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Speech: State of the Nation, 2023
Kia ora tatou, good morning, and welcome everyone. Thank you so much for being here on a Sunday morning.
Before I start, I do want to acknowledge what an extraordinary beginning New Zealand has had to 2023, especially the North Island, including parts of Auckland not far from here.
I’ve visited places that have been devastated by the floods and by Cyclone Gabrielle and, plainly, this is a period of great anxiety.
Many who’ve lost their houses and livelihoods don’t know whether, when or how they can return to the places they think of as home.
But in the devastation, the best of the New Zealand character continues to amaze and inspire us all.
People are on the ends of shovels, or providing food, or a roof over other families’ heads. For some, just being there is bringing comfort in a time of despair.
When we look again at those videos of rivers raging through neighbourhoods, we wonder that the death toll was not even higher. Part of the answer is that for so many people, though tragically not for all, help came when they needed it most.
So, to all the well-trained professionals, and to all the civilians who acted on instinct, to those who’ve been on the news, and to those who remain unsung, on behalf of the National Party, thank you for going above and beyond. We are grateful and you make us proud.
In the wake of these catastrophic weather events, there is understandably a lot of stress and, unfortunately, it builds on a sense that New Zealand has become fragile where it once was sturdy, and is vulnerable when it used to be resilient.
Globally, the war in Ukraine, rising geo-political tensions, and the impacts of climate change create more volatility and uncertainty.
Added to those global events, many Kiwis up and down New Zealand are understandably feeling frustrated and worried about the direction New Zealand is heading.
They are unhappy about our worsening economic problems, they feel burdened and stifled by a bloated government that has grown too bureaucratic, too wasteful and too unresponsive to their problems. Sometimes, they’re feeling like they’ve lost control over their own finances and their lives.
Covid has certainly played a part, exacerbated by the way the Labour Government embraced isolation – cruelly locking out New Zealanders from the only country they call home, even after the virus was well established here.
No wonder we’ve become more insular. More withdrawn from the world.
Added to that, are five and a half years of an under-performing Labour Government that’s taken New Zealand backwards and simply cannot deliver. It’s not good enough to say you’re going to lower greenhouse gas emissions, but not do it. It’s not good enough to say you’re going to build affordable housing, but not actually do it. Talking about it gets you a headline. But only doing it makes a difference.
Labour has concentrated on things that don’t matter – like its Auckland harbour cycling bridge, its co-governance agenda and the now-shelved merger of TVNZ and Radio New Zealand. What Government except this one would have thought those were priorities when families are worried about losing their own homes because they can no longer afford their mortgages?
So, the state of the nation right now doesn’t make for great reading. Interest rates, rents and inflation are damagingly high, and investor, business and consumer confidence are worryingly low.
Core public services are dire. Hospital wait times are at record levels. So is retail crime. School absenteeism is shocking. These are not records any government wants to claim, but this is New Zealand under Labour.
Take education. Kiwi kids used to be in the top 10 in the world for reading, maths, and science but over the last 20 years, achievement has slipped so much that there are now many kids leaving school without basic reading, writing and maths skills.
This is the legacy Chris Hipkins leaves as Education Minister for the last five years.
Labour is now spending $1 billion more each week than National was spending in 2017. It is a special skill to spend more, hire more bureaucrats and deliver worse outcomes – but Labour is doing it, and the cost is the equivalent of an increase of nearly $23,000 of public spending on average per household each year.
Grant Robertson is collecting $48 billion more in tax each year – that’s $17,000 more tax per household coming into the government’s coffers. Part of that’s because Labour refuses to inflation-adjust tax thresholds so more people can keep more of what they earn.
It’s also because Labour loves nothing as much as a new tax. And now there’s also a proposal for an “App Tax”, ramping up the cost of your Uber trips, Airbnb’s and food delivery. There’s also the possibility of another new tax for the cyclone recovery.
Labour ministers can’t help themselves. To Labour, your money is really their money that they haven’t managed to get off you yet.
