offer a turnaround and a clear path out of this mess Labour has created.

A National government will be determined that New Zealand will once again become engaged and competitive in the world.

A National government will make clear that, at home, people have rights, but also responsibilities - to their families, to their communities and to other taxpayers.

I will champion the dignity of work, and the dignity of independence. I will uphold the values that our party is proud to call National values.

National will properly manage the economy so that young people go overseas to explore the world, not because they’re economic refugees who feel they can’t make a good living here in the country they should be proud to call home. 

Finally, thank you all for being members of this great party.

We are going to have to work incredibly hard to win this election.

I am all in. Our fantastic team of MPs are all in. And your amazing candidates are all in.

But we need your help.

Thank you for handing out the leaflets, selling the raffle tickets, putting up the hoardings and, when they’re knocked over, coming back and putting them up again.

This country needs a National government to get us moving forward again – and that is going to rely on each and every one of you.

Thank you very much.