National says governments should be disciplined in their own spending before reaching deeper into your pocket. National says that if you work hard, you should be able to get ahead. I believe that, and New Zealanders believe it too.
Under Labour, success is something to tax. Under National, success is something to celebrate.
Life is too hard for too many New Zealanders right now. But under National, there’ll be a new direction. A National Government that knows what it’s doing, knows where it’s going, focuses on what matters and that gets things done to help New Zealanders get ahead.
I want to tell you a bit about me.
I love this country which, alongside my parents, gave me a safe upbringing, an education that allowed me to compete in the world, and a sense of optimism which I’ve never lost.
As I go around New Zealand, I’m so often asked the same question. People say, “you seem like a nice guy, you have a lovely family, and had a great career. Why on earth did you come into politics”? Behind that question, there’s some understandable, implied cynicism about politics and politicians. It’s because many people are tired of politicians who are all spin and no delivery, who talk but don’t get things done, or help them get ahead.
I’ve come to politics because I think New Zealand is simply the best country on planet earth and has unlimited potential. I want to take all my skills, abilities and experience in turning organisations around, and apply that to turning New Zealand around.
I’ve spent my whole career solving problems, realising potential and getting things done. I think that is the real world leadership New Zealand could do with right now.
Because I believe, more than ever, that if we make the right decisions, New Zealand has a great future. We can do better, we can be more prosperous, and more ambitious. I don’t want to settle for mediocrity and I don’t believe other New Zealanders want it either.
I care about what you care about. I want New Zealand going forwards, not backwards, and I want to help all New Zealanders to get ahead and flourish.
While hope has given way to worry, let me tell you there is nothing wrong that can’t be fixed. Kiwis are as determined, creative, innovative, resourceful and passionate as we have always been. Every week I have the privilege of meeting Kiwis doing amazing things in their businesses, communities, and families. Working hard and pursuing their Kiwi dream, whatever that may be.
New Zealand has strong bi-cultural foundations, but we are now also a modern, multi-cultural nation that’s home to migrants from all around the world. Almost all of us have forebears who came here a short or a long time ago, to start anew. And all of us have a responsibility to make good on the hope and courage that inspired our families’ migration.
My ancestors came to New Zealand as Irish miners and hotel keepers; they came as Scottish stonemasons and bakers; and they came as English farmers, labourers and fishermen. They were new New Zealanders once too.
No matter when we or our families arrived, I think we all want similar things;
- Safe, stable communities for our family to live in.
- Dependable incomes that cover our needs with a bit left over for extras.
- A country where hard work pays off and you can get ahead.
- Accessible public services when we need them.
- And for our children to have better opportunities in life than we did.
It is hard-working Kiwis in vibrant businesses, from dairy farms to IT start-ups and from small manufacturers to big exporters, that create opportunities and, by doing so, lift family incomes. The better our incomes, the greater the choices we all have.
If New Zealand is to create opportunity and lift incomes, it must embrace the world. There are 195 countries and 8 billion people on Earth. The lifestyle of every one of us here in New Zealand depends to some extent on those people and those countries buying the goods and services that New Zealand offers, including as a tourist destination.
Whatever we want, our standard of living has to be earned. Only a strong, competitive economy can afford the services that New Zealanders expect. There is no entitlement, no automatic right, to live as a First World country.
Under National, New Zealand can propel itself forwards, instead of drifting. National will make New Zealand more resilient and less fragile. National will make New Zealand feel empowered, instead of listless.
The potential for us in the world is matched by potential at home.
I don’t accept the status quo. I don’t accept that the highest inflation in 32 years and rapidly rising interest rates is the best we can do.
I don’t accept that just 46 per cent of kids attending school regularly is okay.
I don’t accept the blow out in hospital waiting times.
I don’t accept that the increases in violent crime, gang membership and ram-raids is the new normal.
And I certainly don’t accept that a fourfold increase in kids living in cars is acceptable.
We can do better than this. We are better than this, but for five and a half years, Labour has failed.
There is a new Prime Minister, but I’m telling you it is the same old Labour. Chris Hipkins couldn’t deliver for Kiwis when he was part of Jacinda Ardern’s inner-circle, and he can't deliver for Kiwis now.
National will chart a positive course for New Zealand. It’s not about Left or Right at all. It’s about going forwards instead of going backwards and it’s about life getting better for all New Zealanders.
I’m telling you, under National the culture of excuses will end.
So, I want to talk about what a National Government will deliver. These are my five commitments to you.
One – National will curb the rising cost of living.
Two – National will lift incomes for all.
Three – National will deliver resilient infrastructure for the future.
Four – National will restore law and order.
Five – National will provide better health and education services.
Expect to hear me talk about these five commitments a lot – as well as our plans to deliver on each one.
We’ve already started setting out the detail of those plans.
To restore law and order, we will back Police and tackle gangs – with more Police powers to stop gangs gathering in public, make it harder for them to access firearms and ban gang patches in public places.
And we’ll introduce tough consequences, including Youth Military Academies, for serious, repeat youth offenders because we want to help them turn their lives around.
Last year I also announced our “Welfare that Works” policy, targeting young people on the Jobseeker benefit. The best way to lift incomes for all – especially those doing it tough – is to move people off welfare and into work. Frankly, young people who don’t have a good reason not to be working, should be working.
Businesses are crying out for workers, yet under Labour there are 50,000 more people on a Jobseeker benefit. Enough to fill Eden Park!
If you’re a young person on a benefit who is able to work, National will do everything it can to help you into a job. But if you don’t play ball you’ll face sanctions – the free ride will be over and personal responsibility will be back.
Just last weekend, as part of our focus on building resilient infrastructure for the future, I announced our Local Water Done Well plan. It repeals Labour’s Three Waters, returns water assets to councils’ control, but sets strict rules about investing in them for the long term, and allows long-term funding, too. It’s the right answer to a complex problem.
But let me turn to the issue that is affecting families all over the country – the cost-of-living crisis.
I’m around the country every week and the human side of New Zealand’s current economic state is an even more desperate picture than statistics indicate.
Recently, a business owner began crying as she told me how her staff are struggling to make ends meet, but the business is also struggling and can’t afford higher wages.
I know her story is not isolated, and her tears are not either.
There is very real hardship out there. Not only among the lowest-income households but also for the squeezed middle. Interest rates have skyrocketed to counter the inflation that Labour has not only let get out of control, but has actively made worse through its reckless, wasteful addiction to spending.
Whether it’s paying for food, the rent or a school uniform, people who’ve used their savings to hang on in the hope things would get better, are now desperate.
For as long as this Government is in power, there will be no relief. Labour has absolutely no answers, and their change of Leader makes absolutely no difference.
But ladies and gentlemen, the election on October 14 will be an opportunity for New Zealand to change direction.
National has a five-point plan to address the cost of living crisis:
We’ll stop adding costs on to businesses that then get passed on to their customers.
We’ll give the Reserve Bank one job - tackling inflation.
We’ll use government levers to remove bottlenecks – like making it easier to recruit people from overseas where we have shortages – like nurses.
We’ll provide tax relief by lifting the tax brackets so the average earner will keep an extra $800 a year.
And we’ll restore discipline to government spending.
But I’m particularly worried about families with young children.
Families are getting hammered by inflation and, if they have a mortgage, by rapidly rising interest rates.
Parents are sleepless, running the numbers over and over in their heads about their mortgage payments when they have to re-fix.
Or their bigger rental has come with a bigger rent, and they are now worried about their budget stretching to skyrocketing grocery bills, and the rising cost of everything else.
Most families need two incomes these days to keep the household afloat, but to go to work, most parents also have to pay for childcare.
In New Zealand, early childhood education is among the most expensive in the developed world. For a typical family, it accounts for roughly a quarter of household income.
These are parents who are trying to get ahead. But after paying for food, petrol, clothing, and maybe the plumber or dentist or another of the bills life throws at all of us, they are going backwards.
Some of you will have read the story of an Auckland couple who cut out every additional expense and went through the heart-breaking decision – that was their word, heart-breaking – to shift their kids to cheaper childcare so the parents can afford the mortgage.
It is not right that you have to choose between your childcare or your house. That is not a decision that Kiwi families should have to make. But after five and a half years of Labour, these are the decisions that families are making around Kiwi kitchen tables right now.
So today I am pleased to announce a policy that will make a huge difference to many young families.
National is going to take some of Labour’s wasteful spending which is achieving nothing, and use it to create the FamilyBoost childcare tax rebate to make early childhood education more affordable.
Our plan will specifically target lower and middle-income families, to make their lives a bit easier.
National’s FamilyBoost childcare tax rebate will help 130,000 low-and-middle-income families keep more of what they earn, with up to $75 more in their after-tax pay each week. That’s $3,900 every year, depending on their income.
Families will receive a 25 per cent rebate on their early childhood education expenses, up to the maximum of $3,900 per year.
It is a targeted programme that will be available to families earning up to $180,000, with the full $75 a week rebate available to those families earning up to $140,000.
So, a young teacher and a plumber earning, say, $135,000 between them who are spending $300 a week on childcare would receive a weekly rebate of $75, paid fortnightly by IRD to the parents’ bank account.
FamilyBoost will mean families with young children can keep more of what they work so hard to earn. It will make them up to $75 a week better off after tax.
Making childcare more affordable will also help families who would like to work more hours. With FamilyBoost, parents have more choices to return to work or extend their hours knowing their children are well looked after and it’s not costing the house. Literally.
The good news is that FamilyBoost will be fully funded by cutting Labour’s wasteful spending on contractors and consultants.
In 2018, Chris Hipkins as State Services Minister promised to reduce spending on contractors and consultants. Instead, the latest data shows the annual spend has skyrocketed to more than $1.7 billion – up from $1.2 billion.
National will direct public sector agencies to end the culture of relying on contractors at a premium to do the regular job of a public servant. The culture of public servants rebranding as contractors – only to do the same job at twice the hourly rate – is chronic in Wellington.
Second, National won’t enact any more costly restructures or mergers. Labour is obsessed with creating and merging entities while services on the frontline fall apart. National will deliver more with the public service we have.
Third, National will slash the use of working groups, task forces and reviews when in Government. If Labour doesn’t know what needs to be done, it’s time for a National Government that does.
Finally, under National, public sector agencies will also be required to report their spending on consultants and contractors every quarter, instead of annually.
Labour has created a gravy train for consultants through its obsession with working groups, wasteful spending and expensive public sector restructures that are a boon for partners at the big consultancy firms, but are not delivering better results for Kiwis.
Under National, this gravy train will stop at the station.
Ladies and gentlemen, New Zealand is in its sixth year of a Labour Government that’s over-spent, over-taxed and under-delivered.
It’s focussed on things no-one cares about, while families choose between their childcare or their roof, and shopkeepers live in fear of crime.
At the election, I’ll be asking New Zealanders not to waste another three years.
I will be asking New Zealanders to elect a government that, under my leadership, will address the cost of living, lift incomes for all, restore law and order, build resilient infrastructure, and improve health services and educational achievement.
A party vote for National will be a vote to stop the drift that’s taking New Zealand backwards, and to instead start the engine that will take us forwards.
This is a great country that could do so much more, be so much more and aspire to so much more, if only it had a National Government.
I want to lead that government: A government with a big heart, a big view and a big determination to ensure that New Zealanders do better and get ahead.
I’m ready. My team is ready. We know we can do it. We know we can deliver the results that matter to New Zealanders, and we can’t wait to get on with it and get things done.
Thank you all.